What will the global citizen of tomorrow eat, and how do will we produce that food?

Published on
February 2, 2023

When it comes to feeding the global citizens of tomorrow, analyses often concern the production of fruit and vegetables. While focusing on productivity and profitability factors, we often forget about the nutritional aspect, in other words: how many macro- and micronutrients do residents of cities and urbanized regions actually need? The Greenhouse Horticulture and Flower Bulbs Business Unit of Wageningen University & Research has developed a methodology to assess production and use of resources to meet human food needs.

The methodology can be used to inventory the production and use of resources (water, land and energy) to meet the needs for (plant-based) food in urban and peri-urban areas. The dietary requirements are based on recommendations from, among others, the World Health Organization. In those requirements, all plant foods are considered, so not only fruit and vegetables (as often happens), but also legumes, starchy vegetables (e.g., potatoes) and grains: these products provide other building materials for the human body. Data on yield, land use, water use and energy use were collected and/or calculated for two cropping systems: an open field cultivation and a vertical farm. After all, both systems are typically found in cities and their surroundings and represent two extremes when it comes to food production. The main aim of the study is to provide the tools (i.e., the necessary information, data sources, and how to use them) to estimate resource use specifically for one's own conditions (i.e., crop, growing conditions, etc.).The methodology can support farmer’s decisions on choosing the most efficient crops and types of farming systems in contributing to a plant-based diet. In addition, the results can also be converted into water, energy and surface area needed to meet the nutritional requirements on a macroscale, such as a city or region, and provide the basis for assessing the potential (local) horticultural production and related resource use, and thus assist urban planning. The methodology is also a call to acquire more data about high-tech farming systems and to make that data available centrally: during the development of the methodology, it turned out that comprehensive data are available for a that comprehensive data are available for a limited number of crops.