Act: Inspiration

Hot off the press: Resourcing an Agroecological Urbanism

March 16, 2021

Building on state-of-the-art and participatory research on farming, urbanism, food policy and advocacy, this new book changes the ways food planning has been conceptualised to date, and invites the reader to fully embrace the transformative potential of an agroecological perspective. It argues for moving away from a “food in the city” approach, and to rather fully consider (and transform) the economic and spatial processes that drives current urbanisation.

Resourcing an Agroecological Urbanism. Political, Transformational and Territorial Dimensions – access selected parts here
By: Chiara Tornaghi and Michiel Dehaene (editors), and 26 authors (including Chiara Tornaghi, Barbara van Dyck and Priscilla Claeys from the AgroecologyNow! collective)

This book gathers together a selection of contributions presented at the 8th Annual Conference of the AESOP Sustainable Food Planning Group, hosted by the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (Coventry University), in Coventry, UK, in November 2017. Titled ‘Re-imagining sustainable food planning, building resourcefulness: food movements, insurgent planning and heterodox economics’, the conference aimed to steer the attention of the AESOP Sustainable Food Planning community towards the radically transformative message of political agroecology and its value system.

Two decades from its early conceptualisation, and ten years on from its institutionalisation in the planning community (Van der Valk and Viljoen, 2014), sustainable food planning had become a thriving transdisciplinary research and policy field bringing together policy-makers, academics and practitioners across the globe. Food charters, food strategies and food policy councils have multiplied, ‘alternative food networks’ have gained significant and growing shares of the food market and new forms of localisation of food production, including urban agriculture, have been gaining ground and have become central components of new food policy strategies.

However, the scale and speed of the ‘food’ crisis rendered these achievements modest and utterly inadequate. Urban food poverty and malnutrition, and the related use of food banks, have been on the rise, even in some of the wealthiest countries of the world; the most vulnerable populations in both the Global North and the Global South are left unshielded by austerity politics, food-commodity speculation, land grabbing, or staple food price rises. Diet-related diseases (such as diabetes and obesity) have been growing at alarming rates among children in the supposedly ‘well-fed’ countries of the world. The world still wastes between 30% and 50% of the food produced, while millions of farmers and land workers growing food across the globe are struggling to make a living. The environmental impacts of the food ‘regime’ and its diets are plainly devastating.

Planning for sustainable food production and food provision is more than ever urging us to look for more effective, equitable and just approaches that radically change not only the way we grow food, but also the very core of our living space.

The aim of the conference, then, was to discuss ideas, approaches and practices that could help to reinvent food planning in light of the aim to build a resourceful, agroecological urbanism.

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Inspired by a seminal paper from MacKinnon and Derickson (2013), we used the term ‘resourceful’ as a particular way of intending the concept of ‘resilience’: an urbanism that creates the conditions for its inhabitants to control the means of their social reproduction, to have a say on, or direct control of, the resources for their own survival; a space where land, water and nutrients serve the needs of the people (rather than profit) while respecting the ecosystem. A ‘resourceful’ urbanism creates living conditions that enable people to be resilient while at the same time challenging the root causes of the crisis that require us to look for resilience.

By ‘agroecological’ we explicitly referred to practices aligned to ‘peasant agroecology’ and the agroecology movement: a way of cultivating the soil, managing ecological relationships and disposing of the produce that respects the environment and is based on cultural and social arrangements inspired by solidarity and mutuality.

By ‘urbanism’ we referred to more than just buildings, zoning or planning, and more than just urban contexts. We referred to ensembles of the built environment and its regulation, the material infrastructure and the collective arrangements (for food provision, waste collection, land management, urban design, housing, energy and so forth) that are in place and reflect a specific ideological, social and economic arrangement that is historically specific. In the context of planetary urbanisation and neoliberal capitalism systems, in which rural and urban realms are ruled by the same socio-economic and ideological visions, we aimed to reflect on the urban, the peri-urban and the rural realm simultaneously, and to reflect on their mutual interconnections and dependencies.

While food entered the planning agenda more than a decade ago, a resourceful and agroecological urbanism, which is more than closing metabolic loops through urban agriculture, is yet to be conceptualised. An urbanism in which food is not the latest ‘fix’ to be added as a new way to market but rather a key and long forgotten component around which new and just social arrangements, ecological practices and ways of life must be reinvented.

The selected contributions in this book valorise and bring to the fore a multiplicity of heterodox experiences, policies, concepts and practices that are creating new worlds in innovative and socially just ways, and bear the potential of becoming building blocks of sustainable food planning for a resourceful, agroecological urbanism. They also include critical reflections on how current mainstream approaches to food production, food strategies and urban agriculture can be/are being radically transformed into tools for resourcefulness.

Tornaghi, C., Dehaene M. (eds.) (2021), Resourcing an Agroecological Urbanism. Political, Transformational and Territorial Dimensions. London: routledge. (250pp.; ebook £31.49; Paperback: £34.99)

Tags: agroecology, Building resilient food and farming systems