Saturday, March 14, 2015

Pathways to Sustainability through Food Sovereignty and Agroecology: a Holistic Approach

This post is based on a presentation I did at a sustainability symposium at the University of Waikato a few weeks ago.

Food sovereignty and agroecology have been the focus of much academic attention in recent years, although very little has been published on these topics in a New Zealand context. These paradigms have been instrumental in highlighting multifaceted problems of social and environmental exploitation emerging from the existing industrialised food systems and identifying more sustainable solutions. This presentation draws on preliminary findings from doctoral research focused on food sovereignty in New Zealand. Qualitative data was were gathered through ethnographic fieldwork and in-depth interviews with people who produce, organise and distribute local food in a small coastal New Zealand township, as well as in several contrasting settings. It presents diverse understandings around organic and local food, environmental protection, community resilience and living economies. The findings are that genuine pathways to sustainability are possible through agricultural models based on ecosystems and indigenous knowledge systems, and through the proliferation and support of small-scale community initiatives.

Sustainability has become a catchword…

A linguistic representation of a cultural shift in perspective that has increasingly necessary in the face of emerging global crises – climate, food, waste, energy and inequality

This wave has reached the point where it’s no longer just a few hippies waving placards, it is increasingly ubiquitous

The movement that first became mainstream for my generation with the likes of Captain Planet has now reached critical mass

But does this mean the words are being over-used? Green-washed?

Has sustainability lost meaning? Has it been corporatised?

A critical perspective is important here…

While there is plenty to be critical of, it is also helpful to look for solutions, to find working models and inspiration

Genuine sustainability must come from the grass-roots, upward. It must be holistic and multi-faceted.

Economic, social and environmental – genuine sustainability is synonymous with healthy interconnected ecosystems.

Agroecology is a whole-systems approach to agriculture and food systems development based on traditional knowledge, alternative agriculture, and local food system experiences: linking ecology, culture, economics, and society to sustain agricultural production, healthy environments, and viable food and farming communities. It's also a less ‘hippy’ term for permaculture

Permaculture (permanent agriculture/culture) is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems

Consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fibre and energy for provision of local needs.

It is a system which can be applied to anything – society/community, economics…

Sparked in 1996 by Vía Campesina, an international peasant movement representing more than 180 international organisations advocating for peasants, migrant agricultural workers, indigenous food providers and small-scale farmers.

Food sovereignty is about:
  •   Producing food for people, not for the global commodity market
  •   Valuing food producers
  •   Localising food systems
  •   Local control over resources
  •   Building skills and knowledge
  •   Working with Nature

This local food map was made by one of the local groups in Whaingaroa, where my research is based.

Whaingaroa is a dynamic community engaged in activities related to food sovereignty

Groups and initiatives are closely interconnected

There is a strong focus on ‘local’, ‘organic’, ‘sustainable’

There is still a long way to go....
Supermarket culture: a lot of food is still purchased from the town supermarkets or from Hamilton
Not enough local food producers yet (more coming?)
Poverty and social exclusion vs the ‘green bubble’

Interconnectedness is key

Food sovereignty is about relationships

What can we learn from the local food producers of Whaingaroa?
* People can lead incredibly rich lives without much material wealth
* Balancing the economic, social and environmental  - and viewing them as interconnected
* There are strong critiques, here, of the corporate food system: control, ecological damage and exploitation
* People have gotten too disconnected from food: need to reconnect, Food needs to be real
* Food should be: local, sustainably produced, safe and abundant.
* There is a strong focus on supporting local food producers: avoiding competition, working together
* There is also a strong focus on respecting indigenous values and learning from indigenous wisdom

Indigenous systems have been developed alongside ecological systems – necessarily –

We can learn a lot from ecological systems, from the indigenous knowledge systems in our local landscape

Without considering the flows and cycles of ecosystems, without considering ourselves part of them, we cannot move past sustainability as a catchword

Through understanding the interconnectedness we can repair fragmented ontologies, heal rifts and avoid environmental, social and economic exploitation.

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