A new study reveals that global food import has replaced local food import even among relatively wealthy cities. But this dependence carries serious consequences when countries are prone to restrict exports. Photo: A.N. Sandman/Azote

Food security

Risky meals

Changing diets and growing urban areas lead to greater reliance on risky food imports

Story highlights

  • Study examines food security in three capital cities: Canberra, Copenhagen and Tokyo
  • First ever attempt to map food systems of capital cities, providing important for food security during increased urbanization
  • Trade between countries and urban agriculture could help to reduce potential urban food shortages

This also means that large cities should now start to invest in urban agriculture especially if climate change has large effects on food production and other parts of the food chain in the future

But importantly, Deutsch concludes, we need more detailed and accurate mapping of just where our food comes from, where it goes, who grows it using what resources, and who consumes it.

"This is fundamental for planning how we can feed a growing world population."

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On the international agenda
Both food security and urbanisation are on the programme for the major international conference on sustainability hosted by the IARU partnership in October 2014. Professor Dr. John R. Porter from the University of Copenhagen, who is lead author of the study is organising the session on global challenges and sustainable solutions related to food security.

Read more about the conference

"This shows how vulnerable our current food system is to open food trade policies"

Lisa Deutsch, co-author

When the issue of food security comes up, most people tend to focus on poorer countries or regions that are scarce on infrastructure and burdened by reoccurring natural disasters. Well, think again because the world is changing.

In a world turning increasingly urban, even wealthy and relatively self-reliant cities are becoming vulnerable to changes in global food provisioning systems. Spikes in food prices and scarcity of basic ingredients such as wheat can have dramatic effects on food provisioning.

In a study recently published in Global Food Security, centre researcher Lisa Deutsch, together with colleagues from Australia, Denmark and Japan, has looked at food security and self-provisioning for three capitals; Canberra, Copenhagen and Tokyo.

The study marks a first attempt to map the food systems of capital cities, an essential insight for future food security amid population growth, climate change and political instability.

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From locally based to globally imported
What they found was that local food production has fallen consistently over the last 45 years, a result perhaps not surprising considering that as income increases, diets diversify from a narrow, locally based food range to a more globally diverse one of meat, fruit and vegetables.

With Canberra, Copenhagen and Tokyo all having readily identifiable hinterland surrounding them, Deutsch and her colleagues selected a range of commodities that make up a major part of the region’s diet, namely beef, wheat, rice, dairy products and pork. Based on these commodities the researchers compared the years of 1965, 2000 and 2005 in addition to a fourth year which constituted a particularly difficult year for the specific city.

Particularly in the capitals of Australia and Japan, where the population has increased tremendously over the past 40 years, the self-provision has declined; in Canberra from 150 to 90 percent and in Tokyo from 41 to 27 percent. This is despite the increase in yield of agricultural land per hectare. Copenhagen on the other hand, has increased its self-provision slightly from 34 to 45 percent because its population has remained fairly constant.

"When the local capacity to supply a city declines, it becomes more dependent on the global market.  As an example, Japan imported wheat from 600,000 hectares of foreign farmland to meet the demand of their capital and surrounding region in 2005," says Lisa Deutsch.

Open food trade, for good and for bad
But this dependence carries serious consequences in times of food shortages. Recent examples in the Ukraine and Russia in 2010-11 and other places show that governments are quick to restrict exports in the face of domestic food shortages and possible political instability.

If governments do not remain committed to open food trade, even rich cities like Canberra, Tokyo and Copenhagen are prone to food shortages.



Porter, J.R., Dyball, R., Dumaresq, D., Deutsch, L., Matsuda, H. 2013. Feeding capitals: Urban food security and self-provisioning in Canberra, Copenhagen and Tokyo, Global Food Security, Available online 18 October 2013, ISSN 2211-9124, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gfs.2013.09.001

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Lisa Deutsch's research examines the couplings between the ecological effects of globalization of food production systems and national policy and economic accounts. Her work contributes to the development of a set of complementary tools that can be used in economic accounting at national and international scales that address ecosystem support and performance.


Stockholm Resilience Centre is a collaboration between Stockholm University and the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

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