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Can local food production replace food imports and reduce food miles?

The case of lettuce in the region of Rosario city, Argentina(*)

Autores: Rubn D. Piacentini



, Marcelo Vega(2,3), Antonio Lattuca(4) y


1. Area Fsica de la Atmsfera, Radiacin Solar y Astropartculas, Instituto de Fsica

Rosario (CONICET UNRosario), Rosario, Argentina
2. Laboratorio de Eficiencia Energtica, Sustentabilidad y Cambio Climtico, IMAE,
Facultad de Ciencias Exactas, Ingeniera y Agrimensura, Universidad Nacional de
Rosario, Rosario, Argentina
3. Sub-Secretara de Servicios Pblicos y Medio Ambiente, Municipalidad de
Rosario, Rosario, Argentina
4. Programa de Agricultura Urbana, Subsecretara de Economa Solidaria,
Municipalidad de Rosario, Rosario, Argentina
5. Mercado de Concentracin de Fisherton, Rosario, Argentina
Food miles and climate change
In its 2103 Report called The physical science basis, the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change of the United Nations (IPCC, 2013), informs that the mean global
temperature has increased with 0.9 C, from the time instruments registered temperature
in 1880 up to 2012. The report also states that the contribution of anthropogenic (human)
impact to global warming is estimated to be 98%, while 2% is due to natural causes (a
small mean increase in the Sun intensity).
Urbanisation and climate change are closely linked. CO2 and other greenhouse gasses
(GHG) are mainly emitted in urban areas. Cities, and their sheer number of inhabitants,
are at the same time also directly and indirectly affected by climate change. According to
the 2014 Fifth IPCC report key issues include rising temperatures, increasing rainfall,
flooding and urban food insecurity.
Cities have an important role to play in climate change mitigation and adaptation, while at
the same time they need to ensure adequate access to basic urban services such as
water, food and energy to their growing populations. A focus on international trade,
production of export crops and increasing dependency on food imports however have
reduced local capacity to feed the local population and increased vulnerability to food
insecurity, specifically affecting the urban poor (Baker, 2008, Prain, 2010). There is also
increasing doubt on the sustainability of intensive conventional agriculture and global
distribution systems (loss of agro-biodiversity, erosion, water pollution, high GHG
emissions; food waste). Food systems (including production, transportation, distribution
and consumption of food) contribute to about 30-40% of global GHG emissions. About a
quarter of the GHG emissions of the food system are caused by food losses and food
wastes. In this regard, there is a clear need to increase the sustainability of our food

systems and investigate opportunities for more localised food systems. Urban and periurban agriculture are one form of more localised production.
This article analyzes the role of food transportation to the reduction of the emission of
GHG. Food transportation is often expressed as food miles or food kilometres and are
considered as the distances travelled by food-items from farm gate to consumer. They
are generally measured as tonne-kilometres, i.e. the distance travelled in kilometres
multiplied by the weight in tonnes for each food item. However, to measure the
environmental impact of food kilometres it is necessary to convert them into food
vehicle kilometres, i.e. the sum of the distances travelled by each vehicle carrying food1.
Food transportation to the city
The type and amount of food that is transported to a city depends directly on the diet (or
food basket) of its inhabitants. In Argentina, as in the Greater Rosario city region of
about 1.5 million inhabitants, the main vegetables consumed are, in decreasing order of
importance: potato, tomato, lettuce, onion, carrot and squash/pumpkin.
The provision of vegetables to a city comes from different production locations, some
found in the urban area (urban gardens), the peri-urban areas, regional, national or
international sources, depending on the type of vegetable, season and land use and
production conditions.
The table below provides the production origin, average distance and volume of lettuce
transported to Rosario in different periods of the year.
Table 1. Origin of food (lettuce) production, marketing period and average distance from
origin of production to the Rosario city. Note: The total weight of the actually consumed
lettuce is about 30% lower than the volume brought into the city, due to losses along the
chain (Mercado de Concentracin de Fisherton, Rosario, Argentina).


Marketing period

Average distance to
Rosario city (Km)

Santiago del
Mar del Plata

May to September


Volume of lettuce
transported annually
to Greater Rosario
(Tons per year)

August to October



December to



See definition by Watkiss at al., 2005. The Validity of Food Kilometres as an Indicator
of Sustainable Development

Rosario periurban region

December to
December to





Based on these data and more specific data on type of transport used, the amount of
energy (fossil fuel) used for vegetable food transport and the corresponding emission of
the greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide, nitric oxide, methane and halocarbons)
can be calculated. Energy and GHG emissions reductions can be calculated if it is
assumed that all (or part of) the production of lettuce will take place locally (in the city or its
peri-urban region).
Lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.) was used for this study as it cannot be stored for a long period
and needs to be frequently transported from its production site to the place of
consumption, resulting in a large number of travels. It can neither be closely packed, thus
requiring larger volume trucks.
The current (2015) local production of lettuce in the horticultural gardens of the city (Figure
1) is about 240 Tons per year, in the peri-urban region or the horticultural green belt of
Greater Rosario (Grasso and collaborators, 2012), 3820 Tons per year, while the largest
quantity of 35940 Tons per year is transported from far away regions (Tucumn and
Santiago del Estero provinces and Mar del Plata peri-urban region), located at a mean of
815 Km from the city (Table 1).

