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Building a Climate-Resilient City: Agriculture and food security

This policy brief looks at measures related to agriculture and food security that cities can adopt in their municipal adaptation plans to build their resilience to climate change impacts.
Thiru Selvan


Climatic changes have real implications for food security in Alberta’s urban centres, including the cities of Calgary and Edmonton. More frequent extreme weather events could damage critical infrastructure required to transport food supplies to and within cities, as well as impair the capacity of citizens to access groceries. Declining summer rains and greater risk of drought would limit the availability of water needed for local food production. Higher summer temperatures will increase refrigeration needs, placing a greater demand on energy systems. The complexity and interconnectedness of the global food system, with its long supply chains, also means that climatic impacts in major growing regions around the world have a ripple effect on local availability of some types of food and more expensive grocery bills in Alberta.

The Building a Climate-Resilient City series was prepared for the City of Edmonton and the City of Calgary by the International Institute for Sustainable Development in collaboration with the University of Winnipeg’s Prairie Climate Centre. This series makes recommendations for steps that cities can take as part of their municipal adaptation planning to build their resilience to climate change. It explores three key principles of resilience building: robustness (strong design), redundancy (building extra capacity into systems to act as fail-safe networks) and resourcefulness (citizen empowerment).

This policy brief* focuses on measures related to agriculture and food security that cities can take to build their resilience to climate change. It examines ways to build resilience in urban agriculture and the food system as a contribution to urban resilience building. Its purpose is to identify elements of local food systems that can be strengthened, highlight best practices in the field and suggest interventions that local governments can use to build a more resilient food system.

*The text below provides the key messages and recommendations from the brief and summarises some of the factors that can support the building of resilient urban food system. See the full text for much more detail.

Lessons Learnt

  • Strengthening local food systems increases resilience to supply shocks from climate change impacts on international supply chains.
  • Cities should protect available agricultural land both within and around municipal boundaries for food production using innovative methods such as aquaponics and vertical agriculture.
  • Small-scale food production and processing can bolster food security and provide employment, thereby strengthening local food systems and community cohesion, and should be encouraged through municipal policies, including procurement.

Envisioning a Resilient Food System

A resilient urban food system is one in which citizens are food secure; that is, they have reliable access to healthy, affordable and culturally appropriate food. In addition, a resilient food system is food sovereign, meaning that people have decision-making power over where their food comes from.

To build a more resilient food system, cities need to create an enabling environment within which food can be grown, processed and sold locally while also retaining access to national and international sources. This requires sufficient natural and infrastructure resources being made accessible for both personal and commercial use and protecting growing areas against pressures from development. In this way, food value chains can be shortened, simplified and multiplied. By doing this, uncertainties in the system are reduced, decreasing the risk of price spikes and shortages. These efforts should be complemented by public education and the strengthening of community networks focused on food production, processing and purchasing to enable families and neighbourhoods to build their own resilience and food security.

Although many aspects of the food system lay outside the jurisdiction of municipal governments, there are still interventions that they can implement to help build a resilient city. This potential can be demonstrated through interventions that enhance three of the qualities of a resilient city:

  • Building Robustness: Building robustness into an urban food system is dependent on maintaining and expanding the key natural and infrastructure resources needed for the system to thrive. This requires two things: land for traditional agriculture practices needs to be proactively allocated and protected for urban and peri-urban agriculture activities; and cities need to embrace new, diverse ways of growing food such as rooftop agriculture, aquaponics and vertical agriculture.
  • Promoting Redundancy: Promoting redundancy in the food system involves increasing the amount, quality and diversity of the resources necessary for getting food from the ground to the plate. It also involves ensuring that there is spare capacity within food systems to compensate for disruptions to logistics and account for spikes in demand, making them better able to withstand the climate shocks that typically cause food and water shortages.
  • Encouraging Resourcefulness:There are many urban agriculture models that help to increase community resourcefulness, improve natural environments and add to local food security. Individuals and groups nationwide are now using innovative marketing models and growing techniques that are tailored for urban production. Small Plot Intensive (SPIN) agriculture and permaculture are methods being used to grow food, while CSAs and farming co-operatives have been instrumental in providing a venue.

How Canada is and could be building robustness, promoting redundancy and encouraging resourcefulness in urban agriculture and food security is discussed in much more detail in the brief. To read more about applying the above principles to agriculture and food security in an urban resilience-building context, please refer to the full text.


Cities can play a crucial role in fostering resilient food systems by developing policies that reinforce and enable robustness, redundancy and resourcefulness and by supporting projects that encourage individuals and companies to seek innovative solutions to existing food insecurity. Urban agriculture and local food industry that is community-based creates jobs and fills an important role in making affordable and culturally appropriate food more accessible throughout the urban landscape.


  • Building resilience to climate impacts into the urban food system means that cities need to think regionally and support production, processing and distribution both within and outside city limits. By simplifying and shortening food supply chains, cities can stimulate the local and regional food economy and directly influence the integration of resilience principles into the system. Work in this area should build on the urban agriculture and food strategic plans developed by Calgary and Edmonton.


  • Policy tools such as land zoning bylaws to allow for commercial agriculture within city limits and establish greenbelt zones make food systems more robust by protecting land needed for food production.
  • Developing legislation requiring food distribution centres to have emergency power helps to build redundancy and can be essential in making sure people have continuous access to food as well as reducing food waste due to spoilage.
  • Developing clear guidelines and standards for cottage food industry supports citizens in forming a more resourceful food system as they bring new products into the food economy.

Economic Instruments

  • Small grants to start cottage industry businesses and urban commercial agriculture operations and to support food projects help grow the economy while providing more local food to cities.

Voluntary/Community Linkages

  • Awareness campaigns around buying local produce, disaster preparedness and coordinated food education and resource programs can help to increase household resilience and decrease the need to purchase supplies immediately before extreme weather events. Investing in greening school infrastructure and incorporating growing food into curriculums helps to change behaviours both of students and their families.
  • The above recommendations can work in tandem with each other to fortify the current sustainable food movements in Calgary and Edmonton. The most important component of building a resilient urban food system is ensuring that citizens are onboard with city efforts. Community engagement throughout decision-making processes will help to gain acceptance for and adoption of new ways of perceiving the local food system.

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