How to feed a city

This blog-post, published on May 20 for the FCRN, is written by Professor Michael Hamm, C.S. Mott Professor of Sustainable Agriculture – Michigan State University and Director of the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems. It’s the first in a series on the value of city region food systems.

This first piece “explore[s] ways to look at city region food systems – recognizing they will exist in a wide range of ecological, social, and political environments”.

This from the introduction:

“We face a historic food challenge.  A report [4] from the United Nations highlights the growth trends of various sized cities (see adjacent figure). Today about four billion people live in cities- half in cities under 500,000.  There are 417 cities with 1-5 million people today and will be 558 in 2030.  During this time period cities over 500,000 will increase from 1,000 to 1,400.  This, I think, begs several questions.  How will all people in these cities have access to a daily, healthy diet and where will it come from?   Will all these people go through a nutrition transition [5] (a diet higher in animal products and greatly increased calorie consumption) as incomes increase and will others improve their dietary patterns [6] from the disease-promoting practices of today?  How will supply chains evolve to both increase livelihood opportunities and supply safe, nutritious food to all these city residents?  How will climate change and fresh water challenges differentially impact food security in different cities?  How will we manage the increased amounts of urban human and food waste? How do we move to food systems that are increasingly more sustainable as well as resilient? These contested questions with ideological, economic, and political overtones present wicked problems without turnkey answers or immediately recognizable solutions.

Since this is where the bulk of people will be living and where the greatest challenges will be in ensuring a safe and nutritious daily food supply, it makes sense to focus heavily on city regions [7].  This is beginning to happen, with a number of international organizations including FAO [8], IUFN [9], The Princes Charities International Sustainability Unit [10] and a host of others building a development agenda. However, moving from where we are to where we will be in 2030, 2040, or 2050 (or whatever year you wish to pick) looks very different across the world and within specific city regions.  In most of the developed world we have systematically (if unconsciously) dismantled regional food production, distribution, and processing infrastructure over the last century.”

The full piece can be found here

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.