By 2050 more than 6 billion people will live in cities, generating unprecedented challenges for sustainable food production and distribution.
Technical and economic studies of urban food security conducted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and UN-Habitat show that outcomes are influenced by the degree of consensus among producers, consumers, and local governments. How to overcome differences and achieve this consensus, though, is less well understood. This project, managed by Associate Professor Adrian Hearn (School of Languages and Linguistics), explores the role of trust in reconciling distinct food security agendas among individuals and groups that are unfamiliar - and sometimes antagonistic - with each other.
Practiced since the eighth millennium B.C. in settlements and towns worldwide, small-scale horticulture is re-emerging as a global response to urban food insecurity. The FAO notes that this process coincides with a broader international sustainability agenda: "UPA [urban and peri-urban agriculture] is a key component of robust and resilient urban food systems…[it is] helping to build the greener, more resilient and sustainable cities of the future."
Driven in some cases by environmental politics and in others by concerns about food quality and quantity, UPA initiatives vary in purpose and scale. They also vary in their political contexts: from assertive government programs that allocate scarce land and subsidise production to less interventionist scenarios of economic competition, farmers markets, and commercial supply contracts. Across these distinct environments, broadly beneficial outcomes depend on trust between stakeholders.
The project examines how trust affects localised food production in Beijing, Melbourne, Havana, and São Paulo. While these cities all face mounting challenges in ensuring healthy food supplies, they are different enough to elicit a broad sense of how urban food security is emerging as a global challenge. The case studies are funded the Australian Research Council (ARC), the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), and the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP). Hearn is working with The University of Melbourne's Southern Cities Research Centre to enable research teams from these cities to compare challenges, share success stories, and formulate common best practices.
Traditions of trust between individuals, their communities, and their governments are related to shifting trajectories of economic development. Emerging urban agriculture initiatives in the four cities show how concerns about food safety in Beijing, dietary health in Melbourne, basic nutrition in São Paulo, and expanding food markets in Cuba are prompting new forms of state-society interdependence. Preliminary evidence suggests that municipal government support is critical to the formation of trust between producers and consumers, and consequently to the expansion of local food production initiatives.
Seeds of trust in Havana
Australia began working with Cuba on food security in the 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union triggered a 75 per cent reduction in Cuba's import capacity and a 35 per cent decline in GDP. That early work, conducted by the Australian Conservation Foundation with funding from AusAID, supported Cuba's efforts to shore up urban food production through permaculture techniques. The Cuban government encourages its citizens to sell locally - nearly 70 per cent of its fresh produce is grown within urban areas, reducing diesel fuel and pesticide use. Between 1997 and 2013 Cuba's National Program of Urban Agriculture employed 350,000 people and oversaw a five-fold rise in consumption of fresh vegetables. However, the country's recent economic reforms have created new challenges and opportunities for cooperation.
As part of former trade Minister Andrew Robb's delegation to Havana in February 2016, Assoc. Professor Hearn developed the Cuban component of the project with the Antonio Núñez Jiménez Foundation, a leader in Cuban sustainability strategies. The project is partnering with Melbourne's Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies (CERES) to address practical challenges, including optimising water use, minimising soil contamination and pollutant risks on urban crops, commercialising organic production, and establishing two-way education and training. The University of Melbourne team, which also includes Professor Ruth Beilin and Dr Chris Williams from the School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences, aims to generate mutual benefits for Australia, Cuba, and the other participating countries.
According to Professor Beilin, "It's exciting to harness the experience and dedication of the CERES staff, and a great opportunity to undertake collaborative research that has so many potential long and short term outcomes here and in Cuba."
For more information contact Associate Professor Adrian Hearn