With START support, the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation contributes to land-use planning for the Chennai Mega Region

Peri-urban Chennai. Source: Department of Geography, University of Bonn

In an increasingly urbanized world, peri-urban landscapes, which provide important environmental services for cities, are undergoing significant transformation. The Chennai mega-region in the southeastern coast of India is a case in point. The past decade has witnessed rapid population growth and infrastructure demand, and land-use transformation in the surrounding districts of Chennai, namely Kancheepuram and Thriuvallur. Such rapid change requires that a comprehensive response be developed to address infrastructural development, food production, and conservation of water and other environmental services vital to the city.

Informing that response was a key impetus behind the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation’s (MSSRF) partnering with START, UNEP, WMO and others to assess how rapid urban expansion, climate change, and other factors are affecting food production in urban and peri-urban areas of Chennai. A recent workshop organized by the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) on ‘Regional Planning Perspectives for the Chennai Mega Region’ provided an opportunity for the MSSRF to provide expert advice to a wide-range of high-level government representatives on ‘The Potential for Agriculture in Chennai Mega Region’, which highlighted important findings emerging from the assessment.

Critical challenges affecting agriculture in the Chennai peri-urban context include water scarcity, ground water salinity, land use changes and the impact of changing climatic factors on crop productivity. The presentation emphasized the value of protecting and conserving wetlands, which provide important environmental services to the agricultural activities to the region.

Ms. Manjula Madhavan

Dr. A. Arivudai Nambi

Based on the findings of the assessment report, Ms. Manjula and Dr. Nambi from MSSRF put forth a range of recommendations aimed at protecting and conserving agriculture for inclusion in the Chennai mega-region planning document. Their recommendations included regulation of land-use (zoning, earmarking), groundwater monitoring (quantity and quality), regulation of power subsidies, water accounting, pricing and promotion of appropriate water conservation measures (e.g. rainwater harvesting and wastewater treatment), policies and research to address sea-water intrusion, effective wetland management, promotion of urban parks, forests and prevention of soil contamination and erosion. The potential for taking up solid waste management and its use as compost for agriculture and the use of treated grey water for urban agriculture was also deliberated upon.

The involvement of MSSRF and the inputs from the assessment report helped to highlight the importance of considering urban and peri-urban agriculture in the mega-region planning process, which would have otherwise not received much attention. The study findings generated a lot of interest among the urban planners and generated discussion on the potential of having islands of agricultural prosperity within the urban milieu. MSSRF will be involved in the follow-up meetings of the planning process and the network established through this effort can serve as a platform to disseminate the findings of the assessment study, besides working towards the possibility of having urban/peri-urban agriculture development as a key agenda in the Chennai mega-region plan.