Warning and Disclaimer

So this is just a blog I'm using to upload a bunch of the essays and assessment tasks I wrote for my various uni degrees. Basically I put a lot of effort into some of these and it seems a waste for them to only be read once... so I figured upload them onto the web and see if anyone looks at them.

did ok at most of my essays, some better than others so copy the ideas at your own risk... Given the slow increase in my marks over the years clearly it took me a while to get started. You can probably work out when I wrote each assessment based on the length of the reference list (and there's probably a correlation with the marks I received for that assessment too)

I had a glance over the cover sheets and don't think there's anything stopping me uploading them as I don't think the uni claims ownership over them. You sign off saying that the work has never been submitted before, not that you won't do anything with it later.

That all being said, if you do find these useful for your own uni work... DON'T copy them (not because I care about you copying them) but because you WILL get done for plagarism yourself... Take some of the main points if you want, definitely steal my reference lists, but don't copy text from the essay because you will get done...

So yeah, read on if you're interested, follow up the references... but don't copy if you know what's good for you

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Food Localisation and Sustainability

“Short food supply chains (SFSCs) short-circuit long anonymous supply chains characteristic of industrial food production. Producer-consumer relations are shortened and redefined by giving clear signals on the provenance and quality attributes of food. Lastly, SFSCs are an important carrier for shortening relations between food production and locality, re-embedding farming towards more environmentally sustainable modes of production.” (After Renting, Marsden and Banks, 2003, p. 398)

Food localisation and urban food security are two related areas that have received an ever increasing amount of attention in recent years. Discussion of this issue is often quite emotive, especially in the language involved due to how crucial food security is to basic quality of life for all people.

Much of this attention is often focusing on how sustainable the current industrial food production system is. Whilst there are a variety of interpretations of just what sustainability as a concept means, sustainability is one of the few concepts such as peace and freedom, that have near universal support worldwide (Hattingh, 2002). Sustainability as such can be seen as the “holy grail” of the worldwide environmental movement. Whilst nearly every organisation and person in the world has a different vision of just what sustainability is and should be, there are a variety of common features, sustainability requires three separate and often competing factors to be balanced equitably, both between generations and within the current generation. The three factors are social, environmental and economic development. It is the weighing of importance these factors are given by different people and organisations that creates the large variety in opinions of what sustainability actually means.

Food security is a new concept for discussion and planning in Developed Nations, in the past it has traditionally been limited to developing nations. Food security is the access people, households and communities have to appropriate and nutritious food, and having the skills to use and access that food. Due to the central nature of food security to quality of life it can be seen as an important issue for sustainability. As a nation Australia is considered to be food secure (NSW Centre for Public Health Nutrition, 2003) and this can be extended to Sydney as a city. Rates of food security are not even across the population however. Food insecurity rates are found to be a lot higher in low income and disadvantaged groups in all developed countries around the world. The unemployed, low wage earners, single parent households and indigenous communities are all more vulnerable to food insecurity (despite this food insecurity is not just limited to the poorest members of a population). People suffering from disabilities, homelessness, mental illness and drug or alcohol addiction are also more likely to be food insecure (NSW Centre for Public Health Nutrition, 2003). As many of these issues can be linked to certain areas of Sydney food insecurity also has a definite geographic component, with the more “disadvantaged” areas of Sydney like the West and South West far more vulnerable.

Food security is an issue that can be linked to all three aspects of sustainability. The obvious link is between economic equity and food insecurity as there is a strong link between diet and socio economic status (NSW Centre for Public Health Nutrition, 2003). Households that are disadvantaged socially by factors such as low levels of education or English speaking ability are also more likely to be food insecure. Also for the first time in human history there are more people living in cities than rural areas and this has created a disconnection between the majority of the population and its food source. The connection between environmental factors and food insecurity is harder to make but food production is closely linked to environmental quality and both wide scale global environmental problems and small scale local environmental problems have the potential to impact on food production. Global and large scale environmental issues such as global warming, salinity and droughts connected to the El Nino effect can potentially impact severely on the large food producing regions. Approximately 50% of the total vegetable production tonnage of New South Wales comes from the Murray-Darling and Murrimbidgee areas that are under significant water stress (Parker, 2009). Smaller scale environmental problems like local pollution may not have the same level of impact on total food supply, but they are no less damaging to the food producers affected.

Much of the discussion over alternative food networks stems from these existing issues and the perception that the current predominant globalised industrial food provision system is unsustainable. One area of concern for many is the reliance of the current “globalised” industrial agricultural system on crude oil. The debate over peak oil is a complicated and still somewhat controversial issue with many opposing view points and no sign of consensus, however there is no doubt that crude oil is a finite non renewable resource and that it is depleted as it is used. This means that a heavy reliance on crude oil in any industry is ultimately unsustainable regardless of when “peak oil” is reached. Peak oil has economic, social and environmental consequences but nearly all stages of the modern food system rely on oil, from the fuel to transport the product and the plastic to package it to the processing on farms and even in the fertilisers used. As the food supply chains lengthen across the globe emissions from the transport has become a significant contributor to global warming with food transport being among the biggest and fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Britain (Church, 2005 and Halweil, 2002).

