Support for local food

The issue of local food is one of the most commonly and enthusiastically embraced of all the issues around localisation. A particular challenge is the issue of food sovereignty for urban areas, given that by 2030 an estimated 60 percent of all people will live in cities (FAO, 2009). From British allotment gardening, to community supported agriculture, to Cuban urban agriculture, to Japanese rooftop gardens – there are more and more examples of intra-urban and peri-urban areas being transformed into productive food-growing land.

Producing food locally, even in an urban environment means short transport routes, less processing and packaging. In the U.S., these parts of the value chain consume more than a third of all energy used for food production. Limiting these activities can substantially reduce the carbon footprint of each meal. In addition, urban food policies encourage consumption of nutritious food, provide food security and sovereignty. Members of the community can be become involved. Jobs and occupation, and income opportunities are created. Local agriculture projects create solidarity and purpose among the communities, sustaining morale and help building community pride.

To set up an urban agriculture programme, a framework of policies is needed. First, people should be enabled to gain access and usufruct ownership of land to be used for agriculture purposes. Depending on the social structures of the region, land should be leased for free or for a low rent. The lease of land must be organised and monitored by the municipal government, encouraging a wide range of fruits, vegetables and spices to be cultivated in the area. The gardeners and farmers can work on their own or establish production cooperatives. In addition, gardeners and farmers can be organized in loose associations to facilitate the dissemination of information and technical knowledge among themselves, and to exchange seeds and to share tools..

Government should set up information centers. These could sell agricultural supplies to the public that would otherwise be difficult to obtain, such as vegetable and medicinal seeds and seedlings, biological pesticides, organic fertilizer and tools. For sale of the produce, spaces at farmer markets should be provided for subsidised rent. If necessary, municipalities have to organise markets or other sale opportunities. Also, on-site sale should be encouraged. Finally, it must be ensured that produce is sold at prices that are affordable to the local community. This could be made a condition for accepting a farmer to participate in an urban agriculture programme. Helpful assistance can be provided by NGOs, and organizations such as the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) which supports urban agriculture in its ‘Food in the City’ programme.

Case study: Cuba

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the reduction of its imports of machines, food, and fertilizers in 1989, Cuba was forced to move towards food self-sufficiency. When food shortages due to the lack of fuel for tractors and lorries caused serious food supply problems, the government decided to encourage people to practice agriculture within Cuba’s cities. Soon gardens sprouted up everywhere – at housing estates, schools, community centres, hospitals and factories.

Cuba’s urban agriculture program aims to provide each person with at least 300 grams of fresh vegetables per day. By 2002, over 35,000 hectares of urban land were used for the intensive production of fruits, vegetables and spices. 117,000 people working in Cuba’s urban gardens produce over half the country’s vegetables, fruit, chickens and rabbits with zero transportation costs. The main source of compost is bagasse trucked in from Cuba’s sugar cane fields as an organic growing medium.

Cuba’s urban agriculture program provides good quality seeds, advice on composting, crop rotations earthworms, and on dealing with bacterial and fungal diseases without relying on chemical pesticides. Cuba’s food policies have been developed out of necessity but they are highly relevant for a world faced with the need to assure food security for all in an age of climate change.