Local Food for Global Future

Six years after the publication of ‘Local Food for Global Future’, the book has lost none of its topical value. In addition to thoughts about cashback as a light form of basic income and blockchain technology, the book has played a major role in the development of the 2local platform. That’s why this blog is devoted to refresh the highlights of the book.

Book information: ‘Local food for Global Future, Classification, governance and knowledge for sustainbale food security’. Publisher: Scholars’ Press/ OmniScriptum GmbH & Co. KG, Saarbrücken. The book is available in various web-shops and at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/305990538_Local_Food_for_Global_Future.

CONTEXT

Local food systems aim at an integrated approach of local food production, rural employment, development of landscapes, ecological values, livelihoods, food choices and food culture diversity. In various forms these systems are growing to become a mature sector, with a better appearance than industrial agriculture. Small-scale agro-ecological farms are far less energy consumptive and release fewer greenhouse gas emissions than industrial agricultural production, thus creating a mitigation potential on climate change.

Worldwide a large part of our food is traditionally produced by local and regional systems of agriculture and food. For fisheries, according to IFPRI, small-scale fishers provide even 2/3 of the global fish catch and more than 95% of employment in fisheries. Though industrial agriculture and food is the dominant system in the North and is upcoming in BRICS and NIC countries, traditional agriculture is dominant in the South, the most important factor in BRICS and NIC countries and upcoming in the North.

Very different practical forms and a lack of knowledge characterize the current state of the local food systems that we see emerging throughout the world. The local systems increase in number and size and their development is irreversible. Local and regional agriculture and food systems are best helped by a structured approach. Developing a classification system with an appropriated governance structure and clearing the backlogs in knowledge development and innovation are means to make great strides.

INDUSTRIAL AND LOCAL SYSTEMS

Proponents of the industrial system argue — wrongly — that producing more volumes is necessary to feed the growing world population and thus could solve the world food problem. According to prominent agro-businessmen the industrial agricultural system is successful with regard to production volumes and finance. The social and ecological values however suffered, by a large distance between producers and consumers, and by the use of chemicals (fertilizers and pesticides) and loss of biodiversity respectively. That’s why I call the industrial system a linear system or a linear economy. This is an economy with a nation- and worldwide situation of mono- and oligopolistic competition, with no fair prices for farmers. Look at the frequent protests of French, German, British, Belgian, Dutch and other European farmers that protest against low prices at supermarkets, and especially against falling milk prices. The circular economy tries to reach a more efficient use of natural resources and less waste. That is O.K., but social aspects, food sovereignty and food safety, remains suffering.

The mentioned drawbacks of the industrial system create imperatives for change. So, what we need is a new economy with explicit naming of these sustainability aspects, relevant to food. That’s exactly what is done in the paradigm of ‘sustainable food security’. This paradigm is mentioned in literature, but not described clearly. I define it in a way that in this paradigm the Brundtland sustainability concept is tailored to food by combining it with Vandana Shiva’s food security concept. This means that, apart from people, planet, profit, also food sovereignty and food safety is explicitly taken into account. These five aspects form the sustainable food security features.

A reconnection of producers and consumers requires a local basis. Fair incomes require new forms of capital that can people arrange locally. Closing resources and energy cycles, interconnection of crop growing with animal husbandry can best be realized locally. A precondition for food sovereignty is that regions can decide themselves about production and consumption: this requires local governance. Monitoring food safety in short chains is less complex than in global industrial chains.

LOCAL AGRICULTURE AND FOOD AT WORK

A case of regional agriculture and food at work in The Netherlands is the creation of the Vechtdal Community. The formation of this community, started already in 2003, is broadly described in this book and in detail in: ‘Regions, finger lickin’ good’ (in Dutch: Regio’s om van te smullen, by Harry Donkers and Victor Immink, 2008, Uitgeverij Landwerk). This is the result of a puzzle picture of various partners on a voluntary basis. Farmers, nature organizations, butchers, bakers, (agro-) tourist businesses, hotels & restaurants, shops, consumers and local governments started in 2003 and worked together. In different stages, Vechtdal dream, Vechtdal concept, Vechtdal pork, widening to other products, and a growth leap. This turned to a range of products: Vechtdal pork and pork products, landscape embellishments, Vechtdal bread and bakery products, Vechtdal beef, Vechtdal dairy products, like cheese a.o. Vechtdal vegetables, ShiiTake, Vechtdal beer, Vechtdal public arrangements, deliveries to (own) shops and restaurants. Since 2014, this Community is a formal cooperative in the Northeast of the Netherlands.

