Could urban agriculture improve global food security?

Sunflowers at La Défence, Paris. Credits to: Dominique Ehlinger

In the recent years, there has been an increased interest in urban agriculture. Several organizations are promoting it by doing workshops and other activities in order to provide hands on agricultural experience to people living in the city, far from farms. Santropol Roulant in Montréal, for example, promotes urban agriculture through volunteers working in the field or in the kitchen, where they prepare meals for elderly people using the vegetables and meat produced organically on farm. They also do workshops throughout the season on different aspects of urban agriculture from seeding indoors to canning the food produced (Santropol Roulant, 2018). Moreover, aside from promotion some are selling their urban grown products like the Lufa farms for example. They own 3 rooftop greenhouses in which they grow tomatoes, peppers, eggplants among other vegetables which they sell to more than 10,000 families, every week and all year round (Lufa farms, 2019). Finally, some organizations are doing research on urban agriculture such as the AU/LAB in Montréal which does research in collaboration with local universities (AU/LAB, 2018).

A worldwide issue regarding food production is food security. Indeed, food insecurity is quite important with ⅓ of the worldwide population suffering from food insecurity in total and an increase in hunger since 2014. Indeed, undernourishment or chronic food deprivation has increased from 804 million to 821 million in only one year, from 2016 to 2017 (FAO et al., 2018). Moreover, food insecurity is also quite important in cities as

Hydroponic lettuce grown in the Raymond Greenhouse, Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue. Credits to: Alexine Ehlinger

well as in developed countries, who are trying to help in developing countries but should improve their food security as well. Indeed, in Canada, 12.5% of the population is food insecure with most of it being in the Northern Territories especially in Nunavut (Statistics Canada, 2013).

Food security is met when food is accessible, and available to all and at all time and is safe and nutritious for consumption.

The problem is that food production in cities is limited due to the lower space for food production. However, there are several solutions seen in cities nowadays. These include greenhouses on rooftops of industrial buildings like what the Lufa farms did in Montréal and Laval (Lufa farms, 2019). There is also the use of vertical production like Sky Greens in Singapore these systems allow for more food to be produced on less land (Sky Greens, 2014). And hydroponic systems which can also be used vertically. These systems allow for water and nutrient cycling. Greenology in Singapore works on the creation of such systems and Inno-3B in Québec does hydroponic vertical agriculture towers, they even have one in the sacristy of a church in Saint-Pacôme (Greenology, 2014; Gagnon, 2019).

Basil and flowers growing on a balcony, Montreal. Credits to: Alexine Ehlinger

Even though producing locally could allow more food on the local markets and potentially reduce vegetable costs it might not actually decrease much the price since although there are lower transportation costs, the cost for heating the greenhouse over winter among other things could prevent the price from really going down. And the issue with food insecurity is mainly caused by the inability to buy food due to the cost. Thus in order for this urban production to actually help decrease food insecurity in cities, it would need to implement volunteer programs, especially for food insecure people who could come harvest, seed and do other jobs for a few hours per week. In exchange they would receive a basket of vegetables and do a cooking class on how to cook the vegetables they received. This program needs to be flexible so that even people working several jobs are able to volunteer.

 

Thus, I believe that a volunteer program within local urban agriculture production would allow food security to be improved by increasing food availability to these insecure people and would also increase food safety since they are learning how to properly cook the vegetables decreasing the risks linked to food poisoning.

 

References:

AU/LAB. 2018. À propos d’AU/LAB. Available at http://www.au-lab.ca/a-propos-d-au-lab/#objectifs (last updated 2018; accessed February 3rd, 2019). AU/LAB, Canada, Québec, Montréal.

FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. 2018. The state of food insecurity and nutrition in the world 2018. Building climate resilience for food security and nutrition. Rome, FAO.

Gagnon, M. 2019. Des légumes produits dans une église. La terre de chez nous. Canada, Québec.

Greenology. 2019. Greenology Vertical Agriculture (GVA). Available at https://greenology.sg/products/vertical-agriculture/ (Last updated 2014; accessed February 10th, 2019). Greenology pte., Singapore.

Lufa farms. 2019. About us. Available at https://montreal.lufa.com/about (Last updated 2019; accessed February 4th, 2019). Lufa farms, Canada, Québec, Montréal.

Santropol Roulant. 2018. About us – Mission. Available at https://santropolroulant.org/en/mission-2/ (last updated 2018; accessed February 4th, 2019). Santropol Roulant, Canada, Québec, Montréal.

Sky Greens. 2019. About Sky Greens. Available at https://www.skygreens.com/about-skygreens/ (last updated 2014; accessed February 10th, 2019). Sky Greens, Singapore.

Statistics Canada. 2013. Canadian Community Health Survey. Household food insecurity, Canada 2013.

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