Interviews - issue #4
As global food systems and supply chains have been disrupted by Covid-19, Francis Mwanza, researcher and writer on African and local foods, and former head of office of the United Nations World Food Programme’s London office, UK, introduces a series of interviews looking at how communities around the world are adapting and finding local food security solutions to a pandemic-struck planet.
Many years ago I interviewed a Zambian village elder who warned me against eating processed foods, which are unhealthy and unreliable, and recommended eating local foods. Any talk about local foods, then and now, tends to focus on vegetables, fruits and, sometimes, edible insects like mopane worms or locusts, and very small amounts of meat. This has helped my family during this pandemic as we have been dependent on our garden for cultivated and spontaneous vegetables, just as the elder advised.
Covid-19 has brought renewed global focus on local producers, local foods and food supply systems. It has come at a time when global food needs are at unprecedented levels, with one out of nine people facing hunger every day and a record 168 million already requiring humanitarian assistance.
As the World Food Programme points out, the Covid-19 pandemic is complicating existing crises and threatening to worsen others, with the potential for multiple famines in the coming months. And the UN is reporting that there is now a high risk that the broader disruptive effect of Covid-19 will drive up levels of global food insecurity. Yet one third of the food produced - that could feed all of the world’s vulnerable people - goes to waste.
This pandemic is but one example of likely crises the world faces and should prepare for. Fixing our broken food system is more urgent than ever before. Everyone eats, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. And everyone is involved in the food system, whether the system is local, regional or global.
Unfortunately, the most common system is the agro-industrial system, dominated by a few multinational corporations, flooding markets with predominantly processed foods, which include unhealthy levels of sugar, salt, and fat, leading to health issues like obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes (all risk factors for Covid-19).
With lockdowns, sparked by the spread of coronavirus, the global food system and its global supply chains have been disrupted and continue to be under pressure. The pandemic is negatively and seriously affecting economies and daily life everywhere.
Now, after years marked by limited access to food, particularly for the poorest, rising or often fluctuating prices, ecological threats to seed diversity, and what is generally referred to as “food sovereignty”, Covid-19 is demanding that we hit the reset button on our broken food system.
Local food systems are becoming stronger because of their short supply chain, minimally processed food from local farmers, and food that fits local consumption habits. The push now is for resilient and sustainable food systems for urban centres, peri-urban and rural areas, with increasing emphasis on sufficient and diverse local production, affordable prices, good quality, healthy eating, and a stable food supply.
In major cities, whether it be New York, Kigali, Harare, Bogota, Mumbai, or Lahore, an increasing number of people are responding creatively with non-traditional farming methods: tunnel, vertical and micro gardening. We are now seeing more rooftop gardens in unlikely places in both developed and developing countries.
These methods are helping shorten supply chains, ensuring access to fresh foods, with a smaller carbon footprint compared with the international food supply chain. Restaurants are also engaging in precision indoor gardening. And chefs in the mainstream restaurants are exploring local markets for local ingredients and hitherto little-used food plants.
In Africa and Latin America, for example, it is estimated that some 360 million residents are already engaged in urban or peri-urban local food production. In Fiji, home gardening is being promoted and funded by the government as a direct response to Covid-19 and the challenges of the disrupted food supply chain. And there is another push: a push for “ancestral” foods. There is now a stronger movement trying to protect rare indigenous seeds and take seeds back to tribal communities.
Traditional lifestyles and eating locally-grown or locally-available spontaneous plants are being seen as an effective arsenal to dampen the effects of the broken global food system and improve the health of local communities with nutritional, rich, local foods. While conventional vegetables like cabbage, lettuce and spinach are often heavily dependent on inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides, the cost of which continue to rise and can have negative impacts on the environment, traditional vegetables like amaranth and African egg plant have an advantage because they produce well without such inputs. This holds out the prospect of a broad, hardy, nutritionally-sound local food base, which does not require inputs (that many local farmers cannot afford).
