From Innovations Report
14.05.2008

In 1996, 180 nations—including Canada—met in Rome for the World Food Summit (WFS) to discuss ways to end hunger. Nations pledged to eradicate hunger and committed themselves to a basic target: reducing the number of undernourished people by half by 2015. Five years later, they reaffirmed their commitment to meeting the goals set out in the Rome Declaration on World Food Security and the World Food Summit Plan of Action.

In the Rome Declaration, nations committed themselves to ensuring an enabling environment and implementing policies to eradicate poverty and guarantee access to sufficient, safe food to all. They also agreed to promote a fair world trade system, and to work to prevent natural disasters and other emergencies that threaten food security. They further agreed to promote the use of public and private investments in ways that foster human resources and sustainable development.

IDRC’s programs and the research it funds contribute to meeting these commitments. IDRC believes that poverty alleviation, food security, and environmental sustainability go hand in hand. It also believes that effectively addressing these interlinked challenges requires working actively with the main actors, from farmers to researchers to government officials. While this is the thrust of all of IDRC’s programs, two contribute most directly to increasing food supplies—Rural Poverty and Environment (RPE) and Urban Poverty and Environment (UPE). 

A multidisciplinary approach

In rural areas, IDRC supports research that focuses on the needs of the poor who live in fragile or degraded ecosystems. This can take many forms, from promoting participatory plant breeding of staple crops as a means to conserve biodiversity and recognize farmers’ knowledge (read more: Seeds that give – link below), to supporting collaborative management of natural resources such as watersheds and community forests. Research also seeks to support land tenure reforms and improve access to natural resources and focuses on how the poor can improve their livelihoods while better managing natural resources in a context of market liberalization and integration.

Efforts to ensure that research is relevant to the need of farmers have met with success in many areas. For example:

* In Viet Nam, IDRC-supported research has demonstrated that community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) concepts and processes, such as “farmer to farmer” methods, can be successful in reducing poverty at the commune level. The overall goal has been to develop and support processes that will reach and build sustainable livelihoods for a greater number of the poorest in upland communities (read more: Improving Natural Resource Management in Viet Nam’s Hong Ha Commune).

* In the harsh conditions of Jordan and Syria, farmer-selected lines of barley have fared as well or better than those emanating from research centres. What’s more, these varieties yield better forage and are more palatable to sheep and goats, the main sources of meat and milk products in the region (read more: CASE STUDY: North Africa and Middle East Breeding Better Barley — Together – link below). 

* In China, bridging the gap between scientists and farmers has led to the adaptation of varieties of maize to local conditions and the improvement of a number of others, contributing to both food supplies and livelihoods (read more: Bridging the Gap Between Scientists and Farmers in China). 

Growing food in the cities

In the booming urban areas of developing countries, access to land, food, and basic environmental services such as water, sanitation, and waste collection is limited, leading to increased poverty and environmental burdens. One of the goals of IDRC’s UPE program is to support research on urban agriculture (UA) as a means to increase household food security and to generate income (read more: Feeding the Sustainable City)

Thanks largely to the pioneering work of IDRC-supported researchers over the past two decades, some municipalities have now recognized the value of urban agriculture in boosting food security and reducing unemployment among the urban poor. For example:

* City councillors in Kampala, Uganda have created ordinances to better integrate farming activities into urban planning and management (read more)

* In Rosario, Argentina municipal authorities, working farmers’ groups, shantytown dwellers, and civil society organizations devised a scheme for granting tenure to unused municipal lands. As a result, more than 700 community market gardens were established, a vegetable processing agroindustry was created, and plant and craft fairs were held. This has led to sustainable food supplies and livelihoods for poor residents (read more). 

Given the challenges, IDRC and its partners are encouraging governments to team up with stakeholders to develop strategies to meet the MDGs. In answering the need for more secure land tenure for city farmers, governments at all levels could reduce poverty and help improve the lives of slum dwellers. By actively supporting urban agriculture activities, they can reduce hunger and malnutrition while promoting employment among disadvantaged groups such as women.