Figure 1. Lettuce production in the horticultural gardens (upper left and right and lower left:
Molino Blanco) and marketing in Rosario, Argentina (lower right: Feria de Economa
Solidaria or Solidarity Economy Market).
The number of travels is calculated by dividing the total volume of transported lettuce with
the average volume capacity of the food trucks. We differentiated transport distances from
a) the horticultural gardens in the city and the peri-urban region from b) the distant regions
of Tucumn and Santiago del Estero provinces and Mar del Plata peri-urban region.
Food miles and related emissions
As shown in Table 1, the total volume of lettuce that it is annually transported to the
Great Rosario region stands at 40000 Tons per year, with the urban and peri-urban
production region contributing about 10 % and the distant production regions contributing
90 %. Assuming that the transportation does not use refrigeration for food preservation
and it is made with trucks having 10 Tons load capacity and standard fuel consumption (of
0.55 liter/km), fuel use (normally diesel) for the transportation from the urban and periurban region is calculated at 19000 liters of diesel per year, while fuel use involved in
distant production is 1 561 200 liters of diesel per year.
Using a conversion factor of 2.77 Kg of emitted CO2equivalent (that includes all GHG) per liter
of diesel(Reference), for the urban and peri-urban production, emissions equal

only 53 Tons of CO2 per year, while for distant transportation emissions stand at 4325
Tons of CO2 per year. If all this distant production could be replaced by local production
(possibly using greenhouses with renewable geothermal energy supply in the autumnwinter period), this last value is equivalent to the emission of 757 argentine persons per
Land use analysis indicates that the required amount of land for such local production is
indeed available and that use of the mentioned greenhouses would be feasible proposed
and tested as was done by Levit, Gaspar and Piacentini (1989).
Conclusions and suggestions
If all the lettuce were produced in the Great Rosario region instead of in distant production
locations, reductions as high as 90 % in fuel use and contaminant GHG gas emissions
could be obtained.
An even larger reduction in the use of fossil fuel can be achieved if (the remaining local)
transportation applies renewable energy sources or if local transport is done using bikes
for example. If in addition food losses are reduced in the entire supply chain and if organic
city waste is used for compost production and fertilization, total emissions related to
production and consumption will be lowered further.
In other to get a better understanding of the potential of increasing the sustainability of
the entire Rosario food system, more research is needed on :
a) Calculating food miles related to other vegetables and non-vegetable (like dairy)
food products,
b) the increase in energy use efficiency in the entire production and supply chain,
c) applying Life Cycle Analysis taking into account the whole process, from the
preparation of land for vegetable culture to waste disposal (and eventually
compost production) of the consumed food,
d) and the determination of the food satisfaction demand (modeling increase in
urbanization and change in consumption patterns for the production and
consumption of different types of foods) (Piacentini and Sukkel, 2014).
Local authorities, in order to improve local food production and food security, could: a)
protect, zone and increase the land area for this activity, b) promote through public
information campaigns the consumption of local foods, and c) support the use of low (or
even zero) contaminant transport for food transportation.
The Rosario municipality has already included new areas for peri-urban agriculture in their
city development plan.

In this way, local urban and peri-urban agricultures can be promoted for the mitigation of
climate change as well as for providing other opportunities for social development to the
citizens involved in these activities.
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Directions in Urban Development. Urban Development Unit, World Bank. USA.; and Prain,
Gordon and Henk de Zeeuw (2010). Effects of the global financial crisis on the food
security of poor urban households . RUAF Foundation, The Netherlands.
-Grasso, R., Mondino, M.C., Ortiz Mackinson, M., Vita Larrieu, E., Longo, A. and Ferratto,
J.A. 2013 Censo 2012 del Cinturn Hortcola de Rosario. Publication N 40. Estacin
Experimental Agropecuaria INTA Oliveros, Centro Regional Rosario, Argentina.
-IPCC (Interguvernamental Panel on Climate Change),Working Group 1. 2013. The
Physical Science Basis. Available at
-Levit, H., Gaspar R. and Piacentini R. D. 1989. Simulation of greenhouse microclimate
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waste for Nitrogen fertilisation of peri-urban farms. Application to Rosario city, Argentina.
Report to RUAF Foundation and the Climate Development Knowledge Network (CDKN).
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-University of Cambridge and ICLEI, 2014. Climate change: implications for cities. Key
Findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report.
We see the importance of preserving and expanding areas for local food production. The
municipality has included a new land use category in our urban development plan being
land used for primary production. We have currently doubled the peri-urban agricultural
protection zone from 400-800 ha Mnica Fein, Mayor, Rosario (August 2014)