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Scientists map food security and self-provision of major cities

Wealthy capital cities vary greatly in their dependence on the global food market. The Australian capital Canberra produces the majority of its most common food in its regional hinterland, while Tokyo primarily ensures its food security through import. The Copenhagen hinterland produces less than half of the consumption of the most common foods. For the first time, researchers have mapped the food systems of these three capital cities, an essential insight for future food security if population growth, climate change and political instability will affect the open market. The study was conducted by several partners in the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU), an alliance addressing the grand challenges facing humanity, with a particular focus on climate change and sustainability.

“The three major cities in our study achieve food security by different degrees of self-provision and national and global market trade. It is important to understand such food flows in order to relate it to the energy challenge and the risk of national political unrest caused by food shortages and its effect on the open food trade,” says Dr. John R. Porter, Professor of Plant and Environmental Science from the University of Copenhagen, who is leading author on the study recently published online in the journal Global Food Security.

The three capital cities and accompanying capital regions or territories have populations that range over two orders of magnitude, situated within different global, climatic and physical locations and socio-economic contexts. Although the analysis is not predictive or prescriptive, it is intended to provide a better understanding of the effects of a globally coupled food system.

The research shows that higher farmland yields have influenced the cities self-provisioning over the past 40 years, but that, overall, the ability of cities to feed themselves is unlikely to keep pace with increasing population. The study has exclusively focused on the historical and current production and not considered whether changes in land management practices can increase productivity further or whether consumers are willing to limit their intake to local seasonally available goods. It did not include citizen-based production from allotments, urban gardens etc.

The authors call attention on “the need to determine the food security and self-provisioning capacity of a wide range of rich and poor cities, taking into account the global location of the ecosystems that are provisioning them.” They conclude their study by raising the pressing question of the degree to which governments will remain committed to open food trade policies in the face of national political unrest caused by food shortages.

The full study is available here.