Without rural areas, cities cannot guarantee food security for their inhabitants.
World Food Day is celebrated on October 16th of every year to raise awareness about the world’s food problems, including hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition. Fifteen days later, on October 31st, World Cities Day is commemorated to promote spaces for cooperation and debate on the challenges and opportunities posed by urbanization. The celebration of these two dates in the same month offers a unique opportunity to discuss a topic that has gained even more importance during the COVID-19 pandemic: food security in cities.
According to the World Food Summit, a city has optimal food security when all its inhabitants have, at all times, “physical and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. This task has become even more challenging at a time when roughly 55% of the world’s population lives in cities, a figure that is expected to hit 70% by 2050.
To guarantee food security for all its inhabitants, cities depend on the countryside, particularly family farming. According to data from the FAO (United Nations Agency for Food and Agriculture), family farming produces 80% of the world's food. In comparison, industrial agriculture only produces 20% of the food, even though it occupies 75% of the world's arable land.
Industrial agriculture focuses on producing a single product, using technology and a large investment of human and financial capital. Monocultures such as wheat, soybeans or livestock are characteristic of this type of agriculture.
Family farming is agricultural, silvicultural production (forest cultivation), fishing, grazing, and aquaculture managed and directed by a peasant family, where men and women work the land (FAO, 2014). When zooming in on the organization and productivity of family farming in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), it is found that rural women produce 45% of the food that makes up the basic food nutritional basket. The greatest contribution of women occurs in small crops and their transformation into food.
However, contrary to the leading role that peasants have in cities' sustainability and viability, the rural sector has been losing relative importance at a social, cultural, political and economic level. In the Colombian case, this secondary role of the countryside has much to do with eating habits and urban lifestyles, as well as with the chain of mass production and distribution that, combined with the outcomes of the armed conflict, increase the gap between living conditions in urban and rural areas.
In Colombia, 74% of the population lives in urban areas and 26% in rural areas. According to the 2015 Quality of Life Survey, 40% of the people who live in rural areas are in a multidimensional poverty condition, being three times higher than that of urban areas.
Luckily, urban consumers are more aware when buying local and artisan products that support the rural economy and are also environmentally-friendly. These actions promote peasant families' economic reactivation and the recovery of the links between cities and rural areas.
Nevertheless, recovering the sovereignty of rural areas takes more than conscientious and responsible consumers. The State has a great responsibility to formulate and implement public policies that prioritize rural areas as the country’s development axes.
We want to highlight four urgent actions that are essential to promote rural development in Colombia:
1. Development of roads that connect municipal and county seats. This road infrastructure can improve connectivity and accessibility to nearby populated centers or municipal capitals, ports, and major cities. This interconnectivity improves efficiency in the production chain, making it easier for farmers to produce, distribute, and commercialize products, helping them to lower the costs and offer greater efficiency in the product-consumer relationship.
2.Technological investment makes farmers more competitive by using devices and processes with the latest technology to strengthen agriculture's territorial and productive management.
3. Political representation of peasants in decision-making. It is necessary to make it easier for peasants to participate more in institutional spaces at the national and local levels, where important decisions are made about social and economic investments in the rural sector and territorial development.
4.More investment in cadastral and Land-use plans. According to figures from the last National Agricultural Census (CNA), published in 2015, of more than 111 million hectares that the country has in rural areas, 26 million have the potential for agricultural and forestry production. Still, it is only produced in 7 million hectares (27%). For this reason, it is urgent to prioritize the advancement and funding of the rural planning units that organize the functionality of the national rural area and grants more land titles to peasant families. Public and private investment on cadastral and land-use plans need to do so by considering the plurality of crops and possible economies in the Colombian countryside, such as mining, forestry, fishing and agriculture.
The city depends on the countryside, particularly family farming, to provide food to its citizens. Also, the countryside needs the city for the commercialization of the goods and services that it can offer.
Our role as city dwellers for the recovery of the countryside and the promotion of its development is to support public policies of territorial development, consume local as much as possible, support peasant markets and those corporations that are fair with peasant families, who at the end the ones responsible for filling our shopping carts every week.
La Via Campesina is an international movement that brings together around 200 million peasants, small and medium farmers, rural youth and women, indigenous people, migrants and agricultural workers from all over the world. 181 organizations in 81 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and America are part of this movement, who fight together to achieve food sovereignty, the protection of the rights of peasant families and take action for climate justice.
Compra Local (“Buy Local”): The Township of Medellín through the Subsecretariat of Rural Development, created this online platform to generate a direct sales channel between peasants and inhabitants of Medellín to mitigate the economic impacts left by the pandemic of the Coronavirus. Currently, it aims to support the food marketing of rural producers and local entrepreneurs. This platform seeks to give continuity to the Farmers Markets, an initiative that has been supporting local producers and strengthening the supply and distribution channels of farming products in the city.
Oglifoods: this company aims to recover foods that are rejected for their aesthetic appearance, but that are suitable for consumption. Oglifoods helps growers to recover the harvest that other customers do not buy because of the appearance of the product while helping to reduce the impact of the carbon footprint generated by food waste.