Urban Agriculture: A Global Solution to Food Insecurity

This post is by Anisa Abdulkadir, a senior Biology major at the University of St. Thomas.

Currently, an estimated 54 percent of the world’s population lives in urban cities (United Nations, 2014). This percentage is estimated to increase with growing urbanization. Consequently, city dwellers are no longer in touch with food production. Food travels extremely long distances, an estimated 1500 miles in the U.S before it arrives in grocery stores (Grewal & Grewal, 2012).

Bok choy on a 30-feet circulating A-frame in Singapore.

Bok choy on a 30-feet circulating A-frame in Singapore.

Although some may view it as a hippie trend, urban farming is proving to be a pragmatic method to solving food issues. Worldwide, a growing number of urban residents are turning to urban agriculture as a sustainable method of food production, bringing the farm closer to home.

For centuries, individuals and communities have been growing food in cities, leading to improved food security. A significant amount of urban farmers are producing food, which accounts for about 15-20 percent of the global food production (Milica, 2014).

Urban dwellers around the world are utilizing empty lots, backyards, and rooftops for food production. From Argentina to Japan, urban agriculture is playing an important role in food security. Some governments support urban food production (e.g. Argentina) and supply individuals with city lots to farm; while other governments are restricting urban farming for various reasons leading to the illegal farming on city owned land (e.g. Zimbabwe). Regardless, urban citizens all around the world are grasping the importance of food security and are willing to do anything to bring the farm closer to the city.

Some countries are utilizing an innovative approach to re-introduce farming to cities. For example, in Singapore, engineers have developed the world’s first commercial vertical farm to meet Singapore’s goals of food self-reliance (Krishnamurthy, 2015). These scaling “A” shaped vertical gardens are proving to be a feasible method of food production and a source of locally produced food.

On the other hand, Switzerland is taking another approach to produce food within the city. Using soil-less farming, the Swiss are utilizing aquaponics to produce vegetables and fish simultaneously. Roman Gaus and Andreas Graber have created rooftop aquaponics systems, which uses less water than traditional farming and no soil (Innovative Switzerland). By harnessing this relationship between plants and vegetables, they are able to produce tons of food and eliminate chemical fertilizers from food production.

While innovation may stimulate urban agriculture, in some countries, it emerged due to a lack of food on a national scale. Cuba is a prime example. Due to the economic collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, Cuba lost a major trade partner. Almost overnight, 2.2 million Cubans lost access to food (Clouse, 2014). To overcome this crisis, the Cuban government implemented a sustainable farming method. Residents used rural and urban land to produce millions of tons of food improving food access. Even to this day, Cuban national continue to farm urban land and ensure food reaches their tables.

Developing and developed alike, urban residents worldwide are utilizing urban space to subdue food insecurity. They are devising methods to grow food in their city homes by any means necessary. Governments and citizens alike are contributing to bring the farm closer to urban residents by implementing novel and traditional farming methods within the city.

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About Adam Kay

I study urban ecology and urban agriculture
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