Jason Clay – The Intersection of Urbanization and Food Systems

How does urbanization affect food systems?

By 2050 we’re supposed to have between 9.5 billion to 10 billion people. But even more importantly, we’re going to have a big shift of people living in cities. In fact, by 2050 it is estimated that we’ll have as many people living in cities as we have people alive today. So we’ve got to figure out how to feed people who basically can’t feed themselves. That means logistics, infrastructure and transportation, etc.

Is urban farming part of the solution?

One thing a lot of people who move into cities miss is the food from their local area, or “nostalgia food”. If we could figure out how to increase productivity of local varieties in the first instance, then we could actually begin to feed some of these cities. In urban areas with poorer population price trumps everything. If we can get food into cities that’s affordable, people are going to eat it. We need to build on the foods that people are already used to, but also transition them to the foods that we can produce more cheaply—that are both calorie and nutrient dense. That’s really what we should focus on, how do we get more calories and nutrients into cities that have a shelf-life that are not going to have more waste that come with them automatically?

What is the impact of trade on food security?

Global trade is perhaps the single best answer towards food security at a planetary level. We need to produce the things in surplus where we can produce them best. And then trade them with other places. We also need to make sure that the areas that produce the most are producing surpluses that can fill the gaps in all the other parts of the world when there’s a famine or war, or when there’s some other disruption of production. If we can figure out how to link trade to more sustainable production, then we can begin to manage the planet as a whole planet, not just urban versus rural or one country versus another. We’ve got to start looking at how we produce food for this many people, this many people in cities within the confines of a single planet.

How can we increase investment in agriculture?

We have a global system where various sources provide finance for agriculture. What we’ve seen in the last five to ten years is that many countries are beginning to subsidize agriculture, not just the U.S. and Europe, but also China, India, and Brazil. We need to figure out how to use those funds, not only to continue what we already have, but also to finance innovation in the short term, which then will take off and begin to grow. How can we use short-term subsidies to leverage the private sector and impact investments? How can we use the demand, which is now billions of dollars-a-year from retailers and brands, to leverage investment in a more sustainable supply? Can we use a three, five, or ten-year contract from companies like Walmart, Kellogg or General Mills to then buy down the risk for traders, processors or state banks to invest in local farming? That’s the jujitsu we have to figure out, because we haven’t done it yet. And how can we make that part of global trade?

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