Urban climate change and food security status, perspectives and risk mitigation strategies

Ivan Nastasijevic
Institute of Meat Hygiene and Technology,
Kacanskog 13, 11000 Belgrade, Serbia
Email: ivann@inmesbgd.com
1. Introduction

Climate change is a global phenomenon in the 21st century affecting equally developed and developing countries and it may have both, direct and indirect impact on food security. The effects of climate change on our ecosystems are already severe and widespread. Ensuring food security (food availability and food safety) in the face of climate change is among the most important challenges facing humankind. Although some of the problems associated with climate change are emerging gradually, action is urgently needed now in order to allow enough time to build resilience into agricultural production systems (FAO, 2016).

2. Status and perspectives

By 2050, the world`s population is expected to reach 9 billion, with most of people living in urban settings, and predominantly in developing countries. Such rapid growth of cities (five fold increase from 1950`s to 2010) is placing enormous demands on urban food supply systems (Satterthwaite et al, 2010). In addition, the raising economies/incomes of developing countries will also result in increased food demand, in particular high-quality proteins, i.e. food of animal origin (meat, milk, eggs). To satisfy the growing demand driven by population growth and diet changes, food production will have to increase by at least 60 percent in the next decades (FAO, 2016a). Therefore, the production of sufficient quantity of safe food in urban environment will be one of the biggest challenges for governments, scientists and agriculture/food industry, in this century.

The climate change effects (higher temperatures, shifting seasons, more frequent and extreme weather events – floods, draughts, hurricanes), coupled with increasingly sofisticated and extended global food supply chains, will inevitably impact the food safety/availability. For example, changes in epidemiology of food borne biological and environmental/chemical hazards and their occurrence at multiple points along the food chain continuum, from the primary production to consumption, may be expected (Nastasijevic et al, 2015). The complex and long food supply chain may also contribute to a rapid global spreading of emerging and re-emerging foodborne contaminants (pathogens, chemicals) from the country of origin to the distant part of the world. The most important current food safety concerns are related to spread of antibiotic resistance via resistant pathogens (Salmonella, Campylobacter), as well as commensal microbiota (E. coli, Enterococci).

Although the world has considerable land reserves which could in theory be converted to agriculture land, the potential for cropland expansion is rather limited. According to FAO (2009) sources some of the lands currently not cultivated have other important ecological functions which would be lost with the land cultivation. In addition, other available land is mostly located in just a few countries in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, where lack of access and infrastructure could also limit its use, at least in the short term (FAO, 2009).

In view of rapidly increased urbanization and increase demand for food, it is recognized that the urban agriculture/farming may have a good potential to play a greater role in strengthening the food security of cities and also building urban resilience in a changing climate (Table 2). It is increasingly spreading to towns and cities (e.g. urban agriculture is practised by 800 million people worldwide). Urban and peri-urban agriculture (UPA) can be defined as the `growing of plants and the raising of animals within and around cities` (FAO, 2016b). Urban and peri-urban agriculture provides food products from different types of crops (grains, root crops, vegetables, mushrooms, fruits), animals (poultry, rabbits, goats, sheep, cattle, pigs, guinea pigs, fish, etc.) as well as non-food products (e.g. aromatic and medicinal herbs, ornamental plants, tree products). It provides fresh food, generates employment, recycles urban wastes, creates greenbelts, and strengthens cities’ resilience to climate change.

UPA can make an important contribution to household food security, especially in times of crisis or food shortages. The locally produced food requires less transportation and refrigeration and it can supply nearby markets with fresher and more nutritious products, e.g. vegetables have a short production cycle; some can be harvested within 60 days of planting; it can be sold at competitive prices, e.g. weekend farmers’ markets found in many cities. In addition, Horticulture can generate one job every 100 sq m garden in production, input supply, marketing and value-addition from producer to consumer.

In many countries, UPA goes unrecognized in agricultural policies and urban planning. Growers often operate without permits. Since it is officially "invisible", the sector receives no public assistance or oversight in many cities.

On the other hand, extreme climate events may alter the risk of pathogen infections and diseases in both animals and plants, modifying the host–pathogen dynamics in a wide range of species. The densely populated urban and peri-urban areas are particularly sensitive to climate changes and, subsequently, the effect on UPA may be even more emphasized than in rural, scarcely populated regions. It has to be recognized that urban agriculture also carries certain health and environmental risks, e.g. inappropriate use of pesticides and of raw organic manure that can leak into water sources, spread of pathogens and antimicrobial resistance via food and waste water, potential use of contaminated land and water which carries smell, noise pollution is increased. Therefore, these issues require proper attention by city authorities and regulatory agencies at national level.

