Development of Urban Agriculture Projects : A Tool to Foster Livelihoods and Social Inclusion of Syrian refugees in Turkey


Julia Buzaud, Lauranne Callet

Publication date

Sunday, April 3, 2016 - 23:30

Originally published on Urbadaboom, 3rd April 2016

“As the Syrian refugee crisis enters into its fifth year, the protracted situation is having a growing impact beyond its neighbouring countries. Instability in the region is expected to persist, and consequent displacement, inside Syria and across the border into Turkey, will continue. Given the fluid situation on the ground, it is uncertain what the scale of refugee flows from Syria or Iraq in 2016 will be.” – The Refugee Resilience Regional Plan 2016-2017

In response to the Syria Crisis Turkey[1] states as above the current refugee crisis situation in Turkey.

With more than two million Syrians on its territory, Turkey was ranked in 2015 as the country welcoming the highest number of refugees in the world. It is the biggest host of Syria’s neighbouring countries. Away from the imaginary of camps, Syrians in Turkey live in urban settings in their great majority. Throughout their arrival, Turkish municipalities became the frontline actors in welcoming refugees and in dealing with the induced impacts in cities (such as strain on infrastructures, discrepancy of local services, inflation, unemployment …).

Although Syrians in Turkey are called refugees, they are nevertheless legally not recognised as such[2]but are under temporary protection, a legal status ensuring them the right to stay in Turkey for a temporary duration[3]. It also grants them free of charge access to health and education public services. Moreover, the possibility to apply for work permit was recently granted to Syrians[4] and added to this set of rights and duties. Despite this comprehensive legal status, the most vulnerable refugees still encounter a vast array of difficulties to secure livelihoods such as unemployment or work exploitation which can lead to food insecurity and are often in a situation of social exclusion.

Meanwhile, the conflict taking place in Syria keeps on deepening and new Syrians refugee waves of arrival are awaited in Turkey : 2,8 millions people are estimated to be in need of humanitarian aid in the only city of Aleppo. The metropolis, close to the Turkish border, expects future fights to increase[5], summing-up tothe 20,000 Syrians already waiting at the border gate to enter Turkey.

Whereas on the other hand, the humanitarian needs are under-funded. In this context, many of the actors involved in responding to the needs of Syrian refugees in Turkey gradually switched from a humanitarian approach to an integration one, with a specific focus on the topic of livelihoods, in order to foster refugees’ means of self-sufficiency, along with joint development of affected Turkish host communities. The need for development of innovative projects targeting both sustainable and resilient urban development along with social cohesion of refugees with host communities is thus greater than ever.

In other parts of the world and in different contexts, various projects of urban agriculture emerged to answer similar challenges of livelihoods, food security and social inclusion. Likewise, development of urban agriculture projects has the potential to foster livelihoods and social inclusion of Syrian refugees in Turkey.

  1. Rationale of Urban Agriculture Projects as a Tool to Foster Social Inclusion
  • Agriculture emerging in Cities …

800 million people around the world practice urban agriculture, estimates the FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organisation. Urban and peri-urban agriculture can be defined as the growing of plants and the raising of animals within the boundaries of the cities. It can thus take a lot of different forms: micro-gardens, roof-gardens, community greenhouses, small livestock farming… and are also today at the intersection of social and technical innovations, for instance the aquaponics farms.[6]

Urban agriculture programs are proven to produce significant results in terms of livelihoods and food security. According to the FAO, garden plots can be up to 15 times more productive than rural holdings[7], due to the higher labour input. The urban poor households spend a major part of their incomes on food expenses – according to the FAO, from 60% to 80% of their revenues[8] . Having  access to cheap, organic and nutritious alimentary items by producing one’s own food makes these households less vulnerable to food prices fluctuations and can increase their food security in a quantitative and qualitative way.