Innovative approaches

Because hunger and poverty are intimately linked to economic and social policies at the macro and sectoral levels, IDRC also supports research to understand these links and target policies effectively. A first step is mapping poverty and its components. Another is to link changes in these to various combinations of policies. IDRC has been doing this in over 20 developing countries since 1990 (read more: Micro Impacts of Macroeconomic and Adjustment Policies [MIMAP]). An essential component of IDRC’s work in this area is the community-based poverty monitoring system developed in 1996. First implemented in the Philippines, the Department of the Interior and Local Government has since directed all local government units to adopt the system’s 13 core indicators for measuring poverty (read more: Development Takes on a Face and an Address in the Philippines). The CBMS is now being tested, with IDRC support, in 12 countries in Asia and Africa (read more: Poverty and Economic Policy (PEP) Research Network).

IDRC also tackles poverty issues through such innovative means as the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs). Many Centre-supported projects demonstrate that communities with greater access to ICTs are able to generate and sustain economic growth (read more: An overview of ICTs at IDRC ). For example:

* In Kenya, a project is experimenting with ways of using the Internet to provide financial, marketing, and information services to small farmers so that they can better market their produce and boost their incomes (read more: Kenyan Farmers Discover the Internet). 

* In Senegal, farmers in remote areas can obtain up-to-the-minute market prices for their crops through portable telephones provided through an IDRC-supported project. This has directly increased participating farmers’ incomes by 30% and generated new employment for women (read more: Acacia Partner Garners Two Major ICT Prizes). 

* In India, rural knowledge centres in seven villages provide information on the price of agricultural inputs, market prices, government programs, and much more. The positive impact on villagers livelihoods has led to a movement to bring the benefits of ICTs to 600 000 villages by mid-2007 (read more: Making Waves; Mission 2007—National Alliance Every Village a Knowledge Centre).

Vivien Chiam | Quelle: ResearchSEA 
Weitere Informationen: www.idrc.ca

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Published on 17 May 2008 by Energy Bulletin. Archived on 17 May 2008.by Shepherd Bliss

Petroleum supplies slowly dwindle as demand rapidly soars. So the prices of gasoline and oil that supply modern societies with their industrial production of food will go up, up, and away. A radically different future than the oil-energized twentieth century is dawning.

Let’s face it: our world has become increasingly maddening. Bad news mounts each day: unending wars, financial crises, earthquakes, hurricanes and cyclones killing thousands, chaotic climate change, vanishing pollinating bees and polar bears, rising oceans, thinning forests and a host of human-created or –worsened threats. We live in uncertain times with an even more uncertain future. We face unprecedented, unpredictable converging threats. What can one do to remain somewhat sane? The ostrich approach of denial by burying one’s head in the sand will not be effective or life-enhancing.

It is a good time for an increasing number of people to return to the multiple benefits and pleasures of growing at least part of their own food by gardening and farming. In addition to satisfying the need to eat and drink, farming can also help deal with depression, passivity, and other forms of psychological suffering. It can help treat both the body and the soul. 

One of the many good things that farms based on nature’s patterns can do is help balance people. Much psychological suffering and even mental illnesses have to do with imbalances, which characterize modern society. Before turning to drugs, one can at least trying visiting farms and perhaps volunteering to work there. Or one can connect with farms in collaboration with another treatment program.

Farming can be done in ways that preserve the Earth and put humans in direct contact with it. “Small farms are the most productive on earth,” according to the May 11 “New York Times” article “Change We Can Stomach” by farmer and chef Dan Barber. “A four-acre farm in the United States nets, on average, $1,400 per acre; a 1,364-acre farm nets $39 an acre,” he writes. “Farming has the potential to go through the greatest upheaval since the Green Revolution, bringing harvests that are more meaningful, sustainable, and, yes, even more flavorful,” Barber contends.

Since growing one’s own food is not possible for everyone, it is also a good time to establish direct relationships with local farmers and shop more at farmers’ markets, farm stands, and by subscribing to Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs). Urban agriculture, farms on the urban fringe, and rooftop gardening are becoming increasingly popular. The large city of Havana, Cuba, grows 70% of its own food. Necessity will change how people get their food in the near future.

Many Americans take their food sources for granted, assuming that super-markets will be able to always supply them with what they need. Having lived in Hawai’i when delivery disruptions and the lack of transportation across the ocean left bare shelves in food stores, I know the panic this can cause.

