The environment provides the resources required to meet human needs. However, the extraction and processing of those resources may cause irreversible environmental damage, whose impacts on societies are felt differently across diverse socio-economic groups. In particular, the groups that benefit from resource extraction may not be those that experience the highest impacts compared to others. Environmental justice arises in response to this reality, based on the idea that we all have the right to live in a clean and healthy environment. However, the present global industrialized agro-food system causes many of these irreversible changes, contributing to climate change, deforestation, and loss of biodiversity. It tends to violate the basic criteria of environmental justice by putting the capacity of local communities to produce an adequate food supply at risk. It can threaten their food security.

Food within the framework of environmental justice

Environmental justice is highly complex, both socially and in terms of policy (Arriaga and Pardo 2011), and it is usually the groups identified with low socio-economic profiles that suffer from a greater burden of environmental impacts (Ramirez et al. 2014). Environmental justice is defined as the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies (US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 2017).

Food security has multiple definitions. For instance, the 1996 Rome Declaration on World Food Security defines it as ‘the right of every person to have access to safe and nutritious food consistent with the right to adequate food and the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger’. Food security was also defined by the 1996 World Food Summit as ‘food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences of an active and healthy life’. The emphases are thus on rights of access to food to be not only free from hunger, but to achieve health and well-being.

However, these definitions neglect the aspects related to potential environmental impacts created by food production systems. In addition to an adequate supply of nutritious food, production systems should not create environmental problems for other people and communities that might lead to environmental injustice. Because such problems often arise, there is a need to change the food system and the ways in which cities are supplied with food.

The present urban food supply system, involving the use of agrochemicals, crop and animal production, food processing, storage and distribution relies on complex global transport networks that generate serious environmental impacts, particularly those arising from fossil fuel consumption. Urban food consumption centers have become more internationally connected and less linked to their immediate regional rural environments (Brunelle et al. 2014). The magnitude of the fossil fuel dependence of the urban food supply system probably amounts to about 2.7 kg/per capita/day (Carpintero 2005), adding considerably to other sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Large-scale livestock production helps to drive climate change through land cover changes and methane emissions (Arosemena 2017). To avoid the impending consequences of these environmental impacts, agriculture has to reduce its effects on climate change (FAO 2011). Probably the most serious consequence of climate change for urban people will be increasing food insecurity (Arosemena 2012).

Urban agriculture: a tool to transform the urban agro-food system and the city model

The environmental justice and food security problems generated by the industrialized and global food system require structural changes to both agri-food systems and in the city planning. The future involves developing local food systems that reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. A local agri-food system close to the cities implies reintroducing the old practice of urban food farming, which has been termed ‘urban agriculture’ in recent decades. In addition, it generates the opportunity to create links between urban farmers and consumers through the direct sales system which reduces use of packages that generate waste, while reducing fossil fuel and creating other environmental benefits (Arosemena 2012).

Developing urban and peri-urban agriculture helps to reduce the environmental impacts of the food system and its dependence on fossil fuels, and also provides a means of improving food security, in the face of economic and climatic vulnerability. However, in order for the city to modify its agro-food system, it is necessary to rethink urban structures such as the food system, the system of free and greenspaces, and waste management (Figure 75.1). In the first instance, to generate a local urban food system, it is necessary to modify the spatial organization of the city to generate permanent cultivation areas. This will have repercussions on city planning, land-use regulations and open space provision. At the same time, the pattern of food retailing must be redefined to allow food producers to sell directly to consumers, greatly expanding farmers’ markets. Such changes must also use urban organic wastes, to move towards more circular economies, with organic solid waste becoming compost and treated wastewater being used for irrigation. This can only be achieved when agriculture occurs close to urban centers. However, many challenges that prevent the full development of urban agriculture must still be overcome.

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