Global Food Risks: Urbanization, Growing Population and Climate Change

Globally, more people live in urban areas than in rural areas, with 54 per cent of the world’s population residing in urban areas in 2014. It is postulated that by 2050, 66 per cent of the world’s population will be residing in urban cities. Continuing population growth and urbanization are projected to add 2.5 billion people to the world’s urban population by 2050 (The United Nations, 2014). This meant that food demand is likely to double beyond current level, with 70% of the increase coming from developing countries (Global Harvest Initiative, 2014). Currently, 37% of the world’s land area is devoted to food production. However, as urbanization continues, more arable land will have to give way for urban development and growth [1]. To make matters worse, climate change is projected to affect crop yields, particularly in areas such as North-east Brazil, Central America, East Africa and New Zealand (fig 1 and 2) (CGIAR, 2014). Countries which are dependent on food imports are therefore, highly vulnerable and susceptible to global food risks and changes.

 

Figure 1. Climate Change is projected to affect crop yields (World Resources Institute)

Figure 1. Climate Change is projected to affect crop yields (World Resources Institute)

 

Figure 2. Declination of crop and pasture yields around the world (CGIAR, 2014)

Figure 2. Declination of crop and pasture yields around the world (CGIAR, 2014)

 

Local Context: Urban Farms taking off in Singapore

 

Singapore, a highly urbanized city, imports up to 90% of its food from major suppliers all over the world (AVA, 2015).

sg_importcountries

Figure 3. Major Suppliers for Singapore’s Food (AVA Annual Report 2014/15)

 

By 2030, Singapore’s total population is estimated to be between 6.5 and 6.9 million (NPTD, 2013). With an increase in overall population, coupled with the reputation of being the best place to work and live in (Williams, 2015), this places Singapore in an even more precarious position in the face of impeding global changes in crop yields, population growth and urbanization. This means that Singapore, along with other urbanized cities, will have to look towards new planning strategies and directions for sustainable living.

“Sustainable living is a lifestyle that attempts to reduce an individual’s or society’s use of the Earth’s natural resources and personal resources. Practitioners of sustainable living often attempt to reduce their carbon footprint by altering methods of transportation, energy consumption, and diet.” (Prescott-Allen et al., 1991) (Mick, 2007).

In becoming a sustainable city, Singapore has achieved considerable results in areas of water, waste and energy management (MEWR, 2013). Singapore is also currently looking towards alternative modes of transportation, particularly bicycle sharing to be implemented in new town planning (Sim, 2014).

 

Evidently, Singapore performs the worst in its carbon footprints, caused mainly by consuming large amounts of imported food and services. Based on the 2014 Living Planet Report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Singapore has the 7th largest ecological footprint out of more than 150 countries analyzed. This is not surprising due to Singapore’s inherent nature of being a small country with a lack of natural resources. Policy-driven development that strives for rapid economic growth to become a 1st world nation in a short span of 50 years also contributed to the waning importance of retaining and expanding agricultural land for local food production [2]. Since its independence, Singapore’s agricultural land has decreased from 20.9% to 1.16% of total land area. As of today, less than 1% (700 hectares) of land area is used for agricultural purposes (AVA, 2015). Agricultural land is also concentrated in the western part of Singapore, thereby being geographically isolated from everyday lives of Singaporeans.

 

Nevertheless, recent developments and trends seem to auger well for the city’s shift towards a more sustainable lifestyle in terms of local food production, particularly in the area of vegetables and fruits – be it as a hobby or growing for supply and consumption. In terms of state policy, ‘Community In Bloom’ initiative was launched in 2005 by National Parks, to promote a gardening culture among residents, students and workers. Today, CIB has over 850 community gardens across Singapore and has engaged with over 20,000 residents (NParks, 2015).

 

Figure 4. After a patch of land located behind Block 305 of Clementi Avenue 4 was found illegally farmed by residents, it has become an official community farm for the residents in March 2013 under the CIB programme. (The Straits Times)

Figure 4. After a patch of land located behind Block 305 of Clementi Avenue 4 was found illegally farmed by residents, it has become an official community farm for the residents in March 2013 under the CIB programme. (The Straits Times, 2013)

 

Increasingly, farm-to-table culture [3] in HDB estates is also becoming an increasingly common sustainable practice as local residents plant and grow herbs and micro-greens along their corridor or rooftop for their own consumption.

 

Mr Derrick Ng (above), harvests vegetables at least 12 times a year from his corridor farm (The Straits Times)

Figure 5. Mr Derrick Ng (above), harvests vegetables at least 12 times a year from his corridor farm. (The Straits Times, 2015)

 

Figure 6. Mr Balan Gopal grows herbs such as dill, woodworm, mint, stevia (on the left) and basil, indian borage, thyme, oregano, lavender and sage (on the right) along the corridor outside his flat. (The Straits Times)

Figure 6. Mr Balan Gopal grows herbs such as dill, woodworm, mint, stevia (on the left) and basil, indian borage, thyme, oregano, lavender and sage (on the right) along the corridor outside his flat. (The Straits Times, 2015)

 

In terms of agricultural innovations, Singapore has the world’s first low carbon, hydraulic driven vertical farm by SkyGreens in 2011. The system is made up of rotating tiers of growing troughs mounted on aluminium frames and a total of 120 towers have been installed in SkyGreens’s farm in Lim Chu kang, producing up to half a ton of vegetables per day and supplying to Fairprice supermarkets (Skygreens, 2014).

 

Figure 7. With a footprint of about 65 square feet, each SkyGreens tower offers a ten-fold increase in productivity per unit of land. (Photo: Sam Eaton)

Figure 7. With a footprint of about 65 square feet, each SkyGreens tower offers a ten-fold increase in productivity per unit of land. (Eaton, 2013)

 

On the whole, local production of leafy vegetables has also increased from 7% to 12% in recent years (AVA, 2015), with more than 80 farming plots of fruits, herbs and vegetables emerging not only in private and public housing estates, but also in eateries, malls, schools and offices. Urban farms managed by companies and social enterprises such as Edible Garden City, UGrowGardens and Plantvisionz are also supplying their local green produce to restaurants and supermarkets (Wee, 2015).

 

To conclude, global food risk and insecurity is an issue that urban cities must seek to resolve through adopting sustainable lifestyles and practices. For Singapore, this is especially so due to its import-driven nature and growing population. Even though there exist, in various facets of urban spaces, green initiatives that demonstrate a degree of sustainable living, farm-to-table as a culture still remains far from being assimilated as an integral part of our everyday lifestyle. More than just a personal preference, can sustainable lifestyle be an issue that architecture and urban planning can seek to address spatially? Perhaps greater physical integration of green systems and farms with the residential domain can increase awareness and exposure rather than being ‘out of reach’ and ‘out of sight’. Perhaps social integration can occur through a shared management of green systems in a high-density living environment. Perhaps it is time we rethink the ‘live, work, play’ model of Singapore town planning to incorporate the ‘grow’ aspect.

 


 

Notes

[1] In 2010, average arable land per person is 0.2 hectare, lower than the required minimum of 0.5 hectare per person (ISAAA, 2015).

[2] Announced in November 2014, a total of 62 local farms in Lim Chu Kang will have to relocate after their leases expire, to make way for the site’s transformation to become army training grounds as a result of policy changes (The Straits Times, 2014).

[3] Farm-to-table refers to a movement concerned with producing and consuming food locally. It advocates a sustainable lifestyle by reducing demand for food imports, thereby reducing carbon footprints and also ensures healthier and fresher food (Iacono, 2013).


 

References and Bibliography

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