The “Silent Tsunami,” “Misery Index,” and Mud Cakes

A “silent tsunami” of hunger sweeps the globe, reports the head of the United Nation’s World Food Program, Josette Sheeran, speaking in late April at a food summit in London. The heightened hunger threat endangers 20 million of the world’s poorest children and is pushing 100 million people into poverty. 

“This is the new face of hunger—the millions of people who were not in the urgent hunger category six months ago but now are,” Sheeran reports. “The world’s misery index is rising.”

During 2008 food riots broke out in the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia. “You are seeing the return of the food riot, one of the oldest forms of collective action,” commented Raj Patel in an April 25San Francisco Chronicle article. The University of California at Berkeley scholar wrote the new book “Stuffed and Starved: Power and the Hidden Battle for the World Food System.”

The World Bank estimates that food prices have risen 83% in three years; other estimates are in the 60 and 70 percent range. Even in the wealthy United States we have recently seen rationing of rice and other staples by food giants such as Costco and Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Clubs, the two biggest warehouse retail chains. Such trends are likely to continue and are creating stockpiling and hoarding.

“In the poorest districts (of Haiti), there is now a brisk trade in mud cakes,” writes Patel in an article titled “The Troubles with Food,”. “Mothers feed the biscuits, made with water, salt, margarine and clay, to their children. The cake puts a dampener on hunger, at least for a couple of hours, but leaves your mouth dry and bitter for several hours more,” he continues. 

Industrial agriculture will be one of the many aspects of human life on the planet hit by the dwindle/demand oil trend and the related peaks of other fossil fuels, such as natural gas. Industrial agriculture depends upon petroleum in many ways—to run tractors and other machines, to make chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and to fuel the trucks that transport food an average of 1500 miles from field to fork. Oil is the most important ingredient in most of conventional food. As the dwindle/demand rate intensifies, food will be less available and more expensive. Famine is likely.

Survival will require that more people return to an earlier energy supply— muscle power. As someone who made a transition in the early 1990’s (while in my late 40s) from a livelihood based on college teaching and related intellectual activities to one based on farming, I can report that there are many advantages to such a change. I feel better as a result of living on the land, growing some of my own food, and sharing that organic food and the farm itself with others. 

I have found my local place. In 2003 I accepted a great job offer in Hawai’i, but after a couple of wonderful years, I felt so homesick that I returned to my farm.

So this will be a report from the farm front, which will focus on some of the psychological benefits of farming.

The multiple consequences of a diminishing supply of humanity’s major energy source at this point in history will include hardships, stress, and suffering. There are many ways of dealing psychologically with such matters, including with family, friends and professional counselors. This article will explore what I have come to describe as agropsychology and agrotherapy.

I was trained to be a counselor. Quite frankly, I was not good at delivering individual therapy. I got too emotional and involved. I did not adequately develop the necessary professional armor and shield. I did not take enough distance from the people I was working with or have enough “impulse control.” So I shifted more to teaching, group work, and writing. In the time since my more conventional psychological training some forty years ago, self-disclosure and emotional men have become more acceptable as sex roles and professional codes have evolved.

Ecopsychology and Ecotherapy

Sierra Club Books published “Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind” in l996. The term refers to the emerging synthesis of the psychological and the ecological. The book’s editor, Theodore Roszak, writes that “ecology needs psychology, psychology needs ecology.” Roszak reports on a l990 conference entitled “Psychology as if the Whole Earth Mattered.”

The Sierra Club plans to publish the book’s sequel “Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind” in March of 2009. My chapter “Farming, Sweet Darkness, Poetry, and Healing” is scheduled to be part of that book. After finishing my contribution I began to realize that what I was writing about could be called agrotherapy, which is the practice of agropsychology, which are sub-sets of ecopsychology and ecotherapy. Farms have historically been healing places, for both those who live and work there and those who visit. Farm tours and even overnight farm stays are becoming increasingly popular as examples of ecotourism. The Small Farm Program at the University of California at Davis, Sonoma County Farm Trails, and Daily Acts are among the many groups that promote such tours.

