Metropolitan Food Clusters and Sustainable development

The world is urbanizing and already half of the growing world's population lives in cities. The world's economic growth is centred in these cities and in a few decades the urban share will approach three quarters of predicted 9 billion people. These typical large metropolitan areas often usurp the space most suited for agricultural production with urban land use and functions linked to large urban conglomerates. Inside the metropolis there is a strong growth of the urban middle class with an increasing purchasing power, which revolutionises food consumption patterns, first of all in the quality but also in quantity. Urban middle class workers need fewer calories from staple food as rice, wheat, potatoes. They consume much more fruit and vegetables, meat and fish and drink milk products, fruit juices, soft drinks, beer, wine and spirits. They do not accept health hazards and demand perfect freshness and excellent taste. Their food must be easy to purchase and prepare, and must be according to the latest fashion.

The reverse side of this development is that the rural areas are faced with marginalisation through depopulation, ageing and brain drain. Youth being attracted to the urban conglomerates, more and more rejecting futures of subsistence farming. Yet these rural areas are still pre-dominant in world food production.

Within the metropolitan areas the distinction between urban and rural areas is vanishing. A rise in agricultural productivity is necessary. Reliable food-chains that provide the products demanded by the increasing urban population are becoming of strategic importance worldwide.  

Feeding the world's population of now 7 billion up to 9 billion in a few decades requires systems innovations in agriculture.

Metropolitan Food Clusters are intelligent agro logistic networks with consolidation centres, agroparks and supplying satellite farms, organised in rural transformation centres. They are simultaneously oriented to the nearby metropoles and to the world market to which they deliver their products and from which they receive inputs that cannot be produced locally. Metropolitan Food Clusters fit into the context of the network and information society as the third development stage of humankind after the agricultural and industrial societies.

Metropolitan Food Clusters can be seen as a system innovation in present agricultural practice from sector oriented agriculture and food production located separately, towards vertical and horizontal integration of a number of value chains, spatially clustered or semi clustered. The clusters are linked with sourcing areas that provide commodities according to high standards of sustainable development in agriculture and precision farming.

Typical components of the Metropolitan Food Cluster network are, at one end of the chain, production regions and satellite farms, centred around 'rural transformation centres'. At the other end 'distribution and consolidation centres' are directly servicing metropolitan or export markets to which they deliver their products and from which they receive inputs that cannot be sourced locally. In between 'agroparks' form the linking pin between the two.

From Consolidation centres products, produced and processed by agroparks and other upward elements of the chain, are distributed in tailor made quantities and combinations that the city demands. A consolidation centre serves a metropolitan market in a consumer responsive way throughout the whole year.

An Agropark is a spatial cluster of several value chains in an industrial set up, situated in the close vicinity of the metropolis. The clusters contain a variety of different agro-production, -processing, agrologistic and agro and food linked services and functions. Within the cluster the principles of industrial ecology are being applied and located in the large scale central processing unit. The spatial cluster thus combines units that represent the different parts of the value chain from primary production to ready to eat food product, with added compartments of essential agro business services like R&D, education and training facilities, trade and logistics facilities, park management services. Clustering with non-agro-industries like energy production and waste management can further decrease economic costs and environmental emissions.


The spatial clustering of different agro-production chains and the spatial combination of agro-processing, logistics and non-agro-functions in Metropolitan Food Clusters enables many prosperous scenarios. The concept is based on the principles of sustainable development (balanced development between planet-people-profit with an adequate process).

Designing Metropolitan Food Clusters, agroparks and rural transformation centres is based on an integrated approach in a 'creative research by design process (co-design). It is not only oriented on the' hardware' of the MFC but also on the more complicated 'orgware' aspects (co-operation structure, business development) and on time consuming 'software aspects" (education and training, communication).

The development approach is co-design, working together with Knowledge Institutes, Entrepreneurs, Non-Governmental and Governmental Organisations to realise the system-innovations of Metropolitan Food Clusters.