In recent years, food security has become increasingly discussed, and public concerns were heightened recently when rogue horsemeat found its way into various food products. This controversy has raised concerns about the scale and manageability of complex international food chains.
By contrast, shorter food chains are said to improve food security. This is because they increase levels of control and transparency in relation to food chain concerns such as bio-security and traceability. Interest in social justice and environmental degradation linked to the food chain has also spurred many civil, commercial and public organisations in recent years, not least in the West Country. So far, however, the social and environmental potentials of shorter chains benefits have been considered in the context of rural development.
The European Commission has funded a project, called SUPURB Food, to explore good practice in the development of food production and consumption within city regions. The purpose of SUPURB Food is to investigate how short food chains make a contribution to local food needs, and what this means in terms of food waste, land and water use, as well as soil nutrient levels in the food production areas adjacent to cities.
The project will consider seven urban case-study regions across Europe: Rome, Riga, Rotterdam, Vigo, Zurich, Ghent and Bristol. The Bristol city-region includes Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol City, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset (formerly the county of Avon).
The Bristol city-region research will be carried out by the Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI), a collaboration between the University of Gloucestershire, the University of the West of England, Hartpury College and the Royal Agricultural College.
Professor Nigel Curry, who is co-Director of the CCRI, said, “Across the EU, cities are becoming increasingly important arenas within which the multiple concerns of food and land use are played out. On the one hand, local and regional devolution has created new opportunities and responsibilities in relation to public health, planning and resource use. On the other hand, issues such as food price rises, climate change and pressures on agricultural land mean that the resilience of the food system is a question of deep concern much closer to home.”
During the course of the project the CCRI will be looking at examples of best practice, particularly where people have managed to integrate community and environmental benefits, with the aim of putting them in a common pool to be shared across the cases studies, and eventually to a wider audience.
Professor Curry continued, “Short food chain practitioners – especially community activists and food businesses – from each of the city-regions have joined the project research teams, so that they can talk directly to each other (and moderate the language of the academics!) about the practical consequences associated with re-localising their food systems.”
The CCRI team will be interviewing experts, public officials, food business managers and community activists in the Bristol city-region over the forthcoming months. If you are involved with food supply chains, food waste management, land use or farming and would like to be involved with the project, please contact project leader Dr Matt Reed, firstname.lastname@example.org
To stay informed, sign up for regular email bulletins via the project web-site: www.supurbfood.eu