Fear of food shortages is leading many to follow what urban farmers have been doing for years: growing their own food.
A few days ago, under permanent lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus in India, Diipti Jhangiani, a resident of Bandra in Mumbai, India, was walking across a 50-square-meter [538-square-foot] lot inside his building complex. In it were sturdy hedges of tomatoes, carrots, okra, spinach, papayas, chikoos, thighs, bitter gourd and other vegetables. She dug up some fresh turmeric to take home. "During a crisis like [this pandemic], there will always be a shortage of food for those who cannot afford it," says the 34-year-old urban farmer and founder of an agricultural startup called Edible Gardens. “And even for those who can, there is a shortage. We have run out of haldi (turmeric) in nearby stores. But I have been growing haldi on my community farm in my society, so we are using that instead. And it is much cooler. "
A few years ago, when Jhangiani started turning sterile public spaces into community gardens, like the one he created in his building complex three years ago, he mostly heard people calling it a "silly gardening hobby." “However, I have to say that right now it is very gratifying to see people talking about growing their own food and managing their own waste. There are older people who come to drink bitter gourd from the farm, which is great for purifying the blood, ”she tells VICE. “Real interest in urban agriculture will only show once the blockade ends. It will show if people really want to change. But it's nice to have started this conversation, finally. "
indian earth day.
Around the world, the pandemic has brought many consequences to our attention, from failing public health systems to our fragile mental health, the economic slowdown, and the glaring divide between rich and poor. But there is another aspect that is slowly bringing the world to its knees: fear of food shortages. In every country where lockdowns have been imposed for people to maintain social distancing to contain the spread of the virus, there have been reports of panic buying and hoarding in literally every possible country. While many faced empty shelves in supermarkets and stores, others found that a large segment of their population was unable to feed themselves. And this despite the fact that some reports say there really isn't much of a concern for global food security yet.
Perceptions of food shortages and fear of inflated prices, along with disruptions in food supply chains, subsequently point to the fact that there is a high possibility that we are constantly on the brink or on the way to collapse. This trend even led global agencies like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations (UN) to predict massive food shortages around the world. "Uncertainty about food availability may trigger a wave of export restrictions, creating a shortage in the global market," said a joint statement by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), WHO and the World Trade Organization.
In fact, developing countries are currently at risk of starvation and food disturbances. Dominique Burgeon, FAO's director of emergencies, even warned that the wealthy should not view food shortages stemming from the pandemic as a problem only for the marginalized. "If the food shortage starts to bite, the impacts will reverberate around the world," he said. Indeed, in the agrarian and rural pockets of the world, farmers face heavy losses as blockades forced them to abandon their farmland, and labor shortages increased costs and decreased demand.
In India, where the shutdown is seeing a huge displacement of migrant workers, who make up 37 percent of the country's population and depend on daily wages to survive, food shortages are expected to cause violence and unrest. "This is something new and very difficult to predict," said Abdolreza Abbasian, senior economist at FAO. "It is this uncertainty that at this moment is the greatest danger."
And it's at an uncertain time like this that the concept of growing your own food is gaining more and more traction. Jhangiani, who has been growing her own food in the form of community farms, is one of many advocates of self-reliance. In fact, the pandemic has barely made much difference to the way you live. “My own process started with processing our own waste, and from there we started growing our own food. In urban spaces, there is a lot of potential to have these farms on literally every street or garden, ”she says. “And you don't even need acres and acres of land for this. I am currently growing chikoo and blackberries in containers! You don't need a lot of space, you just need the correct technique. " Gardens, which are perfect for the ridiculously small apartments that dot most big cities, are also getting a boost.
Right now, the internet is full of DIY kits to help people grow their own pantry literally anywhere. “Look around you and find the spaces that could be filled with food: lawns, shoulders, community gardens, the end of the cul-de-sac; And if you live in an apartment, a shared community area, everyone works, ”writes Palisa Anderson, an Australian restaurateur and farmer. Adds Los Angeles Times writer Jeanette Marantos, “Food banks are already seeing double the demand. Planting food now can help you and others get through the uncertain days to come. "
The conversation about self-reliance in terms of growing your own food has been around for a while, but it appears that coronavirus lockdowns have pushed many people to do so as an emergency measure. “More people are thinking about where their food comes from, how easily it can be interrupted and how to reduce interruptions,” landscape architect Kotchakorn Voraakhom, who designed Asia's largest urban rooftop farm in Bangkok, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. . “People, planners and governments should rethink how land is used in cities. Urban agriculture can improve food security and nutrition, reduce the impacts of climate change and reduce stress ”.
The trend is also interesting considering a UN prediction that two-thirds of the world's population will live in cities by 2050. In many countries, self-sustaining practices such as permaculture, hydroponic agriculture, or urban agriculture are an exercise to gain many benefits, from choosing chemical-free foods to bringing farm-to-table concepts in commercial settings, maintaining mental health, and creating an aesthetically pleasing deck / garden. But in countries like Singapore, where there are no local sources of food and thus you end up importing a large portion of your groceries, self-sustaining agricultural trends like vertical and rooftop farming, hydroponic farming, or agricultural fishing have taken hold. become a way forward for economies facing food shortages.
In fact, some experts believe that the pandemic could set off some trends, probably forever. “Now more than ever, it is important to focus on a hyperlocal food system. Growing our own food is the best way to ensure access to produce year-round, ”Anusha Murthy of Edible Issues, a platform that fosters dialogue on food systems, told VICE. “Urban gardens can be a great solution for those of us who can afford and access it. A community approach to growing food would also be a smart solution. For us to achieve food self-sufficiency, knowing at least where our food comes from is a crucial first step ”.
Jhangiani adds that while there will always be a certain reliance on stores for urban dwellers for items such as grains or oil, self-sufficiency can also extend to other everyday things, such as making your own detergent (with orange and lemon peels), or utensils. . cleaning solution (with water, soap nut water, and lemon water) or even toothpaste (includes baking soda and coconut oil). "Self-reliance should also extend to other aspects of life," says the urban farmer.
It's also interesting to see how the pandemic is radically driving talks about self-reliance rather than several years of activism by climate crisis activists. Perhaps it has to do with our collective vulnerabilities, prompting us to seek measures that save us from great anticipation anxiety about the uncertain future. In the US, Google searches for "domestic farming" jumped 50 percent last month, along with (and interestingly) a 75 percent jump in searches for "how to raise chickens." "Food safety and sustainability are a very hot topic right now," Phyllis Davis, president of Portable Farms Aquaponics Systems in the United States, told The New York Times.
In India, Murthy notes that the pandemic has forced urban dwellers to look at their local food systems and understand them better. "Resources for cooking have become limited and people are going back to traditional recipes and learning to cook with ingredients they wouldn't normally use," she says. "There is another section of people who create and innovate dishes with what they have." Perhaps this could explain a lot of baking and cooking on social media, while Murthy also adds that the pandemic is pushing more men into kitchens.
But the pandemic really couldn't be that bad for marginal small farmers, who remain the main providers of food for India's population of 1.3 billion. In fact, the pandemic and its impact would likely save them, and the switch to local foods might even help some of them. Farm to Table is a tradition in India, not a hipster fad, ”writes journalist and author Samrat in his column Indian digital website, Firstpost. "It can also help build resilience in societies and economies in the face of the vicissitudes of globalization, of which the current global pandemic is an example."
In the end, sure the world is in deep disaster, and yes, we have yet to see the final consequences, but perhaps it is worth remembering that every crisis has a lesson. And this is in the kitchen.