Covid-19 is fuelling the fire for addressing the failures of an inequitable and broken global food system and demanding that we address food security issues differently. As the interviews in this section show, the pandemic may be hurting us and undermining food security for the poorest, but it is also helping to highlight the necessity for thriving local and regional food systems, and focus on Indigenous, sustainable, and nutritious local foods.
MEXICORaúl Mondragón, founder, Colectivo AhuejoteRaúl founded Colectivo Ahuejote to work with farmers in the Xochimilco lake area to the south of Mexico City, first settled by the Aztecs, where floating islands known as chimpanas are farmed according to traditional methods. The organisation’s focus is on building a sustainable agrifood system, connecting the farmers to consumers and local markets through sales networks and eco-tourism.
Colectivo Ahuejote, Mexico.
A chinampa in the Xochimilco lake area to the south of Mexico City.
Colectivo Ahuejote, Mexico.
— Raúl (Mexico)
WTLF How has the pandemic affected you and your community?
Cherrie (Philippines): It was harvest time in the Philippines when the lockdown started in March. A lot of produce was harvested because usually 8 million tourists come to the country for the summer; people are on the beach, and the restaurants need to be supplied. Then all of a sudden this pandemic just collapsed everything. There was produce rotting on farmers’ fields, no market any more, and a lot of restrictions were on the farmers. There was also a stigma around leaving the house with the Covid-19 virus around and a lot of the farming communities were not allowed to leave their houses to go to the farm.
Adriana (Colombia): The Amazon was one of the regions of Colombia most affected by the virus, with a rate of infections per 100,000 inhabitants that was 42.9 times the national average. Food supplies (non-perishable food and some fruits and vegetables that are difficult to grow locally) come to Leticia either by plane from Bogota,from Tabatinga in Brazil, or from Iquitos in Peru. With the lockdown, all borders were closed both for goods and people, and the closure of the airport and ports severely affected the food delivery chain to the region.
Fatmata (Sierra Leone): With experience of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in mind, in which Sierra Leone saw 14,000 cases and nearly 4,000 deaths, the government developed a Covid-19 preparedness plan three weeks before its first case was confirmed. This enabled the Ministry of Health to quickly identify, test and quarantine most of the primary contacts of any cases, limiting the spread of the disease.
Raúl (Mexico): In Mexico the lockdown was not that strict, but people got scared and didn’t want to go out to buy things - so in one way the food system, from the consumer-end, changed. The central market, Central De Abasto, was a red alert place - there were a lot of contagious people - so some producers stopped supplying it and started to look for other channels to gettheir produce out. Walmart and the supermarkets, like Amazon, got very strong because of home delivery. And some social spheres, like the middle classes and upper middle classes, stopped going out to buy their groceries but switched to buying online to get whatever they wanted. For the lower social classes, they have to live, they have to buy day by-day, so they still went to the market.
Samuel (US): When Covid-19 hit New York City, the grocery stores immediately went into chaos. They were unable to keep up with the demand for fresh food due to a breakdown in the nationwide macro food distribution system, in which food is imported from around the world and also travels several states to get here. Not only were stores largely out of produce, but the prices went up. Due to the price spikes and inconsistent availability of fresh produce, many low-income residents and families have been forced to buy what they can afford, which is all highly processed food items. In some areas, I have also seen the price of a couple of large tomatoes costing more than a loaf of bread and peanut butter combined.
Adriana (Colombia): During the first couple of weeks of the lockdown, food price speculation started to be an issue even when there was still enough food to supply the local market. This was more to do with a move by local supermarkets to make the most out of the beginning of the crisis and the panic-shopping wave that hit as soon as the lockdown was announced.
Fatmata (Sierra Leone): With the closure of restaurants and hotels in Sierra Leone, demand for higher end food categories, such as meat and fresh produce, was already depressed. In the medium- to long-term, demand is likely to fall further as more people could lose their jobs, disproportionately affecting low-income earners and informal jobs in urban and rural areas. Given that lower-income households often spend 60% to 70% of their incomes on food, even a moderate reduction could lead to nutritional problems from skipping meals, reducing caloric intake, or switching to cheaper but less nutritious foods. This is likely to be exacerbated by school closures, given that school meals and our Slow Food Schools Gardens programme are often a major source of nutrition for children.
