Case Study Region Berlin (Germany)


Berlin-Brandenburg represents a metropolitan region with rural agricultural areas in the direct vicinity of the metropolitan centre. Its core area encompasses 66 municipalities around Berlin and the city itself. Delineated by the regional planning authorities to control urban growth, the so-called sphere of mutual influence (engerer Verflechtungsraum) can be regarded as peri-urban area. It embraces an area of about 5,400 km2 and is populated by about one million inhabitants (2006), growing gradually with additional 75,000 inhabitants since 2000.

Photo Berlin 1.2.1
Urban community gardens with innovative management, financing and knowledge sharing concepts like Himmelbeet are spreading across Berlin.(Source: A. Piorr)

The green and creative image of Berlin arises in a large number of innovative urban agriculture and regional food initiatives. Food is a popular issue in Berlin: "It's not just about what we eat, but how we eat it, grow it, share it and even name it. 'Sustainable' isn't just a buzzword in Berlin, it's a way of life: eating organically, growing locally and getting our hands dirty" (Sarala 2015). The high public interest and engagement in the topic is rooted in a long tradition of allotment gardening in Berlin, which over the last years has been supplemented with many urban gardening innovations, e.g. community or intercultural gardens. There are also new urban and peri-urban based entrepreneurial models like self-harvesting gardens, aquaponic farm systems or community supported agriculture (CSA) emerging, featuring direct and narrow producer-consumer relationships. City authorities encounter these trends with willingness to co-operate, expressed in making spaces temporarily available for gardening initiatives, supporting exchange with SFSC stakeholders and stepwise considering new forms of agricultural land use in strategic planning.

Photo Berlin 1.2.2
Urban gardening in post-war times in Berlin Tiergarten. (Source: Lemo, DHM)

Berlin is estimated to be one of the largest markets for organic food in Europe with suppliers from all over the world and from different German regions, whereas the surrounding Brandenburg region accounts for a high share of agricultural land under organic farming (10.6% of agricultural area and 12.6% of the farms are run organically) (Statistik Berlin Brandenburg 2013). Therefore our research focusses on organic food production and distribution and estimates potentials for regional organic food provision. In particular, we assess the environmental, social and economic impacts of Short Food Supply Chains (SFSC).

Photo Berlin 1.2.3
A growing market for organic food in Berlin stepwise introduces regional product lines. (Source: Bio Company, Berlin)

Research Activities

In principle, related to the available area, it is possible to cover the food supply for Berlin. The calculation, on which figure B3 is based, takes the average consumption pattern of an average diet and the areas of arable and grassland and yield levels for different commodities into consideration. The area demand of the 3.5 Million people in Berlin equals 588 thousand hectares, which is roughly half of the available agricultural area. The inner circle shows the area demand for the city of Berlin. The outer circle also adds the area demand from the surrounding Federal State of Brandenburg. The results suggest that, despite the less-favoured area (LFA) conditions, the ca. 6 Million people of Berlin-Brandenburg can easily be supplied by local agricultural production. However, this calculation is only of a theoretical nature, as many commodities, such as tropical fruits, need to be imported.

Innovative concepts of SFSC are often originating from organic farming and food distribution. Research activities undertaken in Berlin applied a transdisciplinary approach: scientists from ZALF, activists, professionals and stakeholders from the organic farming sector, retailers, and public administration staff together exchanged regularly on specific in-depth themes such as

  • the description, analysis and comparison of innovative SFSC of the Berlin Brandenburg organic food market
  • the assessment of their environmental, economic and social impacts
  • the potentials of a regional supply with organic food and the related marketing concepts
  • the strategies, programmes and policies towards regional SFSC in different German cities.

Three workshops with stakeholders and decision-makers were carried out in Berlin to address the development potentials, the sustainability impacts and the contributions of SFSC, as well as their policy and implementation challenges. In a first workshop with the Berlin stakeholders, we discussed strengths, weaknesses, chances, risks and challenges of two new and relevant SFSC types (self-harvesting gardens and CSA) for farmers, consumers and society. As a result, development and upscaling potentials, transferability and the role in urban transformation processes differ between the SFSC forms, due to product specific, seasonal, market size, scale and target group differences. Governance structures, networks and cooperation are important but are established within individual and locally embedded concepts, which accounts for regionalised and innovation oriented development objectives and support.

In a second workshop organic farming SFSC types were selected that show a decreasing closeness between producer and consumer and an increasing spatial distance of production location to the metropolitan centre: urban gardening for self-supply, self-harvesting garden, community supported agriculture (CSA), regional organic product sold on a Berlin weekly market, retail (global organic chain, supermarket baseline). With stakeholders from the named SFSC types, we assessed the impact of the commodity vegetables. Regarding their environmental impacts most SFSC examples are estimated to perform better than the global baseline; CSA and self-harvesting garden reached the highest positive ranks. Urban Gardening for self-supply however was seen critically regarding efficient resource use and protection, because less professional gardening methods and practices are applied that perform less efficiently in e.g. use of water and nutrients. The economic sustainability profile of the SFSC differed markedly and positively from the global one, except for transportation efficiency. Regarding social sustainability, beneficial SFSC effects were assumed, except for food security. Stakeholders pointed to the still comparably low share of SFSC derived food in the overall consumption and the strong seasonal variability. The third workshop revealed that integrative approaches to urban spatial planning, food strategies and governance are required, that go beyond the existing sectorial and spatial boundaries and organisation and support innovative SFSC.

Photo Berlin 1.2.4
Particulary organic farms from surrounding Brandenburg specialize in short chain delivery of vegetables for the Berlin market. (Source: R. Köster)

Summary and Conclusions

The food sector, and in Berlin particularly the organic one, is a growing market with future potential, sensitive to individual and public perception and relevance, and integrating environmental and social values, interests and welfare. Innovative and regional food supply chains are an expression of changed societal demands and new consumer preferences and are currently notably establishing in metropolitan regions. Growing food on public and on private land is a contemporary phenomenon increasingly linked to new entrepreneurial models of professional agricultural land use, distribution and marketing but also of knowledge generation. Priority public supportive actions are justified as economic, environmental and socially inclusive impacts of these SFSC forms are verified, meeting both consumer demands and societal challenges.