I look at how trade enables movement of food and feed anywhere on our planet. And I’m also the Director of Studies, so I like to teach about all the things that we do here, in an inspiring way hopefully.
More than half of the population today lives in cities. And although we are no longer an agrarian societies we are still utterly dependent on agriculture for our food. And those of us who live in cities I think are disconnected from where our food comes from and how it’s made. I think we’re actually disconnected from the entire process of agriculture.
And part of this is because of global trade. Global trade lets us urban citizens consume foods from anywhere on the globe, produced far outside the city borders. And it also enables us to never actually see what’s going on in agriculture production.
So urban consumers are different. Right now we need to deal with this balancing act too when it comes to feeding cities and feeding us to potentially feed the future estimated 9 billion people. We need to have more food, we need to maintain livelihoods of farmers, and we need to remain within the Earth’s capacity.
So we need to produce maybe 60% more calories of food. And we need to at the same time safeguard the livelihoods of the poorest 900 million people, 70% of which are very closely tied to livestock production.
We already see a 20% decline in the number of farmers on this planet in the last 50 years. Somebody’s got to grow our food. And we can’t continue doing farming and fishing in a way that degrades the natural basis for production.
So there’s some unique challenges in the nexus of cities and food and sustainability. Urban dwellers do not understand agriculture production. That’s the first main challenge.
Second is that urban populations are wealthier. We consume more – because I’m an urban person too – and mostly though we consume differently. That 60% of new calories that we need to get, it’s not just because there’s going be 2 billion more people on the planet, it’s because we want to eat things like meat. We eat things – we eat fruit, we eat vegetables in city. That’s different than the traditional more grains-based diet.
The third kind of unique challenge is that there’s no longer going be just local production feeding the local population. The vast majority of food production is coming from far outside the city areas.
Fourth, we see changing values, cultural values, in the urban areas. With this highly networked kind of place that we live in in cities, this globalized world, has become more westernized. And these type of western diets are very different and they’re resource-demanding too.
And last, fifth, is that urban cities, urban areas, are engine rooms of people that drive the free market system. So when we change our diets, when we urban dwellers choose different diets, we transfer that into the market system, we’re demanding different things. And that’s a challenge.
So I looked with my colleagues at three different food systems, and I mapped these developing country kind of capital regions in Australia, in Denmark and in Japan, and to see how they had different approaches to achieving their own food security systems.
So Canberra in Australia, Canberra can provide more food for itself, but it’s chosen – since 1965 it produces less food in its own areas. And that’s because, partially because, urban dwellers in the Canberra area, they prefer – and they’re the ones with the political power – they are the ones that prefer smaller, more pristine ecosystem-like areas, and they’re pushing actually for less agriculture production inside the Canberra area. And that means that they’re – the Canberra is having to import more food.
In Copenhagen, Copenhagen could be self-sufficient but they’ve chosen instead to not be, they’ve chosen instead to import feed inputs, to value add it, and export pork.
Japan, Tokyo, can not provide for the whole 40 million people in the city. They have really high yields, they have a very productive production system, but they can’t provide for 40 million people in the land area. But you can see that because they place a very high cultural value on the food that you can see that they actually manage to maintain very high production levels of the traditional types of pork, rice, and cabbage.
So these are three different approaches that these cities have taken, and you can see that this is how they’ve solved their food systems. So this kind of study is useful I think because cities are going to need to manage food security by learning where in the world – what agricultural ecosystems they need to support their consumption.
And I think Japan is a good example, the example of how many cities are going to feed themselves now. They’re going to depend on very large area outside of the city limits for their food provision. But there’s another reason that you want to make sure that you know where your food is coming from. And for example in 2010 when there was a large drought you could see that the willingness of certain countries to export food, for example Australia was not as willing, and partly because they didn’t have the amount of production of milk and butter, Japan had to look elsewhere to find these sources.
In 2010 during the droughts Russia decided not to export grains to the EU and the big cities in the EU. So you need to know where your food is coming from if you’re going to manage your food security.
And thinking about planetary boundaries, food actually is affecting every single one, it plays a role in all of the nine planetary boundaries. And people talk about deforestation, tropical deforestation, and land use change, but there’s another kind of deforestation that I haven’t heard as much about, which I’ve looked at, and that is related to aquaculture. And it’s related to mangrove deforestation. For example, more than half of the mangrove areas along Thailand’s coasts have been deforested to produce jumbo shrimp aquaculture. And that consumption is driven by rich consumers in the United States and Europe.
Another specific example, which is actually maybe a good success story, where we’re seeing the ozone depletion reduced is the fact that the CFCs, the chlorofluorocarbons, were originally used for refrigeration, for food. So we were able to ship and store food, and that’s why we were using so much chlorofluorocarbons. So these are, yeah, two just specific examples of how food is tied. And there’s many examples of how food is tied to all the planetary boundaries.
I’d like to finish talking with you today and leave you on a good note. There are many good examples of some fun innovations that come from cities. Urban gardening, even though it may not be able to feed the vast majority of us, but there are some really good examples. For example is Dar es Salaam it’s estimated that maybe 90% of the vegetables are actually produced in the urban area. And that in Hanoi they’ve maybe managed to produce up to 60% of their rice, right there in the urban area. So there are some places where they are managing to produce quite a bit of food right in the urban areas.
But I’d like to finish with my own close to home example where I have a Masters student who has started a company, Bee Urban, in Stockholm, and she and her friends are putting beehives out on urban roofs all over Stockholm, and by increasing the habitat for the bees we now have pollination services throughout Stockholm, and we can maybe even say that this is improving our capability here to do urban gardening in Stockholm.
So these are just a few examples of some really exciting and fun things that are happening in cities when it comes to food production and food innovations. There are many, many different fun things going on, there are many different ideas, many different things that should be happening. We shouldn’t have one solution. There are many different ways, and many different things that we should be doing. I encourage you to find out what’s important for you, and think about what you ate for lunch, and where it came from. Thank you.