Shishir (India): The pandemic affected everyone, but most of all the marginalised communities living in underprivileged pockets across the city. Mumbai is home to around 7.1 million migrants. These people were mostly employed as daily wage labourers or engaged in menial jobs, many in the infrastructure and construction business. The lockdown adversely impacted this informal sector by completely pausing their wages.
UKJim Sheeran, manager, St Raphael Edible GardenJim manages the St Raphael Edible Garden, which is based on St Raphael’s estate, the most disadvantaged neighbourhood in Brent, London. The garden also hosts the Sufra food bank and community hub, which distributes food and support to vulnerable people and families living in extreme poverty, helping them to survive, improve their wellbeing, and find work to become financially stable.
St Raphael’s Edible Garden.
St Raphael Edible Garden in Brent, UK.
Rodney Dawkins, who has lived on St Raphael’s Estate with his wife for eight years, had never seriously contemplated eating from the plot to the table before the pandemic struck. Furloughed from his job as a warehouse supervisor, and with his children back home from university, gardening his patch has provided him with space and a sense of purpose. “It was just a bushy garden full of weeds before the lockdown”, he says. Now he is growing tomatoes, peas, lettuce, green beans, cabbage, peppers, and lemon and orange trees. He says it has given him a greater appreciation for nature, and by replacing a daily intake of chocolate with strawberries he has improved his diet. “Compared to the food from the supermarkets this is much fresher and tastes much sweeter,” he says. Although far from self-sufficient, he adds, it has also been a money saver.
Not all new growers have a garden. Claudette Drummond lives in a top floor flat in a block on St Raphael’s Estate but the lack of space hasn’t prevented her from growing potted brussels sprouts, tomatoes, lavender and rosemary along the walkway. “I’m hoping the pumpkin plant will go all the way up the drainpipe and around the kitchen window,” she says.
— Jim (UK)
Jim (UK): Our food bank in north London had a huge increase in demand for food from people who lost their jobs. The produce in our garden wasn’t hugely affected because it was the start of the growing season, but our volunteers didn’t have the opportunity to devote their time to coming once a week to the garden - they were told to stay away - and it affected them mentally. It didn’t have an impact on growing produce because I diverted my attention from my management responsibilities to focus on growing.
Alpha (Trinidad and Tobago): When the pandemic got to Trinidad we were on a full lockdown, everywhere closed down, and everyone wanted to plant something because that was like the most common activity to do. No one knew what was going to happen with food. So everyone was trying to secure their own plate.
Adriana (Colombia): During the crisis Indigenous communities were able to rely on their chagras (smallholdings) to produce a large part of their food, and most of them either fished or hunted to provide their families with animal protein. In many communities we visited, people told us that before the pandemic, they were not working the land because they were getting income from tourism, but now most families have gone back to work their chagras with the realisation that food sovereignty is critical for their people. For most of the city dwellers, the food and economic crisis was more severe as most of them do not have space to grow their own food, and a large proportion of the population derive their income either from tourism-related activities, commerce, or from the informal economy.
COLOMBIAAdriana Bueno,founder, Hábitat SurAdriana founded Hábitat Sur to highlight and preserve the social, cultural and ecological wealth of the Amazon. Her organisation runs the Hábitat Sur Nature Reserve, a responsible tourism project based on agroecological principles; the NgüeChica Cultural Centre, which focuses on the intergenerational transmission of knowledge from the elders of the Indigenous Tikuna, Yagua and Kokama tribes to the younger generations; and El Rastrojo Cultural and Environmental Centre, a local market on the outskirts of Leticia for artists, artisans, farmers, and entrepreneurs.
Hábitat Sur, Colombia.
— Adriana (Colombia)
Jim (UK): There was a chronic shortfall of topsoil and compost because everybody was ordering these. It was very difficult to get hold of seeds and there were also delays in receiving plot plants. The whole world ground to a halt due to shortages of goods and delays in delivery. Placing orders online was difficult as well.
