Urban agriculture (UA) has been drawing a lot of attention recently for several reasons: the majority of the world population has shifted from living in rural to urban areas; the
environmental impact of agriculture is a matter of rising concern; and food insecurity, especially the accessibility of food, remains a major challenge. UA has often been proposed as a solution to some of these issues, for example by producing food in places where population density is highest, reducing transportation costs, connecting people directly to food systems and using urban areas efficiently. However, to date no study has examined how much food could actually be produced in urban areas at the global scale. Here we use a simple approach, based on different global-scale datasets, to assess to what extent UA is constrained by the existing amount of urban space. Our results suggest that UA would require roughly one third of the total global urban area to meet the global vegetable consumption of urban dwellers. This estimate does not consider how much urban area may actually be suitable and available for UA, which likely varies substantially around the world and according to the type of UA performed. ... mehrFurther, this global average value masks variations of more than two orders of magnitude among individual countries. The variations in the space required across countries derive mostly from variations in urban population density, and much less from variations in yields or per capita consumption. Overall, the space required is regrettably the highest where UA is most needed, i.e., in more food insecure countries. We also show that smaller urban clusters (i.e., <100 km2 each) together represent about two thirds of the global urban extent; thus UA discourse and policies should not focus on large cities exclusively, but should also target smaller urban areas that offer the greatest potential in terms of physical space.