Rurban Revolution

Can ruralising urban areas through greening and growing create a healthy, sustainable & resilient food system?

Food is a growing challenge for us as a society. Food is damaging the nation’s health with overconsumption and poor dietary choices leading to an epidemic of obesity and associated diseases such as diabetes in the UK and other countries. Part of the reason behind this obesity crisis is a crisis in mental health – stress drives poor eating habits. Another aspect is poor access to nutritious food – the UK has very high levels of food insecurity compared with other high income countries.

At a global level, agriculture is a major cause of environmental harm and raises important questions about the sustainability and longevity of our current approach to food production and consumption. The need for land expansion to meet our growing food demands is causing widespread deforestation and soil degradation, and 30% of greenhouse gas emissions derive from agriculture, contributing to climate change with major knock-on effects for ecosystems and people.

In addition to the challenges that increasing land use pressures and climate change are presenting to ensuring stable and adequate supply of good quality nutritious food into supply chains, the UK is facing further challenges as we prepare for Brexit. Potential changes to labour and farm payments throw a lot of uncertainty on the viability of domestic horticultural production, and uncertainty around trade agreements creates questions about the future supply of fruit and vegetables – 30% of which currently derive from the EU.

This project investigates the potential of a new idea – rurbanisation (rural-isation of urban areas) – as a holistic solution to these problems. Rurbanisation is a vision for radically increasing the amount of space we devote to greenery and food growing in cities. This idea could combat our food problems by:

– helping to reconnect people with food and nature, reducing stress and increasing access to fruit and vegetables.

– increasing urban food production, reducing the amount of food we need to grow outside cities, making space for nature inside and outside cities, and shortening supply chains, and

– increasing domestic production and supply of fruit and vegetables that are key to the nation’s health. In the past, food system shocks have created rapid rises in urban growing, and individuals and communities taking more responsibility for growing their own food e.g. Dig for Victory and Cuba post-Soviet Union collapse. Could we use rurbanisation as a pre-emptive measure for increasing food security?

This project brings together expertise across nutrition and psychology, crop and food sciences, ecosystems and climate change and political and social sciences to build an evidence base on the potential of rurbanisation for transforming our food system in a sustainable and resilient way, so it can contribute to healthier lifestyles.

Find out more about Rurban Revolution.

PI: Jess Davies Lancaster University

Funded Value: £647,042  Funded Period: Jan 19 РDec 20 Funder: BBSRC