Introduction to FOODMETRES

Welcome to the FoodMetres project whose main aim is to foster a spatially explicit approach towards food planning and innovation for sustainable metropolitan regions. Funded by the European Union and running over a period of three years, the project has involved 18 academic and business partners who engaged in a variety of research, tool and capacity-building exercises. The project incorporated an international dimension as well as focussing on concrete cases at the regional level in and around the cities of Rotterdam, Berlin, London, Milano, Ljubljana and Nairobi.


The launching of the FoodMetres project coincided with growing societal concerns about the way current food chains affect life and living on our planet. Advances in production, logistics, processing and retail mean that more people have more access to consistent quality, safe and affordable food than ever before in history. Yet serious concerns remain about, for example, the environmental impacts of food chains, the marginalization of small-scale farmers, inequalities in access to affordable, healthy food and the longer-term resilience of food chains in the face of natural resource depletion, climate change and global population growth. Especially in Europe's metropolitan regions, there is an increasing trend towards large-scale food production geared towards export markets while cultural landscapes and ecological networks are continuously under pressure from both urbanisation and agricultural intensification. At the same time there is a trend towards more small, but highly popular urban agricultural initiatives boosting technical innovation (e.g. vertical farming) as well as social cohesion by means of community gardening projects. The latter also create new opportunities for citizen, entrepreneurial and policy engagement in debates and innovations to improve sustainability, challenge unethical practices and address diet-related health inequalities. Cities are becoming increasingly important drivers of change in food chains. In particular, through exerting demand for shorter food chains, local food and community food production, cities are increasing the amount of food grown inside their boundaries and in their associated metropolitan regions. Some cities build on existing traditions and cultural practices, whereas others create new structures and practices in order to increase the amount of urban and metropolitan food production. Within this context, the project FOODMETRES is about 'Food Planning and Innovation for Sustainable Metropolitan Regions'. The project aims to assess the environmental, social and economic impacts of metropolitan food chains with regard to the spatial, logistical and resource dimensions of growing food, as well as questions of food safety and quality. It examines these aspects in relation to food planning and governance, with a focus on food chain innovations. The project pays particular attention to innovations that enable food chains to be shortened, either geographically (in terms of reducing the distance food travels) or socially (in terms of reducing the number of links in the food chain between producer and consumers).


FOODMETRES has combined quantitative and qualitative methods and engaged with a variety of actors in metropolitan regions including citizens, food producers, food retailers, NGOs and government bodies. FOODMETRES defines metropolitan regions in the context of the urban land use impacts of cities on their surrounding areas. It hence considers phenomena such as urban (food) consumption patterns, recreational behaviour and preferences, infrastructure and urbanisation processes as drivers that shape and define the surrounding metropolitan regions. Metropolitan regions are therefore dynamic in terms of size and character, but clearly different from remote rural hinterlands where urban processes appear to be effective with certain time lags. Therefore, metropolitan regions are not defined by sharp boundaries but soft transition zones. FOODMETRES has developed a spatial zoning concept for metropolitan regions that is based on the notion of regional food sheds and urban recreational needs (a green buffer).

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) active in the delivery of metropolitan food chains are a specific target of the project, as the anticipated research results should help them to make sustainable metropolitan regions a reality.


The main goals of FOODMETRES are:

  • Identify concepts as well as practical examples for food chain innovation in the context of small-scale urban, peri-urban and peri-urban- rural forms of agriculture and food production up to large-scale metropolitan production regimes geared towards feeding urban populations;
  • Assess the economic, environmental and social impacts of innovative food chain systems from small scale to large scale, making use of the ecological footprint and product life cycle analysis with special emphasis on efficiency, regional competitiveness, cultural identity (landscapes and regional markets) and ecosystem services such as water management and biodiversity;
  • Study and compare technical, logistical, organisational and governance aspects of innovative food chain systems in selected case studies to define best practice when engaging regional stakeholders from both business and policy in sustainable food planning at the level of metropolitan regions.
  • Supply scenario modelling and impact assessment tools to stakeholders in urban and peri-urban areas to assist with planning and decision-making. This is complemented by active knowledge brokerage to speed up innovation and innovation exchange within the case studies, but also for any other users in urban areas of Europe or developing countries.

Project Achievements

FOODMETRES has developed a series of technical references and decision support tools allowing stakeholders from agro-food business, governance and civil society organisations to enter a knowledge-driven debate on how to optimize the regional supply function of metropolitan areas around cities, by means of sustainable and innovative food chain planning and governance initiatives. The project's novel approach lies in the combination of two distinct yet closely interrelated strands of metropolitan agro-food systems, namely the spatially explicit dimension of regionally grown food in terms of 'local footprint hectares' necessary to feed the respective urban populations on the one hand, and the concrete innovation potentials for short food supply chains linking consumers with regional producers on the other hand. In practical terms this means that the FOODMETRES data management approach is rooted in both European as well as regional domains, allowing cross-scale assessments at different resolutions. It also means that we have engaged with food chain stakeholders during regional workshops in which knowledge brokerage tools have been applied to enable mutual learning processes and interactive forms of capacity building. One of the project's key contributions is to enable the visualisation of metropolitan supply and demand scenarios through several interactive mapping tools, which help stakeholders to better understand the possibilities for increasing metropolitan food sufficiency. Central to these efforts has been attention to different types of food chain innovation, namely product, process, governance and various social forms of innovation. Rather than suggesting one single form of sustainable food chain innovation, FOODMETRES has applied its evidence-based assessment tools to a wide range of food-chains ranging from community-supported agriculture in Ljubljana and Berlin, subsistence farming methods in Nairobi, to large-scale greenhouse glass production such as in Rotterdam-Westland. Offering new ways of framing regional food supply capacities, food chain innovation strategies and stakeholder interaction by means of 'hands-on' sustainability impact assessment tools, FOODMETRES invites the agro-food sector, planners and policy makers, as well as consumers to address the full scale and resource potential of metropolitan regions for making urban food consumption more sustainable and self-reliant.

Synthesis Report

The main achievements of the FOODMETRES project are presented in the SYNTHESIS REPORT, edited by Dirk Wascher, Moya Kneafsey, Marina Pintar and Annette Piorr. It features key results of qualitative and quantitative analysis and modelling and provides interesting insights of practical relevance from various short food chain innovation examples across all case studies in Rotterdam, London, Ljubljana, Nairobi, Milan and Berlin. The SYNTHESIS REPORT can be downloaded here.