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24.3 Food Security and Food Sovereignty

5 months ago

13 min read

Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life (Allison 2011). There are four food security pillars, which define, defend, and measure food security status locally, nationally, and internationally. These are food availability, food accessibility, food utilization, and food stability. Food availability is achieved when nutritious food is available at all times for people to access, while food accessibility is achieved when people at all times have the economic ability to obtain nutritious food available according to their dietary preferences. Food utilization is achieved when all food consumed is absorbed and utilized by the body to make a healthy active life possible, and food stability is achieved when all the other pillars are achieved (Faber et al. 2011).

Urban and peri-urban agriculture are increasingly recognized as a means by which cities can move away from current inequitable and resource-dependent food systems, reduce their ecological footprint, and increase their liveability (van Gorcum et al. 2019; Dubbeling et al. 2010). On account of being almost completely dependent on produce imported from other regions, urban consumers are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity. For those of low socioeconomic status, this dependence means that any fluctuation in food prices translates into limited purchasing power, increased food insecurity, and compromised dietary options. Community-based aquaponics enterprises offer a new model for blending local agency with scientific innovation to deliver food sovereignty and food security, by re-engaging and giving communities more control over their food production and distribution (Laidlaw and Magee 2016). If implemented as a program to be managed by local people, aquaponic systems have the potential to address food sovereignty. In turn, food security is boosted by consuming the fish, which is a significant source of protein, essential amino acids, and vitamins. Even when consumed in small quantities, fish can improve dietary quality by contributing essential amino acids, which are often missing or underrepresented in vegetablebased diets.

British social enterprise Byspokes Community Interest Company (CIC) set up a pilot aquaponic system and training program at the Al-Basma Centre in Beit Sahour, Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), a region where availability of space for food production is a serious problem, particularly in the urban areas and refugee camps. Even in agricultural areas, land access is being lost through Israeli controls and through effective annexation by the Israeli "Security Fence." Aquaponics therefore offers a water- and space-efficient solution to growing fresh, local produce, including a high-quality protein source (fish), thereby helping to combat malnutrition and food insecurity, while at the same time providing new opportunities for income generation. 40% of the population in the OPT (25% in the West Bank) are classed as "chronically food insecure", and unemployment stands at around 25%, with highs of 80% in some refugee camps. From an economic viewpoint, the project demonstrated that an aquaponic system could contribute significantly to household incomes and so help lift families out of poverty, while also providing a range of fresh vegetables and fish to families least able to afford such high-quality food (Viladomat and Jones 2011).

Since 2010, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has been implementing an Emergency Food Production Support Project for poor families in the Gaza Strip, where 11 years of Israeli sea, land, and air blockade, combined with low rainfall resulting in drought, have severely compromised the possibilities for domestic food production in one of the most densely populated areas of the world. With so many restrictions, fresh vegetables are expensive and hard to find. 97% of the Gaza Strip population are urban or camp dwellers and therefore do not have access to land. Poverty affects 53% of the population, and 39% of families headed by women are food insecure. Enabling families to produce their own affordable fresh food is therefore a highly appropriate and effective response to the current situation. Food-insecure female-headed households living in urban areas were given rooftop aquaponic units, and other units were installed in educational and community establishments. Having an aquaponic unit on their roof means that the women can simultaneously improve their household food security and income while still taking care of their children and homes. All of the beneficiaries have increased their household food consumption as a result (FAO 2016).

Through its Adaptive Agriculture Program, INMED Partnerships for Children is dedicated to establishing sustainable food programs that improve food security, conserve natural resources, promote strategies for adapting to climate change, and provide opportunities for income generation in developing countries. INMED has developed a simple and affordable aquaponic system for small-scale farmers, schools, government institutions, and home gardeners using easily accessible offthe-shelf local materials. Over the past decade, INMED has established a highly successful Adaptive Aquaculture and Aquaponics Program in South Africa, Jamaica, and Peru. In South Africa, INMED focuses on achieving food security and sustainable income generation by strengthening local capacity to understand and address climate change, while resolving interrelated issues of environmental degradation, increasing water scarcity, and poverty. It offers business-planning links to markets and assistance with applications for development grants and loans to expand enterprises. At the core of this far-reaching vision, in addition to intensive traditional cultivation, is aquaponics. Several projects have been successfully implemented in different provinces in the country. An aquaponic system was installed at the Thabelo Christian Association for the Disabled in a remote area of the Venda region in Limpopo province. Because INMED's system requires no heavy labour or complex mechanical systems, it is ideal for individuals with disabilities and those unable to perform traditional farming activities. Since the installation, the co-op has increased its revenue by more than 400%. Co-op members receive stable monthly salaries and have invested in breeding animals for additional revenue. Communities that have embraced this new way of farming have strengthened their ability to ensure food security and to provide new and adaptive opportunities for income generation (https://inmed.org) (Fig. 24.2).

