Case Study Region London (UK)
London is one of the largest and most ethnically diverse cities in Europe, with a population of 8.2 million people projected to grow to 10 million by 2031. Although densely populated, a report by the London Assembly (2010) found the city is home to almost 500 farms and produces over 8,000 tonnes of fruit and vegetables even though much of the potential agricultural land around the city, mostly in the Green Belt, is not actively farmed. There is potential to increase food production around the city and the Food Metres has helped to identify this, but there are still many barriers, including pressure on land for housing and activities considered more lucrative than farming.
Notwithstanding the low use of land for food production, there is a vibrant food environment in London comprising innovative short food chains involving entrepreneurs, non-governmental organisations, local authorities and communities. The city-wide London Food Board (LFB) aims to co-ordinate and lead the debate on sustainable food issues in the city; made up of an advisory group of independent food policy organisations and experts, the LFB oversees the implementation of the Mayor´s London Food Strategy, inaugurated in 2006. The Food Strategy´s vision is for ´a sustainable world city the food strategy sets the strategic context and outlines a plan of action to help us all make better and healthier choices´.
Capital Growth - city wide network
An example of a city-wide initiative to address food system sustainability is Capital Growth, a campaign launched in 2008 to help create 2012 new growing spaces, it now helps people to grow food at home, on allotments, or as part of a community group, urban farm or school. Managed by Sustain (a charity that campaigns for sustainable food and farming), the Capital Growth network has collectively engaged over 150,000 Londoners in this social and governance innovation at the city-wide scale, working towards sustainability through community food growing.
At a local scale, London´s 33 boroughs, or administrative units, influence the food system through school meals provision, planning decisions and public health interventions. In addition:At a local scale, London´s 33 boroughs, or administrative units, influence the food system through school meals provision, planning decisions and public health interventions. In addition:
- 17 boroughs have food strategies or policies
- 14 have, or are developing food partnerships
- several are promoting community food production in their planning frameworks.
Despite the support across London, the challenge of securing long-term access to land continues. It is also difficult for urban farmers to earn a living from the land once they secure it, particularly when faced with low wages and high rents and house prices. Incorporating these socio-economic issues into discussions around food system sustainability is key and many innovations in London aim to address self-sufficiency and economic fairness.
By employing knowledge brokerage strategies, the UK Foodmetres team has been working with stakeholders on three different levels of engagement.
- Firstly, we engaged local level stakeholders by exploring how Foodmetres could contribute to their work (e.g. carrying out a Sustainability Impact Assessment with the Crystal Palace Food Market).
- Secondly, by attending regional workshops, local stakeholders have made constructive critical contributions to the project, and kept informed of the project´s progress.
- Finally, stakeholders with city-wide responsibilities and interests have been informed of the international and local knowledge generated from the project through a newsletter.
The knowledge brokerage techniques applied in the London case study have resulted in the building of relationships and networks and created a dialogue between the research team and the ´users´ of scientific information - innovators, and decision makers.
Throughout the project, people have contributed their experience and knowledge of working to create sustainable urban food systems, including representatives from charities, business, campaign groups, markets, and policy. This enabled the identification main themes relating to short food chains and innovation in London, in particular issue the ´next steps´ for short food chains and the role of communities and citizens. One question is how to connect and ´scale up´ small-scale local food activities, especially in peri-urban parts of the Metropolitan Agricultural System.
The growing network of local food initiatives and innovators in London can help address some issues however challenges still remain on how to expand, coordinate and develop good governance and political support. More broadly, London faces a number of complexities and challenges in terms of food system sustainability. These include:
- the interconnected issues of transport logistics and storage pose a challenge due to the scale of the city, the lack of storage space, and ´freshness´ being a key aspect of local food
- the dominance of supermarkets and the rise in their smaller convenience stores
- the prominence of fast-food outlets all of which compete for space and attention in the city´s food environment.