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How Cities Can Feed Themselves: A Ten-Point Plan

CIBO was featured in a report from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change exploring how companies are building a more resilient food system.

Executive Summary

Cities should aim to produce at least 30 percent of their own fruit and vegetables by 2030 through tech-enabled food production.

Thanks to technology, growing crops is no longer constrained by traditional growing cycles, soil health or weather conditions – which is a good thing because these factors are no longer reliable. Rather, as a result of climate change, they vary drastically and are often unpredictable.

Further, the long and complex supply chains that bring food to our cities are vulnerable to extreme weather, political instability – such as the current crisis in Ukraine – and pandemics, as illustrated by empty supermarket shelves during Covid-19.

It is estimated that by 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities and will consume 80 per cent of all food produced. Cities must leverage technological innovations – particularly indoor vertical farms, greenhouses and precision-farming tools – to feed their growing populations.

By leveraging innovations in urban agricultural technology (“urban agtech”), city leaders can diversify their food sources, thereby increasing their food resilience in the face of the growing threat of insecurity from general and nutritional scarcity – in particular, the lack of essential micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. And they can do so while dramatically minimising the use of pesticides or chemical fertilisers and taking up much less land than required by conventional agricultural methods. Land that would otherwise be used to feed growing urban populations can instead be conserved as carbon sinks and wildlife habitat.

In addition, urban agtech can bring badly needed investment and desirable jobs to neighbourhoods. Derelict buildings and vacant warehouses can be converted into thriving businesses that provide nearby residents with fresh, healthy produce that travelled minutes, rather than days or weeks, to reach them, thereby preserving taste and nutritional value. These facilities will offer skilled jobs in comfortable, climate-controlled settings, drawing in a new pool of workers.

While most cities focus on incorporating clean energy or clean transportation into the built environment, more must concentrate on creating resilient food systems. Governments should help urban-agtech entrepreneurs scale their businesses and support further technological innovation. Too often, land-use regulations are a barrier for would-be entrepreneurs; instead, policymakers should leverage these as tools so that food resilience becomes a key part of the urban fabric.

Read the full report