Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 29, Issue 4, pp 481–492 | Cite as

Potential and observed food flows in a Chinese city: a case study of Tianjin

  • Dingyang ZhouEmail author
  • Hirotaka Matsuda
  • Yuji Hara
  • Kazuhiko Takeuchi


This study examines the food flow in Tianjin, divided into three areas (urban, suburban, and rural), as a case study to gain a better understanding of local and regional food flows and ecosystem performance. The study has the following objectives: (1) to evaluate the capacity for self-sufficiency within Tianjin’s administrative boundary by estimating a self-sufficiency ratio (SSR) using statistical data at both the city and local scales, (2) to estimate food flow at the city scale from field surveys of the local markets and statistics provided by the local government, and (3) to examine the real flows of the two primary types of arable crops (cereal grains and vegetables) at the local level by conducting semi-structured household interviews. The results of this study show that Tianjin has experienced a rapid increase of self-sufficiency capacity since the 1980s, and it appears to have the capacity to support the citizens within its borders. Rural areas have had a surplus in all of the studied food categories since the 1980s, and suburban areas have a history of high estimated SSR for vegetables, poultry, and fish. However, a low degree of locally sourced product flow was observed in this study. Most of the local cereal crops were consumed in the agricultural production areas, but 70 % of the vegetables produced in the rural areas flowed outside of Tianjin and did not support Tianjin local consumption. To reduce its vulnerability to food security issues and to promote a more environmentally desirable local food system, Tianjin needs to recognize the high productivity of its local ecosystem and reduce its dependence on other remote ecosystems for its food needs. A stronger relationship between urban and rural areas should also be established.


Food flow Ecosystem Self-sufficiency Urban–rural linkage Sustainability Tianjin 



Self-sufficiency ratio



This study was funded by Mitsui & Co., Ltd. Environment Fund, and by the “Centre of Excellence for Asian Conservation Ecology as a Basis of Human-Nature Mutualism,” a Global Centre of Excellence Program of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan. The authors also acknowledge the useful comments and suggestions from Professor Minjun Shi, Professor Toshiya Okubo, Dr. Satoro Okubo, Dr. Tomoo Okayasu, and Dr. Kazuaki Tsuchiya on this study. All anonymous reviewers and editors are thanked for their contributions in improving the manuscript.