3. Risk mitigation strategies

In urban settings, the production of food should be organized to be environmentally sustainable and to maintain and improve the public health of consumers. Valuable information on complex interactions that occur between hosts (food animals, plants), pathogens, environment and consumers in urban and peri-urban area, is needed in order to pave the way for predictive models and ultimately, early and efficient response to potential disease threats (Tirado et al, 2010). The main biological food (meat) borne hazards which should be prioritized are as follows: Campylobacter spp. (thermophilic), Salmonella enterica, Yersinia enterocolitica/pseudotuberculosis, human pathogenic VTEC, ESBL/AmpC E. Coli and Toxoplasma gondii; the chemical hazards which should be tackled are: PCBs, dioxins, pesticides, veterinary drugs (antibiotics, anthelmintics, coccidiostats). The major drivers for the pathogen emergence in a food chain are associated with ongoing changes presented both, in urban and rural regions, as follows: (i) ecology and agriculture; (ii) technology and industry; (iii) globalization (food trade and travel); (iv) human behaviour and demographics; (v) epidemiological surveillance; and (vi) microbial adaptation (Tauxe, 2002).

The early identification and prioritization of the climate-induced emerging biological and chemical risks, in particular in urban environment, and their interactions between food animal, plant and public health must be better understood by the governments.

Competent authorities (governments) should consider developing a `new` and modern legislation defining and regulating the urban and peri-urban agriculture. Such proactive approach should ensure the production of sufficient quantity of the safe food supported by application of modern, risk-based food safety management system; the system should rely upon integrated, synergistic and coordinated controls at major stages/modules along the food chain, `from farm-to-fork`. Strengthening of inter-sectoral cooperation between risk assessors (academia), risk managers (environmental/veterinary/food/health authorities) at city level, and food producers in urban and peri-urban settings is of utmost importance for successful regulation of UPA-based food production and successful implementation of risk mitigation strategies.


The future of urban agriculture may be presented within the future `ecocity` as a vision of a city overflowing with food in many sites, e.g. community gardens, school gardens, restaurant gardens, market gardens, home gardens, office gardens, rooftop gardens, vertically integrated agriculture, gardens in aged-care homes, gardens for people with mental health issues, gardens associated with hospitals and health-care facilities, peri-urban farms (poultry, rabbits, goats, sheep, cattle, pigs, fish), social enterprises incorporating food production, even prisons with their own gardens – the food will be produced everywhere and will be available to all citizens (Picture 1).

The successfulness of this vision should be established on a science-based risk assessment regarding biological and chemical hazards which may enter the food chain at multiple points. Such risk assessment should take into consideration the effect of climate change on densely populated urban and peri-urban areas, including the food production practices, and anticipate the potential harmful effect of new, emerging foodborne hazards and create the effective risk mitigation strategies to tackle this issue.

Competent city authorities should, therefore, consider developing a new, modern legislation to regulate better the urban and peri-urban agriculture which will improve the food security, the quality of life and public health of citizens, strengthen the local economy, as well as improve the city resilience toward expected climate change impact.


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2. FAO (2009) How to feed the world in 2050. http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/wsfs/docs/expert_paper/How_to_Feed_the_World_in_2050.pdf (accessed on 16 July 2016).

3. FAO (2016a) Climate change and food security: risks and responses. ISBN 978-92-5-108998-9.

4. FAO (2016b) Urban agriculture. http://www.fao.org/urban-agriculture/en/ (accessed on 16 July 2016).

5. Nastasijevic, I., Lakicevic, B. and Teodorovic, V. (2015) Climate change in the meat safety context. Procedia Food Science 5, 2013-2016.

6. Satterthwaite, D., McGranahan, G. and Tacoli, C. (2010) Urbanization and its implications for food and farming. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal British Society 365, 2809-2820.

7. Tauxe, R.V. (2002) Emerging foodborne pathogens. International Journal of Food Microbiology 78, 31-41.

8. Tirado, M.C., Clarke, R., Jaykus, L.A., McQuatters-Gollop, A., Frank, J.M. (2010) Climate change and food safety: A review. Food Research International 43, 1745– 1765.

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