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Conference theme Agriculture in an urbanizing society

In May 2007, a major demographic milestone was passed. For the first time, the earth’s population became more urban than rural. This process of urbanization will accelerate in the decades to come: most of the growth in the world population – to 9 billion people in 2050 – will occur in urban areas. By 2050, the urban population will be approximately twice the size of the rural population.

However, this does not mean that urban areas are or will become more important than rural areas. On the contrary, they have always relied heavily on each other, and will become even more mutually reliant during an era of rapid urban population growth. Cities will continue to need resources such as food, fibre, clean water, nature, biodiversity and recreational space, as well as the people and communities that produce and provide these products and services. Hence, key questions for the coming decades are how, where and by whom these products and services for the urban area will be produced and provided, and if and how this can be done in a manner that is considered to be socially, economically and ecologically sustainable and ethically sound.

In recent years, multifunctional agriculture has emerged as an important topic in debates on the future of agriculture and the rural area and its relations with the wider and predominantly urban society. This is an expression of the fact that agriculture is not only valued for its contribution to food and fibre production and the economic development of agro-industry, but that it also needs to be assessed according to a much wider range of social, environmental, economic and ethical criteria. At the farm level, multifunctional agriculture is characterized by a variety of entrepreneurial strategies and activities, such as processing and direct marketing of food products, energy production, care for the elderly and disabled and tourism. In the first conference on Agriculture in an Urbanizing Society, this was the main focus.

Developments go fast: there is a growing interest among people living in urban environments in the origin of our daily food and in the development of short, recognizable sustainable food chains. Moreover, we see a growing number of local initiatives of local food production in urbanized areas. Besides local food production for consumption, the focus of these initiatives is on the effects of growing local food on health aspects, social cohesion and education. Although urban food production is growing both in the North and the South, drivers for this differ. With a loss of connection between consumption and production being one of the important drivers in the North, and the direct access to fresh healthy food being an important driver in the South. Based on these developments, the focus of the second conference on Agriculture in an Urbanizing Society has shifted towards Reconnecting Agriculture and Food Chains to Societal Needs.

Research on this topic demands a multidisciplinary approach. Hence this conference aims to advance the scientific state of the art in research on multifunctional agriculture, local food chains and urban-rural relations by bringing together scholars from a wide range of disciplines (sociology, economics, spatial planning, land-use planning, regional planning, urban planning, crop sciences, animal sciences, soil sciences, architecture, etc.) from many parts of the world.

The Conference will be part of the programme that the Latium Region is organizing in connection with the EXPO 2015 “Feeding the planet energy for life” that will take place in Milan, Italy from 1st of May to 31st of October 2015.