Fatmata (Sierra Leone): This pandemic imposed shocks on all the parts of the food supply chains, simultaneously affecting farm production, food processing, transport, logistics, and final demand. Many farm owners in the Kenema District reported high rates of worker absences. For example, farm worker availability was reduced by up to 35% among the kola nut producers in the regions of the country worst hit by Covid-19. The government made encouraging steps to allow the agriculture sector to continue to operate during lockdowns and movement restrictions, including recognising agriculture as an essential service. But there was a lot of uncertainty over what was allowed and what wasn’t.
Shishir (India): As the lockdown began it was about providing cooked meals for the hungry. Mumbai was in economic shutdown. Kitchens were shut, which meant no manpower. Borders were shut, which meant procurement of raw material for cooking was a challenge.To add to it, the virus was spreading fast, which meant there was no one to transport or deliver anything.
Cherrie (Philippines): Logistics were not available. So if you got a truck to drive your produce to the city, there was no driver. They were all afraid to drive from the mountains to Metro Manila, which is the central business district of the Philippines, composed of 16 mega cities, with a population of around 13 million people.They were afraid that they would bring the virus back to their community. So it was a nightmare. If you go to a supermarket it takes two hours minimum of your time; you have to go through the line, following the physical social distancing, and there is only a limited selection.
Adriana (Colombia): We saw a shortage in local produce like fruits, vegetables and staples such as plantain and cassava, which are grown by Indigenous farmers.They were on lockdown in their communities as a measure imposed by the Indigenous authorities to protect their people from the virus. Fish was also scarce since the lockdown started as fishermen from the communities were not allowed to enter the city, and the main fish and farmers market in Leticia was shut down.
USSamuel S.T. Pressman, founder, Samuel’s Food GardensSamuel founded Samuel’s Food Gardens in Brooklyn, New York, to inspire and teach city dwellers how to grow food at home. His first rooftop garden was built during the pandemic, in May 2020, on a rooftop patio in Brooklyn to provide food for himself and his flatmates, and he has partnered with the RETI Center to work on food security and rapid resilience health initiatives like Covid-19 testing and mask handouts.
Samuel’s Food Gardens, US.
Samuel’s Food Gardens, US.
— Samuel (US)
WTLF: How are you addressing the issues raised by the pandemic?
Cherrie (Philippines): We launched the Move Food initiative, bringing food from rural farms to Metro Manila. We helped the farmers bring their produce to the market, but rather than restaurants, the markets were now households or individuals. So we created an online ordering system for them.
Alpha (Trinidad and Tobago): We started a movement called Plant Yuh Plate, literally planting what you want to consume on your plate. We started providing seeds and seedlings, and soil and growboxes. It generated revenue as well as starting to build a community. Based on the food we have on the farm, and in collaboration with neighbouring farmers, we also developed a project called Dash-een Yuh Doorstep market (dasheen is a tropical plant that produces edible corns), which is essentially a food box that is delivered to your doorstep, focused especially on the elderly people in the community, because they are the most vulnerable ones and they don’t want to come out to the market.
Adriana (Colombia): Before the national lockdown was imposed, foreseeing the food-related issues that it would create in the region, Hábitat Sur and La Confianza (our family’s company) partnered to start a food security initiative we called La Cosecha - Trueque Amazónico (the harvest Amazonian barter). The main aim of this initiative was to guarantee local food security.
Shishir (India): Project Mumbai has been at the forefront of the Covid-19 fight in Mumbai and this region. What started out as a volunteer-driven support to provide meals, medicines and groceries to senior citizens living alone, soon also led to providing cooked meals to doctors and hospital kitchens of all the frontline hospitals - almost 1,500 a day. Project Mumbai also provided grocery kits to over 20,000 families, and we co-founded a citizen-driven mission to provide cooked meals to the increasing numbers of hungry people. The initiative, which is called Khaanachahiye, has at last count provided over 4,500,000 meals across the Mumbai metropolitan region.
