Global Supply Chain Role and Crucial Role of Cities

Global Supply Chain Role and Crucial Role of Cities

The modern food industry has undoubtedly reached impressive milestones in terms of efficiency, diversity, and accessibility of products, largely owing to globalization. Traditional globalized food supply chains now offer customers an extensive range of food options, spanning from exotic fruits to international cuisines.


However, this convenience comes at a significant cost to both society and the environment. Today, there is increasing debate over the long-term viability and sustainability of global food supply chains. Socially, concerns arise due to the concentration of food distribution and marketing activities in the hands of a few highly profitable corporations. Additionally, there are environmental concerns regarding the detrimental effects of these practices based on long-distance food transportation, extensive monoculture farming, and the widespread use of synthetic pesticides. This have accelerated environmental degradation, significantly contributing to climate change. Indeed, the carbon footprint associated with transporting food across continents, coupled with agricultural deforestation, has made the food industry a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, the excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers has led to soil depletion and water contamination, posing threats to the very ecosystems upon which our food production relies.


In response to these challenges, the concept of city-region food localization has gained traction among governments and has been endorsed by international bodies such as the FAO. According to the World Bank, almost 6 out of 10 people currently resides in cities, and this urbanization trend is expected to persist, leading to 70% of the global population projected to live in urban areas by 2050. It’s evident that cities cannot rely solely on their rural surroundings to meet their food demands, yet becoming fully dependent on complex and globalized supply chains is also unsustainable. Given these considerations, cities are emerging as ideal testing grounds for local food systems that offer innovative solutions to these pressing concerns. Cities have the potential to address this challenge and become hubs of change by promoting local production through urban agriculture.



Urban agriculture, as defined by the FAO in the 2007 is “the growing of plants and the raising of animals for food and other uses within and around cities and towns, and related activities such as the production and delivery of inputs, processing and marketing of products”. As noted earlier, the majority of the global population now resides in cities, making it unrealistic to expect urban areas to fulfill their food requirements solely depending on rural regions or the global supply chain. Consequently, urban areas are adopting policies aimed at enhancing their self-sufficiency and reducing reliance on the global market or rural hinterlands for food.


Consequently, urban agriculture has emerged as a tactic with the potential to tackle the sustainability issues associated with global supply chains. Its aim is to improve the availability and accessibility of fresh, locally sourced food within cities. This strategy promotes the growth of local food economies by establishing areas within urban spaces where individuals and communities can cultivate and sell their own crops. Two key benefits become evident: the avoidance of corporate-controlled food systems that often support unsustainable industrial agriculture techniques and the shortening of food supply chains. Furthermore, cities have a significant food demand, so shifting some food production to these areas can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with long-distance transportation


The typologies of urban agriculture are diverse, but they can generally be categorized into three main groups based on the scale of agricultural activity: private (e.g., household gardens), commercial (e.g., vertical farms), and community-based initiatives (e.g., community rooftops). These activities encompass personal gardens, large-scale commercial operations, and community-based initiatives that serve as a connection between the two.


Considering the available spectrum of urban agriculture options, and that various factors (e.g., geography, production methods) must be carefully assessed when developing specific urban agriculture projects, it’s clear that a one-size-fits-all approach cannot be used. Despite this diversity, it is possible to analyze urban agriculture initiatives from an ESG perspective and find similarities in them.


In terms of the environment, urban agriculture offers significant advantages. By farming in cities, the need for long-distance transportation is reduced, resulting in lower emissions and fresher produce due to shorter storage times. Additionally, urban agriculture can positively impact waste management by minimizing the distance between production and consumption, facilitating food waste recycling. For instance, some urban farms recycle organic waste into their operations, creating a sustainable closed-loop system that supports the circular economy. However, challenges may arise in urban areas due to elevated pollution levels, which could affect the quality of produce.


Socially wise, urban agriculture provides valuable benefits to local communities, including enhanced food security and opportunities for active community involvement. Furthermore, urban agriculture contributes to reducing vulnerability to supply chain disruptions during emergencies, as demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cities with urban agriculture initiatives have shown greater resilience by shortening the supply chain and providing residents with direct access to locally grown produce.


Under the aspect of economy and governance, urban agriculture has the potential to stimulate the development of new local economies by generating employment opportunities in agriculture for residents. On the other hand, the scale of food production within cities may not always suffice to meet overall demand, potentially limiting its benefits due to insufficient quantity of food produced.


In conclusion, urban agriculture emerges as a promising strategy to address the sustainability challenges posed by global supply chains. By improving the availability and accessibility of fresh, locally sourced food within cities, urban agriculture fosters the growth of local food economies and reduces reliance on long-distance transportation. This approach not only shortens food supply chains and mitigates the environmental impacts associated with industrial agriculture but also strengthens community resilience and social cohesion. However, the diverse nature of urban agriculture requires tailored approaches that consider various factors such as geography and production methods. Overall, urban agriculture presents a multifaceted solution that can contribute to building more sustainable and resilient cities in the face of global food challenges.




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