why rural farming matters to the city

posted November 21, 2017

I-Stand-with-Women-Farmers
 credit: Artist Diane Brawarsky and A Growing Culture. 

The following article was submitted to the Greenhorns by Freya Yost. Freya is Director of Operations at Cloudburst Foundation, an Italian-based non-profit working closely with the Commonwealth to address climate change and meet the UN SDGs. Her background is in information science, specializing in areas of government information and policy, open source technologies, and digital rights tensions. After receiving an M.S. in Information Science from Pratt Institute, she started facilitating knowledge exchange between indigenous farmers in East Africa as Vice President of the organization A Growing Culture. 

She is a contributing writer at Global Voices, and has published with outlets including the Association for Progressive Communications, Peer-to-Peer Foundation, Truth-Out, and Shareable. She has articles in several peer-review journals including the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions Journal and Indigenous Knowledge: Other Ways of Knowing.


 

Cities currently hold more than half of the world’s population, and that number is increasing with rural to urban migrations. Decline of subsistence agriculture, a changing climate, and lack of opportunity are some of the main reasons for migration—all consequences relating to industrial agriculture, the predominant agricultural model in the world.

We know how devastating the industrial model of agriculture is to the planet (draining natural resources and contributing of greenhouse gas emissions) and to rural farming communities (destroying livelihoods and dominating markets with cash crops to be sent away to other countries) but we haven’t heard enough about how “big ag” erodes the resilience of cities. Rural areas are still the main producers of food and smallholder farmers account for 94% of the farms worldwide: there is more space to grow, raise livestock, process food, ecosystem diversity, and richer soils. In fact, the wellbeing of rural farming communities has incredible influence on the food security of urban populations—making the rural-urban relationship inextricably linked. If we allow industrial agriculture to continue to devastate rural farming communities it will only perpetuate hunger in cities. Rooftop gardens and urban agriculture are helping some inner-city communities get access to fresh food, but they are not feeding the world and certainly not the 8 million residents of New York City. When we evaluate alternative models to sustain growing cities we must support the potentially symbiotic relationship between urban and rural. This means that rural issues are urban issues, and vice versa.

Family farmers already produce enough food to feed 10 billion people yet over 1.2 million New York City residents are food insecure and hunger is a grave, global reality. In this context our fixation with increasing crop yields seems rudimentary. The true challenge lies in improving access to food, social and economic disparity, excessive waste, and a centralized food-production system that prioritizes profit above the health and wellbeing of people. As an industrialised, wealthy and leading food producing nation, the US continues to have both hunger and health problems in all 50 states. In New York City alone, the income gap between rich and poor is the greatest in the country. New York City’s food insecurity rate is 11% higher than the national rate. These facts alone tell us how central inequality is to the food system and how, despite growing city populations, we need to continue to invest in rural, peri-urban environments around cities that can ultimately feed urban communities. Well functioning peri-urban areas act as a buffer that benefit both rural and urban areas, disrupting concentrated centers of inequality, and providing opportunities for communities.

There are some powerful examples of cities that prioritized rural-urban food dynamics and established greatly-improved food security. Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais state and Brazil’s sixth largest city, implemented a comprehensive set of programs aimed at providing access to food and support to small-scale family farming in surrounding rural areas. The Bolsa Família, a Brazilian national initiative based on the same objectives, reduced the number of food insecure people from 50 to 30 million. These initiatives adopted a policy based on the inalienable right of all citizens to sufficient, good quality food, not unsimilar to the values proposed by the food sovereignty movement.

Food sovereignty, that declares the rights of all people to healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food and to control the mechanisms that govern the food system, is a movement pioneered by peasant groups like La Via Campesina—and its relevance is as urban as it is rural. It grew in part out of a fundamental flaw with the food-security approach; that is, that food security falls short of addressing the complexities of the entire system and all the socio-economic and cultural dimensions of the current food-production model. Food sovereignty is far reaching: from the family farmer to the World Bank, the inequalities of power that accompany gender, race, and social class, and violence against women.

The values of food sovereignty have a lot to teach us. The movement moves beyond the overly emphasized “yield problem” to an array of deep-rooted, systemic issues—importantly inequality—that play an integral part of the food system. As we work to improve urban food systems we need to include rural, family farmers in the discussions and strategies. This is how we replace an unjust food system with a democratic one.

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pint-sized tea estates

posted January 21, 2017

tiny-tea-farm

Photo Credit: Subrata Nagchoudhury

When we normally think of tea farms, we picture massive estates and thousands of acres of that familiar dark-leaved perennial shrub. In North Bengal, however, creative farmers, gardeners, and entrepreneurs are both thinking outside and shrinking down the box. Subhash Sarkar, a retired government worker, is leading the charge:

While this region in North Bengal has always been associated with tea, small gardens like that of Sardar, measuring between an acre and 25 acres, are a relatively new feature and are rapidly coming up. Their owners say that if an acre of paddy yields Rs 6,000 a year, a tea plantation of the same size fetches them at least double the amount if not more, excluding expenses on labour, fertilizers and pesticides.

With small-scale tea farming looking increasingly feasible and earning farmers twice the payback as rice, the suburbs outside of Bangladesh’s major cities may soon be dotted with productive patches of Camellia sinensis.

Check out the photos and learn more about North Bengal’s burgeoning small-scale tea farms by clicking HERE.


is the world bank in with monsanto?

posted January 7, 2017

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ATTN: Organizations, academics, and activists!

California-based independent Think Tank, the Oakland Institute is calling for signatories to help put pressure on the World Bank to stop promoting policies that favor (and are deeply influenced by) agri-giants like Monsanta and Syngenta in ways that may support countries in passing laws that dramatically limit small farmers’ rights to save, sell, and exchange seeds. It takes no stretch of the imagination to envision the repercussions that this type of global policy might have on small food systems, the viability of small farming in developing countries, seed sovereignty in sustainable ag, and biodiversity worldwide. (more…)


fund the library for food sovereignty!

posted June 14, 2016

Donate at the indigogo page here!

In the creators’ own words,

“A Growing Culture (AGC) is a global coalition that connects farmers to each other and to the resources they need to create an ecologically sound food system and prosperous planet. We are building the world’s first digital, open-access platform powered by farmers, for farmers. The Library for Food Sovereignty will make it possible for farmers to connect directly with each other for the first time, to compare ideas and approaches, and to join together to build a global food system that works for everyone without harming our planet.

We’ve already raised 2/3 of the money we need to create the Library; reaching our crowdfunding goal will enable us to finalize and perfect the basic model. We need your help to get there. Any donations above our goal will go towards the creation of more advanced functions.”


sweet little info video on efficiency on large v. small scale farms

posted April 5, 2016

This video was release in the build-up to last weekend’s World Forum on Access to Land in Spain. March 30-April 2, 400 participants from 70 countries discussed the human, economic & ecological impacts of land grabs. Was anyone out there in attendance. We’d love to hear your stories and feedback in the comments section!


Growing Awareness

posted May 16, 2008

This feature-length documentary from the Pacific Northwest examines Community-Supported Agriculture (csa), through which consumers buy shares of a local farm’s harvest, receiving a weekly supply of fresh food throughout the growing season. Small-scale organic farmers and csa members from around the South Puget Sound region share their views on the present reality of small-scale farming and its impact on farmers, consumers, and the local community as a whole. With issues of sustainability and food security coming to the fore throughout North America and beyond, Growing Awareness illustrates the importance of local small farms to a community and critiques the emergence of an organic-industrial complex as well as the modern corporate-controlled and government-subsidized global food system.