Navigating the Future of Urban Agriculture: A Roadmap for Sustainability

tomatoes in vertical garden

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by | Jan 5, 2024

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Urban agriculture is on the rise, with small-scale food production taking place in various unconventional venues. From small rooftops and balcony gardens to community grounds, small urban farms, and even vacant lots of land, urban agriculture is gaining recognition as a viable method for enhancing food production in urban and suburban areas.

Experts in the field of urban agriculture believe that it holds the potential to build resilient communities, combat food insecurity, and promote sustainable food production. However, there is still much to be learned about the benefits, constraints, and dynamics of this innovative approach.

Research Collaboration for Urban Agriculture Development

To address these questions and concerns, a team of scientists led by experts at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences embarked on a comprehensive three-year study. This collaboration involved researchers from multiple institutions and aimed to build a theoretical framework and roadmap for the development of urban agriculture.

The outcome of this extensive study was the development of a theoretical framework that provides guidance for the establishment and growth of urban agricultural systems. Within this framework, the scientists also considered potential pathways for scaling up urban agriculture across regions and communities.

Jiangxiao Qiu, an associate professor of landscape ecology at the University of Florida and lead author of the study emphasized the infancy of the current understanding of urban agriculture. He explained that the study’s “scaling up urban agriculture framework provides a transdisciplinary policy and planning roadmap that can catalyze transformative change to achieve robust urban resilience and sustainability.”

The study, titled “Scaling up Urban Agriculture as a Transformative Change to Advance Social-Ecological Resilience and Sustainability,” was published in the journal Nature Food. Collaborating scientists conducted an in-depth review of existing research to understand the complex implications of urban agriculture on individual, community, and societal factors.

Benefits of Urban Agriculture

Among the benefits identified, urban agriculture was found to have a positive impact on food supply, water quality improvement, potential reduction in carbon footprints, promotion of health through increased fruit and vegetable consumption, and contributions to climate change mitigation. These benefits could translate into improved food security and community development.

The literature review also revealed potential risks associated with urban agriculture, including increased disease and pest incidents in crops, exposure to soil contamination, and environmental pollution resulting from urban agricultural practices. Additionally, economic factors may influence the profitability of urban agriculture and lead to uneven food distribution.

The researchers proposed a multiphase pathway for implementing urban agriculture upscaling. In phase one, they recommend expanding interest in food production by empowering individuals and enhancing community capacity to participate.

Phase two of the framework calls for engagement from stakeholders and support from policymakers across different levels of government. This phase aims to provide access, guidance, financial incentives, and subsidies to encourage urban agriculture adoption.

The final phase of the framework focuses on improving the economic viability of urban agriculture. This includes providing tools, incentives, access to marketing and promotion resources, diversifying revenue streams, and adopting agribusiness management and technology.

A Global Opportunity for Sustainability

Qiu said that scaling up urban agriculture presents a critical opportunity for advancing global sustainability. As examples of urban agriculture success stories emerge worldwide, there is a growing need for further research to operationalize this framework and create socially just and environmentally sustainable urban systems.

Collaborators on this study included not only scientists from the University of Florida but also representatives from the University of Central Florida, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the State University of New York, the University of Michigan, and Arizona State University. Their collective expertise contributed to the development of a comprehensive roadmap for the future of urban agriculture.

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