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Cities Without Hunger is an NGO that sets up community gardens on vacant urban land in São Paulo’s deprived East Zone to provide jobs, income, and enhance food sovereignty.

A Divided City

São Paulo is economically and socially divided. The East Zone, where 3.3 million people (33% of the city’s total population) live is particularly deprived. Many residents are domestic migrants who have come to the city to look for work, but end up doing odd jobs because of their age, poor health or lack of formal education. More than 90% of the residents earn less than 470 USD per month, and 11% to 35% earn less than 80 USD per month (Censo 2010).

The unstructured growth of the area has led to urban sprawl. Vacant urban land is often just used as a dump site.  Malnutrition and poor physical and economic access to fresh fruit and vegetables have negative impacts on citizens’ health, especially on child development.

Difficult to Access Healthy, Fresh Food

Thanks to high unemployment, a low density of farmers’ markets or supermarkets and low mobility, many people in the East Zone do not have easy access to high-quality fresh produce. Cities Without Hunger aims to change this, through building organic community gardens. This makes it easier for residents to buy affordable, local produce that they can trust.

The organic gardens give special focus to old or indigenous varieties like arruda or cerejeira, medical plants, flowers, and herbs. This means they help enhance local biodiversity, and as ‘green islands’ within the city, the gardens improve local microclimate and water regime.

Because the community gardens are built on abandoned land, e. g. under electricity lines, or on dumping sites, the local environment is improved and cared for.

Providing Jobs to Marginalised Groups

Cities Without Hunger gives people who have poor chances on the regular job market agricultural training, so that they can work as community gardeners. They often have practical experience in agriculture, which helps their activities as community gardeners.

After one year, gardeners are able to manage their plots autonomously and sell their produce directly to the people from the neighbourhood. Along with gardeners’ families, some 650 people benefit from the project by having their livelihood guaranteed.

Since 2004, the NGO has implemented 25 community gardens together with about 115 local residents who have started earning their livelihoods as community gardeners.

This means the community gardens benefit both the people who work there – who would otherwise be marginalised in the labour market – and the people living in the community, who get better access to fresh produce.

Financing the Community Gardens

A community garden of about 6000 square metres costs around 33,000 USD. This includes paying for tools like spades and hoes, an irrigation system and sun protection, soil improvement such as organic fertilizer and humus, construction timber for the compost heap and planting beds, plants, seeds, petrol for the delivery of materials and machines, and personnel costs for two agricultural engineers who help residents create the garden.

The gardens are initially financed through donations. After one year, the community gardens are financially self-sufficient, as the gardeners earn their income selling their produce. However, Cities Without Hunger continues to provide technical support and actions to integrate the gardens in São Paulo’s wider economy, such as initiating delivery partnerships with restaurants.

A Supportive Policy Framework

São Paulo’s 2004 Law on Urban Agriculture created a legal framework which makes urban officially possible. Cities Without Hunger campaigned for and contributed towards the passage of the bill.

If you’re interested in "How Governments can Support Urban and Collective Gardening". Check out our Policy Toolkit here