Regional and Organic: Master’s Thesis Explores Ways To Feed The City

Citizens within Hamburg and a surrounding 100-km (62-mile) region could be fed entirely on regionally grown organic foods – based on a few ambitious assumptions. These are the findings of Sarah Joseph, who explored the topic in her Master’s thesis. Joseph is a student at HafenCity Universität (HCU). Her thesis was co-supervised by Hanno Friedrich, professor at KLU, and Irene Peters, professor at HCU.

In her case study, Joseph calculated the individual agricultural footprint for food production – both conventional and organic – for different diet scenarios based on previously published studies, interviews with different players in the regional food business and current statistics. She then applied her results to the metropolitan area of Hamburg and the surrounding hinterlands. “My results show that a 62-mile radius around the city of Hamburg is enough to produce sufficient organic food for all the inhabitants living within the defined region,” Joseph summarizes. “But there are three prerequisites that have to be met.”

One is a change in diet. Since meat production is the most land consuming, the people of Hamburg and the surrounding region would have to cut down on this. A reduction in meat consumption of roughly 70% for the average German would produce the best results in terms of diet diversity, reduced land footprint for food production (and self-sufficiency) as well as be aligned with recommendations from the German nutrition society. “Two meat free days per week are a more realistic scenario, corresponding to a reduction of 30% meat consumption based on current averages. Still, 92% of citizens could be fed within a 62-mile radius by regionally produced, organic foods if everyone reduced their meat intake by this margin,” says Joseph.

In addition, 75% of all agricultural land within a 62-mile radius of Hamburg would need to be used for organic food production. Currently, agricultural land is not only used for other purposes, such as growing maize for biogas plants, but there is also a land-use breakdown within agricultural area itself. Not all is suitable for growing crops to feed humans and animals.

Thirdly, the thesis assumes that the closest producer delivers to the closest consumer and other large cities are not included within the analysis – with no significant competition for Hamburg.

“Over the past years, we have seen a trend towards regional and local food production”, says KLU professor Hanno Friedrich, who has been a co-supervisor for Joseph’s thesis. “What Sarah is showing in her thesis is that it would be possible to feed a city like Hamburg solely on regionally grown food. Of course these calculations are hypothetic. But they can serve as a basis for further discussion.“ Apart from ecological benefits, Friedrich sees another advantage in regional food production: “Food that is produced close to where it is needed is less susceptible to crises and supply shortages. Therefore, regional food leads to a more secure and more independent supply.” Irene Peters, first supervisor and professor at HCU, points out “We have to find ways to harmonize food production and regional ecosystem needs, otherwise we destroy the very basis of our life. Strengthening regional ecologically sound food production is one step in this direction. There is a limit to how we can sustainably globalize the food system.”

Joseph has also been looking at ways to better promote organic and regional produce to customers. In her thesis, she suggests Alternative Food Networks (AFN) such as community-supported agriculture (CSA) and food cooperatives, where the ties between producer and consumer are more closely knit. She is planning to further explore the topic in her dissertation, possibly as a future PhD candidate at KLU.