Comparison of Urban Food Growing in Southeast Asia

Urban food growing—in the form of community gardens, commercial urban farms, and vertical and high-tech farms—has been expanding rapidly in the megacities of Southeast Asia since the mid 2010s. For example, urban food growing has been in existence in Manila and Bangkok for many decades now, often manifesting as home and community gardening initiatives in vacant lots in public and private spaces. There is a recent surge in interest, especially with the growing food security concerns due to the pandemic. Just as in the West, popular media and a few scholarly articles have pointed to the transformative potentials of urban food growing initiatives such as urban farming and community gardening in Southeast Asia. However, a few studies have taken a more critical stance, exposing politics in these initiatives and their implications on inclusions and exclusions. There is still much to explore about the rising popularity of urban food growing in the region, such as what sort of initiatives emerge, why is there a increase in popularity, where ideas and knowledge come from, how initiatives vary from their Western (or Northern) counterparts, and whether or not they are able to deliver on their promises.

This research project is funded by Yale-NUS College and is designed and carried out in collaboration with scholars from the Center for Social Development Studies (Dr. Carl Middleton, Dr. Chana Lim, and Orapan Pratomlek) at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand. My collaborators and I are primarily interested in exploring urban food growing in two major metropolises in Southeast Asia—Manila and Bangkok—where the incidence of poverty and food insecurity is remarkably higher. We are also interested in pursuing a comparative analysis to know to what extent the historical and contemporary political economy and cultural politics of food in these two geographies help explain the possible differences in manifestations of urban food growing in the region.

Published by Marvin Joseph Montefrio

Critical agrarian and food scholar specializing in political ecology, cultural politics, and STS.

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