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Video
Community Supported Agriculture and Climate Change

How does the Social Solidarity Economy (SSE) contribute to the fight against global warming? Judith Hitchman, President of Urgenci, explains the role of Community Supported Agriculture and its benefits in mitigating our impact on the climate.

Written by Judith Hitchman, President of Urgenci

Climate change, or climate crisis as it is now more correctly called, is the elephant in the room. Everyone knows it is there, and is acting as though it is invisible. Yet it is the single most deadly threat to humanity and life on earth. This September will see several key global events, from the Climate Action Summit to the Global Climate Strike from September 20th to 27th.

Sadly, when you work deeply on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at UN level, you fast realise that they are built on an inherent growth model that continues to exploit more planetary reserves and fossil fuels than our planet or climate can support. And that the indicators that exist can not be changed. But that should not and hopefully will not stop us from acting on the ground!

Yet although we have probably now reached the tipping point where the damage to our climate has become irreversible, we can still do much to mitigate the impacts. And indeed we must address the issues as urgently as possible, with legal frameworks at State and Local Authority level. Placing the responsibility on individual consumers is not and can not provide more than a sticking plaster on the haemorrhage of runaway climate change.

So let us look at some of the aspects where it might be possible to make small but significant impacts to mitigate the burning issues. And burning they are right now, from the Amazon to the Arctic…

The benefits of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

Peasant agriculture, small-scale family farming, artisinal fisheries and Indigenous practice combine in agroecology to provide us with a science, a practice and a social movement that includes solidarity economy. This has been recognised by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in the 10 Elements of Agroecology. And short/direct food chains, especially Community Supported Agriculture can be placed high on the list of linking producers to consumers to build sustainable territorial food systems. The Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model works on the basis of a tandem of producer/consumer direct localised solidarity-based relations, and has the concept of shared risks and benefits at the heart of the concept.

How does CSA benefit the climate? Well firstly, agroecological practice involves using no chemical inputs or plastics (in some cases this may involve a transitional period). It uses techniques such as mulching and cover crops as well as the use of good old-fashioned manure as fertiliser. And it is possible to fight insects and pests through either companion crops or natural insecticides produced on-farm. So no fossil fuels or externalisation involved.

There are also a number of ways in which the impact on the soil can be minimised, such as ‘no till’ or using draft horses to plough the fields. Again, no fossil fuels involved. In the case of harvesting, much is done manually as well, as in the case of Rupert Dunn, a wonderful peasant-baker who grows his own heritage grains in Wales, and harvests the fields using a scythe! In most CSAs, there are also farm days when the CSA members come and help on the farm. My grandsons soon learnt that picking up potatoes on their CSA was hard, back-breaking work. They now have a new appreciation of what work goes into the potato crop!

As the climate becomes increasingly unstable, it is essential to use local peasant seeds that can adapt progressively to these changes. They stand a far better chance of resilience, compared with hybrid or even GM- CRISPR modified seeds sold by the big seed companies. They are also far higher in nutritional value, both instrinsically and because the soil is healthy, living soil with a rich micro-biome. Which leads to a healthy human micro-biome and healthier, happier people!

In terms of nutrition, climate change is set to reduce the nutritional value of food in a serious way. The agroecological approach and fast food-to-fork turn over means that nutritional value is optimised. Many greens lose 30% of their nutritional value and vitamins in particular after the first 3 days. Chemical inputs (pesticides and fetilisers) are now proven to cause over 20% more cancers than a diet of organic/agroecologically grown food. So imagine if your salad is grown in the South of Spain, on a farm using chemical inputs, and has travelled for several days to reach your supermarket…

The impact of our current model

The global trend is also the capture of the complete food chain by the industrial food companies (the same groups as those who own the seeds, the inputs, and the farms also own the food processing companies and supermarket chains…). Sadly “cheap” processed food and ready meals that are high in fat and sugar are widely bought by many consumers. People have in many cases forgotten how to cook, if indeed they ever knew how, which is the norm for many of the younger generation. This represents a quadruple danger: the destruction of the environment and climate change through industrial agriculture; the myth of “cheap” food based on exploitation of labour and lack of real nutritional content in the food (calories versus nutrition is a serious global issue); the excessive use of fossil fuel in the processing, transport and excessive packaging. And finally the cost of excessive healthcare linked to obesity and Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) from eating an unhealthy diet.

This article would not be complete without some mention of climate change and the management of our rivers and oceans. Excessive chemical inputs on large industrial conventional farms and release of slurry has created a very toxic situation for many of our rivers through the run-off first into streams and rivers and then into the oceans. And this in turn contributes to the acidification of our oceans. And just as large-scale industrial farms are producing poor quality meat and vegetables, industrial fisheries are destroying the oceans. Artisinal fishers can provide local communities with fresh fish, and there are a growing number of Community Supported Fisheries that operate in the same way as Community Supported Agriculture. Urgenci is currently working to develop this activity.

