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Can a city become food-wise self-sufficient?

City becomes food wise self-sufficient

Paris is leading the way

In Paris and other cities, the concept of building-based agriculture is gaining traction as a means to reap economic and environmental benefits while safeguarding farmland at the urban periphery. Urban rooftop farms, such as Nature Urbaine in Paris, utilize innovative techniques like aeroponics and hydroponics to cultivate crops without soil, using minimal water and producing fewer CO2 emissions compared to traditional farming methods. Nature Urbaine, Europe’s largest urban rooftop farm, spans an impressive 14,000 square meters and can yield over 10 tons of produce per season. The success of such farms helps reduce resource consumption, lower carbon emissions, create green spaces in urban areas vulnerable to extreme heat, strengthen community bonds, and enhance food security and climate resilience.

With a growing awareness of the environmental impact of transporting food long distances, there is a compelling case for localized food production. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reports that 79% of all food produced globally is consumed in urban areas, resulting in substantial emissions from food miles. Urban agriculture, including rooftop farms, offers a potential solution by bringing food production closer to consumers. While vertical farming has garnered attention, it faces challenges such as high energy consumption and operating costs. Rooftop agriculture, on the other hand, utilizes unused urban spaces and has the potential to provide a significant portion of a city’s food needs. Research has shown that rooftop farms have numerous benefits beyond food production, including noise insulation, reuse of greywater and building heat, and improved roof durability.

It has a substantial impact

Paris and other French cities are witnessing a proliferation of urban farms, with projects ranging from rooftop farms to mushroom farms and fruit tree plantations. Agripolis, the company behind Nature Urbaine, operates several other urban farms on the roofs of hotels, a swimming pool, and a water purification station. These initiatives contribute to local food production, support restaurants and businesses, and generate income through tours and events. While urban agriculture cannot fully sustain a city’s food requirements, it has the potential to make a significant impact, supplying 5% to 10% of demand in Paris, according to Pascal Hardy, the founder of Agripolis.

Another approach gaining momentum is preserving or restoring agricultural activity in peri-urban areas surrounding cities. By safeguarding these fertile zones, urban areas can increase access to fresh, nutritious food, especially for underserved communities. Initiatives like France’s Fertile Neighborhoods project aim to build urban farms in underprivileged areas, providing both social and economic benefits. However, as cities expand and encroach on agricultural land, the preservation of peri-urban areas becomes crucial. The loss of fertile land exacerbates food security issues, particularly in regions heavily reliant on local food supply chains.

Cities such as Barcelona and Quito have made efforts to protect peri-urban agriculture through legal measures and incorporating urban agriculture into urban planning. The Barcelona Lab for Urban Environmental Justice and Sustainability highlights the need to value and utilize peri-urban spaces, as they contribute to social cohesion, income generation, and food security. While Europe offers more opportunities for urban agriculture, regions like Haiti face more significant challenges due to limited space and high food dependence.

Paris is actively working to strengthen its food supply resilience by expanding urban farming initiatives. The Les Parisculteurs project has added over 50 urban farms in the city, increasing the farming land from 11 hectares to 30 hectares. The long-term goal is to reach 100 hectares. Additionally, a renewed plan for the Paris Green Belt, which protects natural and agricultural spaces from urban sprawl, will be published, and 3,000 hectares of farming land in Greater Paris will be developed by 2030. Collaboration with agricultural experts, such as AgroParisTech, ensures that farmers adapt to climate change and contribute to sustainable food production.

While urban agriculture cannot fully replace traditional farming methods, it offers a range of benefits and is a step toward creating more resilient and sustainable food systems in cities. By embracing diverse forms of urban agriculture, cities can reduce their ecological footprint, improve food access, and foster healthier and more connected communities.

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