Local food systems once supplied most of the food people needed from relatively nearby. In a process that still continues today, those locally-adapted systems have been steadily dismantled in favor of a centralized model that requires large-scale monocultures, the massive use of chemical inputs and fossil fuel, fewer farmers and ever more transport. This shift is now a worldwide phenomenon that benefits the huge agribusiness and supermarket corporations that increasingly control the world’s food supply. For local communities, economies, and ecosystems, however, this process has been disastrous.
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. The environmental impacts of global industrial agricultures are also clearly unsustainable. It is both a major contributor to anthropogenic 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 agrobiodiversity. 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.
Climate change, peak-oil, the rush to biofuels and a dramatic spike in the price of food have recently compounded the above crises. Meanwhile, international trade and speculation in food commodities is booming. Control over each point in the global supply chain is ever more concentrated and agribusiness enjoys record profits. In short, the globalisation of the food economy, while enriching a small number of giant agribusinesses, is undermining the welfare of the vast majority of people and of the planet.
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.
For more than two decades Local Futures has promoted the localization of food economies. This message seems finally to be gaining prominence. Over the years our Local Food Program has helped raise awareness about the hidden costs of the global food system, and the myriad benefits of locally-based, sustainable alternatives. Our program materials emphasize the importance of working toward renewing local food economies, while resisting the powers and policies that have undermined them. Local Futures staff have argued the benefits of local food systems to diverse audiences, from large international conferences to small community gatherings. We have also helped launch farmers’ markets in the US, UK and Australia, and a local food cafe in India.
This program channels years of experience into a set of tools designed to help activists raise awareness about food and agriculture issues, imagine alternatives, and initiate strategic community action and wider policy change. Individuals and organisations can get involved by utilizing our Local Food Toolkit, by hosting a Local Food Roadshow presentation, or by engaging with our relevant publications and blogs.
Further information on all of these resources and more can be found on our Activist Tools page.