Supporting local small-scale ecological growers by providing them with a piece of technology nurturing regenerative farming practices has two major implications for humanity – socioeconomic and environmental.
First, it leads to revitalisation of local food economies through a circular economy for food that begins its cycle at the local level, and has huge potential for becoming the strongest counter to the modern food system embraced by industrial agriculture that puts profit before human health. Second, it helps restoring ecological and natural cycles in soils thus paving the way to their regeneration and preservation of carbon the presence of which in the atmosphere is the main cause of global warming.
Wendell Berry – American novelist, poet, environmental activist and farmer – once said that ‘eating is an agricultural act‘. His writings have also found many critics in today’s ‘industrialized farm system’, which disrupts the interconnectedness of natural cycles and leads to soil mismanagement causing soil erosion.
Michael Pollan – American author and professor at Harvard University – took it one step further and in his book ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma’ suggested that it’s a political act as well. This set the tone to the alternative food movement –organic farming, local food systems, and sustainable agriculture.
Industrial agriculture has created a food system that is inherently undemocratic in its disregard for human need. A good deal of The Omnivore's Dilemma dealt with how we took making food out of the solar basis and put it on a fossil-fuel basis – this is what the industrialisation of food is essentially. It's introducing cheap fossil fuel in what had been a strictly solar process of using photosynthesis to grow food.
Every time we as consumers make choices about what we eat and who we purchase it from, we vote with our forks on the direction which we want our food system to move in. Hence, how we shop and eat shapes how our land and environment is treated.
In the very recent research ‘Cities and Circular Economy for Food‘ that was widely discussed at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2019 prepared by Ellen MacArthur Foundation, charity that aims to inspire a generation to re-think, re-design & build a positive future through the framework of a circular economy, it was pointed out very clearly that the wasteful way we produce food today relies on extracting finite resources – including phosphorus, potassium, and oil – to grow food in ways that harm the natural systems upon which agriculture depends.
Then, in cities we capture and use an extremely small fraction of the valuable nutrients in discarded food, food by-products and sewage. Given that 80% of all food is expected to be consumed in cities by 2050, they have to be central to this story. Today they often act as black holes, sucking in resources but wasting many of them – the final stop in the take-make-waste approach. Equally, cities can influence what food is produced and how, providing them with a unique opportunity to change the game. Work conducted with 4 focus cities (Brussels, Belgium; Guelph, Canada; Porto, Portugal; São Paulo, Brazil) during the development of the report suggests cities have a major opportunity to apply these ambitions, regardless of their unique physical, demographic, and socio-economic profiles.
The organisation came up with 3 ambitions cities can take on to build a better circular economy for our food:
By interacting with producers in their peri-urban and rural surroundings, cities can use their demand power to move from passive consumers to active catalysts of a transition to a circular economy for food. While the ability of urban farming to meet people’s full nutritional needs is rather limited, cities can source a significant share of their food from peri-urban areas (within 20 kilometres of cities) as they encompass 40% of the world’s cropland.
Cities play a crucial role in designing-out food waste as they are where most food eventually ends up. To this end, we have to make the most of our food by ensuring that its by-products are used at their highest value. Rather than disposing of surplus food, cities can redistribute it to help tackle food insecurity.
In a circular economy, food is not only healthy in terms of nutritional value, but also in the way it is produced. For decades, food brands, retailers, restaurants, schools and other providers have shaped a significant part of our daily diets. By leveraging their combined power, we can change food design and marketing to make both the processes of food production healthier as well as the food itself.
We just have to start at the local level – from the ground up.