Tag Archives: Hunger

Rising urban space demands squeeze out farmers

More people than ever now live in cities. Their growing urban space demands devour farmland, bad news for tomorrow’s hungry world.

LONDON, 9 April, 2020 – Even as people crowd into the cities, they don’t crowd the way they used to, and urban space demands are increasing. Even in some of the developing nations, townspeople are demanding more elbow-room.

And in the last four decades, worldwide, humans have claimed around 125,000 square kilometres of farmland or wilderness more than would have been necessary if urban densities had stayed at the 1970 level.

That is: to accommodate today’s city-dwellers with more space than their parents and grandparents ever expected to enjoy, an additional area almost the size of Greece has been covered by asphalt, brick, concrete, tile and glass.

In the US, urban settlements have always been fringed by more roomy suburban developments. Now in China, India and Nigeria, the cities are expanding and the population densities are decreasing.

Risk to farmers

“These three countries are expected to account for more than a third of the projected increase in the world’s urban population by 2050,” said Burak Güneralp, a geographer at Texas A&M University in the US.

“They also still have many millions of small farmers earning their livelihoods working fertile lands on the outskirts of cities. Thus any loss of these high-quality lands to urban expansion has huge implications for the livelihoods of these farmers.”

Dr Güneralp and colleagues report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they looked at 611 case studies of 330 urban centres to calculate population growth, urban expansion and urban population densities between 1970 – the earliest moment for reliable statistics – and 2010.

They also factored in the size of cities, to distinguish different rates of change in centres with more and with fewer than two million citizens.

“Decreasing urban population densities in India and Nigeria since 1970 caused 85% and 30% more land, respectively, to be converted to urban”

Once most of humanity lived in rural areas. Now more than half the planet is crowded into cities and townships, and in a few decades the proportion could reach two-thirds.

But this crowding creates new problems. Cities are always significantly hotter than the surrounding landscape, and as global average temperatures rise, this in turn is likely to accelerate energy demand and global heating as people are forced to install air-conditioning.

The concentration of people in cities is likely to create new demands on sometimes precarious water supplies, and in any case the combination of climate change and population growth means ever greater numbers are at hazard from drought or flood.

All of this in turn increases the pressure for green spaces within the new cities and a more spacious lifestyle.

Cheek by jowl

But civilised city life comes at an environmental price. About half of India’s land is already classified as “degraded”, while India has the largest rural population but also the steepest fall in what geographers call urban land use efficiency, and the rest of the world calls living on top of your neighbours.

“Our findings suggest that decreasing urban population densities in India and Nigeria since 1970 caused 85% and 30% more land, respectively, to be converted to urban,” Dr Güneralp said.

“Furthermore, small-medium cities in India, China, South-east Asia, Africa and Europe are following in the footsteps of the United States in declines in urban densities.

“These findings are important, because globally, it is these small-medium-sized cities with limited institutional and financial capacity that are growing the fastest.” – Climate News Network

More people than ever now live in cities. Their growing urban space demands devour farmland, bad news for tomorrow’s hungry world.

LONDON, 9 April, 2020 – Even as people crowd into the cities, they don’t crowd the way they used to, and urban space demands are increasing. Even in some of the developing nations, townspeople are demanding more elbow-room.

And in the last four decades, worldwide, humans have claimed around 125,000 square kilometres of farmland or wilderness more than would have been necessary if urban densities had stayed at the 1970 level.

That is: to accommodate today’s city-dwellers with more space than their parents and grandparents ever expected to enjoy, an additional area almost the size of Greece has been covered by asphalt, brick, concrete, tile and glass.

In the US, urban settlements have always been fringed by more roomy suburban developments. Now in China, India and Nigeria, the cities are expanding and the population densities are decreasing.

Risk to farmers

“These three countries are expected to account for more than a third of the projected increase in the world’s urban population by 2050,” said Burak Güneralp, a geographer at Texas A&M University in the US.

“They also still have many millions of small farmers earning their livelihoods working fertile lands on the outskirts of cities. Thus any loss of these high-quality lands to urban expansion has huge implications for the livelihoods of these farmers.”

Dr Güneralp and colleagues report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they looked at 611 case studies of 330 urban centres to calculate population growth, urban expansion and urban population densities between 1970 – the earliest moment for reliable statistics – and 2010.

They also factored in the size of cities, to distinguish different rates of change in centres with more and with fewer than two million citizens.

“Decreasing urban population densities in India and Nigeria since 1970 caused 85% and 30% more land, respectively, to be converted to urban”

Once most of humanity lived in rural areas. Now more than half the planet is crowded into cities and townships, and in a few decades the proportion could reach two-thirds.

