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Cities can produce more food using circular systems

Urban farming
Urban farming. iStock/lena_volo
Published Feb 15, 2024

Climate change, population growth, and urbanization increase the need for alternative and sustainable solutions for producing food. At the same time, cities have become less and less self-sufficient and produce large amounts of waste that could be used more resource-efficiently. IVL is launching a major project focusing on how urban farms can become more circular by linking them to other flows in cities. KTH is participating in the project with Rebecka Milestad at the Department of sustainable development science and engineering (SEED), and Todor Stojanovski at the Department of Computer science (EECS).

“Food production can be made more efficient by finding synergies with other urban systems and residual streams, such as waste, residual materials, and energy that can be used to produce food in cities. This saves resources and reduces climate emissions”, says Michael Martin, project manager at IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute, and adjunct professor of sustainable production and consumption at SEED, KTH.

In recent years, interest in urban food production has increased, and the number of urban farms and vertical farming systems has grown. This trend is driven by a greater focus on sustainability among consumers and because climate change will require more resilient food systems in the future. Also, more and more cities are showing interest in becoming more self-sufficient and production-oriented.

One challenge is that current urban farming systems are often highly dependent on materials and energy sourced from outside the area. Therefore, the overall objective of the FOCUSE project is to see how urban farming can become more resource-efficient and environmentally friendly by finding synergies with other urban flows. The project will identify the potential for more circular use of materials and energy together with relevant actors in the food sector. In addition to IVL, Swedish partners in the project include KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Grönska Stadsodling, Skellefteå Municipality, and the City of Stockholm.

“We will involve municipalities, schools, businesses, and researchers to see what the future of circular food production in cities could look like, and test different solutions in outdoor farms, greenhouses, and vertical farms to see how urban waste streams can be used for food production,” says Michael Martin.

“SEED’s primary role in the project is to examine business models and integration into municipal procurement of the circular systems developed in the project. We will collaborate with Swedish municipalities participating as testbeds”, says Rebecka Milestad.

FOCUSE, which stands for Food production and provisioning through Circular Urban Systems in European Cities, is supported by an international consortium of municipalities, private actors, researchers from different disciplines and several European cities. Universities in Italy, Spain and Poland take part.

FOCUSE is funded through Driving Urban Transitions (DUT), a partnership programme within Horizon Europe to drive urban development towards a sustainable future. In the DUT programme, Vinnova, Formas, the Swedish Energy Agency, and Viable Cities collaborate with the European Commission and public funders from 27 European countries.