Raúl (Mexico): Our main task, during the pandemic, was how to be an alternative for those people who were not going out, how can we get to their houses. So we targeted the middle classes with food delivery to their houses and from collection points. And for the lower classes, we sold in the public market.
Samuel (US): I am currently in talks with Rethink Food, working to take leftover food from restaurants and stores, from which their chefs create a delicious recipe, and their cooks prepare those meals to distribute each week. I am looking to contribute high nutrient microgreens and herbs to use for the cooking. They distribute hundreds of meals each week to low-income populations throughout Brooklyn.
Jim (UK): When Covid-19 came along, I thought: “There are a lot of empty back yards out there, I wonder if I could do something useful with raised beds?” So I made 10 of them and went round the neighbours and asked them if they wanted a hand to sort out their patches. It improved the profile of our expertise and helped our neighbours realise their ability to grow food. It took on a life of its own and our neighbours are now growing their own vegetables to supplement their consumption.
PHILIPPINESCherrie Atilano, founder and CEO, AGREACherrie founded AGREA to focus on sustainable agriculture in the Philippines, a country of more than 7,000 islands. The country is reliant on Vietnam and Thailand for rice, and food imports are flown or shipped to the islands. AGREA is working to connect local farmers with local markets, and promote gardening and farming to ensure food security for the country.
— Cherrie (Philippines)
SIERRA LEONEFatmata Mansaray, Kenema Kola Nut producer, member of the Slow Food NetworkFatmata is a community educator and an activist in the fields of sustainable agriculture and development. She is active in the 10,000 Gardens in Africa project, which includes the establishment of gardens in schools to provide healthy food for schoolchildren. She is committed to the diffusion of slow food values, consumer education, training the next generation, and promoting local biodiversity.
Kola nuts being prepared. After the nuts are removed from the husks they are soaked in water for about 24 hours to soften the skin, which is then removed by hand.
Farmer and primary school teacher Mustapha Moigua harvesting the kola nut from the Cola nitida tree in the Kenema District of Sierra Leone.
— Fatmata (Sierra Leone)
Adriana (Colombia): In the first week of the lockdown, my brother took a group of workers, fully equipped with protective gear, and a truck full of non-perishable food and personal and home cleaning products, and drove to the furthest Indigenous settlement that can be accessed by land. We had previously coordinated with the Indigenous leaders, so when we arrived, dozens of families were already waiting with bags full of lemons, oranges, yuca, plantains, bananas, papayas and many other fruits to be exchanged for what we had brought. No money was involved. We mutually agreed on the value of each product to be bartered and we used our own currency, which we call semillas (seeds),to facilitate the exchange. Then in Bogota, we set up a door-to-door delivery system to bring baskets of fresh produce to families in the city, encouraging them to eat local and to support Amazon farmers. By leveraging donations from different sources we were able to give the baskets to the most vulnerable families in the city, a side of the initiative we called La Cosecha Solidaria (the solidarity harvest). Through this system we delivered more than 4,000 food baskets to families during the quarantine.
Raúl (Mexico): We cannot compete with a Walmart, but we tried to be an alternative in terms of logistics, because people wanted grocery delivery, and an alternative in sales. Through WhatsApp groups we have built a business sales programme. When the restrictions got really tough in April, May, and June, the sales went up 420% for three months.
Cherrie (Philippines): We used Viber, a mobile messaging service, to work with people who had access to their community Viber group. And most of the time these Viber groups, for example the one in our village, were around 800 household members, and we sold there. So during the pandemic, each village or each subdivision of apartments developed a Viber group, or a Whatsapp group, or a Facebook group. And these groups were like an online marketplace: someone was selling meat, someone was selling cakes, everyone was in their house, everyone was sharing recipes, everyone was cooking. Someone was even selling alcohol and masks. It was like a marketplace put together by different households. Instead of going down the department store or supermarket, you just needed to message your Viber group and they delivered to you. It was more of a village, or community-based ecosystem, that’s happening: a village industry.
Alpha (Trinidad and Tobago): We created a WhatsApp group to reach people. Plant Yuh Plate became a big community in our WhatsApp group. It was created for beginners, people with an interest in planting but no clue how to do it. We have one or two experts in the group, actual agronomists, so they provide really good sound information. We exchange knowledge, exchange information, exchange produce - we barter.
