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Delhi 2050: A Gastronomic Paradise

Join us in envisioning agro-cities of the future where farmers find a place in the city and reside among consumers.

Photo of Depanshu Gola
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Architecture for Dialogue

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Other

Website of Legally Registered Entity

https://afd.city/

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Delhi

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

India

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Delhi is the capital of India with an area of 1,484 km2.

What country is your selected Place located in?

India

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

As a team of two young architects, we have grown in different parts of Delhi yet share common observations and perspectives. Architecture school brought our diverse viewpoints together as we began to understand the unique spatial nature of our city. We are curious about how Delhi works, worried about its pressing issues and motivated to take charge and make a change.

Air pollution and water scarcity crisis frequent news headlines throughout the year as the state government looks for ways to adapt and mitigate. Every winter season anticipates a deep smog and rise in particulate air pollution and 2020 is hailed as the year of zero groundwater in certain parts of Delhi. Amidst these concerns, Architecture for Dialogue aims to reimagine cities through strategy and spatial innovation to improve the quality of urban life. We actively work towards exploring and engaging with what we call 'the invisible layers' in the city — food, water, and waste systems.

Our vision on food systems in the city started as an undergraduate thesis on the design of vegetable markets (sabzi mandis) in Delhi. The research and design project explored architectural typologies of mandis, relation to the community and their role as a space to encourage locavorian culture in the city.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The metropolis of Delhi lies in the fertile Indo-Gangetic plains between the Himalayan mountain range to the north and Thar desert to its south. It has historically served as a strategic capital location and remains one of the oldest surviving cities in the world. In fact, Delhi is an amalgam of eight old cities, each built in a different era but close to one another – each leaving its mark, adding character and forming layers of architectural identities. Delhi has consequently evolved into a culturally secular city – absorbing different religions, diverse cultures, both foreign and indigenous, and yet functioning as one organic entity. The city’s culture flourishes in the narrowest of streets — hustling business owners go about their day, loud shouts to make way fill the streets as a sweet scent of cinnamon chai lingers in the air.

Delhi is big on food.

The city is home to the biggest vegetable markets in Asia which bring in thousands of tonnes of food everyday working round the clock to feed the Delhi belly. Traditional household meals comprise chapatis (wheat bread) and rice with lentils, cooked vegetables and meat dishes inspired from medieval Indo-Persian Mughal cuisine. Classic dishes include butter chicken, dal makhani, shahi paneer, chaat, gol gappe, samosa, chole baturey, gulab jamun, and jalebi. Love for food brings the city together and the irresistible delicacies favour flavours over health and body shape. Delhiites take pride and identity in overgrown bellies, the food is just that good!

Hospitality through food

Food forms a key function of the homes as a means of extending hospitality. Regardless of means, households aspire to be able to serve their guests the best ingredients as a form of respect and care.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

1484

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

2000000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

2020 — PRESENT DAY

  1. Farmers struggle to sustain rural livelihoods
    The farmers are the biggest victims of the food system. Many cannot afford two square meals themselves and live their lives in poverty. Fragmentation of land over generations condemns most farmers to marginal farming, making them unable to live off their produce. Middlemen who control the supply chain, make profits and pay farmers a small fraction of what the end-consumer pays. Unfortunately, farmers don’t have much choice. They can neither leave agriculture nor stick to it. Rural non-farm work or urban informal work is neither sufficiently remunerative nor able to generate jobs at the required rate. Those who can make the shift, do.

  1. Nutritionally starved consumers
    Accessibility and affordability are vital factors for food security. As food prices soar, urban nutritional intake falls short of recommended dietary energy intake. Yield favouring GMO crops, chemical-intensive cultivation and synthetic processing cause nutritional hazards as new trends like online food deliveries and dine-outs make consumers even more oblivious of what nutrients their food holds.

  1. Overburdened environment
    The green revolution helped newly independent India increase yields and alleviate hunger. However, continued use of chemical fertilizers and heavy reliance on groundwater for irrigation is unsustainable as soil fertility and water unavailability become concerns.


