Can Urban Agriculture Feed the World's Growing Cities?
Living in a city puts everything at your fingertips: From fashion and movies to social movements and political experiments, residents of urban areas experience most everything before it trickles through the suburbs and into rural communities.
Published on July 29, 2014 | Yahoo! News
by: Willy Blackmore
Living in a city puts everything at your fingertips: From fashion and movies to social movements and political experiments, residents of urban areas experience most everything before it trickles through the suburbs and into rural communities. The same can’t be said for food; even the most devoted locavore depends on produce that flows up the cultural stream, making its way from the countryside back to the urban core. But as more of those rural residents follow that food, making new lives in urban communities, should vegetables, like film premieres, emanate from cities too?
There are more people living in cities now than ever, and population growth is expected to center on urban areas. According to the United Nations, by 2030 nearly 5 billion people will be living in cities, much of them in Africa and Asia. This historic shift in population crossed a threshold in 2008, when more than half of the world’s people were living in cities for the first time.
The combination of rising density and reduced rural populations is changing the ways people get their food. Today an estimated 2.6 billion people—40 percent of the global population—are small farmers, raising crops for personal consumption on fewer than five acres of land, according to Greenpeace. In Africa, nearly 90 percent of harvests come from small farms. With many of those farmers expected to head to city life in the coming years, urban agriculture has been touted as a potential way to feed the larger, more dense population of the future. But just how much food could be grown in the world’s cities? How much urban area would have to be dedicated to growing crops in order for cities to feed themselves? A first-of-its-kind study published last month in the journal Environmental Research Letters attempts to answer those questions.
A team of geographers from Montreal’s McGill University compared the total amount of urban area available (excluding large urban open spaces like New York’s Central Park), the production of 27 vegetable crops, and both the total and the urban population of 165 countries. In short, the study finds that roughly a third of the world’s urban space would need to be planted with vegetables to meet the global demand of city dwellers.
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