Another good example of community upliftment in South Africa is Eden Aquaponics (www.edenaquaponics.co.za). Eden Aquaponics (Pty) Ltd. is the brainchild of Jack Probart who, with the realization that food security is fast becoming just as vital as a healthy economy, had the vision of developing a commercial business with a community focus. Using aquaponics to produce fish and vegetables in the Eden area of the Garden Route in the Western Cape, Eden Aquaponics supplies fish for consumption, as well as fingerlings for fish farming, and grows a variety of organic vegetables for distribution to the local farmers' markets, restaurants, and retailers. The Community Upliftment division manufactures and installs customized commercial systems of various sizes including DIY backyard aquaponic equipment, and supplies seedlings and fingerlings. They also teach less fortunate communities to become self-sufficient in growing, marketing, and selling their produce, thereby enabling previously unemployed people to develop skills, self-confidence, selfesteem, and the ability to provide for themselves.

Food Basket for Africa (www.foodbasketforafrica.org.za) is a similar initiative. They focus on men's development work, which is done through Men's Fraternity, by providing social and emotional counselling to men in rural areas. Men's Fraternity works in association with Effective Living Centres, a reputable counselling organization. Food Basket for Africa runs a number of agricultural development projects in rural areas around Southern Africa. Food tunnels (not hydroponic but mainly wicking beds) are placed in communities, which adopt them, and initial training for tunnel care watering and fertilizing techniques is given. An aquaponic system was commissioned at one of the projects, in Kommetjie, Cape Town.

Fig. 24.2 Some illustrations of INMED's Community Projects in South Africa. (Photographs supplied by Janet Ogilvie from INMED)

Issues of food security and food sovereignty are not only pertinent to the developing world. In Seville, Spain, social enterprise Asociacíon Verdes del Sur has set up an aquaponic greenhouse in the grounds of a school in Polígono Sur, the most socially deprived part of the city which is characterized by long-term unemployment and a high incidence of drug-related crime. The aquaponic unit is used as part of an environmental education program for local residents, including teaching the benefits of eating locally grown fresh food and developing skills for the unemployed (http://huertosverdesdelsur.blogspot.com). A prototype domestic unit has also been set up in the house of one of the local residents, Soledad (Fig. 24.3).

The Well Community Allotment Group (Crookes Community Farm) is a social enterprise run by volunteers in Sheffield, UK, that is on a mission to connect the local community with their food by actively involving them in its production, and by educating them about the benefits of local food. In 2018, the association was awarded an Aviva Community Fund Award in order to build an aquaponic unit which will be used to educate individuals, schools, youth groups, and other organizations (https://www.avivacommunityfund.co.uk/voting/project/pastwinnerprojectview/176291).

Fig. 24.3 Aquaponic facilities in Polígono Sur — anticlockwise from top left: the aquaponic greenhouse at the school; Soledad with a frozen tilapia raised in her domestic unit; tomatoes and an aubergine saved for their seeds; the domestic aquaponic unit. (Photographs: Sarah Milliken)

In the United States, a number of social enterprises using aquaponic systems have been set up across the country as part of a growing social movement focusing on using urban agriculture to increase food security and community cohesion. One of the first was Growing Power, which was founded by Will Allen in 1995, with the objective of using urban agriculture as a vehicle for improving food security in central Milwaukee and for the long-term strengthening of its neighborhoods, and to give inner-city youngsters an opportunity to gain life skills by cultivating and marketing organic produce. Growing Power provided facilities or land, guidance in food growing, and overall project maintenance, and the produce was either donated to meal programs and emergency food providers or sold by the youngsters at local farm shops and farmers' markets, with the stipulation that one-quarter of the proceeds be returned to the local community (Kaufman and Bailkey 2000). By all accounts, Growing Power was doing exactly what they had set out to do: they were feeding, training, and exposing thousands of people to a more autonomous relationship with their food. But while their mission was being fulfilled, it carried significant costs. More money was exiting than entering Growing Power's doors, and by 2014, the social enterprise had a debt of more than \$2 million (Satterfield 2018). Faced with insurmountable debt and legal pressure, Growing Power was eventually dissolved in 2017. However, the legacy of the enterprise lives on in the form of other social ventures that were inspired to start similar initiatives. One such venture which acknowledges Will Allen's influence is the Rid-All Green Partnership in Cleveland, Ohio, whose mission is to educate the next generation to not only learn to grow and eat fresh foods but also to operate and grow their own businesses in the food industry, ranging from selling fresh produce and fish to food distributors to processing and packaging fresh food products (https://www.greennghetto.org).

