Precautionary Principle: Why Urban Agriculture Can Solve Food Insecurity

Just like many species around the globe will have to adapt to the changing climate and altering ecosystems, humans too must respond accordingly to the dynamic conditions of our planet. One aspect of the climate change crisis is the question of food security and urban poverty. Urban agriculture would be a wise precautionary tool to help mitigate the risks of weakening food availability, access, and stability in urban environments vulnerable to extreme climate change repercussions.


Can Urban Agriculture change food insecurity? Image via Farmscape.

Expanding Populations

Cities are the hub for mankind’s existence; in 2009, about 3.4 billion people lived in urban areas and by 2050, that number is expected to increase to 6.3 billion people. In addition to the rapid urbanization and expanding populations of developing nations, cities are also at the root of the climate change calamity. Urban areas are both the cause and the effect of global warming. Cities produce roughly 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide and about 90 percent of the prospective growth in global emissions will be from cities in developing countries. Subsequently, cities will also suffer the most from climate change impacts. Urban areas are subject to the heat island effect (temperatures are abnormally warmer than surrounding rural areas), flooding and extreme weather events (low-lying cities), food supply problems, and water scarcity issues.


Coastal systems and climate change. Image via IPCC.

Within the category of food supply problems, there’s a plethora of concerns revolving around urban environments and climate change. For example, agricultural productivity will likely decline in rural areas due to changes in average temperature or precipitation levels, causing food availability in cities to dwindle and prices to rise. Most cities worldwide are also situated in low-lying coastal areas, thus they’re subject to storms and floods, which could consequently impede the transport of food from rural to urban areas. Climate change will inflict the most havoc on the urban poor, whether indirectly from steeper food and water prices or directly from more frequent storms and floods.

Food Insecurity

To alleviate the consequences of food insecurity in rural environments, cities in both developed and developing nations should adopt the precautionary principle of urban agriculture. The logic behind why cities should be proactive in their urban farming policies are outlined in the following reasons.


What is food insecurity? Image via Children’s Health Watch

  1. Minimizes the Impacts of Flooding: This is particularly applicable to the low-income citizens of many cities. Urban and peri-urban farming methods can mitigate flood impacts by retaining storm water runoff and storing excess water in green spaces. These absorbent ground covers can be helpful substitutes for the usual impermeable concrete (construction) surfaces that are found throughout most cities that augment the flooding effects on impoverished households.
  2. Boosts Access to Nutritious Food: Farming small plots of land in urban areas can yield an abundant amount of produce which can fulfill a household’s need for vegetables for nearly a year. Considering many low-income families are malnourished due to expensive healthy food prices, urban farming could provide a large amount of nutritional produce while saving household food money. Residential and community gardening promotes healthy and active lifestyles, conserves food expenses, and improves dietary consumption patterns.
  3. Reduces the Impacts of Food Supply Disturbances in Rural Areas: Climate change imposes many risks on rural agricultural production, such as lower yields due to abnormal temperatures and rainfall, crop failure caused by more frequent extreme weather events, and increased pesticide use due to pests migrating to different ecosystems. Additionally, the ever increasing water-scarcity issue causes problems for large scale agriculture production. Urban agriculture could lessen these food supply disturbances by reusing wastewater, creating a local agri-food system, and establishing community relationships that promote food sharing during times of need. Overall, community gardening lowers urban dwellers reliance on foreign food production and promotes knowledge and education about healthy sustainable food options.
  4. Lessens Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions: As previously mentioned, cities are the primary source for greenhouse gas emissions due to heavy industrial activity and intense transportation usage. Urban agriculture practices such as community gardening and green roofs would lessen urban energy use because food would be produced locally, thus less energy would be used for transportation, packaging, and storage. In addition, urban agriculture endorses the reuse and recycling of organic matter, which would decrease methane emissions from landfills as well as the usage of crop fertilizers.

About The Author

is a recent graduate of the University of Oregon where she earned a Bachelor of Science in environmental studies and a minor in business administration. Growing up discovering the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest gave her a passion for both conservation and sustainability. She hopes to expand her knowledge of climate change by earning a Master’s degree in environmental science and specializing in biogeochemistry. As a foodie, her interests lie in cooking and baking, as well as traveling, camping, and exploring the outdoors.