The distance that food is being transported has increased dramatically in the last few decades due to advances in technology allowing longer storage and safer transport, this has also corresponded with an increase in packaging to help food survive the journey and increase the shelf life (Halweil, 2002) in the United Kingdom food now travels further on average than the average product, 129km compared to 94km (Church, 2005). An indicator used to demonstrate the unsustainable nature of the food system is comparing the ratio of energy inputs to energy outputs which has changed from 100:1 for preindustrial societies to as low as 0.00786:1 for things like iceberg lettuce being transported by plane across the Atlantic ocean currently (Church, 2005). The main reason for this relatively inefficient system is the steady availability of cheap oil, something that is threatened by the concept of peak oil.

The “globalised” nature of the current food system has also been criticised as inefficient and unsustainable. Not only is the transport of food products around the world energy inefficient the neo liberal trade system has been criticised as leaving countries vulnerable to key food shortages. Food shortages in both Mexico and the Philippines have been linked to the neo liberal economic system that has been part of the development of the modern industrial agricultural system (Bello, 2008).

As such it has been proposed that a more localised food system would provide a more sustainable food system for both urban and rural areas. A system of “re-localisation” is seen as a possible resistance strategy to the powers of “globalisation” by linking food localisation to ideals of participation and community empowerment (DuPuis & Block, 2008) however realistic this may be. The main economic benefit of more localised food provision is keeping money circulating locally rather than money leaving the local economy through larger national and transnational corporations (Halweil, 2002) there are also economic benefits with the farmer receiving a greater share of the profits from selling the product (Sage, 2007 & La Trobe, 2002). Socially a more localised food network is seen to form deeper connections between producer and consumer due to the shorter supply chains (Sage, 2007). Once again connecting to the environmental aspects it is slightly more difficult to find benefits, however the most obvious is a reduction in greenhouse gas production and oil consumption due to the lower energy requirements from transporting the food shorter distances. Localised food networks are often associated with organic food production and smaller scale operations that provide benefits to biodiversity (La Trobe, 2002).

An important consideration about local alternative food networks is just what local means, essentially how local is local? The issue of scale is a complex one, and can’t be limited to just a geographical distance. Scale is a matter of relation and attempts to just confine it to a size or level will miss these relationships (Howitt, 2002). Looking at social, economic and other environmental attributes of the food might provide a more realistic explanation of what “local” food is. Benefits such as economic welfare and environmental benefits to nearby producers, ensuring food travels the minimum distance possible and closer social connection would all be part of a genuinely local food production system (La Trobe, 2002).

As a city Sydney still has a large amount of agriculture taking part within its boundaries. Employing around 12,000 people and producing 90% of perishable vegetables in NSW the Sydney region has the largest number of horticulturalists of any region in Australia. The value of production per hectare in the Sydney region is substantially above average ($5,433 per hectare compared to the state average of $136) and it is the second most important agricultural region in NSW (Parker, 2009). This shows that there is already a relatively large pre-existing local food production network “local” to Sydney, although this system is not necessarily an alternative food network, depending on just what system the farm is supplying.

There is a wide variety of localised alternative food networks that occur in Sydney and around the world. Fair trade and Organic farming methods do often provide an alternative to the current industrialised system, but are more than likely not operating on a local scale. Fair trade farming does not occur within the Sydney basin due to the developed nature of Sydney and whilst organic farming occurs in Sydney food marketed as organic is often not “local”. Three quarters of Britain’s organic produce is imported (a statistic probably representative of the rest of the developed world) predominantly due to the fact the demand for organic produce has increased at a much faster rate than the percentage of land organically farmed (Church, 2005). This limits the localised alternative food networks to the following broad groups; farmer’s markets, farm shops, roadside stalls, box schemes, community gardening, community supported agriculture and grow your own backyard gardening (Sage, 2007).

Farmer’s markets are a relatively popular alternative food network in Sydney as there are a number of self described farmer’s markets within the region. Camden farmers’ market, Good Living Growers’ Market, Hawkesbury Harvest Farmers & Gourmet Food Market, Northside Produce Market, The Rocks Farmers' Market, Warwick Farm Trackside Market, Bondi Organic Farmers Market, Chatswood Organic Farmers Market, EQ Farmers Produce Markets, Frenchs Forest Organic Farmers Market, Hornsby Mall Organic Farmers Market, Kings Cross Organic Farmers Market, Leichhardt Organic Farmers Market, Marrickville Organic Farmers Market, Manly West Organic Market, Penrith Original Farmers’ Market and Penrith Original Farmers’ Market are all found as advertised farmers’ markets with a very basic search on the internet. How localised the actual food is and how close the contact is between the producer and consumer is could vary considerably based on the requirements set by the market organisers however.