Cherrie (Philippines): Ordering online was easy, but bringing the food was difficult. We were hustling to bring the produce in 12 hours to Metro Manila to the customers who needed it, but with this initiative we saved around 173,000 kilos of fruit and vegetables, helping around 11,000 farmers, and feeding around 68,000 households. If you think the average household in the Philippines is around seven people, then that’s almost half a million people that we fed with fresh produce. We also donated to community kitchens that cooked for front liners, so we fed around 4,000 doctors, nurses, guards, and hospital staffers.
Adriana (Colombia): As we continued visiting communities every week, more families from more communities joined, getting to the point where around 1,000 families from around ten different Indigenous communities were participating in the barter every month. These interactions created a beautiful bond of trust between us and community members, as our only commitment was to be there every week for each other, and our only tie was our word. Alpha (Trinidad and Tobago): With the Dash-een Yuh Doorstep market, a lot of the elderly folks, who are the clients,rated our delivery service, so it was just an interaction, but I believe in giving people more value. Sometimes you went to drop off a bag of food to an elderly person and they may just have been there, no one to talk to, and while you might have been busy they may have started conversations and you just put a smile on their face. So we provided food, we provided a smile, and I think that added more to their day.
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGOAlpha Sennon, founder, WhyFarmAlpha launched WhyFarm in 2015 to promote sustainable agriculture to young people through what he terms agri-edutainment. WhyFarm also runs the Farmers Collective, through which new farmers come together and exchange labour, goods, and products. One of WhyFarm’s signature projects is the creation of a superhero character called Agriman, the world’s most powerful food provider, who is there to ensure that children eat healthily and don’t waste one grain of rice.
WhyFarm, Trinidad and Tobago.
— Alpha (Trinidad and Tobago)
WTLF: What does the future hold for your community and the world at large?
Fatmata: In Sierra Leone, countless people are struggling to make it through the day. That has always been true, and it remains true now; this virus has categorically not affected all people equally. The most vulnerable are those living in poverty and those forced to leave their homes because of conflict, disaster, or the lack of decent work locally. At the same time,the pandemic has shown us that pathways to a better future do exist - a future in which we can work together to build a different kind of society and find ways of protecting our planet instead of harming it.
Cherrie (Philippines): During the lockdown a lot of our movers, who helped us sell fruit and vegetables in their complexes, messaged us saying it’s the first time they’ve got to know their neighbours, so we are going back to the basics of knowing each other, and taking care of our neighbours, sharing with our neighbours what our grandmother is cooking or selling. The urban community is getting stronger, and there is huge recognition of how valuable agriculture is, that agriculture is the mother of all industries. You cannot forget agriculture to grow your own economy as a country. And to achieve food security globally I would encourage everyone to learn how to enjoy growing your own food.
Adriana (Colombia): I think the world has been rapidly changing for decades now. This pandemic is just another ring of the bell to make us wake up and see all the damage human activities have cost the environment-making us realise thateverything we do to our planet we do it to ourselves. Food sovereignty is the only way to untangle ourselves and our communities from that web. If you cannot grow your own food then eat what is locally produced, know where your food comes from, support small famers even when their tomatoes might not look as big, red and shiny as the ones produced in laboratories. But, be assured, they will be more delicious, healthier, and your purchase will be helping to sustain a family.
Fatmata (Sierra Leone): At the heart of food sovereignty lies radical egalitarianism. The attainment of such an objective entails building a society in which the equality-distorting effects of sexism, patriarchy, racism and class power have been eradicated and in which democracy can truly operate.
Jim (UK): People in England need to realise that getting mangetout from South Africa, for example, cannot be taken for granted. It continues the poverty cycle because the profit goes to whoever is selling the product on the shelf, the fuel and transport, and the people at source are probably paid very little. In that sense it’s criminal because people can easily grow on a seasonal basis on their front door. And people need to realise that to pick something from a vine, give it a wipe and put it in your mouth does not kill you. But people are very reticent to get their hands dirty. We need to change the perspective on that.
