Urban agriculture: Living up to the promise while recognising the limits

Whether it’s rocket on rooftops or basil in bomb shelters, urban agriculture is booming.

That’s probably a good thing, given that the UN estimates 70% of the world will live in urban areas by 2050.

But the promise of urban agriculture for boosting food security and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from farming is likely to be highly context-specific and policies to support the right kinds of investments will be key.

That’s according to a new Urban Agriculture Discussion Starter, jointly produced by Clim-Eat, the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, and the Gund Institute for Environment of the University of Vermont. It’s the first in a series on hot topics relating to the future of the food system published by Clim-Eat, the Netherlands-based “think-and-do tank”.

Urban agriculture holds enormous potential for helping to make our food systems more resilient to climate change and for the local production of healthy, affordable, sustainable food,” says Clim-Eat Founder Dhanush Dinesh.


“But the story is complex and policymakers need to be aware that in some contexts urban agriculture might actually add to the climate change burden.”


One of the most striking figures in the report relates to the need for an estimated 2.1 billion acres of additional land – an area the size of Brazil – to cope with the increased demand for food in the coming years.

“For me, this means urban agriculture is more than just an opportunity; it is a necessity,” says Dinesh.

The Discussion Starter outlines where the for urban agriculture challenges lie, aiming to support informed decisions and smarter investments that can benefit both people and planet. It covers critical analysis of a range of urban agriculture approaches, from high-tech interventions like hydroponics, to more small-scale, traditional-style farming methods.

To help guide policymaking, the authors also make an urgent call for better information about urban agriculture. This includes the need for data on who is practicing it and where, and its contribution to food security and reducing the carbon footprint of food production.

The report will be officially published today, to coincide with the consultation on the sustainable cities initiative of the Government of Egypt, as part of its COP27 Presidency.

Further Clim-Eat Discussion Starters under consideration for 2022 include those on Youth and Agroecology; Carbon Farming; and Key Research Priorities for Adaptation in Agriculture.


The report authors:

  • Charlie Pye-Smith  is an independent science writer.
  • Philip Thornton is Research and Innovation Strategist at Clim-Eat
  • Lini Wollenberg is Climate and Food Specialist at the University of Vermont and Futures Pathmaker at Clim-Eat
  • Ana Maria Loboguerrero is Research Director for Climate Action at the Alliance Bioversity and CIAT, Leader of Building Systemic Resilience Against Climate Variability and Extremes (ClimBeR), and Interim Director of Accelerating Impacts of CGIAR Climate Research for Africa (AICCRA)
  • Bruce M Campbell is Chief Innovation Strategist at Clim-Eat

For more information or to speak to the authors, please contact Leanne Zeppenfeldt [leanne@clim-eat.org]

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