Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences

, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 699–711 | Cite as

Can urban agriculture usefully improve food resilience? Insights from a linear programming approach

  • James David Ward


Rising food prices and economic stagnation mean that access to affordable, nutritious food is a real problem, even in high-income countries such as the USA and Australia. It is claimed that urban agriculture (UA) reduces food costs and therefore has a role in improving household resilience during economic hardship. However, there is scant data to suggest that UA can appreciably improve household self-sufficiency in a crisis. This paper addresses the gap between claims and reality when it comes to UA actually reducing food costs. Using linear programming (LP), factors such as crop yields, food prices and inputs (such as irrigation water) can be quantified realistically, and an objective (e.g. overall diet cost) can be optimised. Constraints are applied to force the UA production regime to conform to a balanced diet. Subject to these constraints, optimisation yields a best-case estimate of the outcome, so can be seen to provide a “cautiously optimistic” result.

The model is run for a case study in Adelaide, South Australia, and results suggest a typical high meat consumer could reduce their food cost by approximately 10 % with substantial home food production (including intensive poultry rearing for meat). Meanwhile, a shift in diet towards vegetarianism would deliver twice the saving, with a further 10 % achievable through UA. In the context of resilience, the results suggest that households could save a modest amount of money through dietary change and by growing some of their own food. The modelling revealed a trade-off between cost-saving and self-sufficiency (measured as percentage of home-grown dietary protein), but growing 10–15 % of dietary protein on 40 m2/person appears plausible without sacrificing financial savings. Optimisation represents a quantitative framework that is suitable for a variety of extensions to help ground claims being made around UA and local food production, such as investigating the potential for reducing dependence on transport by provisioning food from within and around a city. The model would be greatly improved with more accurate data on yield, water and fertiliser inputs.


Urban agriculture Optimisation Constraints Food security Resilience 


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Copyright information

© AESS 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Natural and Built EnvironmentsUniversity of South AustraliaAdelaideAustralia

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