SLU news

Urban farming as a smart city function - a conference report

Published: 22 October 2019

Many cities around the world have started to look at urban farming as an enabler for food security, resilience and circular economy. Under the umbrella of the French-Swedish partnership for innovation and green solutions, a conference on urban farming and sustainable smart cities took place in Stockholm on 9 October 2019, allowing Swedish and French stakeholders to initiate dialogue.

The seminar was arranged by the French Institute together with the Vinnova program "Viable Cities". A number of initiatives in urban agriculture were presented, that can be broadly categorized as focusing primarily 1) high tech commercial production (Stockholm), and 2) rooftop gardens for consumer and citizen engagement (Paris).

All initiates apply horticultural production practices, some include hydroponics to increase water use efficiency.

The single largest challenge for these types of UA seems to be how to make it profitable. Other critical points that are discussed include high demands of energy (electricity) to produce plants, and the dependence on commercial fertilizers (e.g. NPK solutions derived from fossil resources). Furthermore, all the initiatives presented at this event produce primarily leafy greens and herbs (cash crops that are easy to grow, but yield high economic revenues). Experiences and capabilities are therefore mostly in areas such as financial feasibility of UA, job creation potential, energy recycling techniques (connection to buildings and architecture).

The initiatives are explicitly presented as complementary to staple foods, emphasizing crops that are best consumed fresh, i.e. are nutritious as a source of vitamins, rather than food. Consequently, the systems are questionable from a food security perspective. Interestingly though, despite not yielding high volumes and nutrient dense food products, the departure point in most of the presentations is clearly UA as a strategy to handle challenges in the water-energy-food nexus. Indeed, this critical question is raised by the audience, but the presenters seem to have difficulties in positioning their initiatives as significant contributors to food security. A conclusion, therefore, is that there is a need for more critical analyses (research) and discussion of these type of urban food systems from a perspective of food production capacity and implications of specific crop selection. Another critical bottleneck for increasing the sustainability of specifically hydroponic/vertical UA, is access to more sustainable fertilizers that can tailored to specific crop needs. 

Facts:

SLU participated in the seminar as an activity within the ongoing project Food and Cities.


Contact

Daniel Bergquist, Coordinator for Food and Cities

Telephone: 018-672576, 0707-542909
E-mail: daniel.bergquist@slu.se

Page editor: futurefood@slu.se