Urban agriculture in London



London is a vibrant city which is visited each year by 10 million people for business and entertainment. Although London’s health mirrors the national picture, variations within the capital reflect socioeconomic conditions. Beneath the dynamic interactions of people, products and activities lies a fundamental social, economic and environmental unsustainability. London’s total footprint extends to about 125 times its surface area, i.e. it requires the equivalent of the entire productive land area of Britain to sustain itself. The food industry contributes significantly to the city’s overall GDP. A limited amount of agricultural activity still goes on within the Greater London boundary, but it is mostly highly chemical-intensive and focuses mainly on arable and livestock production rather than fruit and vegetable growing, which could yield greater social benefits. Dependence on an increasingly globalized food economy is also growing, leading to a gradual decrease of essential life skills such as the ability to cook a meal. There are no well developed markets for urban agriculture in London. As regards the environment, growers are using fewer pesticides since the introduction of integrated pest management systems. What is now left of London’s commercial agricultural food sector is under strain, squeezed between urban housing and other developmental pressures and a skewed system of agricultural support which favours large cereal producers over small growers. Market gardening always loses out. Land is scarce and very expensive and urban agriculture is not the most lucrative way of using it. Nevertheless since green and pleasant cities attract investment there are sound economic arguments for preserving London’s open spaces, as well as environmental and social ones.