Food security stories 2 – countries and regions with massive population pressure



The mission of Wageningen MFC is providing good food for everyone in an urbanizing world. Food security is always one of the major fields of our business. We help our clients solving food security problems, with a co-design approach and implementing the six principles of the MFC concept.


As the current war in Ukraine and the sanctions being imposed on Russia accelerate the rise of agri-food commodity prices and disruption of agri-food logistics and supply, national and regional food security is once again becoming a priority on different countries’ agenda.


Wageningen MFC developed diagnostic instruments to position a country or region on a scale ranging from completely import-dependent to completely self-sufficient (and even exporting substantial surpluses). We categorize four types of countries or regions, based on our project experience and our research on food security:

  1. Countries and regions with unavailability of land and/or unsuitability of climate,
  2. Countries and regions with massive population pressure,
  3. Countries and regions with a disrupted link between urban and rural development,
  4. Countries and regions with surplus agri-food production.

It is necessary to mention that every region or country has its unique situation, and that the solutions that we are co-designing are tailor-made for improving a specific country or region’s food security to surpass a critical threshold for survival in ‘worst case’ situations, whether it is caused by extreme (or worsening) climate conditions, lack of space, high demographic pressure, general economic under-development, or geo-political tensions. 


Here, we elaborate our general view and strategies for each type of country or region to improve food security. 


Type 2: Countries and regions with massive population pressure


China and India are good examples of this type. Next to population pressure, most of these countries or regions experience high speed economic growth and urbanization. More and more people are moving to urban areas, more and more land is needed for urban expansion. As a consequence, the balance between population and land is becoming more and more precarious. Every disruption of production – such as climate change or mounting disease pressure – will shake food security, even, the global agri-food provision. A recent example is the outbreak of African Swine Fever in China. Before August 2018 when the first case was found, China accounted for more than half the global stock of pigs. Then it lost at least 25% of its pork production capacity due to the outbreak, and saw pork prices rise by almost 50% a year later. This forced China to increase imports, which also affected pork and other meat prices globally. 


For us the strategic answer to the pressure caused by the combination of a vast population and an extreme rate of urbanisation is to concentrate on food security for metropolitan cities. This means the agri-food system needs to integrate high-efficient agri-food production, processing, and distribution in the urban fabric, by organising an inter-dependent network of agroparks, urban consolidation centres and rural collection centres, sourcing from open field production in the surroundings.

Metropolitan Food Cluster's spatial scheme around the metropolis of Edithoven


Consumer orientation is the starting point of agri-food system development. The market determines the demand for food. Within or around the metropolis, Agroparks (AP in the figure) and Consolidation Centres (CC in the figure) are key elements. Agroparks are concentrations of land independent production and processing of fresh food that thanks to their exceptional, technology driven productivity can match the needs of tens of millions of metropolitan inhabitants. Agroparks combine advanced greenhouses, LED-based vertical farming, aquaculture, and stabled animal systems, underpinned by technologies enabling circular production. Consolidation Centres distribute the agropark production together with the production of the surrounding countryside over the metropolitan areas’ retail outlets and institutional food providers, sometimes also including functions like processing, packaging, and auctions. Both Agroparks and Consolidation Centres need easy access to transportation infrastructure to increase the efficiency of agro-logistics. 


Rural Processing Centres (RPC in the figure) are based in rural areas surrounding the metropolis. They collect inputs from land dependent production, to be handled by Agroparks and Consolidation Centres. 



Efficient transport of fresh products and production inputs is very important to this system. It is the key to product safety and quality and to the economic performance of the agri-food system. Furthermore, agri-logistics is a direct link to the consumers and is important for a quick market response to changes in consumer demand.


The Wageningen MFC team has done in-depth research on the practices and spatial context of the agri-food system serving the 60 million inhabitants of metropolitan North-Western Europe. The figure above is based on a Metropolitan Food Cluster around the metropolis of Eindhoven in the Netherlands. We keep close contact with producers and consolidation centre managers in that area; together, we keep working on innovating agri-food production technologies, and on research and knowledge sharing. Our research results have been applied to system design and implementation all over the world, including China and India.