Urban agriculture programs can also create employment beyond the sole activity of farming. As a matter of example, in Argentina and Brazil, some urban agriculture projects created a wide variety of jobs as marketing and distribution systems. In La Havana, where urban agriculture is widely spread, this sector provides up to 117,000 jobs and revenues for 150,000 low-income families. Moreover fresh, local and organic food is still a limited market in the cities, despite the growing demand for such products. Urban agriculture programs, by operating in a niche-market, are forecasted as embodying an interesting economic potential with high added-value.

Beyond food security and livelihoods potential, urban gardening projects can also target other domains: raising awareness on ecology, psychosocial activities with children, youth or excluded populations.

  • … urban agriculture and social inclusion

Social inclusion encompasses the various processes of improving the terms for individuals and groups to take part in the society[9]. Exclusion in society often induces poverty as marginalized groups are kept away from a wide range of processes and opportunities. Tackling poverty among excluded vulnerable populations, which refugees are part of, requires reducing first these barriers to enable them to access the social system and economic markets.

In the past, several projects crossing urban agriculture and social cohesion targets were proven to produce fertile results. In Colombia, for instance the community gardening program of “Bogota without Indifference” extended the benefits of vegetable gardening to former combatants, disabled or displaced population[10]. Population displaced from rural areas by the war specifically took advantage from urban agriculture  programs.

Individuals involved in farming activities before their displacement could retrieve habits from their past occupation and feel socially valued to put again into practice their knowledge. Being involved again in an activity, being able to exchange produced goods or share knowhow also enable the most vulnerable to create social ties and to get integrated into social networks.

Also, urban agriculture projects provides an effective tool to foster livelihoods for women staying at home. As for migration situation, it can also be a practical way to bring together host and displaced communities to work on a common and positive objective.

In Turkey, urban agriculture is barely developed. However, municipalities were the most directly affected actors by the massive arrival of Syrians in cities.  Urban agriculture represents a potential worthful tool to turn the presence of Syrian refugees into local development opportunities.

  1. Syrians in Turkey : Characteristics of a Massive Refugee Presence in Cities
  • Current Situation of the Syrian Refugees in Turkey

Turkey is currently hosting 2,715,789 Syrian refugees on its soil[11] out of a total of 78 millions Turkish citizens[12]. A great majority of Syrian refugees live in urban settings, with only an approximate of 10% of the Syrian population settled in the 25 camps located in the Southeast Anatolian Region[13]. The UN estimates that 2.45 millions of Syrians will be living within host communities in Turkey in 2016[14]. Among them, 30% are expected to encounter food insecurity issues.

As Turkey is currently increasingly preventing irregular migration to Europe, international actors involved in the support to displaced and conflict-affected Syrians are currently orienting their actions towards a development and resilience-based approach including a response to Syrians’ needs but also to support communities hosting refugees.

The administrator of UNDP, Helen Clark, pushed for an urgent implementation of the resilience approach in development actors’ programs :

"The Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP) and the Syria Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) outline how partners can help. These are not business-as-usual plans. Conventional approaches of “relief now, development later” do not work in response to the Syria crisis or other similar protracted crises. Refugees, host communities and internally displaced people in Syria need livelihoods. They need basic services, like health, education, water, sanitation, electricity, and garbage removal. And they need hope for a better future".[15]

In addition, three to six billion euros are announced to be funded by the European Union-Turkey joint Action Plan. It aims at fostering local development and social inclusion of refugees. A total of €140 million will be dedicated to education programmes, €130 million to resilience and local development programmes, €55 million to health programmes in Turkey[16].

  • Role of Municipalities in the Syrian Refugee Crisis in Turkey

Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, several municipalities of Turkey have been active in providing aid to Syrian refugees settled in their territory in an ad hoc fashion.

Municipalities represent a privileged partner for NGOs as they are able to provide information about refugee population in the city, manage public infrastructures intended for the most disadvantaged population, in which services for refugees can be offered. Thus, they have a favourable position in the coordination of the different actors involved in the aid delivery and in the cohesion of Syrian and Turkish population.

