Should we start rethinking urban agriculture and food provisioning?


With rising global environmental effects and food production and consumption security challenges, establishing sustainable and resilient food systems will necessitate innovative methods, technologies, techniques, and procedures. Food production systems, particularly those in cities, have experienced significant innovation and improvement in recent years. Distributed food production systems and urban agriculture are becoming more prominent as a means of securing food supplies while reducing strain on agricultural land and traditional supply lines.

However, urban food systems rely on material and energy inputs that frequently come from sources beyond the immediate neighborhood. Exploring approaches to reduce energy and resource consumption through further urban symbiotic developments is needed, with increasing pressure to reduce the environmental implications of their production and an increased interest in the circular economy. Exploring the possibilities of employing urban residual streams, energy, and the preconditions of their geographic proximity in new ways will become increasingly important.

Should we begin rethinking urban agriculture and food supply by recognizing the relationship between urban socio-ecological crises and the linear design of industrial agri-food systems?

These systems are often arranged in value chains in which resources are harvested, used/transformed, and finally discarded. Natural resources are taken, processed into products (food, feed, or fiber), utilized or consumed, and disposed of in such a linearly structured system, frequently creating waste in the form of harmful emissions and pollution. While linearly planned systems can be very resource-efficient, the need to standardize and simplify leads to an over-reliance on a few productive kinds as well as an over-reliance on external inputs, particularly biological resources. Waste is also produced as a result of the industrial linear method. This makes it a net contributor to the planet’s ecological concerns, including greenhouse-gas emissions and the loss of biodiversity, as well as the depletion of essential nutrient cycles such as phosphate and nitrogen. Industrialized agricultural systems are the primary causes of deforestation and forest degradation worldwide, accounting for 17% of global carbon emissions.

The primary rationale in developing linear industrial agri-food systems is to obtain economies of scale via standardization and specialization, as well as through the commodification of natural resources through food production. This method results in the separation of places of consumption and sites of production, transforming cities into places of consumption rather than production. Indeed, during the last several decades, we have observed rapid and extensive urbanization, with consumer agglomeration leading to the separation of urban and rural regions, as well as the elimination of food production from the inner core of cities. This has fundamentally altered the interaction between rural and urban regions, as well as radically modified the networks and cycles of natural resources such as water, air, carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus, among others, that have historically linked these locations.

At the same time, however quick and disruptive, contemporary rural urbanization has created new contexts: peri-urban places where urbanity and rurality coexist. These places have seen substantial population expansion, land use pressures, and dramatic socio-demographic changes. However, a network of productive farms remains in these places, and food supply lines remain crucial and dynamic. Peri-urban regions, in my opinion, offer a fresh location to begin rethinking circumstances for re-establishing and improving links between urban and rural areas. These are the places where social innovations appear to occur and inspire the creation of new socio-economic dynamics, in which the function of agricultural operations and relationships between farmers and non-farmers has taken on diverse implications. In certain locations, for example, the condition ‘peri-urbanity’ has grown structurally prominent in relation to the ‘extreme circumstances’ of urbanity and rurality, to the point that some writers have established the notion of an urban-rural agro-ecosystem or rural-urban bioregion.

All of these scholars emphasize a unique structural relationship between rural and urban regions that happens via peri-urban territories. Elements of the rural system have swiftly been incorporated in or intermingled with, a growing urban system in peri-urban regions. Examples include green belts of farmland that are still in place and provide agro-ecological services; farming activities that preserve agricultural land use and provide open space for recreational purposes, clean water, and air; and flourishing short supply chains and community-based agriculture, which connect producers and consumers in novel relationships. All of these socio-ecological conditions constitute peri-urban regions, and agricultural operations in these areas are referred to as urban or peri-urban agriculture. Instead of the typical urban/rural dichotomy or division, there is a convergent approach in recognizing a ‘continuum’ between rural and urban regions. The study of the creation and stabilization of periurban zones during intense urbanization processes extends beyond issues of rural-urban connections. These ‘new’ socio-ecological spaces allow us to rethink how agricultural and food provisioning operations might be utilized to establish patterns of sustainable development in an increasingly urbanized society. Although vital agriculture and rural communities can help to mitigate the disruptive impact of urbanization on socio-ecological processes, there is mounting evidence that urban and peri-urban agriculture risk following existing processes of further resource-use intensification, potentially exacerbating rather than mitigating socio-ecological tensions in cities.

In reality, the same concepts and methods that build industrialized agriculture in rural regions can affect urban and peri-urban agriculture. The presence of agriculture and food supply in the peri-urban setting does not automatically promote city resilience, food security, health, and sustainability. Most likely, the reverse is true. So, how can we redesign urban agri-food systems without harming human health or ecosystems? How can we re-establish effective and regenerative natural resource networks between rural and urban areas? What role may peri-urban regions play in this process?

Nguyen Huu Loi
Nguyen Huu Loi
Master's student at ASEAN Master in Sustainability Management program


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