In Russia, agriculture and food has two objectives: a broad objective to increase food self-sufficiency and improved competitiveness and exports of basic products, and a specific objective relating to sustainable rural development and natural resource conservation. Small-scale farmers produce more than half of the agricultural production; 20–25% is imported (meat, meat products and milk). The potential of small-scale farmers goes far beyond agricultural production and food

A case of regional agriculture and food at work in Russia is the creation of an organic/natural chain in Krasnodar. Producers, being small-scale farmers in the neighbourhood of Krasnodar city, worked together with an organic shop in the city. They produced a range of milk products, meat, vegetables of excellent quality. These products are sold in the shop, but also used in catering activities, an Internet shop, a cafeteria and a restaurant. This short chain is broadly described in this book.

CLASSIFICATION OF LOCAL FOOD SYSTEMS

The classification is derived by combining two dimensions: geographic aspects and aspects of cooperation.

Geographic aspects relate to an inseparable territory that covers both the producers and consumers of food. That could be a city/town along with its environs or a countryside, inclusive of the towns/cities toward which the countryside is directed. Furthermore a distinction is made between the complexity of the region (one, two, three or more linked towns/cities and its/their surroundings) and the population density (high populated and low populated areas). From a social perspective we look at the way parties involved in local and regional food (producers, consumers and possibly governments), cooperate with each other. When only producers and consumers cooperate we are talking about short chains. When governments participate and the cooperation is restricted to rural or urban areas, we have to do with local cooperation. And in the case that the region/territory itself plays a part, we speak of regional cooperation. Depending on the level of the territory there could be regional, interregional or even transregional cooperation.

GOVERNANCE

Governance of short chains is aiming at a better cooperation between consumers and producers. Rural and urban food systems should not be stand-alones. Both systems are part of rural-urban linkages. Governance should support to reduce the rural-urban divide. Core of ‘local food for global future’ are regional food systems. These systems flourish when producers, consumers and governments cooperate in the defined area. Regional food system governance is an invitation to local producers and entrepreneurs, consumers, citizens and local institutions, and local governments and societal organizations to start cooperating with each other in regional settings in order to realize the enormous potential of local food for global future. The forms of governance depend on the nature of the region and the population density.

Interregional food systems governance is aiming at supporting regional food systems in solving the region transcending problems. National governments have a key role. Transregional food system governance promotes cooperation between regional food systems in different countries, like twinning. In many cases confrontations are observed between international established institutions, stakeholder representatives and societal movements. Handling these confrontations, mitigating the power of monopolistic/oligopolistic competition and eliminating global barriers to serve transregional food systems is part of the transregional governance activities.

KNOWLEDGE AND INNOVATION

A coherent system of knowledge development and innovation is to achieve local food for global future. Specific types of knowledge and innovation are needed for a strong development of the local and regional food systems can help to reduce the knowledge gap between local food systems, endowed with minimal research, and the industrial systems, where much research is invested in the last 70 years. All the knowledge and innovation areas are connected and should be approached holistically.

KNOWLEDGE AND SCIENCE

For achieving relevant knowledge development and innovation for sustainable food security we developed a coherent system of knowledge and innovation, which in fact is a quintile, combining application areas, sciences (basic and aspect disciplines), technology and organization, policy and aid and implementation of the knowledge and innovation system.

In the application areas we focus on the challenges and knowledge issues that are connected with the sustainable food security features. Social issues deal with a number of values: awareness of food, with recovery of producer — consumer links and partnerships based thereon. Economic issues deal with transitions from long, global chains to short, local network cooperation. Ecological issues deal with chemical- (fertilizers- and pesticides-) free agriculture and food, with recovery of biodiversity. Sovereignty issues deal with the right and access to food for all with measures of local and regional accountability. Safety issues deal with building resistance, nutritional value and health. E.g. building resistance can reduce the use of antibiotics. What measures could further be taken to build resistance? Is health promotion a means?