In terms of sustainable territorial food systems, and CSA in particular, there is also a low carbon footprint concerning the delivery from farms to the eaters. Delivery points are often in the schools or a neighbourhood café, so parents can easily access these points without having to use their car any more than they already would be using it. It is aslo quite common to have multiple producers deliver at the same point, thus allowing consumers to do a ‘one-stop-shop’ just like at the supermarket. Except that it is far more convivial!

The importance of community lands

There is also a shift to the remunicipalisation and relocalisation of public procurement: moving to local food production and preparation for school meals and Green Public Procurement is a strong emerging trend in many cities. It can even involve Community Land Trusts, or use local Municipal Land to grow the food. The question of land is indeed one of the key issues today in building sustainable territorial food systems and guaranteed urban rural linkages. Green belts need to be preserved to ensure food production can continue, and access to land for young producers also needs to be facilitated.

Community Land Trusts are one of the key ways of doing this, as well as incubator farms and agroecology farmer-to-farmer field training schools. Local Authorities have a vital role to play in facilitating these aspects. Good policy exists in terms of the FAO Voluntary Guidelines on the Governance and Tenure of Land, Forests and Fisheries, as well as the Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Small-scale Fisheries. Likewise, there are a growing number of farmer-led and consumer led co-operative shops, and many different manifestations of a growing movement to relocalise our food systems and fight climate change. This shift is clearly aligned with many values of solidarity economy, generally involves participatory governance, and has the growing implication of Local Authorities at different levels. Different mechanisms exist to ensure affordability for those who are socially excluded.

The commitment to CSA does involve learning to use what is in your weekly share and to cook somewhat differently than if you make a shopping list and go to the supermarket, but it is a collective adventure and generally a return to how our grandparents ate and cooked. Community Supported Agriculture and Community Supported Fisheries are by far the most committed model, and the fight to re-appropriate our food system through food sovereignty and the right to food lies at the core. Human rights are indivisible. The rights of Mother Earth and the right to a healthy nutritious diet are closely linked and at the core of our fight to stop runaway climate change.

Good food is good for Europe

Translation of the article in Italian “Il cibo buono fa bene all’Europa” by Manlio Masucci, in Comune.info, 6 May 2019

A common agricultural policy that focuses on food quality, agroecology and the social rights of those who work can relaunch the EU in crisis. Olivier De Shutter, president of Ipes-Food, speaks to us.

A common agricultural policy could make a decisive contribution to the development of sustainable food systems and the relaunch of the EU’s integration project. An ambitious proposal, destined to face the numerous challenges that characterize the sector: from the low-cost junk food that floods our markets to the new generation of commercial treaties, from the widespread illegality to the exploitation of workers to the system of public subsidies that facilitate the large standardized mass production. We asked Olivier De Shutter, co-chairman of Ipes-Food, former UN Special Commissioner for the Right to Food and current member of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, how to address these problems at a time when public confidence in the EU seems to be at an all-time low.

De Shutter, citizens are harassed by the economic crisis and often choose to save money by buying bad quality food at low cost. How to convince them that this is not the best solution? The solution is not just to tell people to eat healthier food. We need to make the health option easier for everyone, especially for low-income groups. This means using a range of tools – urban planning, tax incentives (e.g. taxes on sodas or zero VAT on fruits and vegetables) and public procurement – to build healthy food environments. We need an adequate social safety net. Cheap calories can no longer replace social policies, which need to be rebuilt and redesigned to address the root causes of poverty and promote access to healthy food for all. Europe is approving new trade treaties that open the door to waves of junk food and feed unsustainable production systems. What is your position? The EU’s business model promotes trade in goods at ever-increasing volumes, despite contradictions with health and sustainability objectives. For example, the FTA with Japan is based on increased export opportunities in the high-emission meat and dairy sectors. Simply put, the EU and its Member States must completely rethink this model.