2050 — WHERE IS OUR FOOD SYSTEM HEADED?

With farmers extremely marginalised and consumers unaware, the future raises some critical questions for Delhi's food systems:

  1. Who will grow our food?
    The number of farmers in India has been falling as rural India becomes a non-farm economy. While this might mean a good thing for agricultural over-employment in the short run, the lack of incentive and favourable conditions for farmers poses a risk of losing agricultural skill and wisdom.

  1. Who’s hungry and who’s not?
    By 2050, India’s population would reach 1.7 billion people and the country expects 55-60% of that to be living in cities. The population in Delhi is expected to cross 35 million and food demand is expected to rise two-folds. Climate extremities, erratic weather patterns and scarcity of nutrition are set to inflate food prices, threatening to render malnourished.

  1. Can food systems be climate resilient/supportive?
    As climate crises intensify globally; rising temperatures, erratic weather patterns and CO2 concentration are expected to impact crop growth and endanger our food system significantly. With the externalities of climate change on the rise, agricultural systems will be tested for their viability and resilience.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

How might we revive agriculture as a viable livelihood in a hyper-urbanised future? 

As a city experiencing rapid urbanization and soon to be the most populous, Delhi offers a particularly relevant environment to study the integration of agricultural practices within a city-system. Our vision explores how a collaborative ecosystem of urban agriculture would enable a decentralized model for Delhi’s food systems.

State of urban agriculture: 2020

As growing populations in urban areas demand greater food supplies, coupled with a need to create livelihood options, regions worldwide are looking towards urban agriculture for answers. Prospects of urban farming are strong in Delhi. The city boasts plenty of open areas as forests (~20% of total area) and fertile cultivable land (+22% of total area) amongst pockets of dense settlements.

However, even as the conversation around urban agriculture grows, the dots don't connect. Efforts by emerging institutions, organisations and businesses remain isolated, and farmers remain largely excluded from conversations around urban agriculture systems — relying solely on busy urban dweller consumers to make the shift.

Collaborative urban agriculture — Mandis as an interface

There is a pressing need for a coordinated effort where farmers, organizations, businesses, policymakers, innovators, and consumers can work together and benefit one another. We envision public infrastructure like vegetable and fruit depots’ (called mandi in Hindi) can step in to act as physical spaces which enable collaborations and catalyse a city-wide locavorian culture movement. As the interface between the consumers and producer supply chain, vegetable markets in the city form an ideal space to start new overlaps between agriculture and urban life.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Farmers struggling to sustain rural livelihoods → find their place in the city, closer to consumers

Farmer-led urban agriculture promotes farming as a viable livelihood in cities. As urbanisation becomes inclusive to farmers, they work directly with consumers for increased income and renewed social status. Being a part of a collaborative ecosystem in the city allows them access to new technologies, financial support and training.

Nutritionally starved consumers → find meaningful nutrition by investing in food production

As urban dwellers find it difficult to source food they trust, they leverage opportunities to deepen engagement in food production. Consumers contribute through resources, time and effort to find new meanings and value in the food they eat.

Climate dependent agriculture → develops resilience with responsibilities of yield distributed across the ecosystem

In the context of degrading climatic conditions, decentralised urban food systems allow more control and implementation of contextual techniques and technology to work around extreme conditions.

A city big on food → becomes a gastronomic paradise!

The next step in Delhi’s love for food! Food production brings Delhiites together to rise above concerns of air pollution, water scarcity and degrading environment. Delhi becomes a farming-friendly city with a flourishing locavorian culture and promises nutrient-rich diets to its dwellers.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Delhi 2050: A Gastronomic Paradise

Home to some of the best farmers in the world, Delhi boasts of fresh flavours and nutrient-rich diets. The capital city also hosts the biggest culinary festival in Asia, and for a reason — a unique model where food is grown just where it is savoured. Delhiwallas have since long been big foodies at heart, and the steadily growing locavorian culture is putting Delhi on the map as a gastronomic paradise. But even more importantly, Delhiwallas are regaining their pride with the city that was somewhere lost to concerns of air pollution, water scarcity and the resulting intense political climate. Agriculture is bringing Delhiites from different backgrounds and economic classes together and is acting as the motor behind social change.

