How do you feed a city? It is one of the great questions of our time. After all, for a species that ultimately depends on plants to feed ourselves, we do tend to cram ourselves into places that are rather unfriendly towards them. Our cities are built around cars, offices and perhaps the odd park – not fields of crops. Professor Christian Bugge Henriksen, a climate and food security expert at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, says that feeding city dwellers sustainably is a ‘triple challenge’. 

One solution might lie in having the inhabitants of cities eat food that is produced as close to them as possible. It is commonly believed that eating locally produced food is better for the environment because it has travelled a shorter distance from farm to fork. But what does the evidence say?

Urban agriculture
Besides short food supply chains there is also potential for scaling up urban farming. ‘A global study has demonstrated that up to 10% of the global output of legumes, roots and tubers, and vegetable crops could be produced by urban agriculture,’ said Prof. Henriksen. In other words, cities could grow a significant amount of the vegetables their populations need on roofs, allotments and other bits and pieces of space. Scaling up any innovation to an entire city requires political buy-in, but there are some good signs on this front. For example, in 2015 the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact was launched and this collective commitment to develop sustainable food systems is now signed by 209 cities around the world.

Read more at Horizon Magazine (Caleb Davies)