Farmers’ markets have a much longer history in countries in Europe but there has been a worldwide resurgence of this alternative food network in recent years. Farmers’ markets provide an excellent way for smaller scale growers to market to the public without large transaction requirements or minimum volume requirements (Sage, 2007). Economic benefits of markets are keeping the profits within the local area rather than moving through larger national or even multinational corporations (La Trobe, 2002). Social benefits of greater community integration arise due to the closer contact between producer and consumer and drawing community members to a central location (Sage, 2007). Again there are environmental benefits from shortening the supply chain and thus the food miles travelled (even if there is an increase to the distance travelled by the consumer) alongside benefits to the environment from the smaller scale of the farming operations (La Trobe, 2002). A additional bonus of farmers’ markets seen in the United States but not Sydney is the participation of farmers’ markets in food poverty schemes such as food stamps thus providing increased access to fruit and vegetables for economically disadvantaged local people (Sage, 2007). This social and economic benefit is not seen due to the lack of a food stamp style system within Australia.

Community Supported Agriculture schemes are less common in the Sydney region but provides many benefits. Community Supported Agriculture schemes can provide economic benefits to not only the grower (by connecting them to the consumer and providing a greater share of the profits) but also to the consumer by providing organic food at approximately 80% of the cost paid at larger supermarket chains (Transition Sydney, 2009). Socially a strong sense of community and cooperation is generated (Adam, 2002). Environmentally community supported agriculture schemes reduce the food miles travelled by supplying local food to local consumers and reduce waste produced by consumers and retailers (Food Futures, 2009).

The contributions that alternative food networks can make to local urban food provision are substantial however. The sheer size and scale of the dominant industrialised food system gives the supermarkets a very powerful position in the food supply chain and despite the scrutiny and criticism this results in, the large supermarkets are very quick to respond with large scale public relations campaigns to prevent the possibility of a tarnished brand (Freidberg, 2004). The size of the large supermarket chains has also enabled them to price out many small scale local retailers through price competitive measures such as loss leading and the possibility of one stop shopping. This can limit the potential for localised alternative food networks as globalised and centralised markets such as this are more suited to large scale specialised agriculture (Halweil, 2002).

The ease of access to many of these alternative food networks is also limiting in a large city like Sydney. Agriculture in Sydney is found mainly in the West, South West and North West obviously away from population centres. This means schemes that many of these alternative networks require the consumer to travel to participate in, increasing the distance travelled by the consumer (but probably decreasing food miles overall) and possibly making less mobile consumers (due to socio economic status or age) unable to participate. Perception of these schemes as expensive or only for the new middle class may also limit participation by lower socio economic groups.

Many of the arguments regarding food miles and the benefits of decreasing them can be called into question. The main reason for this is the fact that by simply decreasing the food miles you are not necessarily aiding the environment due to the various complexities that using food miles simplifies, such as the complicated links between distance travelled and transport emissions, differing modes of transport, differing energy and fuel uses and other greenhouse gas emissions (Rama & Lawrence, 2008).

Farmers’ markets in particular are more specifically limited by issues of space and legislation. The lack of historical farmers’ markets in Australia limits the number of specifically dedicated market areas so competing issues of development potential and ownership are less likely to occur than in places like Ireland (Sage, 2007). Locations such as schools are often used for these markets in Sydney limiting conflict as these locations are choosing to host markets, but it does require the appropriate disposal of the waste produced. There are also sometimes perceived hygiene issues that can limit support from other local organisations or councils (Sage, 2007).

Community supported agriculture also suffers from a unique set of limiting factors. Sydney Food Connect is the third attempt to start a Community Supported Agriculture scheme in Sydney. The first failed due to the fact it was situated at Bega and 200km from Sydney which was to far away for people to go and collect the food, indicating this was essentially not a “local” alternative food network. The second scheme was a lot closer to the city but ended when the farmer moved interstate (Food Futures, 2009). The complex logistical details of a community supported agricultural scheme also limit the size of the scheme and require specialised skills to run.

The final limitation to urban alternative food networks in Sydney is due to the growth of Sydney itself. Sydney is growing at a rate of up to approximately 1000 people a week and 50% of market gardens in Sydney are in the designated growth areas in North West and South West Sydney (Parker, 2009). Rising land values, urban expansion and disinterest amongst the children of farmers within the Sydney region all combining to reduce the amount of food produced within the Sydney region (Grayson, 2001). There needs to be a balance between these competing desires of urban and rural living, biodiversity and food production (Siclair et al., 2004). Additionally many of the market gardeners in Sydney are also of a non English speaking background and may have difficulty communicating and participating in alternative food networks. 90% of gardeners are of a cultural or linguistically diverse background and 90% of those gardeners have limited ability to read English (Parker, 2009).

Currently alternative Food Networks play a small role in the urban food provision of Sydney, however this role is slowly growing and becoming more important. Sydney is a fortunate city to have such fertile rural land within the basin surrounding the city and to keep the relatively high amount of locally produced food the remaining farmland will need to be protected from pressures such as development. It is widely acknowledged that the current industrialised food production system has many inefficient and unsustainable aspects, and many of these can better improved, reduced or mitigated by use of some of the alternative food networks, however the scale of these alternative food networks is such that they can’t supply the entirety of a large city such as Sydney. There will need to be a significant change in attitude in both the public and private sectors to make these alternative food networks more widely accepted and available to the entire population of Sydney, but environmental issues such as climate change and the looming peak oil may well provide the impetus for such a dramatic change to these far more sustainable local alternative food networks.


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