Alpha (Trinidad and Tobago): Every location, every locality, should focus on their local farmers. A local production would be way better for gaps in food security in the world and, of course, another aspect of food security that people often forget is nutrition. We need to understand and go back to making food our medicine, and not medicine our food. It’s about changing those conversations into action. Now is the time for less talk, more walk.
Raúl (Mexico): The pandemic showed that farm to table is pretty easy to do, because all those factories with all that manufacturing that makes your
food live longer, they are all closed, so there’s nowhere to go but from the farm straight to your table.
INDIAShishir Joshi, co-founder, Project Mumbai Shishir founded Project Mumbai in 2018 as a not for profit to promote civic empowerment and volunteering. During the pandemic Project Mumbai was a partner in the launch of Khaanachahiye, an initiative to provide food relief to people affected by the lockdown, feeding over 6 million people across the region.
Project Mumbai, India.
— Shishir (India)
Cherrie (Philippines): Hopefully now we can consolidate the system we developed in lockdown for the farming communities to unite so we can serve the demands of these growing urban communities. So what I’m looking for after this, hopefully, is that the rural community will also respond to that.
Samuel (US): New York City’s future is complicated, as is the case for any coastal city or giant city with little open land still available.The reality is that cities in general have a drastic imbalance in pervious to impervious land ratios. The historical act of paving over large tracts of natural ground and creating countless forms of barriers against natural water and resource flow has led to the expensive issues of flooding, urban heat island, pollution of air, water, and soil, and great loss of biodiversity. If cities want to achieve goals like New York City’s zero waste by 2030, urban-heatisland solutions by 2040, or no more fossil fuels by 2050, it is vital that they look to rezone to allow for more access to land, go all-in with investing in urban ecological re-integration in general, and rapidly scale localised food systems.
Shishir (India): I think the way forward is a more respectable public-private-partnership [between government and civic society]. The need is for the state to respect the role of the non-profit sector. During our experiences distributing food through the Covid-19 lockdown, we realised our goal to improve the crisis management infrastructure in Mumbai, and that it could be achieved working alongside the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai and the State Government of Maharashtra. There is a lack of actionable data about the severity of hunger in Mumbai. So we will be conducting data analyses to generate a “hunger map”. It is the first project of its kind in this country, and we will design interventions based on our analyses, to ensure an adequate level of nutrition in the population and ensure effective implementation of government policies aimed at reducing poverty and vulnerability in urban poor households.
Adriana (Colombia): Many small changes are feasible at a larger scale. For example, if the government is already investing in large housing projects for the most vulnerable families, why not try, for instance, organising the available space so that each family can have a small garden to plant some of their food. This would have a huge impact on the local food system.
Jim (UK): If more people took up gardening that would be a step in the right direction. When you get your hands dirty and work on a micro scale you are going to see that it is making a difference. Everybody needs to be inspired to take that first step. Individuals making small differences that impact their local community will help to bring change over time.
Adriana (Colombia): I believe first individuals, then families, neighbourhoods, schools, small towns and communities can commit to a more sustainable and harmonious way of inhabiting their territories. Introducing changes in the way we build our home, produce our food and energy, nourish the soil, and treat our water and our waste, to set an example that shows others that these small changes are possible in our context and with resources that are available locally for everyone who wants to implement them.
Raúl (Mexico): In Mexico City, the three most rural boroughs are really disconnected from the centre. We need to bring the citizens together so they can enjoy these city dynamics, and not wait for the tomato that comes from the northern states, because we have the tomato here. It’s a clichéd statement, but I always think that it’s real: act local, think global. Doing small changes in your own place, we can go bigger out there.
Cherrie (Philippines): For me, during this “new normal”, I want to say that we always focus on sustainability, but I guess resilience is more powerful. And to go to our resilience we need to be resilient as individuals, and that is really going back to the land, utilising our land properly, eating healthily from our own produce. But at the same time building that strong sense of com
Resetting Global Food Systems