Allotments produce as much food as a farm, study finds

Allotments produce as much food as a farm – and could help reduce our reliance on imports, study finds

  • Study found allotment holders harvested just over 1kg of food per square metre
  • University of Sussex said areas of Brighton saw creation of biodiversity havens
  • Volunteers noted more than 2,000 insects visiting allotment plants in two years 

Allotment holders were told to ‘dig for victory’ during the Second World War to help the country feed itself.

Now they could help reduce reliance on imports in an eco-friendly way, according to research that shows allotments are just as productive as farms while using fewer toxic chemicals.

The University of Sussex study found individual allotment holders harvested just over 2lb (1kg) of food per square metre – a similar yield to that of a conventional farm. 

The yields averaged 154lb (70kg) over a season, with limited pesticide use.

Benefits seen in the citizen science project in Brighton included the creation of biodiversity havens, with volunteers recording more than 2,000 insects – most commonly bees – visiting their plants over the two-year study. 

The food they grew included berries, soft fruits and beans.

The University of Sussex study found individual allotment holders harvested just over 2lb (1kg) of food per square metre – a similar yield to that of a conventional farm. The yields averaged 154lb (70kg) over a season, with limited pesticide use (file photo of allotment user in Fitzroy Park, London) 

Lead author Dr Beth Nicholls said: ‘In a world of increasing urbanisation, producing food in and around cities has the potential to improve both nutritional and health outcomes.’

She added: ‘The UK imports approximately £8billion of fruit and vegetables each year. 

‘Our results show green spaces in cities, such as allotments and community gardens, could play an important role in meeting that demand at a local scale.’

Dr Nicholls and colleagues tracked 30 individuals who provided data on allotments, gardens and balconies.

There are an estimated 330,000 allotment plots in England alone.

Urban farming was also found to improve human health in the study, with participants reporting feelings of relaxation and satisfaction while tending to their crops.

There are an estimated 330,000 allotment plots in England alone (file photo of allotment user in Fitzroy Park, London)

It is sustainable, productive and less damaging than traditional agriculture, added Dr Nicholls.

It has been estimated allotments are capable of producing up to 20 percent of the world’s food, which could prove vital at a time when the world’s population is on track to soar to 10 billion by 2050.

A similar study is currently being implemented in Calcutta. 

Explained Dr Nicholls: ‘We are currently collaborating with researchers from the Centre for Pollination Studies at the University of Calcutta.

‘They are exploring the viability of urban food production in India, a developing country where urban food production happens on a larger scale and food is produced both for personal consumption and for sale at markets.’  

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