A global crisis in food and farming

Throughout the world food and agriculture are in crisis. Over a billion people go to bed hungry each night. Another billion are obese or overweight—often because they lack access to affordable, nutrient-dense foods.  Globalized industrial agriculture is both a major contributor to climate change and ill-suited to deal with its consequences. This model of agriculture has depleted our soils, wasted scarce water supplies, poisoned ecosystems and our bodies, and led to an unprecedented decline in biodiversity. At the same time, the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of farmers and farm workers are under constant assault. In the name of 'development', many are going bankrupt or have been forced off their land into the mega-slums of the global South. Others have had no choice but to emigrate to neighboring countries where they are often met with xenophobia or treated as 'illegal'. In their absence, the rural communities of which they are an integral part are drained of life.

The benefits of local food

As we enter the age of climate chaos, peak-oil and a projected world population of 9 billion in 2050, the need has never been greater to build productive, sustainable alternatives to the global food system. The time is ripe for a shift in direction - to strengthen local food economies, globally, thereby providing a cascade of benefits for consumers, farmers and the environment in the global North and South. Such a shift would bring back diversity to land that has been all but destroyed by chemical-intensive monocropping, provide much-needed jobs at a local level, and help to rebuild community. Moreover, it would allow farmers to make a decent living while giving consumers access to healthy, fresh food at affordable prices.

Rebuilding local food economies means, most of all, shortening the distance food travels from the farm to table. This doesn’t mean putting an end to all trade in food, or doing without oranges and bananas in cold climates. It simply means limiting the needless transport of food by trying to meet as many of our basic needs as possible, closer to home. Such a shift would bring immense benefits:  

  • Local food means fresher food, which in turn means healthier food. Fresh organic vegetables are on average ten times more nutritious than conventional supermarket vegetables.
  • Marketing locally reduces the number of middlemen, and therefore increases farmers' incomes. It also helps to cut prices, giving even low-income groups access to fresh affordable food.
  • Local food systems lead to stronger local economies by providing jobs, supporting local shops, and keeping money from being siphoned off by distant investors and corporations.
  • Local food systems encourage farmers to diversify their production, thereby making it easier to farm organically. Intercropping and rotations can replace dangerous pesticides, while on-farm waste like manure and crop residues can replace chemical fertilizers.
  • By reducing the need for expensive inputs, farm diversification keeps more money in farmers' pockets. And unlike monocultural farmers, those who diversify are less susceptible to heavy losses from pest infestations or abnormal weather conditions like droughts or unexpected frosts.
  • Reliance on smaller farms increases overall productivity, since smaller farms are more productive per acre than larger farms. A shift towards smaller farms would thus provide more food, and better food security worldwide.
  • Smaller-scale, diversified farms serving local markets also provide better conditions for farm animals than large factory farms. There is less crowding, less dependence on long-distance transport, and less need for antibiotics and other drugs.

For more information on this issue, please see the following online articles:

Going Local, Is Local Organic Food Elitist?, Local Food and Avian Flu, Bringing the Food Economy Home, The Case for Local Food, The Farm Crisis, Reclaiming our Food