To Feed Cities, We Must Restore Ties with Farmers

29 January 2019

Fifty-four percent of the world’s population now lives in cities and, according to the UN, this percentage is expected to reach 65% in 2050. By that date, the planet will have at least 43 cities with a population of more than 10 million inhabitants. How will we feed these cities in which the demand for food is increasing and transforming, whereas farmlands are constantly shrinking and urban consumers want to be able to “put the farmer’s face on the food”, to use a Japanese expression?

Today, urban consumers want to reconnect with the quality and traceability of their food supply, hence the popularity of short supply chains and proximity. Short supply chains refer to the number of intermediaries (zero or one) between the producer and the consumer; local products refer to a distance between the place of production and the place of consumption. Therefore, not all short supply chains are fed by local products, just as local products can be sold by a means other than that of short supply chains.

From this standpoint, the case of Ile-de-France is very enlightening. Unlike other cities such as New York or London, Ile-de-France is located in the heart of an exceptionally rich agricultural basin (cereal crops, sugar beet and vegetable crops); however, the 5,600 farms in the Paris region are unable to meet the food needs of 12 million consumers. In the short supply chains of Ile-de-France, half of the farmers are from outside of Ile-de-France. In general, the development of short supply chains, in which InVivo actively participates with the brand Frais d’ici, which expects to open a store in Paris in 2020, cannot rely entirely on local supply both in terms of quantity and diversity of products.

Therefore, in the cities, there is a need to find ways to produce quantities and a wider variety of vegetables and fruits throughout the year. From this point of view, urban agriculture, which can be defined as the use of urban spaces for food purposes, appears to be the ideal solution since it makes it possible to significantly reduce the ecological footprint of crops.

At InVivo, our Food&Tech division, a food innovation laboratory, plays its full role as a pioneer of new farming methods and new consumer uses by exploring the possible ways to make this urban agriculture a complementary, professional, sustainable and profitable way of life, thanks to an urban farm project in a controlled climate, associated with an agriculture 4.0 start-up ecosystem. Its aim is to identify the innovations that will make sense for the agriculture of tomorrow and will help develop better nutrition for the future generations.

In Europe, there is little justification for urban farming since the metropolises are still a reasonable size compared to Asian, South American or African megacities. Yet it is important to focus today on these new forms of agriculture based on high-tech models, in order to participate in this global evolution, to offer solutions for new farming methods that are complementary to traditional farming methods and to bring together urban and agriculture. It is an essential complement to traditional agriculture for years to come. And this is how, in the future, we will be able to offer state-of-the-art solutions to set up efficient food production in all major cities.

In this area, “indoor” farming appears to be an optimal cultivation method because this system offers perfect control of the cultivation parameters - temperature, light, root nourishment and hygrometry - while delivering an eco-responsible production, using the right dose of water and nutrients in a closed system (without pesticides). All this is done without virtually any carbon footprint, thanks to the short supply chain and the plants’ absorption of the CO2 present in their environment.

Apart from mere proximity, we need to focus on re-establishing and strengthening the links between farmers, processors, retailers, those working in transport or logistics, and urban consumers, in a French food system taken as a whole. Short supply chains such as urban farming should be seen as connecting channels between worlds that have lost sight of each other: agriculture and cities. 

It is on this condition that we will be able to ensure a sustainable, high-quality and diversified food supply for cities, without neglecting the fight against food waste throughout the entire value chain.

Thierry Blandinières, CEO of InVivo