However, until now, municipalities were under-represented in the coordination and funding process of the Syrian refugee crisis response. On the one hand, municipalities were not represented in the official legal framework of humanitarian assistance and on the other, they received very limited financial support from the national level. Only few projects from the UN agencies included municipalities in their response. However, some informal cooperations exist between municipalities and NGOs with different levels of municipalities’ involvement.

Moreover, considering the lack of funding, in order to further develop those programs in a sustainable fashion those programs, municipalities have to develop innovative ways to finance by themselves their response to the needs of Syrian refugees in collaboration with state institutions, civil society, international donors, NGOs and INGOs.

  1. Developing Urban Agriculture Programs in Turkey

As forecasted in the cases of Rosario and La Havana, urban agriculture projects lead to the development of efficient tools to answer food insecurity and to provide livelihoods for thousands. Moreover, the primary requirement of urban agriculture projects at the city scale is to provide a legal access to land – for instance one of the first measure of the municipality of Rosario was to promulgate a municipal ordinance, ceding public plots to residents of shantytowns to carry out agricultural activities and inviting private property owners to cede the use of their vacant land for two years, in exchange for exemption from taxes[17].

An alternative is to secure access to public land for urban agriculture. Such projects require a first investment to start the activity (as restoring the soil, buying tools, setting up a greenhouse … ) but can be self-sufficiently functioning. In addition agriculture project needs to be designed in the middle or long term to produce efficient results and municipalities are per se long-term actors more than NGO could be.

Moreover, the agriculture sector was employing 25% of the Syrian population before war[18]. The small farmers had already been badly impacted by the drought in 2006 in Syria. 800,000 persons had lost their livelihoods and had fled to bigger cities in order to find work[19]. These already vulnerable Syrians before war also became the most vulnerable refugees, the most prone to food insecurity. However, they are also the ones who have skills in agriculture.

Providing a way to secure livelihoods for people away from the society enables them to improve their social inclusion and to transition from informal to formal economics. By engaging a population facing harsh conditions and daily struggle, urban agriculture can be an entry point to develop an integrated approach and target other sectors as water and hygiene, nutrition, waste management … .

The specific case described along those lines is in some extent also similar in other countries around the Mediterranean. Among Mediterranean countries facing common issue of refugees and economic crisis at different scale, further exchange of best practices on urban agriculture projects shall be among the targets of the involved actors.



[1]The Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP) is the UN coordination tool.

[2] Turkey is signatory of the Geneva Convention but did not ratify the withdrawing of the geographical limitation, hence only populations fleeing conflicts or threat taking place in Europe can apply to the refugee legal status. The word refugees is used throughout this document in order to relate to the international understanding of refugees.

[3] This duration is not defined in the law and will be terminated when decided by the Government of Turkey.

[4] The regulation was released in the Official Gazette on 15 January 2015 (Muhasebe, 2016). The release of this legislation was pending for several months due to on-going discussions regarding the challenge of setting-up an employment policy beneficial for Turkey’s labour market (World Bank, 2015).

[5] ACAPS, Displacement in Aleppo, Briefing Note 7 February 2016

[6] Aquaponics are an agricultural technique mixing aquaculture and hydroponics: the plants are growing in water connected to an aquarium; the fish wastes provide nutrients for the plants.


[8] FAO, Growing greener cities in Latin America and the Caribean, 2014

[9] World Bank,

[10] RUAF, Promoting a city without Hunger and Indifference: Urban Agriculture in Bogota, Colombia, 2007

[11] As of 3rd of March 2016, registered by the Government of Turkey and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Source:

[12] Turkish Statistical Institute« The Results of Address Based Population Registration System, 2014« . Retrieved 17 January 2016.

[13] 268,843 Syrians are living in camps out of 2,503,549 registered Syrians in Turkey as of 11th of January 2016 Source:

[14] Refugee and Resilience Regional Plan 2016-2017


[16] European Commission, Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, ‘ECHO Factsheet’, February 2015

[17] UCLG, Urban agriculture and social inclusion in Rosario, Argentina


[19] World Bank, The Welfare of Syrian Refugees: Evidences from Syria and Lebanon, 2016



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