The current pandemic has exposed the weaknesses in our food system. Many governments are becoming more concerned about food supply, and whether or not theirs will last until the end of the lockdown. Panic buying has led to empty supermarket shelves, while restaurants are closed. This has left people with limited options for their food. Thus, more and more people are turning to urban farming not only for food supplies but also to seek solace amid the waves of bad news of increasing deaths and infections by the disease.
More People Are Growing Food in Cities
Reports from the UN Food and Agriculture World have been consistent in one fact: large parts of the developing world are facing shortages of arable land and food supplies. A huge part of this is driven by the growing urban population, from 746 million in 1950 to 3.9 billion in 2014. By 2050, it is predicted that 66% of us will likely live in urban environments. It is also expected that the number of people living in mega-cities will increase more, reaching 41 million by 2030.
With the increasing population across the world, experts fear a shortage of food supplies. For some, urban farming is the perfect solution. While it will not resolve all food production and distribution problems, it could help take the pressure off rural land while providing other advantages. A 2018 study published in the journal Earth’s Future revealed that urban agriculture can be crucial to feeding millions of people as it can potentially produce as much as 180 million tons of food a year or about 10% of the global output of pulses and vegetables.
According to EcoWatch, a leading environmental news site engaging millions of concerned individuals every month, a 2016 study conducted by the US Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future revealed that urban agriculture could increase social capital, community well-being, and civic engagement with the food system. At the same time, it could enhance food security, provide ecosystem services, improve health, and build residents' skills.
Urban Farming Amid COVID-19 Pandemic
Urban agriculture has existed in societies for past decades. It was used for past crises and epidemics to address food shortages. Many countries during the First and Second World Wars such as Australia, Germany, the UK, and the US encouraged "victory gardens" to aid the war effort by reducing pressure on food systems and farms. The UK, for instance, had 1.5 million allotment plots during the Second World War. These were able to produce 10% of the country’s food, including fruits and vegetables.
"When urban agriculture flourishes, our children are healthier and smarter about what they eat, fewer people are hungry, more local jobs are created, local economies are stronger, our neighborhoods are greener and safer, and our communities are more inclusive,” writer Peter Ladner said.
Despite the increase in the land to build homes, roads, and other infrastructures, our world has enough space to plant food. A recent study by researchers at the Institute for Sustainable Food at Britain's University of Sheffield found that there is more than enough urban land available within UK cities to meet the fruit and vegetable requirements of its population. Meanwhile, many countries have already invested in urban farms.
Urban farming has become more valuable during this pandemic. Singapore lawmaker Ang Wei Neng recently said "It would be wise for us to think of how to invest in homegrown food” in this crisis. Singapore is a perfect example of how urban farming can help a country. According to the World Economic Forum, an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas, it ranks on top of the Economist Intelligence Unit's global food security index for 2019.
Singapore is also planning to produce 30% of its nutritional needs by 2030 by increasing the local supply of fruits, vegetables, and protein from meat and fish. "People, planners, and governments should all be rethinking about how land is used in cities. Urban farming can improve food security and nutrition, reduce climate change impacts, and lower stress," landscape architect Kotchakorn Voraakhom, who designed Asia's largest urban rooftop farm in Bangkok, said.
Allan Lim, chief executive of ComCrop, a commercial urban farm in Singapore, said that this pandemic is a reminder that disruptions to food supplies can take place at any time. "It has definitely sparked more interest in local produce. Urban farms can be a shock absorber during disruptions such as this," he said.
Several countries are already turning to urban farming to buy fresh produce. Pocket City Farms, an Australian urban farm, is selling more of their vegetables to the public during this pandemic. Their business has seen an upsurge in demand for its products ever since the lockdowns started. According to Reuters, an international news organization, the farm sells vegetables and salad greens like snow peas, carrots, basil, zucchini, and chilies. “We’ve now built that from maybe selling maybe two online orders a fortnight, we’ve got 25 to 30 a week,” Pocket City Farms General Manager Heather McCabe said.
McCabe also said that their farm is getting lots of requests from customers asking for seedlings to start their own backyard farms. “People growing their food in their backyard, it’s just booming at the moment,” she said.
The increasing demand for produce on urban farms is also helpful to farmers since they are the hardest hit during this global crisis. In Bangladesh, farmers find it difficult to go to their farms to check on their crops. Shops including those that sell fertilizer have also closed down temporarily. In Gamda Bamaniya village in India, many farmers cultivate wheat. It is harvest season now, however, lockdowns implemented across the country have prevented other villages from helping with the harvesting of wheat.
Karen Washington of Rise and Root Farm, who has spent decades advocating for food justice and community gardening, said COVID-19 is hitting farmers of color particularly hard. “We’re all suffering. But at the end of the day, folks, what makes us strong is our belief in one another, that we will come together to help one another get back on our feet,” she said.