Growth of small scale (peri) urban agriculture in Ghent, Belgium

Genth, Belgium

Ghent has identified a demand for urban agriculture to occur within the city region to provide better transparency in the food system

In the city region of Ghent, in Belgium, several short food chain initiatives have emerged that show significant potential to increase the sustainability of urban food provisioning by exploring possibilities for multifunctional land use and closing the gap between producer and consumer. However, these initiatives are still very scattered and most of them fail to reach the scale that would be necessary to really challenge the dominant urban food regime and significantly increase its sustainability. Based on in-depth interviews and transition theory, this case study uses a Multi-Level Perspective analysis to identify opportunities and bottlenecks for (peri-)urban short food chain initiatives in Ghent to develop and significantly challenge the dominant urban food regime. The results reveal important opportunities for growth in the stimulating political and social climate in Ghent, but also show that further development of the short food chain initiatives is considerably hindered by traditional views on (peri-)urban land use patterns and difficulties to reach cost-efficiency with small-scale production. Solving these issues not only requires action at the level of the city government, but also a change in regulations at higher institutional levels and change within the consumers themselves.


City information

Size and population development
248,242 (2013)

Main functions
largest city in East-Flanders; Belgium's third largest port; University city

Main industries / business
steel industry; tourism; car industry; trade center

Political structure
governing mayor and deputy mayors govern the city

Administrative structure
city organisation results from municipalities fusions in 1965 and 1977

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Background and objectives

Ghent has for many decades now been a city that relies on large supermarket presence for its food production. Food in the supermarkets are sourced from all over Europe and other continents creating long supply chains with consumers often ignorant of where their food originates from.

Recent food crisis in the form of dioxine crisis in 1999 and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), which occurred throughout Europe as well as general non-transparency of food on supermarket shelves have reduced consumer trust in their food suppliers and overall system.

This and other reasons are why the city of Ghent, in Belgium, have decided to take action to reduce food chains and create better information about where food is sourced, how it produced as well as attempting to foster sustainable urban food provision.

Ghent is challenging the dominant urban food regime with new activities and policies to better transition to better urban food production.   

Policy plans for 2007-2012 in relation to sustainable food provision were barely addressed however the new governance agreement for 2013-18 describes increasing efforts to achieve sustainable food goals specifying the following objectives:  
1) “…to anticipate on societal demands (food print,climate change) and demands of citizens (e.g. recreation)…” (p. 59);
2) supporting the short food supply chain (p. 59);
3) investigating “…economic opportunities and innovation of sustainable agriculture in urban regions…” and  “…a supporting policy for urban and peri-urban organic agriculture that strives for direct supply to the city region. The support will also be used to promote and strengthen the culinary assets of Ghent. The support is suitable for smaller initiatives as well (allotment gardens and food teams).” (p. 59) to quote but a few of their policy objectives.
Initiatives supporting sustainable short food chains in and around the city of Ghent:
  • Gandazwam (  Produces mushrooms on urban waste; in the process of starting up the business in the city; organizes workshops on possibility to use urban waste to grow food. 
  • Avalon (  Vegetarian lunchroom/caterer using local and seasonal ingredients
  • Apicula:  Produces honey from 15 beehives located at six places in the city; honey is sold at places where it is produced (e.g. on the rooftop of the cultural centre Vooruit) 
  • Boer’n Brood (  Project organizing picnics using only local ingredients to prove the possibility of consumption via local food chains; run by volunteers
  • Groe(n)ten uit Gent (  Vegetable production on a brownfield in the city by social workplace; first goal is reintegration of people with addiction problems in society; sell through local shop and social grocery store.
  • Project ‘Let’s pick carrots together’:  Project by non-profit organisation producing organic food in the city together with underprivileged children
  • De Site (  Vegetable and fruit production on a brownfield in the city; combination of allotment gardens and arable land; goal is to improve quality of life in underprivileged Rabot quarter of the city.
  • Boerse Poort (  Allotment garden project including communal gardens initiated by city of Ghent but run by an NGO of neighbours
Results and impacts

Two characteristics of these initiatives can challenge the dominant urban food regime towards a sustainability transition: 

a)  their multifunctional use of urban and peri-urban land 

b)  their small scale, sustainable production, decreasing the distance between producer and consumer

Used a multi-level perspective analysis to identify opportunities and limitations for the development of short food chain initiatives. 

New political choice made by citizens votes in 'greener' political coalition running in city of Ghent. Party supports (peri) urban short food chain initiatives. This has potential to facilitate new landscape change, and as a result already the main supermarket chain Delhaize is introducing produce from local farmers in their Ghent branches. 

However initiatives are still scattered and lack the scale needed to induce real change to the dominant urban food regime. 

Possibility to develop new financing of land through, for example, cooperative land ownership or to involve large landowning organisations like churches in (peri) urban short food chain initiatives. 

Barriers and challenges
  • Lack of available land: As well as a high population density Ghent is part of the European single farm payment system. Farmers owning and with single farm payment entitlements are provided with an income and are therefore less willing to sell or lease the land. As a result, access to suitable land is perceived to be difficult. 
  • Lack of compatibility with current spatial planning policies:  spatial planning policies for the region of Ghent do not allow agricultural activities in several spatial destinations, thereby limiting the potential for food production in and around the city.
  • Hesitation to break with the traditional view on land use:  Although there is a lot of goodwill towards (peri-)urban short food chain initiatives in the Ghent city region, many government actors have objections relating to the multifunctional use of peri-urban land, inhibiting urban agriculture initiatives. 
  • Institutions not adapted to characteristics and needs of small-scale (peri-) urban food initiatives:  A first problem is that many regulations regarding agriculture and food safety and the related administrative procedures are designed for large scale producers, causing difficulties for smaller farmers.
  • Difficulty gaining consumer support:  Several respondents indicated that the growth of urban short food chain initiatives was limited by the mind-set and lack of knowledge about the food system of many consumers. Low food prices in supermarkets, together with a limited knowledge of consumers about agricultural production processes made it difficult for producers to demand a fair profit margin for their locally supplied products.
  • Lack of support mechanisms:  Financial support from the government represents both an opportunity and an obstacle for the development of urban short food chain initiatives. A lack of structural financial support, the governance structure both at city as well as regional level was a problem. Responsibilities and knowledge related to (urban) food production were scattered across several departments (those of green management, urban planning and environment). As a result it was difficult for new initiatives to gather information about the (legal) requirements to start up an initiative that involved food production in the city.

Mettepenningen, E, Koopmans, M, Van Huylenbroeck, G 2014, ' Exploring the growth potential of (peri-) urban short food chain initiatives: a case study of Ghent,'  Spanish Journal of Rural Development, Vol. V (Special 1): 79-90, 2014