The report supports the need to rebuild confidence in the EU. Could a new food policy be the vehicle for relaunching the proEuropean project? Food is a source of great concern for citizens. By acting in this area and responding to what citizens want – healthy, sustainable and locally produced food – the EU can assert its relevance and importance. The idea of a food policy is inherently more democratic than current sectoral policies. By shifting the focus from agriculture to food, a wider range of stakeholders can be significantly involved in policy design and evaluation. How can a new food policy benefit workers in the sector? In Italy there is the phenomenon of immigrants forced to work in the fields in conditions of similar slavery. How to deal with widespread illegality? The most powerful actors in the food sector are able to put pressure on wages and working conditions. The cost of this is borne by farm labourers, fast food personnel and delivery personnel. This is happening in the EU and around the world. A common food policy would address this problem on three fronts. First, as well as applying due diligence to food importers, it would accelerate the reforms already underway at European level to crack down on unfair trade practices and abuses of buyer power in supply chains. Secondly, it would oblige operators to disclose the true costs of food production, allowing negative impacts on workers’ welfare to be made visible.Third, a common food policy would refocus EU policies in support of the alternative food system and short supply chain initiatives to ensure fair revenues for farmers and food workers.

In Italy 15% of the cultivated area is organic but about 97% of public incentives go to conventional agriculture. We are also well above the European average for pesticide consumption. Could a common policy help to improve this situation? A common food policy would reduce dangerous pesticides and chemical exposures by using various policy instruments, with increasing ambition over time. Steps to enhance the environmental vocation of the CAP would be combined with measures needed to develop diversified, low-input agroecological systems through research, better soil monitoring and a crackdown on endocrine disrupters (EDCs) in food packaging. With more stringent regulations, and demonstrating the benefits of agroecological alternatives, the EU would no longer be held hostage by short-term solutions. Therefore, in the long term, the EU could gradually phase out the systematic use of harmful pesticides such as glyphosate.

Young Italians are looking with increasing interest at the land for job opportunities while farmers’ markets are growing even in large cities. How can a common food policy support this process? Building shorter and fairer supply chains is one of the five key objectives of a common food policy. Tools already exist to support direct sales and short supply chains (e.g. in rural development), but they are rarely adopted by Member States and poorly implemented. Under a common food policy, more funding would be allocated to these initiatives and to local structures to support them through, for example, local food policy councils and urban food policies. Member States would be obliged to develop coherent strategies to support short supply chains and territorial initiatives. EU support instruments would also be redefined to be more accessible to small farmers and local food initiatives.

No Agroecology without farmers and Conscious Consumers !
April 19, 2018
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The 2nd International Symposium on Agroecology took place at the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) headquarters in Rome, 3-5 April 2018.

700 participants, representing Member States, FAO agencies, farmers’ unions, civil society organisations and social movements as well as researchers from all over the world exchanged on their practices and visions of agroecology.

Urgenci, the international network of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) raised the voice and the visibility of local solidarity alliances between producers and consumers from all parts of the world. Jointly with the other Civil Society actors from the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty, Urgenci supported a clear common message: without women, there is no Agroecology, without small-scale food producers, there is no Agroecology, without conscious consumers, there is no Agroecology.

In their various interventions, Urgenci delegates stressed the importance of the role of conscious consumers in scaling up agroecology:

“A global consumers’ movement exists today. This movement is creative and diverse and stands for a vision of agroecology that is clearly connected to food sovereignty and solidarity economy , said Judith Hitchman, President of Urgenci, during one of the plenaries.”

Shi Yan, President of the Chinese CSA movement and Vice President of Urgenci shared her experience as a CSA farmer outside Beijing as one of the keynote speakers during the opening session.

Community Supported Agriculture and other types of local solidarity based partnerships between producers and consumers all contribute to many of the Sustainable Development Goals. They should be considered as a central element of the Scaling Up of Agroecology initiative that was unveiled by the FAO.

Nevertheless, several aspects of the implementation of this Scaling up initiative require caution on Urgenci’s part. Especially, that of major investors and large private sector operators who lay claim to agroecology, coopting the principles of peasant agroecology without transparency and accountability. Most importantly, there is a need to tirelessly refer to the fundamental systemic, social, environmental and political changes implied by peasant agroecology.

As the Forum was closing, Simon Todzro, an Urgenci International Committee member from Togo, declared: « Although the FAO scaling up initiative shows a clear paradigm shift, we will continue our own daily work of scaling out, farmer-to-farmer, eater-to-eater dissemination of alternative food partnerships and practicing peasant agroecology on the ground in Africa and around the world ».

By Urgenci, Rome, 5 April 2018.

Solidarity Economy, Agroecology and Food Sovereignty: building bridges and strengthening transformative solutions

Convenor: Judith Hitchman (URGENCI)

The Nyéléni Forum on Agroecology took place in Mali in February 2015. The Declaration clearly identifies solidarity economy as one of the keys for achieving food sovereignty. It is not a set of production techniques or mere production practices.

One of the key bridging movements between the food sovereignty and solidarity economy is Community Supported Agriculture. There are also other emerging trends that connect producers and consumers through direct or genuine short food distribution chains: local food coop shops, farmers’ collective shops.

