Food supply chains have developed towards economically efficient, but complex global systems that are able to offer a variety of food products all year around. At the same time, there are many initiatives towards more local food supply chains. Often, these developments are based on expected benefits in terms of reducing carbon emissions or increasing the consumption of health foods in urban environments.
However, the questions are to what extent and in what ways urban food systems can become more localized and to what extent such a reorientation actually contributes to the abovementioned expectations as well as providing the urban population with safe and adequately diversified healthy food products.
“The goal should not just become localization, but should remain focused on the underlying reasons to move this way.”
This study aims to provide a first exploration of this problem area for the city of Almere and the metropolitan region of Amsterdam (MRA), with an emphasis on data requirements and quantitative modelling approaches, which should ultimately provide the basis for evidence-based decision-making on food distribution systems.
The main objectives of this explorative project were as follows: (1) to explore the potential of local production to meet consumption demand in the MRA; (2) to understand the requirements in the food distribution system for linking local production and consumption; (3) to develop a pilot decision support model to analyze and evaluate the logistical impact of a local distribution system (including costs and environmental impact); and (4) to present research lines based on the explorations in the previous objectives, to work towards scenarios for efficient and sustainable local food distribution systems.
Results and discussion
If local food supply chains are developed to improve sustainability, to contribute to circular agriculture, to increase the availability of healthy food products, or to improve the resilience of the food system, these factors need to be examined in more detail. A decrease in distance or a decrease in the number of links in the chain does not necessarily mean that sustainability, health, or resilience are improved. Localization can for instance also lead to increased environmental pressure due efficiency losses. Basically, the goal should not just become localization, but should remain focused on the underlying reasons to move this way. This might also mean that different products require different solutions. Large-scale production of for instance potatoes does not have to exclude the small-scale urban farming of selected vegetables, especially if the latter contributes to providing a more varied diet.
In a development towards evidence-based decision-making on food supply chains, two things are important: the lack of useful and accessible quantitative data, and the need to complement quantitative approaches with qualitative studies (especially when also linking to consumption behavior). Furthermore, it is clear that food system actors will potentially have to change roles. And in situations where localization is helpful, which actors will then facilitate it? And can they overcome the loss in economies of scale. Overall, evidence-based and data-driven approaches are essential, but data integration and a longitudinal focus are required.