Now that the presentation of the Spain 2050 Strategy has focused on long-range planning, it is a good time to wonder about the link between the city and food. In the context to come, marked by the increase in the urban population, a marked decrease in energy and the incidence of climate chaos in agricultural production, together with the non-rulable outbreak of new global health crises, will we be in a position to guarantee the food supply of our cities?
The state and international political agenda has begun to assume some of the urgent vectors of change that this century (and the previous one, in fact) demands of us. In less than a year, the political concept of resilience has been institutionally adopted, until very recently limited to alternative discourses. On the other hand, the overcoming of peak oil, already evidenced by the divestment of the oil industry, has accelerated the urgent transition to renewables, which, although it has fueled an extractivist wave of megaprojects, also includes the commitment to distributed local production and self-consumption.
The political push for local energy consumption is here. But an equivalent bet has not finished emerging in relation to another basic need, food, and we have the perception that it is an issue that is bound to emerge in the short term. All the ingredients are on the table, worth the metaphor.
For years, a solid set of experiences and economic, civic, academic and political initiatives and experiences has been growing in Europe that promote agriculture and local consumption, linked to the sustainable management of the territory. This is attested by institutional figures such as the Milan Pact, alliances such as Intervegas, the Network of cities for agroecology, reference experiences such as peri-urban agricultural parks (Milan, Baix Llobregat), as well as the planning of local agri-food systems (Vitoria, Segovia, Valladolid, Valencia, Córdoba) or the emerging articulation of local and ecological production and consumption networks (Madrid, Granada, Barcelona,…). All this vision has its perspective in the community institutions that approved the strategy in 2020 Farm to fork.
Eating is not on the agenda
But this current of emerging policies and practices has not yet come together with the institutional frameworks that set investment priorities on the territory in an integrated way. A few principles are hardly collected, but not in a visible and pre-eminent way.
On the one hand, the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan, in the first of its lever policies, “Urban and rural agenda, fight against depopulation and development of agriculture”, points out that “The crisis has also highlighted the importance of having a solid agri-food system and the highest standards of food safety ”, and projects the promotion of“ organic production and seasonal and local consumption ”. But so far the PRTR has not made this slogan a solid bet. It is precisely in this sense that the Entretantos Foundation initiative “PRTR Proposals for the transition towards healthy and sustainable agri-food systems”, backed by numerous organizations across the state.
On the other hand, in 2019 the Spanish Urban Agenda (AUE), operative expression of SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities and state realization of the New Urban Agenda emanating from the UN Habitat III Conference. The AUE stands as the roadmap and the strategic framework for urban and territorial sustainability, and constitutes, indeed, a very valuable systematization effort for the new urbanism that we need.
But the AUE, organized into ten Strategic Objectives and thirty Specific Objectives, among which needs such as housing, mobility, energy, water or materials are addressed, does not reserve its own place for food. It is necessary to look within the specific Objective 7.1 on local productivity and economic diversification to find, among its lines of action, a reference to “Favor economic activities in rural areas and local production, local food -to achieve maximum interconnection between rural and urban areas- and try to limit the transport of food as much as possible to consume fewer resources and favor seasonal food (…) ”.
Proximity food can be, indeed, a vector of productivity and diversification of the local economy, but we understand that it must constitute not only a line of economic action but also an explicit objective in terms of resilience and sustainable management of resources.
Circular economy: yes, but of what diameter?
On the other hand, there is the incidence of the food sector in the emission of Greenhouse Gases (GHG). Several of the SDGs of the 2030 Agenda explicitly include the role and importance of food production in urban and rural systems, but especially SDG 12 Sustainable Production and Consumption highlights: “The food sector represents around 30% of consumption total energy in the world and 22% of total greenhouse gas emissions ”.
The Ecology and Development Foundation (ECODES) pointed out in a 2019 report that “Food production is one of the human activities with the greatest ecological impact, accounting for 26% of anthropogenic GHG emissions worldwide.” And on the issue of transportation, the report continues:
In relation to the production system, but especially the consumption model, we are faced with two major problems: transportation and food waste. According to the study Food travelers: How many kilometers does food travel to reach your plate? In 2011, more than 25.4 million tons of food were imported into Spain, traveling an average of 3,827 kilometers, resulting in 4.2 million tons of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere. In this same study, it is estimated that the carbon footprint of locally produced food (km 0) is between 5 and 40 times lower than the average.
This reinforces the studies whose results indicate that the food system generates even more GHG than the estimated 26%.
In this sense, the conventional linear economy has been opposed by the circular economy paradigm, and this is reflected in the AUE in its Strategic Objective 4. But, not just the AUE, but the EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy and the Spanish Circular Economy Strategy (EEEC), tend to favor a notion of circular economy limited to the use of waste, ignoring the distance to the point of origin of the resources, that is, it is more committed to closing cycles than to doing it in proximity circuits, which, however, is a question key to saving energy and resources.
Include the local food cycle as a Specific Objective of the Urban Agenda
For all the above, we launch the following proposal to submit it to the consideration of the team responsible for the AUE and, in any case, to that of the governments and technical teams responsible for the drafting of Urban Agendas at the local and regional level. It is about introducing in the AUE a new Specific Objective within the Strategic Objective 4: Sustainable resource management and circular economy, referred to local food as a key part of the sustainability of cities and rural areas. It would be a fifth specific Objective that could be stated as: SO4.5. Promote local food systems, and be equipped with indicators such as the availability of sustainable agri-food management plans or an equivalent instrument, as well as explicit commitments and governance mechanisms that allow progress in the sustainability and efficiency of the food resources of the territory.
Since the AUE is the strategic framework for the ecological transition of cities, the role that sustainable food management plays in the configuration and metabolism of urban systems should present a relevance and visibility not inferior to that of water, materials or energy. Not only because it constitutes an equally essential supply for life, but also because, as cities are the points of the territory that concentrate more and more population, they are also the major consumer markets, which can sustain the agribusiness economies of rural areas and become a key pillar of strategies to face the demographic challenge. If the majority of the world’s population is going to be urban, the feeding of Humanity will be a necessity fundamentally for the cities.
Written with Jose María López Medina from Hábitat 4 SCA and Alberto Matarán Ruíz from the University of Granada