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Food security future is in urban farms


Belo Horizonte in Brazil and Ede in the Netherlands may not have much in common at first sight, but both have become leaders in trying to tackle a growing challenge for the world’s cities — providing a reliable supply of nutritious food to residents.

In Belo Horizonte, hunger and poverty prompted the mayor in 1993 to declare a citizens’ right to food and kick-start an action plan to ensure the poor got fed — a campaign that won it worldwide acclaim as “the city that ended hunger”.

Ede’s food policy, adopted more than 20 years later, aims to create better opportunities for farmers and make residents healthier, said Leon Meijer from the city, the Netherlands’ first local councillor in charge of food.

“We chose to have our own food policy because food isn’t just about production – it’s about food security, public health and people reconnecting with what they eat,” said Meijer.

Almost 800 million people worldwide do not have enough to eat, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation, while about 30 per cent of the world’s population are overweight, a paradox nowhere more visible than in cities. As two-thirds of the global population are forecast to live in cities by 2050 compared with about half now, urban planners and policymakers are increasingly looking to agriculture in towns and cities as a solution to provide nutritious food.

Land used for farming in cities and the areas around them equals the size of the European Union, a recent study said, while others estimate some 800 million urban farmers provide up to 20 per cent of the world’s food.

Unlike imported produce, food from city farms and gardens does not need to travel far, reducing production costs, waste and fuel use.

“Food is not just a local issue, and to become more sustainable we need to look beyond our own boundaries,” Ede’s Meijer told the Resilient Cities conference in Bonn this month.

Ede, located in what is known as “Food Valley”, has shaped a policy that addresses healthy food issues.