But this crowding creates new problems. Cities are always significantly hotter than the surrounding landscape, and as global average temperatures rise, this in turn is likely to accelerate energy demand and global heating as people are forced to install air-conditioning.

The concentration of people in cities is likely to create new demands on sometimes precarious water supplies, and in any case the combination of climate change and population growth means ever greater numbers are at hazard from drought or flood.

All of this in turn increases the pressure for green spaces within the new cities and a more spacious lifestyle.

Cheek by jowl

But civilised city life comes at an environmental price. About half of India’s land is already classified as “degraded”, while India has the largest rural population but also the steepest fall in what geographers call urban land use efficiency, and the rest of the world calls living on top of your neighbours.

“Our findings suggest that decreasing urban population densities in India and Nigeria since 1970 caused 85% and 30% more land, respectively, to be converted to urban,” Dr Güneralp said.

“Furthermore, small-medium cities in India, China, South-east Asia, Africa and Europe are following in the footsteps of the United States in declines in urban densities.

“These findings are important, because globally, it is these small-medium-sized cities with limited institutional and financial capacity that are growing the fastest.” – Climate News Network

Cuba’s urban farming shows way to avoid hunger

Urban farming, Cuban-style, is being hailed as an example of how to feed ourselves when climate change threatens serious food shortages.

LONDON, 11 November, 2019 − When countries run short of food, they need to find solutions fast, and one answer can be urban farming.

That was the remedy Cuba seized with both hands 30 years ago when it was confronted with the dilemma of an end to its vital food imports. And what worked then for Cuba could have lessons today for the wider world, as it faces growing hunger in the face of the climate crisis.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s, most of Cuba’s food supplies went with it. To stave off severe malnutrition the people of the capital, Havana, found an imaginative answer: urban gardening. That’s now seen as a possible blueprint for the survival of city populations in a warming world.

The Rapid Transition Alliance has published a longer account of Cuba’s very fast move towards self-sufficiency as part of its series Stories of Change, which describes cases of large-scale, rapid transformation that can seem difficult to achieve but which have often worked before.

The problem of hunger for the Cubans arose because during the Cold War they had stopped producing food of their own and turned over most of their farmland to sugarcane plantations to supply the Soviet Union. In return for these mountains of sugar Moscow provided Cuba with food, chemical fertilisers and fuel oil for its cars and tractors.

US sanctions

The Soviet collapse brought the breakdown of this trade, and food rationing for city dwellers. And Cuba lost its main food supply while it was still coping with strict US sanctions. Reverting to conventional farming would have taken time and was in any case difficult because the Soviet fertilisers, fuel and pesticides had also dried up.

So the highly-educated urban citizens, faced with rationing which reduced the average Cuban’s daily calorie intake from 2,600 in 1986 to 1,000-1,500 in 1993, organised themselves to grow their own food in improvised urban allotments.

At first, struggling with little know-how and without fertilisers, their yields were low, but by producing compost and other organic growing mediums, plus introducing drip-fed irrigation, they began to see improvements.

Short of chemicals, the gardeners resorted to biological controls like marigolds (where opinions today are mixed)  to deter harmful insects.

By 1995 Havana alone had 25,000 allotments tended by families and urban cooperatives. The government, realising the potential benefits, encouraged the movement.

“Cuba’s experience suggests that urban farming can be one way of staving off potential famine”

Soil quality was improved with a mixture of crop residues, household wastes and animal manure to create more compost and soil conditioners. The extra fresh vegetables and fruit this provided quickly improved urban dwellers’ calorie intake and saved many from malnutrition.

In the Cuban climate, with irrigation changes and soils undergoing constant improvement from added organic matter, the allotments could produce vegetables all year round. Lettuce, chard, radish, beans, cucumber, tomatoes, spinach and peppers were grown and traded.

There is evidence as well that the extra exercise which these urban gardeners got from tending their allotments, plus the time they spent outdoors in the open air, benefited their health.

Eventually, realising that self-sufficiency was the only way to feed the population, the government banned sugarcane growing altogether. Lacking fertiliser, many former plantations were turned over to organic agriculture. The shortage of oil for tractors meant oxen were used for ploughing.

Partial solution

Cuba’s experience of urban agriculture inspired many environmentalists to believe that this is at least part of the solution to the food shortages threatened by climate change. By 2008 food gardens, despite their small scale, made up 8% of the land in Havana, and 3.4% of all urban land in Cuba, producing 90% of all the fruit and vegetables consumed.