Simply put, by living on a farm and working the land on a regular basis, I have become a healthier person—physically and mentally. In recent years I have been hosting an increasing number of farm tours at Kokopelli Farm in the Sebastopol countryside, Sonoma County, Northern California. Community, school, and religious groups, as well as families and friends, come to the farm, which grows mainly organic berries and fruit and cares for chickens. 

My visitors tend to feel better from their time on this traditional farm; something positive usually happens to them. Being outside in nature can benefit people. People typically loose sight of chronological time. They can fall into berry time or chicken time, which tend to be slower than the human-made clock, and often more fun and stress-reducing. They sometimes lose their restraint and order, wanting to sprint ahead, or go off the path, as if they were animals, which they are.

Chicken Wisdom and Agrotherapy

This year I returned to teaching psychology, part-time, at Sonoma State University. I sometimes take chickens as Teaching Assistants (TAs). For example, I took two sweet silkies on Valentine’s Day; they modeled being love birds as they cooed and cuddled, one even feeling safe enough to lay an egg.

Chickens can teach many things, such as surrender to what is, joy at the dawn, transformation of throwaways into jewels, and love of the Earth within which chickens take their dust baths to help them get rid of parasites. Chickens offer incredible eggs, humor, joy, and beauty. That other two-legged can teach chicken wisdom, that of a prey, to humans, who are predators. It includes, but is not limited to, the following: delight in simple things (like worms), keep dancing, recycle, snuggle into the earth, slow down, combine vulnerability and hardiness. 

Agrotherapy is not therapy-as-usual. It happens mainly in the open, outside an office, a building, a city and without a defined time limit. The freedom to wonder and to meander characterize being outside. One does not enter the same human-made setting each time; farms are seasonal, as humans are, and are constantly changing. The therapists-of-the-outdoors include trees, berries, birds, bees, chickens, the moon and stars, the clouds, crow congresses and others who can help relieve stress, anxiety, suffering, and even sickness.

Tears sometimes come to the eyes of city folk when they sit on the ground beneath the giant redwoods or sprawling oaks at my farm. Something from their personal or collective memory seems to get activated. We listen to the wind and hear various sounds within it. Within just a few minutes I can usually feel a change in my guests. This is not a “talking cure.” It is non-talking, opening to the other senses. There is not therapeutic couch or chair; the forest provides a comforting bed upon which one can relax and reduce their stress.

My presence on such tours is more as a guide who can point things out, including patterns in nature and persons, and pose strategic questions, than as an expert to make book-based diagnoses and human-devised treatments. Farming—like therapy or personal growth–is a process with no clear beginning or end. There are products along the way, but the topsoil, for example, takes thousands of years to make. Perennial trees and berries planted by one family member can endure far beyond his or her lifetime into that of descendents, continuing to provide beauty and healing.

An email I sent to a local online listserve about agropsychology generated the following response from Jennifer York, the owner of the Bamboo Sorcery outside my hometown of Sebastopol:

“I can vouch for what you call “agropsychology.’ It saved me as a youth in my recovery from a traumatic childhood, and now in middle age. I am once again finding great healing, joy, and contentment in growing my own garden and raising my own farm animals (chickens, rabbits, and someday dairy goats, I hope!) for food, fun and deep connection with the cycles of life and death. For me it is a spiritual, as well as a practical avocation. I recommend it. Besides, it may come in very handy someday.

“In the meantime I am having fun, and feel good about sharing the experience with my 6-year-old daughter. I believe it is creating a sound foundation in her for the future. I have great gratitude to my deceased parents who were Back-to-Landers in the late 60’s and 70’s, and who exposed me to this rich and life affirming way of life.

“My husband says he can tell how happy I am by how much dirt is under my finger nails…and it’s true.”

In his book “Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines” Peak Oil theorist Richard Heinberg includes a chapter titled “The Psychology of Peak Oil and Climate Change.” He writes, “The next few decades will be traumatic.” One resource that Heinberg refers to is the work of eco-philosopher Joanna Macy with respect to workshops on “despair and empowerment.” In them people are encouraged to deal with their grief, and thus feel their connection to the Earth.