The urban agriculture movement in the United States has been fuelled by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Community Food Project (CFP) competitive grant program, which was established in 1996 with the aim of fighting food insecurity through the development of community food projects that promote the self-sufficiency of low-income communities. Since 1996, this program has awarded approximately $90 million in grants. One social enterprise which has benefited from this scheme is Planting Justice (www.plantingjustice.org) which built an aquaponic system on a vacant lot in East Oakland, California, which is run by former prison inmates. Twelve living wage jobs have been created, 5000 pounds (2268 kilos) of free produce has been given to the community, and the project has put $500,000 in wages and \$200,000 in benefits back into the neighborhood (New Entry Sustainable Farming Project 2018).

The GrowHaus (https://www.thegrowhaus.org) was founded in 2009 as a social enterprise, which focuses on healthy, equitable, and resident-driven community food production; 97% of the food consumed in Colorado is produced out of state, and the neighborhood where The GrowHaus is located has been designated a "food desert" based on characteristics of low income, race/ethnicity, long distance to a grocery store, lack of access to fresh affordable food, and dependence on public transportation. The residents have come to rely on fast food, convenience stores, petrol stations, and food banks for the majority of their food staples. Due to these factors, many people face significant challenges in terms of food security and access, resulting in dramatic increases in related health issues. Initially in partnership with Colorado Aquaponics (www.coloradoaquaponics.com), and since 2016 independently, the GrowHaus operates a 3200 square foot (297 square meter) aquaponic farm, and the produce is sold through a weekly farm fresh food basket program at a price point comparable to Walmart, as well as to restaurants, with a portion donated to the local community. To help the transition to healthier eating, the GrowHaus also organizes free training and community events focused around food. In the 2016—2017 fiscal year, the GrowHaus generated an income of $1,204,070, of which $333,534 was earned income, and $870,536 was raised through government grants, charitable foundations, corporate contributions, and individual donations. With operating costs of $934,231, the net annual income was \$269,839 (https:// www.thegrowhaus.org/annual-report).

Trifecta Ecosystems (formerly Fresh Farm Aquaponics; http://trifectaecosystems. com) was founded in 2012 in Meriden, Connecticut. Their mission is to address urban food security by creating incentives for communities to grow their own food while also raising awareness about sustainable farming through education, workshops, and city projects. The enterprise employs six staff who provide aquaponic systems to organizations for educational purposes, workforce development, therapeutic gardening, and high-quality food production. The aquaponic systems range from commercial scale production facilities to small educational units for use in classrooms. In 2018, the South Central regional Water Authority (RWA) awarded a \$500,000 grant to facilitate the creation of a series of custom-controlled environment agriculture aquaponic systems, an urban farming technology platform, and workforce training programs aimed at improving food security.

The SchoolGrown social enterprise (www.schoolgrown.org) was set up in 2014 by aquaponics enthusiasts who felt that children weren't getting enough hands-on experiences growing food and learning about their connection to the world about them. Situated next to the commercial aquaponics operation at Ouroboros Farms, California, the aquaponics 'classroom' is run by volunteers and is used to provide training. Their main focus, however, is on spreading aquaponic systems to schools and communities around the United States in order to teach sustainable agricultural practices, environmental stewardship, and resource conservation, and at the same time produce fresh and local food, thereby building a deeper connection between communities and the food they eat. The LEAF (Living Ecosystem Aquaponic Facility) is a 1800 square foot (167 square meter) greenhouse with a solar-powered aquaponic system that was specifically designed for this purpose. Costing \$75,000, which includes salaries for two part-time staff responsible for maintaining the system and harvesting, the greenhouses are funded by a combination of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) vegetable box scheme, local community or business sponsorship, and crowdfunding. Each LEAF is intended to be financially selfsustaining through the generation of revenue from the produce.