As a result the calorie intake of the average Cuban quickly rose to match that of Europeans, relying on a diet composed mainly of rice, beans, potatoes and other vegetables – a low-fat diet making obesity rare.

Because of the climate, though, wheat does not grow well in Cuba, and the island still has to import large quantities of grain for bread. Meat is in short supply and also has to be mainly imported.

Despite this, Cuba’s experience since the Cold War ended in the 1990s shows that large quantities of fresh food can be grown in cities and that urban agriculture is sustainable over decades.

For other countries vulnerable to sudden loss of food supplies, Cuba’s experience suggests that urban farming can be one way of staving off potential famine when imports are restricted, expensive or simply unobtainable. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Urban farming, Cuban-style, is being hailed as an example of how to feed ourselves when climate change threatens serious food shortages.

LONDON, 11 November, 2019 − When countries run short of food, they need to find solutions fast, and one answer can be urban farming.

That was the remedy Cuba seized with both hands 30 years ago when it was confronted with the dilemma of an end to its vital food imports. And what worked then for Cuba could have lessons today for the wider world, as it faces growing hunger in the face of the climate crisis.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s, most of Cuba’s food supplies went with it. To stave off severe malnutrition the people of the capital, Havana, found an imaginative answer: urban gardening. That’s now seen as a possible blueprint for the survival of city populations in a warming world.

The Rapid Transition Alliance has published a longer account of Cuba’s very fast move towards self-sufficiency as part of its series Stories of Change, which describes cases of large-scale, rapid transformation that can seem difficult to achieve but which have often worked before.

The problem of hunger for the Cubans arose because during the Cold War they had stopped producing food of their own and turned over most of their farmland to sugarcane plantations to supply the Soviet Union. In return for these mountains of sugar Moscow provided Cuba with food, chemical fertilisers and fuel oil for its cars and tractors.

US sanctions

The Soviet collapse brought the breakdown of this trade, and food rationing for city dwellers. And Cuba lost its main food supply while it was still coping with strict US sanctions. Reverting to conventional farming would have taken time and was in any case difficult because the Soviet fertilisers, fuel and pesticides had also dried up.

So the highly-educated urban citizens, faced with rationing which reduced the average Cuban’s daily calorie intake from 2,600 in 1986 to 1,000-1,500 in 1993, organised themselves to grow their own food in improvised urban allotments.

At first, struggling with little know-how and without fertilisers, their yields were low, but by producing compost and other organic growing mediums, plus introducing drip-fed irrigation, they began to see improvements.

Short of chemicals, the gardeners resorted to biological controls like marigolds (where opinions today are mixed)  to deter harmful insects.

By 1995 Havana alone had 25,000 allotments tended by families and urban cooperatives. The government, realising the potential benefits, encouraged the movement.

“Cuba’s experience suggests that urban farming can be one way of staving off potential famine”

Soil quality was improved with a mixture of crop residues, household wastes and animal manure to create more compost and soil conditioners. The extra fresh vegetables and fruit this provided quickly improved urban dwellers’ calorie intake and saved many from malnutrition.

In the Cuban climate, with irrigation changes and soils undergoing constant improvement from added organic matter, the allotments could produce vegetables all year round. Lettuce, chard, radish, beans, cucumber, tomatoes, spinach and peppers were grown and traded.

There is evidence as well that the extra exercise which these urban gardeners got from tending their allotments, plus the time they spent outdoors in the open air, benefited their health.

Eventually, realising that self-sufficiency was the only way to feed the population, the government banned sugarcane growing altogether. Lacking fertiliser, many former plantations were turned over to organic agriculture. The shortage of oil for tractors meant oxen were used for ploughing.

Partial solution

Cuba’s experience of urban agriculture inspired many environmentalists to believe that this is at least part of the solution to the food shortages threatened by climate change. By 2008 food gardens, despite their small scale, made up 8% of the land in Havana, and 3.4% of all urban land in Cuba, producing 90% of all the fruit and vegetables consumed.

As a result the calorie intake of the average Cuban quickly rose to match that of Europeans, relying on a diet composed mainly of rice, beans, potatoes and other vegetables – a low-fat diet making obesity rare.

Because of the climate, though, wheat does not grow well in Cuba, and the island still has to import large quantities of grain for bread. Meat is in short supply and also has to be mainly imported.

Despite this, Cuba’s experience since the Cold War ended in the 1990s shows that large quantities of fresh food can be grown in cities and that urban agriculture is sustainable over decades.

For other countries vulnerable to sudden loss of food supplies, Cuba’s experience suggests that urban farming can be one way of staving off potential famine when imports are restricted, expensive or simply unobtainable. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.