During the past twenty-five years, the economy of Delhi has grown, observing significant contribution from agriculture within the city. The Master Plan for Delhi changed first in 2021 and then recently, in 2041, offering built area incentives to public and private developments to include cultivable areas and prioritizing agriculture as land use. As a result, farmer families who shift to the city are now able to continue pursuing agriculture as a healthy source of livelihood and access amenities like healthcare, education, information technology.

Farmers like Kishore Kumar work individually or as cooperatives with consumers directly on rooftops and backyards to grow food in turn for monthly salaries. Many consumers seeking better nutrition, help out with resources and effort — those who have land employ farmers to cultivate food. Communities avail subsidized training programs, guidance and technology to cultivate their food. Peer to peer harvest barter exchanges has become common, with several automated blockchain platforms rising up to facilitate a producer-consumer driven food market. 


Mandi as a Microcosm

A solution turned up for farmers in a familiar place in the city — a gateway for them to begin an urban life. Established in 2025 at Azadpur Mandi, the Urban Agriculture Institute serves as a place where organizations, businesses, policymakers, innovators, farmers and consumers come together and form an ecosystem for catalyzing a fair trade, locavorian culture.

The institute is a unique form of public-private cooperation. As the climate becomes more unpredictable, NGOs, research institutes and businesses collaborate with farmers to develop effective climate-resilient agricultural practices in the city. Training programs by innovation companies onboard farmers to newer technologies like hydroponics, made easy with open access to demonstration facilities. Senior farmers often end up taking teaching roles to share indigenous practices with newer generations of farmers.

Several organic cafes have also sprung up in the Mandi compound sourcing food grown within the facility and offering buyers and visitors in the market a place to relax and relish freshly grown food and encouraging them to go locavorian!


Interconnected themes:

  1. ENVIRONMENT

    • Building resilience: In the context of degrading climatic conditions, decentralised urban food systems allow more control and implementation of contextual techniques and technology to work around extreme conditions. 

    • Lowered footprint: Local food production reduces food miles and consequently lowers the carbon footprint per calorie of food.

    • Efficient resource consumption: Decreased water consumption as urban wastewater treatment and technologies like hydroponics.

  2. DIETS

    • Higher nutrition: Consumers exercise more control over food production allowing them to opt for practices which prioritise their health and wellbeing rather than higher yield and profit.

    • Sustainability: In a world where consumers are cognisant of their ecological footprints, locavorian diets become a norm. Choose local!

  3. ECONOMICS

    • New jobs and opportunities: Agriculture becomes a viable livelihood in cities making urbanisation more inclusive.

    • Freelancing Farmers: Farmers not dependent on land and fertility / Farming as a service with shared responsibilities with consumers.

    • Fair-trade: Farmers enjoy improved profitability and renewed social status as food production becomes increasingly important.

  4. CULTURE

    • Social change: Farmer families who shift to the city are now able to access amenities like healthcare, education and information technology.

    • Gastronomic capital: The capital city takes its place as the gastronomic capital in the country and hosts culinary festivals to inspire other cities.

    • Locavorian culture: People are starting to be more aware of what they consume.

  5. TECHNOLOGY

    • Collaborative Innovation: Research institutes and businesses collaborate with farmers to develop effective climate-resilient agricultural practices in the city.

    • Precision Agriculture / Crop Management: Leveraging remote-sensing techniques, farm robotics and machine learning to distinguish between crops, assessing traits and genes for crop production.

    • Peer to peer exchange: Automated blockchain platforms facilitate a producer-consumer driven food market. 

  6. POLICY

    • Change in Masterplan land use: Allocating certain public spaces like monument grounds and public parks for agriculture and incentivising provision of cultivable areas in existing and future development.

    • Awareness campaigns: Public mobilisation around the importance of nutrition, fair trade food produce and locavorian culture for environmental sustainability bind the efforts together to create a movement.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Prize partners
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