Three Ways Cities Can Help Feed the World, Without costing the EarthC

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Climate change is underway, and human activities such as urbanisation, industrialisation and food production are key contributors. Food production alone accounts for around 25% of global carbon emissions. Ironically, the changing weather patterns and more frequent extreme weather events resulting from climate change also put the world's food supplies at risk.

Food production drives deforestation, meaning there are fewer trees to absorb carbon dioxide, which contributes to the greenhouse effect. What's more, the fertilisers and pesticides used to protect crops have caused a dramatic decline in insect populations, and in soil fertility, by affecting the microbial organisms that enrich the soil and enable plants to gain nutrients.

At the same time, the world population is rising and there are expected to be more than 9.5 billion people on Earth by 2050. In response to these projections, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is campaigning for a 60% increase in food production by 2050, by intensifying agriculture to be more productive and use fewer resources, all without increasing the amount of farm land.

It's not yet clear exactly how this "intensification" should happen. Alternative methods, such as organic farming, are respectful of soil ecology and insect life and can restore soil fertility. But they cannot, at present, produce as much food as industrial agriculture.

Yet the idea that we need more food is debatable. Although, according to the FAO, there are 821m people globally suffering from hunger, the world produces 50% more food than is needed to feed the global population. Another estimate from biologist and author Colin Tudge suggests that the current food production can feed as many as 14 billion people. But one third of this food is wasted because of distorted supply systems, unjust food distribution and unhealthy and unsustainable diets.

So, the efforts of experts in the food sector should not concentrate on agriculture intensification, but rather on strategies to change patterns of consumption and waste at a local and global level. My own research on urban agriculture and sustainable cities suggests there are three main areas where effective changes can be made.

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