By Graham Salinger
With more people living in cities than ever before—the United Nations projects that up to 65 percent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050—cities are relying on a number of innovations to boost food security. Meanwhile, the price of food in urban areas remains higher than that of rural areas. With food purchases taking up to 80 percent of a typical urban family’s income, the need for sustainable urban agriculture is clear. In the wake of recent shocks to food prices and the current economic downturns, urban dwellers are finding it harder and harder to find affordable, healthy food.
In Montreal, Canada, a pilot program is underway to bring healthy vegetables and fruits to downtown residents. This summer, small carts called Fruixi are delivering locally grown produce to people who lack access to grocery stores. The carts, which are mounted on three-wheeled bikes, were developed by Université de Montréal student Guillaume Darnajou. Six of the Fruixi carts deliver food to parks in Ville-Marie and Plateau Mont-Royal, areas in which residents may otherwise not be able to get fresh fruits and vegetables. The carts will also visit three hospitals – Hôtel-Dieu, Saint-Luc and Notre-Dame.
This innovation underscores the role that increased vegetable production should play in food security. Vitamin-rich vegetables are an important part of a diet, especially for the undernourished. They are also easier to produce than staple crops. Small-scale farmers can also make more money growing vegetables than other crops, demonstrating that local food movements, like the ones encouraged by the Fruixis program, also help to stimulate local economies.
Innovations in sub-Saharan Africa are also helping people eat local. In Senegal, women farmers are switching back to traditional varieties of fruit, including karkadè, pain de singe, tamarindo, and ditakh that they process into value-added products, such as juices and jam. And in Kenya, farmers are being trained to bring themselves out of poverty by growing local produce and using local seed and fertilizer.
By focusing on local crops and switching away from monoculture crops, including maize, wheat, soybeans, and rice, countries in sub-Saharan Africa are investing in developing their local agricultural economy in a way that makes them less vulnerable to price shocks like the ones that took place in 2007 and 2008. Innovations like those taking place in Africa and Montreal are instrumental to food security in the future.
To read more about local food movements, see: Dishing up new ideas in Davos: What a Greenmarket chef has to do with hunger, From Their Backyard to Ours: A New Model for Sustainable Local Food Production? and Innovation of the Week: Using Small Businesses to Create Local Markets
Graham Salinger is a research intern for the Nourishing the Planet project.