This workshop aims to examine:

  • How the different forms of local solidarity partnerships between producers and consumers can influence policy makers and work collectively to build concrete solutions at territorial level

  • Ensure that small-scale food producers can earn a decent living

  • Guarantee that consumers have access to nutritional, healthy food that they can afford

  • How these local initiatives fit into the wider picture of solidarity economy and agroecology

It also aims to examine the threats as well as the opportunities facing the solidarity economy – agroecology – food sovereignty connections.

Food Sovereignty Forum: agroecology and solidarity economy
October 27, 2015
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ECVC (European Coordination of La Via Campesina) and Urgenci held a joint Food Sovereignty Forum at Solikon 2015 in Berlin, to promote the concept that agroecology and solidarity economy are the logical vectors for the realisation of right to food, and that food sovereignty can only be fully achieved in the context of a paradigm change.

The Nyeleni Europe process in Europe has provided the impetus for developing a European platform for these concepts, and based on the extraordinary success of the Krems Nyeleni Europe Forum in 2011, much development of national platforms is now happening. The pillar 2 of the Nyeleni Europe process is largely carried forward by Urgenci, who have had 2 European meetings on this subject since 2011.

The interface between Food Sovereignty and Solidarity Economy, and the role of the Via Campesina, Urgenci and RIPESS in this field was presented, as well as concrete territorial illustrations from Greece and the Basque country.

The main presentations were made by Ludwig Rumetshofer (Nyeleni Austria), Andrea Ferrante and Paula Giaoa (ECVC) and Jocelyn Parot (Urgenci) for the Nyeleni Forum, and Judith Hitchman on the interface between solidarity economy and food sovereignty. Casestudies were presented by Jenny Gkiougki of the Neighbourhood network in Greece and also Urgenci, and Isa Alvarez of Nekesare, the Basque CSA network that is also part of Urgenci.

PEOPLE’s EXPO: food soverignty vs EXPO’s corporate “feeding” the Planet

The international RIPESS network participates with twelve people from Africa, Asia, Latin America, North America and Europe to the People’s Expo in Milan.  On Tuesday, June 3rd, 2015 at the Fabbrica del Vapore in Milan, the People’s Expo is taking place, an international forum of civil society and peasant’s movements. This forum will last until the 5th of June and will bring together over 150 delegates from all over the world. The main purpose is to assert the voices of peoples, in order to propose and illustrate strategies and solutions put in place to cope with the global problems of access to food and natural resources, with food soverignty as the main political goal. The governments and transnational corporations are grabbing the spotlight at the official Expo and we must make the voices of peoples be heard through this important space, for a totally different way to “feed the planet”.

The event is organized by the People’s Expo Committee, a group gathering 50 NGOs and associations of the Italian civil society together with international networks and peasant’s movements who operate on a daily basis in various areas such as: cooperation for development, environmental justice, human rights, organic production, critical consumption.

“This year, while the United Nations are setting the new Sustainable Development Goals and a new Global Agreement on Climate Change – explains Giosué De Salvo, the Committee spokesman- People’s Expo wants to seize the opportunity of the theme set by Expo 2015 to have the political agenda focus on the respect for human rights and the limits of the planet. The forum will give voice, above all to representatives of small-scale and family farming, excluded from the official Expo despite the fact they produce 70% of food consumed globally and are nowadays the main investors in agriculture.” As a matter of fact, it is at the People’s Expo that some of the world’s most important peasants’ movements will participate, including: La Via Campesina, the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty, the Terra Madre network of food communities, the Global Call Global Call to Action Against Poverty and the Climate Action Network.

An intense three-day program, with schedules from 9 am to 18 pm, will include plenary lectures, a speakers’ corner where anyone will be able to share their own testimony and working spaces reserved for delegates. Many issues will be addressed during the forum: the promotion and support of agro-ecology and biodiversity conservation; transition towards an oil-free economy; solidarity economy and ethical finance; but also issues of crucial importance for the more “vulnerable” peoples on the planet, as the impact of free trade agreements, financial speculation and land and water grabbing, which is the phenomenon of large-scale acquisition of land and water at the hands of transnational companies, foreign governments and investment funds that is damaging the rural economy, especially in the South, but also in Europe.

The international networks participating to People’s Expo: Terra Madre network of food communities, Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP), La Via Campesina, IPC – International Planning Committee on Food Sovereignty, Nyeleni Europe, World Fair Trade Organization, Urgenci (the international network of community supported agriculture), RIPESS – Intercontinental network for the promotion of social solidarity economy, Climate Action Network, La Red Vida – Vigilancia Interamericana para la Defensa y Derecho al Agua.

www.expodeipopoli.it

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