The basic disciplines are of a general nature and should be directed towards the aspect disciplines to serve the local and regional agriculture and food systems. The aspect disciplines relate to local production and processing, social, ecological sciences, economics, and food sciences. Little published information is available on sustainable small-scale local food production and food processing. Combination of healthy soils with the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides is a contradiction. In the ‘Year of the Soil’ (2015) we should study healthy soils without chemical means, a.o. by stimulating agro-ecology. Fortunately in recent years soil and ecology are rediscovered: healthy soils depend on local ecosystems. For reasons of healthy soils all available organic material is needed to bring it back to the soil. So, biofuels are not recommended. This finding questions the bio-economy. And it even questions the usefulness of the Strategy of the European Commission for ‘Innovating for sustainable growth: A bio-economy for Europe’. Fortunately, in the 4th Foresight Exercise of June 2015 there is a Scenario taken into account that assumes that the growth in supply for biomass is low. Local agriculture integrates agriculture, landscape and nature. In the absence of chemical elements, antibiotics and genetic products there are no borders. With these means it is possible to restore degenerated lands and achieve reforestation around the world. Examples are The Loess plateau in China and an example mentioned by Prof. Titonell: Thomas Loronjo in Tanzania. When the rehabilitation and reforestation model is applied on a large scale this could even effect climate change. Something as ‘The Great Wall’, with not only trees, but also fertile land, and not only to stop desertification, but to march up each year to the North.

Food science is the study of food as a means of health improvement through natural production in bio-diverse settings. With respect to food safety the industrial agricultural system focuses on shielding and isolation. Monocultures are held under sanitary control with the application of, even preventive, antibiotics (Pasteur). Another way to ensure health, that should be investigated, is to increase the power of resistance to disease (Béchamp). An example of gastronomic science could be the University of Gastronomic Services in Italy, initiated by Slow Food. Within Soci(et)al sciences the notion of ‘social nearness’ should be developed, to be able to answer questions like: ‘How social is a system?” With today’s technology and social media this concept has also global significance, and can support transregional food systems. For food sovereignty it is necessary to develop regions with no unwanted interference from outside. With Pimbert we suggest applying a systems approach to integrate knowledge and linkages between biodiversity, culture, spirituality and livelihoods.

Economics concerns added value creation by the food producers in cooperation with local partners. Competition and scale effects (deceasing and increasing returns) are important. N.B. Increasing returns are especially important in our digital era. With the absence of free competition the planned free trade agreement TTIP en CETA could disturb the food sovereignty in countries.

TECHNOLOGY AND ORGANIZATION

A general problem with modern technology is not so much a lack but rather an excess of new technological possibilities. Since Schumpeter in the fifties of the last century developed the notion: Creative destruction we live in a different era. We are also dealing with an abundance of technological and digital possibilities that run out of control. Think about genetic engineering, molecular gastronomy, too far-reaching breeding experiments, etc. We need a balancing mechanism, that we call ‘creative moderation’, between our creative possibilities and the control thereof. That asks for a number of skills and capacities. Research is needed for alternative energy sources, like solar and wind energy, and tidal energy. Applications, like excitation, heat-power coupling should be developed to arrive at local equilibriums. As said before, bio-fuels are not at issue. We should turn from breeding on response of volumes to breeding on response of taste and resistance. We need to study various farming systems, like organic, biological or ecological agriculture, biodynamic agriculture, agro-ecology, permaculture and agroforestry. All these systems require specific technologies and organizations Apart from classic biotechnology, and perhaps cisgenesis, all items of nano- and biotechnology are not on the wish list of local food systems. TA remains necessary.

Looking at studies from the biologist De Waal and others we conclude that social beings only can survive in reciprocity. This is a kind of solidarity between the self and the other and can be seen as a balancing mechanism between competition and cooperation. And that asks for a number of capabilities and competences. This principle of ‘reciprocal solidarism’ requires complete new organizational forms and techniques.

POLICY AND AID

Policy and aid can have large influences on the development of agriculture and food. Most important is the switch from a one-dimensional flow of knowledge to a professional dialogue between knowledge workers and local farmers. This can include payment of farmers for their contribution to knowledge development and innovation. Small-scale enterprises, like start-ups, can be very inventive and innovative but they do not have the opportunities to invest in knowledge development.

IMPLEMENTATION

Knowledge management (management of the knowledge process) improves the performance of the local systems. Innovation relate to new ideas, methods and devices and the process of introduction. Create an encouraging environment and a good atmosphere in which to stimulate innovation. An important role in the direct relationships between farmer/producer and citizen/consumer (they meet at the farm, at the market place, in shops and digitally — plays web-sites, social media -, is ICT with endless possibilities. Local money systems can be of help for local food systems. The industrial system succeeded in creating an efficient logistical system worldwide. The local systems can learn a lot of this.

Harry Donkers

Pictures are from Dook van Gils.

June 2021

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