Alternative Food Networks for an agro-ecological evolution

Aug 21, 2018 by

Our current way of feeding the world is not sustainable. Most of us still have a romantic picture of agriculture; a picture of healthy animals on a wide fertile landscape; a lovely farmer who’s best friend is a little piglet. Unfortunately, however, this image only exists in the advertisement and does not reflect the reality in any way. In fact, our global agricultural system is contributing heavily to the loss of biodiversity as well as soil degradation, deforestation and much more.

Besides the negative effects, like the rapid decline of different genetic varieties of vegetables and animal species over the last 100 years, promising and positive developments can also be observed. 1.1% of the global agricultural land was certified organic in 2015. That is 50.9 million hectares, and the number of certified organic farms is still rising. According to recent studies, the whole world could easily be fed by organic agriculture only. Though, this scenario would require a substantial decrease in our average meat consumption and also a reduction of food waste and harvest losses.

Certified organic food that is sold by supermarkets is not the ultimate solution for sustainable future agriculture. It is, to a large extent, still bound to an industrialised way of producing food – monocultures, heavy machinery – and it often just meets the minimum requirements to receive an organic label. In our lecture, we looked at a vast variety of different approaches of alternative ways of food production and distribution like Civic Food Networks. There are three ideas that particularly stood out to us:

Food coops (food cooperatives): A group – usually in the size of 30 to 100 people – directly orders products from farmers thus eliminating the intermediary distributor and therefore securing a fair price both for the farmer and the consumer. These cooperatives are self-organized, non-hierarchical and usually focus on organic, local and seasonal products.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA): A farmer calculates his annual production costs which get divided upon the participants of a group which supports this farm according to the individual financial capacities. In return, the customers get the total harvest of the specific year. Oftentimes, participants of the CSA also contribute to the farm work, to get a better picture of agricultural reality. One big advantage of this system is that production risks are shared. If there is a really successful harvest, there will be more products available, if there is a severe drought and the farmer cannot produce as much as expected, his costs are still covered.

Urban Agriculture and Community Gardens: Bringing back the food production into our city will not only raise awareness about healthy and sustainable food, but it can both strengthen communities and improve local ecosystems by building more green space in urban areas.

Civic Food Networks can help to democratize and diversify our food system and assure fair incomes to farmers. By actively criticising our food system, every one of us can evolve from a consumer to a prosumer, helping to build a sustainable agro-ecological food system of the future.

Written by: Matthias Fischer and Michael Klammer

Based on the lectures by: Friedrich Leitgeb (“Alternative Foodways: Community Supported Agriculture and Foodcoops”)