Ecopsychology and ecotherapy can take many forms, including agropsychology and agrotherapy. These recently conceptualized fields can make a contribution to the larger fields of psychology and psychotherapy and thus to the healing of people and of the nature of which we are an integral part. Humans often seem to battle nature, whereas participation and collaboration with it seem more healthy, which these developing forms can support.

(Dr. Shepherd Bliss, sbliss@hawaii.edu, teaches at Sonoma State University in Northern California and has operated the organic Kokopelli Farm since the early 1990s. He is a member of the Veterans Writing Group (www.vowvop.org), has contributed to two dozen books, and is currently writing “In Praise of Sweet Darkness.”)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Editorial Notes ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Shepherd Bliss is an Energy Bulletin contributor.

From Growing Better Cities by Luc Mougeot

On May 23, 2007 for the first time in human history, the world population became more urban the rural (according to a North Carolina State University study). That is, more people live in cities and towns than in less inhabited areas. Between now and 2030 nearly all population growth will be in urban areas of developing nations, where some cities are growing two or three times faster than the country’s overall population. This trend is equivalent to adding a city of one million residents every week (UN-HABITAT 2004).

What does this all have to do with urban agriculture?

Because developed countries like the United States, Germany and Australia have better economies, education, quality of life and access to resources, urban agriculture plays a different role in developed countries than it does in those of less economic stability. Below I’ll outline the role of urban agriculture in developing countries.

In the world’s developing nations, urban gardening is done out of necessity for food- there are other benefits such as greener cities, smaller carbon footprints, closer communities, and hopefully less polluted urban centers, but the main focus is food production to combat malnutrition and hunger.

In 2003, Venezuela, supported by FAO, launched a major experiment in urban agriculture. The government installed 4000 microgardens in poor neighbourhoods of Caracas and started 20 horticultural cooperatives in and around the city.

To read the FAO article click here.

So all of this growth is happening developing nations. What are developing nations? Why is there more growth there?

Well, most of the world is comprised of developing countries, as you can see below.

The IDRC defines development as “change that improves the conditions of human well-being so that people can exercise meaningful choices for their own benefit and that of society.” This definition is good because it allows that both the North and the South can still be developing.

Typical living condition of rural immigrants moving to Delhi

Least Developed Countries are the poorest and weakest of the bunch. “Extreme poverty, the structural weaknesses of their economies and the lack of capacities related to growth, often compounded by structural handicaps, hamper efforts of these countries to improve the quality of life of their people, (UN-OHRLLS)”

There are 50 countries currently on the UN list of least developed countries (LDC’s).

  • 33 in Africa
  • 15 in Asia
  • 1 in Latin America and the Caribbean

Countries designated by the International Monetary Fund

State of Countries’ Economies: Blue is most advanced economies, Yellow is emerging and developing economies that are not least developed, and Red is least developed economies

Data comes from the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations.

Looking at the map above it is easy to see that most of the countries with developing economies are in the south, therefore, the International Development Resource Center (IDRC) calls the these countries collectively the South, while the the North is more developed countries. While these definitions seem a bit weird to me, I’ve included them because several of the sources I referenced use them.

 

The population distribution of the world as it was in 1994, when the population was 5.6 billion

Bigger pictures of both of these maps are available here.

 

Why do people want to live in the city?

Rural life is hard and poverty is eminent. Of the 1.2 billion people living on less than a dollar a day, 3/4 of these people live in rural areas. The city hold opportunity, employment, and education for many. Many times, life in the country consists only of subsistence farming and not much else. The city holds opportunity for a richer life, for yourself and your children. So no wonder so many want to move to the city.

With this rush to the city the world’s rural poor become the world’s urban poor. Rural families moving to the city come with almost nothing and find it hard to find jobs, housing, and food. Many countries have massive slums, box towns, and overcrowded apartment buildings in and around the city. The global level of urban poverty, currently estimated at 30%, is predicted to grow to 50% by 2020, with nearly all of this growth taking place in the world’s less developed countries (UN-HABITAT 2004).

