Circular urban cultivation is blossoming

We have known for a long time that food production is one of the major causes of greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture alone causes more greenhouse gas than all our lorries, trains and planes combined. If we are to succeed in reducing our emissions, we have to find significantly more climate-neutral methods to feed a rapidly growing population. Production also has to be more resistant to the climate change we are already seeing.


The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, warns that it will be impossible to maintain the global temperature increases within safe levels without a major transition for the world’s food production and land use. Emissions from the food sector account for up to 30 per cent of global emissions1). This includes emissions from agriculture, altered land use (such as deforestation) and energy consumption in the production of commodities such as fertilisers, and emissions for packaging, refining and transporting food.

Major demands are made of responsible, efficient utilisation of resources in order to build a society that is sustainable in the long term in a rapidly changing world characterised by urbanisation. A transition is needed to climate-resilient cultivation methods that take into account area, water and energy and that reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the food sector. An increasingly unstable climate with lost harvests due to extreme weather are becoming an increasingly common phenomenon, and traditional farming needs to be supplemented with modern technologies that deliver robust harvests all year round, regardless of the weather. Other aspects to take into account include how the fertility of the land is affected, how widely pesticides are used and how production affects biodiversity.

Food is transported over long distances by air, sea and road. Photo: Noel Broda

Research shows that eating habits are difficult to change under normal circumstances. The coronavirus pandemic and the unique restrictions it has brought with it have meant that manufacturers and consumers all over the world have been forced to reassess old ways of cultivating, transporting, buying and consuming food.

Lifestyle-related factors and diseases such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure have been identified as risk factors associated with serious COVID-19 cases, and food and health awareness has increased. More and more people are making the switch to healthy choices and basing their diets on sustainably produced foods high in energy and nutrients, ideally from plant-based sources. It is thought that reducing meat consumption is necessary for the sake of our climate, animals and health.


The pandemic and the Brexit debate over the past year have shone a spotlight on the issue of how much food is imported and transported over long distances. Home deliveries of food, online shopping and meals delivered by local restaurants have seen a massive upturn in the wake of the pandemic and are expected to remain at high levels in the future. According to Ekologiska Producentbarometern 2020 (the 2020 Organic Producer Barometer), half of Swedish food companies estimate that as far as added value is concerned, consumers will mostly be demanding locally produced items over the next five years. Crops and food production are moving ever closer to urban environments as consumers demand locally produced food with short, local deliveries.


Agriculture applying the principles of produce – consume – discard in the traditional linear economy will never be sustainable in the longer term. It has to become more climate-neutral and recycle resources that circulate in a natural cycle, e.g. food waste from households, catering and the food industry, slaughterhouse waste and fertiliser from agriculture. Circular cultivation methods keep new commodities to a minimum, take up less land, reduce losses and wastage, reuse waste and residual flows as much as possible and increase the circulation of plant nutrients. With the help of modernised systems, clearer instruments and more efficient processes, circular resource utilisation creates conditions for the transition to reversal – reuse – circulation in agriculture.

Crops and leafy greens are grown at high-tech indoor environments close to consumers Photo: Olle Nordell

There is a growing trend towards urbanisation, and it is estimated that two-thirds of the world’s population will live in metropolitan areas by 2050; so it is clear that most of this food will be needed in and around our major cities. It is thought that urban crops will be necessary for both the food supply and sustainable food production. High-tech innovations are now making it possible to grow crops all year round, in fully controlled indoor environments with considerably smaller footprints in terms of water, nutrients, energy and land use, and entirely without pesticides. Vertical hydroponic cultivation is one example of this kind of initiative.

Plants are grown in water channels distributed over a number of vertical indoor shelf systems. Low-energy LED lights provide the necessary UV radiation, and hydroponic watering provides plant nutrients made from recycled organic waste in the channels. No transport is needed as the plants are grown adjacent to supermarkets, restaurants or schools where the crops are sold or consumed directly after being harvested. Thus the crops are moved indoors to facilities where energy, water and nutrients are optimised and reused using new technologies and production algorithms.

Peas Industries is part of the transition to sustainable food production through its company Bonbio, which has developed a concept for the circular production of plant nutrients from food waste and other organic waste. These nutrients are then used by both professional cultivators and private enthusiasts.


1) Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU)

2) How can the EU climate targets be met? A combined analysis of technological and demand-side changes in food and agriculture” – Bryngelsson D, Wirsenius S, Hedenus F, Sonesson U