  1. Arrow, K., B. Bolin, R. Costanza, P. Dasgupta, C. Folke, C.S. Holling, B. Jansson, S. Levin, K. Mäler, C. Perrings, and D. Pimentel. 1995. Economic growth, carrying capacity, and the environment. Science 268(5210): 520–521.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Chambers, S., A. Lobb, L. Butler, K. Harvey, and W.B. Traill. 2007. Local, national and imported foods: A qualitative study. Appetite 49(1): 208–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Chen, J., Z.R. Yu, J.L. Ouyang, and M.E.F. van Mensvoort. 2006. Factors affecting soil quality changes in the North China Plain: A case study of Quzhou County. Agricultural Systems 91(3): 171–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Coley, D., M. Howard, and M. Winter. 2009. Local food, food miles and carbon emissions: A comparison of farm shop and mass distribution approaches. Food Policy 34(2): 150–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cowell, S.J., and S. Parkinson. 2003. Localisation of UK food production: An analysis using land area and energy as indicators. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 94(2): 221–236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. DeLind, L.B. 2011. Are local food and the local food movement taking us where we want to go? Or are we hitching our wagons to the wrong stars? Agriculture and Human Values 28(2): 273–283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Desjardins, E., R. MacRae, and T. Schumilas. 2010. Linking future population food requirements for health with local production in Waterloo Region, Canada. Agriculture and Human Values 27(2): 129–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Deutsch, L., and C. Folke. 2005. Ecosystem subsidies to Swedish food consumption from 1962 to 1994. Ecosystems 8(5): 512–528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Deutsch, L., D. Dumaresq, R. Dyball, H. Matsuda, J. Porter, A. Reenberg, and K. Takeuchi. 2009. Global food flows and urban food security: Case studies from three IARU cities. IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science 6(51). doi: 10.1088/1755-1307/6/1/512004.
  10. Ericksen, P.J. 2008. Conceptualizing food systems for global environmental change research. Global Environmental Change 18(1): 234–245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fan, S., and X. Zhang. 2002. Production and productivity growth in Chinese agriculture: New national and regional measures. Economic Development and Cultural Change 50(4): 819–838.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. FAOSTAT Database. 2010. Data available online at:
  13. Feng, Z. 2007. Future food security and arable land guarantee for population development in China. Population Research 31(2): 15–29. (in Chinese with English abstract).Google Scholar
  14. Folke, C. 2006. Resilience: The emergence of a perspective for social-ecological systems analyses. Global Environmental Change 16(3): 253–267.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Folke, C., L. Pritchard, F. Berkes, J. Colding, and U. Svedin. 2007. The problem of fit between ecosystems and institutions: Ten years later. Ecology and Society 12(1): 30.Google Scholar
  16. Gadda, T., and A. Gasparatos. 2009. Land use and cover change in Japan and Tokyo’s appetite for meat. Sustainability Science 4(2): 165–177.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gerbens-Leenes, P.W., H.C. Moll, and A.J.M. Schoot Uiterkamp. 2003. Design and development of a measuring method for environmental sustainability in food production systems. Ecological Economics 46(2): 231–248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Giombolini, K.J., K.J. Chambers, S.A. Schlegel, and J.B. Dunne. 2010. Testing the local reality: Does the Willamette Valley growing region produce enough to meet the needs of the local population? A comparison of agriculture production and recommended dietary requirements. Agriculture and Human Values 28(2): 247–262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Guptill, A., and J.L. Wilkins. 2002. Buying into the food system: Trends in food retailing in the US and implications for local foods. Agriculture and Human Values 19(1): 39–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Huang, B., X.Z. Shi, D.S. Yu, I. Oborn, K. Blomback, T.F. Pagella, H.J. Wang, W.X. Sun, and F.L. Sinclair. 2006. Environmental assessment of small-scale vegetable farming systems in peri-urban areas of the Yangtze River Delta Region, China. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 112(4): 391–402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Huang, J., Y. Liu, W. Martin, and S. Rozelle. 2009. Changes in trade and domestic distortions affecting China’s agriculture. Food Policy 34(5): 407–416.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hubacek, K., and L. Sun. 2001. A scenario analysis of China’s land use and land cover change: Incorporating biophysical information into input–output modeling. Structural Change and Economic Dynamics 12(4): 367–397.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Ilbery, B., and D. Maye. 2005. Food supply chains and sustainability: Evidence from specialist food producers in the Scottish/English borders. Land Use Policy 22(4): 331–344.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Ilbery, B., D. Watts, S. Simpson, A. Gilg, and J. Little. 2006. Mapping local foods: Evidence from two English regions. British Food Journal 108(2–3): 213–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Jarosz, L. 2008. The city in the country: Growing alternative food networks in metropolitan areas. Journal of Rural Studies 24(3): 231–244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kemp, K., A. Insch, D.K. Holdsworth, and J.G. Knight. 2010. Food miles: Do UK consumers actually care? Food Policy 35(6): 504–513.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lichtenberg, E., and C. Ding. 2008. Assessing farmland protection policy in China. Land Use Policy 25(1): 59–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lin, J.Y., and G.J. Wen. 1995. China’s regional grain self-sufficiency policy and its effect on land productivity. Journal of Comparative Economics 21: 187–206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Ma, H., A. Rae, J. Huang, and S. Rozelle. 2004. Chinese animal product consumption in the 1990s. The Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics 48(4): 569–590.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Metzger, M.J., M.D.A. Rounsevell, L. Acosta-Michlik, R. Leemans, and D. Schröter. 2006. The vulnerability of ecosystem services to land use change. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 114(1): 69–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Miyawaki, O., K. Kaminishi, and Y. Sagara. 2005. Effects of self-sufficiency rate of food and food consumption pattern on CO2 emission in Japan. Journal of the Japanese Society for Food Science and Technology 52: 257–265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. National Bureau of Statistics. 2008. China statistical yearbook. Beijing: China Statistics Press. (in Chinese and English).Google Scholar