As urban poverty grows, so does urban hunger. Although it is estimated that there is currently more than enough food for everyone in the world (see my latest global hunger post) the main problem is insufficient money to buy food or land to grow food (World Hunger Notes 2008). Obviously, in a city of 15 million there is simply not enought land for everyone to have their own garden plot. Those that do not have acess to growing food must buy it. 30% of the urban population does not have the money to buy food.

With lack of access, food has become a commodity, what Mougeot calls a “basic luxury” (2006).

So things will only get worse as populations grow in cities all over the world and food becomes more and more a luxury that only the wealthy can afford…

Urban Farming in Africa. Photo by Monica Rucki from the IDRC.

Thats where urban agriculture can come in. Many of the world’s urban poor create gardens, of some kind to help supplement the food that they have to buy. According the the Population Crisis Committee (PCC)(1990), All over the developing world households spend as much as 80% of their income on food. In many African cities, it is common for families to eat just one meal a day. Once again, urban agriculture is simply growing food in cities- that means any type of food grown any where in a city.

Urban agriculture is typically opportunistic. Its practitioners have evolved and adapted diverse knowledge and know-how to select and locate, farm, process, and market all manner of plants, trees, and livestock. What they have achieved in the very heart of major cities, and dare to pursue despite minimal support, and often in the face of official opposition, is a tribute to human ingenuity. One survey by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP 1996) identified over 40 farming systems, ranging from horticulture to aquaculture, kitchen gardens to market gardens, and including livestock as varied as cattle, chickens, snails, and silkworms!…The UNDP estimates perhaps as many as 800 million urban farmers produce about 15% of the world’s food. (Mougeot 2006)

People garden anywhere they can in cities, on the sides of roads, under high tension wires, in apartment buildings, parks, empty lots. The officials of the city are not always happy with they haphazard manner of gardening. Just imagine if people in this country tried to start a garden in the vacant lot of a chemical company or graze cattle on the lawn of a city park. There would be many regulations, zoning laws and by-laws in place to prohibit the activity. City farmers around the world often run into problems with city officials and police (Mougeot 2006).

Farmers at the Organiponico de Alamar, a neighborhood agriculture project in downtown Havana, weed the beds. (Photo by John Morgan)

 

Lots and Lotsa Links

Quinn, Megan. 2006. The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil. Permaculture Activist.

Koc, Mustafa; MacRae, Rod; Mougeot, Luc JA; Welsh, Jennifer (eds) (1999). For hunger-proof cities: sustainable urban food systems. Ottowa, ON: International Development Research Center.

Mougeot, Luc. 2006. in_focus: GROWING BETTER CITIES: Urban Agriculture for Sustainable Development. Ottawa : International Development Research Centre.

Urban Agriculture: Food, Jobs and Sustainable Cities. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Publication Series for Habitat II, Volume One, UNDP, 1996. 300 pp

IDRC/ UN-HABITAT.”Guidelines for Municipal Policymaking on Urban Agriculture” Urban Agriculture: Land Management and Physical Planning (2003)

Mahbuba Kaneez Hasna. IDRC. CFP Report 21: NGO Gender Capacity in Urban Agriculture: Case Studies from Harare (Zimbabwe), Kampala (Uganda), and Accra (Ghana) 1998.

Veenhuizen, René van (Ed.) (2006) Cities Farming for the Future – Urban Agriculture for Green and Productive Cities. RUAF Foundation, IDRC and IIRR.

Urban Agriculture Magazine. RUAF Foundation. There are 19 issues about all sorts of urban agriculture topics. You can get a free subscription!

RUAF Publications

UN-OHRLLS. Least Developed Countries: Country Profiles.

International Monetary Fund. World Economic Outlook: Country Composition.

FAO Newsroom: Urban Farming Against Hunger.

International Food Policy Research Institute. Urban Challenges to Food and Nutrition Security. Publications

Sida, ETC Netherlands, TUAN. 2002. Annotated Bibliography of Urban Agriculture. An incredibly comprehensive 17 chapter 800 page annotated bibliography of urban agriculture all over the world. Totally blows my mind the work that went into this.

Remenyi, Joe. 2007. Poverty Reduction and Urban Renewal Through Urban Agriculture and Microfinance: A Case Study of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Bruins, Hendrik J. 1997. Drought mitigation policy and food provision for urban Africa: Potential use of treated wastewater and solar energy. Arid Lands Newsletter.

