Where there's a city, there's a wider region that could provide a lot of its food. And yet, the produce on the average urbanite's plate is often imported from further afield, while farms located just a spud's throw away export most of what they grow. There's much to be gained from tackling this disconnect, say EU-funded researchers who looked into ways of doing so.
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The Foodmetres project, a four-year endeavour that ended in September 2015, was dedicated to the production, processing and distribution of food in metropolitan areas. More specifically, it focused on the development of shorter, more sustainable food supply chains, designed to take account of the needs and constraints of the various stakeholders and underpinned by regional hubs for processing and distribution.
Foodmetres has created a new awareness of the potential of food regions around cities, says project coordinator Dirk Wascher of Wageningen University Research. We have undertaken a fact-finding, evidence-based assessment of food supply and demand, and have advanced quite strongly in terms of the visualisation of such information.
The researchers have notably developed guidance, decision support tools and a typology of short food supply chains in order to inform the dialogue about possible approaches. Collaboration between a citys authorities and the contributors involved on the business side is crucial, as a wide array of technical, logistical, organisational and governance aspects must be addressed.
Fertile ground for cooperation
What we propose is to change the spatial arrangement by bringing all actors together rather than letting them act against each other, says Wascher. This, however, was only one part of the projects activity, he notes. Foodmetres also explored the idea of metropolitan food supply clusters, a concept that addresses the need for greater resource efficiency by grouping processing and distribution infrastructure.
The team conducted case studies in Berlin, Ljubljana, London, Milan, Nairobi and Rotterdam. Details of these case studies, along with other project outputs, are available through the FoodMetres knowledge portal.
At the moment, food production in metropolitan areas is influenced primarily by large-scale, international agricultural policies and business opportunities arising in global trade, rather than by the needs of the city at their centre, says Wascher. To provide a particularly striking example, he points to the case of Rotterdam, a city surrounded by agricultural activity mainly geared to export.
This activity is, of course, an asset to such regions, he notes. However, the location of export food activity is largely arbitrary, driven by forces other than strategic spatial planning. You could redistribute production differently, by consciously looking at the supply potential around the cities, and at the citys needs, he explains.
Back to the citys regional roots
The needs to be considered arent solely related to food. There are also requirements to meet in terms of recreation and nature conservation, he adds, but all these objectives are currently pursued independently of each other. Nature conservation is fighting a lonesome battle to preserve areas that may be dedicated to other functions, he explains. According to Wascher, this aim could be furthered in collaboration with the wider food planning of the region.
Of course, different cities face different issues, their assets also differ, and so will their approaches to the creation of short food supply chains. Some may, for example, boast power plants that produce surplus heat, which could be put to good use in greenhouses.
The projects findings suggest that collaborative, coherent spatial planning can shape solutions for each and every city, and the partners are keen to spread the word. Policymakers can now link the surroundings of the city with inside needs far more consciously, Wascher concludes. I think cities should be more active in this respect, and make stronger demands to get their land back for their employs.