  33. National Bureau of Statistics. 2010. China statistical yearbook. Beijing: China Statistics Press. (in Chinese and English).Google Scholar
  34. Osvald, A., and L.Z. Stirn. 2008. A vehicle routing algorithm for the distribution of fresh vegetables and similar perishable food. Journal of Food Engineering 85(2): 285–295.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Peters, C.J., N.L. Bills, J.L. Wilkins, and G.W. Fick. 2008a. Foodshed analysis and its relevance to sustainability. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 24(1): 1–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Peters, C.J., N.L. Bills, A.J. Lembo, J.L. Wilkins, and G.W. Fick. 2008b. Mapping potential foodsheds in NY State: A spatial model for evaluating the capacity to localize food production. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 24(1): 72–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Porter, J.R., L. Deutsch, D. Dumaresq, and R. Dyball. 2011. How will growing cities eat? Nature 469: 34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Prändl-Zika, V. 2008. From subsistence farming towards a multifunctional agriculture: Sustainability in the Chinese rural reality. Journal of Environmental Management 87(2): 236–248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Princen, T. 1997. The shading and distancing of commerce: When internalization is not enough. Ecological Economics 20(3): 235–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Renting, H., T.K. Marsden, and J. Banks. 2003. Understanding alternative food networks: Exploring the role of short food supply chains in rural development. Environment and Planning A 35(3): 393–411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Risku-Norja, H., and I. Mäenpää. 2007. MFA model to assess economic and environmental consequences of food production and consumption. Ecological Economics 60(4): 700–711.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Rossberg, A.G. 2008. Part–whole relations between food webs and the validity of local food-web descriptions. Ecological Complexity 5(2): 121–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Sakka Hlaili, A., B. Grami, N. Niquil, M. Gosselin, D. Hamel, M. Troussellier, and H.H. Mabrouk. 2008. The planktonic food web of the Bizerte lagoon (south-western Mediterranean) during summer: I. Spatial distribution under different anthropogenic pressures. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 78(1): 61–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Seabrook, L., C. McAlpine, and R. Fensham. 2006. Cattle, crops and clearing: Regional drivers of landscape change in the Brigalow Belt, Queensland, Australia, 1840–2004. Landscape and Urban Planning 78(4): 373–385.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Seyfang, G. 2006. Ecological citizenship and sustainable consumption: Examining local organic food networks. Journal of Rural Studies 22(4): 383–395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Sit, V.F.S. 1988. Introduction: Urbanization and city development in the People’s Republic of China. In Chinese cities: The growth of the metropolis since 1949, ed. V.F.S. Sit, 53–55. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Stephens, P.A., J.N. Pretty, and W.J. Sutherland. 2003. Agriculture, transport policy and landscape heterogeneity. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 18(11): 555–556.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Sundkvist, A., A.M. Jansson, and P. Larsson. 2001. Strengths and limitations of localizing food production as a sustainability-building strategy: An analysis of bread production on the island of Gotland, Sweden. Ecological Economics 37(2): 217–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Sundkvist, A., R. Milestad, and A.M. Jansson. 2005. On the importance of tightening feedback loops for sustainable development of food systems. Food Policy 30(2): 224–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Swinton, S.M., F. Lupi, G.P. Robertson, and S.K. Hamilton. 2007. Ecosystem services and agriculture: Cultivating agricultural ecosystems for diverse benefits. Ecological Economics 64(2): 245–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Tianjin Statistics Bureau. 2008. Tianjin statistics yearbook. Tianjin, China: Tianjin Statistics Press. (in Chinese and English).Google Scholar
  52. Turner, K., M. Lenzen, T. Wiedmann, and J. Barrett. 2007. Examining the global environmental impact of regional consumption activities—Part 1: A technical note on combining input-output and ecological footprint analysis. Ecological Economics 62(1): 37–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Vagneron, I. 2007. Economic appraisal of profitability and sustainability of peri-urban agriculture in Bangkok. Ecological Economics 61(2–3): 516–529.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Verburg, P.H., J. van de Steeg, A. Veldkamp, and L. Willemen. 2009. From land cover change to land function dynamics: A major challenge to improve land characterization. Journal of Environmental Management 90(3): 1327–1335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Weatherell, C., A. Tregear, and J. Allinson. 2003. In search of the concerned consumer: UK public perceptions of food, farming and buying local. Journal of Rural Studies 19(2): 233–244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Wiedmann, T., M. Lenzen, K. Turner, and J. Barrett. 2007. Examining the global environmental impact of regional consumption activities—Part 2: Review of input-output models for the assessment of environmental impacts embodied in trade. Ecological Economics 61(1): 15–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Wolf, J., P.S. Bindraban, J.C. Luijten, and L.M. Vleeshouwers. 2003. Exploratory study on the land area required for global food supply and the potential global production of bioenergy. Agricultural Systems 76(3): 841–861.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Zhou, D., K. Tsuchiya, Y. Hara, H. Matsuda, T. Okayasu, and K. Takeuchi. 2011. Agricultural land dynamics in peri-urban areas: A case study of Xiqing district in Tianjin, China. Journal of Environmental Information Science 39(5): 61–70.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dingyang Zhou
    • 1
    Email author
  • Hirotaka Matsuda
    • 2
  • Yuji Hara
    • 3
  • Kazuhiko Takeuchi
    • 4
  1. 1.College of Resources Science and TechnologyBeijing Normal UniversityBeijingChina
  2. 2.Transdisciplinary Initiative for Global Sustainability, Integrated Research System for Sustainability ScienceThe University of TokyoTokyoJapan
  3. 3.Department of Environmental SystemsWakayama UniversityWakayama CityJapan
  4. 4.Integrated Research System for Sustainability ScienceThe University of TokyoTokyoJapan

Personalised recommendations