The Greenbelt Movement

 
Urban agriculture could be one of many solutions to the imminent global food crisis.

I’ll start this article out with some little blips from NPR about the global food crisis and the riots they have sparked in Haiti this week.

Rising Food Prices Spark Growing Concern

Haitians Tense after Food Prices Spark Riot

The hand of a woman is covered in mud as she makes mud cookies on the roof of Fort Dimanche, Nov. 30, 2007.  (ABC News)

They’re eating mud?

Does no one remember the Universal Declaration of Human Rights made in 1948?

Article 25 states:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Last year on World Hunger Day (October 16) the FAO released a press release to remind us of this human right.

Eleven years after the 1996 World Food Summit the number of undernourished people in the world remains unacceptably high, with 820 million in developing countries, 25 million in countries in transition and 9 million in industrialized countries. As a result, promoting the right to food is not just a moral imperative or even an investment with huge economic returns, it is a basic human right, according to FAO. –FAO NewsRoom

Sixty years after this Declaration was signed by General Assembly of the United Nations, study after study show that we do produce enough food to feed the world over- its poverty thats the real problem.

The world produces enough food to feed everyone. World agriculture produces 17 percent more calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, despite a 70 percent population increase. This is enough to provide everyone in the world with at least 2,720 kilocalories (kcal) per person per day (FAO 2002, p.9).  The principal problem is that many people in the world do not have sufficient land to grow, or income to purchase, enough food.-worldhunger.org, 2008

Not only that, but a University of Michigan study from 2007 shows that “low-intensive food production systems (including organic and other natural approaches)” could sustain the current world population and maybe even more.  Here’s the abstract.

Check out the proceedings from this FAO Conference on Organic Agriculture and Food Security from 2007.

Earlier this year the UN released a statement admitting that it no longer has the money to keep malnutrition at bay this year.  

“We will have a problem in coming months,” said Josette Sheeran, the head of the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP). “We will have a significant gap if commodity prices remain this high, and we will need an extra half billion dollars just to meet existing assessed needs… This is the new face of hunger. There is food on shelves but people are priced out of the market. There is vulnerability in urban areas we have not seen before.”

Its budget for 2008 was $2.9 billion dollars, which includes voluntary contributions from wealthier nations.  “But with annual food price increases around the world of up to 40% and dramatic hikes in fuel costs, that budget is no longer enough even to maintain current food deliveries (Borger).”

What are the main causes of these incredible hikes in food costs?

Recently, land and resources taken up by biofuels has been blamed for raises in cost. Joachim von Braun, the head of the International Food Policy Research Institute, says that this counts for about 30% of the raises in cost.  Another 50% comes from the sharp growth in demand from a new middle class in China and India for meat and other foods, which were previously viewed as luxuries.  Filling in the gaps are losses in world levels of grain storage due to erratic weather-induced changes…. And climate change will only become a greater issue over time. (Borger)

So what does all of this have to do with urban agriculture?  TONS!

Urban agriculture enables individuals and families feed themselves on a very small-scale production.  This agriculture can take place in open lots, on balconies, old tires, bags, baskets, rooftops, and around the perimeters of cities.  the FAO realizes the value of urban and peri-urban (a silly name for agriculture on the edges of cities and other similar areas) agriculture.  You can check out their websites here:

Food to the Cities

Urban/Peri-Urban Agriculture

And one of the most instrumental advocates for urban agriculture, Jac Smit, had written tons and tons on sustainability through urban agriculture.  Check some of his papers out here:

Farm the City

From the Desk of Jac Smit– tons of his papers in a big bundle

Urban Agriculture: Food, Jobs, and Sustainable Cities. UNDP, Habitat II Series, 1996.

Another great resource for information on how great urban agriculture is in the International Development Resource Centre.  They have an exhaustive list of books you can download for free from their rather confusing website.

Here is the page of books about agriculture and development, many of them about urban agriculture.

Luc J.A. Mougeot works for them and is an INCREDIBLE person.

Lastly, a great website with lots and lots of documents is Resource centers of Urban Agriculture and Food Security (RUAF).

 

 
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