Published Dec 30 2008 by Energy Bulletin
Archived Dec 30 2008

Food & agriculture - Dec 30

by Staff

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Food needs 'fundamental rethink'

Mark Kinver, BBC
A sustainable global food system in the 21st Century needs to be built on a series of "new fundamentals", according to a leading food expert.

Tim Lang warned that the current system, designed in the 1940s, was showing "structural failures", such as "astronomic" environmental costs.

The new approach needed to address key fundamentals like biodiversity, energy, water and urbanisation, he added.

Professor Lang is a member of the UK government's newly formed Food Council.

"Essentially, what we are dealing with at the moment is a food system that was laid down in the 1940s," he told BBC News.

"It followed on from the dust bowl in the US, the collapse of food production in Europe and starvation in Asia.

"At the time, there was clear evidence showing that there was a mismatch between producers and the need of consumers."

Professor Lang, from City University, London, added that during the post-war period, food scientists and policymakers also thought increasing production would reduce the cost of food, while improving people's diets and public health.

"But by the 1970s, evidence was beginning to emerge that the public health outcomes were not quite as expected," he explained.

"Secondly, there were a whole new set of problems associated with the environment."

... "We have an entirely oil-based food economy, and yet oil is running out. The impact of that on agriculture is one of the drivers of the volatility in the world food commodity markets."
(27 December 2008)
EB contributor AP writes:
Professor Tim Lang makes some salient points about our outdated food production and distribution system, which is based on the finite resource of oil, and marketed according to appearance rather than nutritional value. He and his colleagues espouse a "back-to-the-garden" approach to food production.

Community Gardens Contribute to Food Security

Stephanie Nieuwoudt, IPS
... As in the rest of Africa, women in South Africa are the backbone of the small-farmer agriculture. The Philippi project will benefit women who are responsible for looking after the sick of the community, who earn a living through selling their vegetables and who look after their grandchildren who are left behind when their parents die of AIDS. It also addresses environmental issues as the farmers are taught how to re-use grey water (mostly used for personal hygiene and for washing dishes).

"Even though I am poor, I believe that I have to give some of my vegetables away," says Fhiceka. "Some people are so poor and ill that they have absolutely nothing. I cannot just sit and look on as people die of hunger because they are too ill from AIDS to plant their own vegetables or to find a job."

According to Stanley Visser, Cape Town’s head of development facilitation, more than 80 percent of the people of Philippi are without any formal source of income. "Many of these poor households are already subsisting on home gardens."

"In the global economic downturn where food insecurity has increased due to soaring food prices, backyard and community gardens are some of the most basic survival strategies. Many people who live in the poor informal settlements have come here from rural areas. They turn to backyard farming because they survived as small farmers in the rural areas and they apply these skills in the cities."

A backyard garden four times the size of an ordinary door, can supply a household of six people with fresh vegetables for a year. By replanting and ensuring that the ground is fertilised well, the four-door garden can be farmed fruitfully for years.

"Trench gardening is also popular in the townships," said Visser. "The people dig trenches into which all their biodegradable waste is thrown. It is covered with soil and seeds are sown on top. The soil is high in nutrients and it can be farmed for up to four years before new compost is needed."
(29 December 2008)

Graze the Roof, a rooftop garden at Glide

Matthew Green, San Francisco Chronicle
Deep in the heart of winter, a small garden continues to flourish, producing winter crops such as kale, turnips, radishes, carrots and leafy greens. During the summer, this plot of land high above San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood, seven stories closer to the sun, was a lush edible rooftop landscape. Sunflowers and neatly arranged boxes of kale and Chinese cabbage dotted the roof. Beans, cucumbers and squash reached up trellises against the water tower, and kiwi vines straddled the barbed-wire fence.

Graze the Roof, a fledgling garden project on top of the Glide Memorial Church's offices, was created by residents in a neighborhood known more for urban blight than fresh produce and green space. It's a partnership between Glide and Oakland nonprofit Bay Localize, which promotes edible rooftops and urban self-reliance. Such gardens are seen as an important, and largely untapped, opportunity to increase local food production. In addition to providing veggies for participants, the garden demonstrates to apartment dwellers that having a flat roof is all you need to grow good food.
(27 December 2008)