mfioretti: localism*

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  1. Clapp identifies four arguments often voiced against food self-sufficiency from a food security perspective.

    - The first argument is that drought or natural disasters can lead to severe shortfalls in production, leading to periodic episodes of hunger for countries that do not engage in food trade.
    - The second argument is the economists’ belief that market intervention designed to insulate domestic markets from competition results in inefficiencies and in lower production and higher food prices, thereby harming long-term food security.
    - Thirdly, if farmers are denied the possibility to export, they are deprived of income which could enhance their food security.
    - Fourth, not all countries have the natural resource base that would allow them to supply all of their own food needs domestically, sustainably, for instance due to a shortage of water. The former Director General of the WTO, Pascal Lamy, for example, considers food trade to be an ‘‘environmental obligation” ii »

    Clapp, however, identifies that there are many valid reasons for a country to increase food self- sufficiency and decrease its dependency to international trade.

    Clapp concludes that:

    ”A more nuanced approach based on the real-world application of food self-sufficiency policies does not view the concept as an either/or proposition, but rather sees it in relative terms. Such an approach could potentially create room for a more productive policy dialogue on this issue at the international level."

    In addition to the paper of Ms Clapp, I would add some pertinent drawbacks of international trade in foods.

    Europe has let almost 100 million hectares of farm land revert to forest or lying idle, while European farmers buy soy from South America and European food industries buy palm oil from Malaysia and Indonesia. Europe could produce those, or equivalent crops, within its own territory, but it is simply cheaper to import it. iii » Thus, trade has diminished the European production and created a trade dependency. Only a quarter of the trade is with crops which could not be grown in the importing country. iv » (read more here). The higher proportion of food that is globally traded, the bigger dependencies will be created when regions that could produce their own food cease to do that. More and more people will be structurally dependent on global trade; trade becomes its own justification.

    The possibility to move food from areas of surplus to areas of shortage (food aid) should be a backup measure which will not be supplied by the market but by governments. The food security argument for global trade is therefore not valid.

    The increasing distance between consumption and production makes it easier for market actors to externalize costs and more difficult to citizens and the political system to influence the way things are produced. v »

    Competition drives farmers in to more and more specialization and larger scale in order to cut costs. This leads to that farms go into mono-cropping and, ultimately, economies of scale will turn whole landscapes to one or a few lines of production/commodities. Which is perfectly in line with the theory of comparative advantage but a disaster fur nature and sustainability of the production system.

    The carrot for trade is profit, but the much bigger driver is the stick of competition. On the level of the individual basic actor in the food system, the farmer, the main influence of trade is competition. It is competition that drives mechanization and structural transformation of the farm sector, it is competition which makes it necessary for farmers to externalize costs to the environment, to workers or to livestock. It seems to me that reducing competition would be an important objective for a food trade policy.

    Trade without competition, anyone?
    Voting 0
  2. Rome and London are two huge, sluggish beasts of cities that have outlived millennia of eager reformers. They share a world where half the people already live in cities and another couple billion are on their way into town. The population is aging quickly, the current infrastructure must crumble and be replaced by its very nature, and climate disaster is taking the place of the past’s great urban fires, wars, and epidemics. Those are the truly important, dull but worthy urban issues.

    However, the cities of the future won’t be “smart,” or well-engineered, cleverly designed, just, clean, fair, green, sustainable, safe, healthy, affordable, or resilient. They won’t have any particularly higher ethical values of liberty, equality, or fraternity, either. The future smart city will be the internet, the mobile cloud, and a lot of weird paste-on gadgetry, deployed by City Hall, mostly for the sake of making towns more attractive to capital.

    Whenever that’s done right, it will increase the soft power of the more alert and ambitious towns and make the mayors look more electable. When it’s done wrong, it’ll much resemble the ragged downsides of the previous waves of urban innovation, such as railways, electrification, freeways, and oil pipelines. There will also be a host of boozy side effects and toxic blowback that even the wisest urban planner could never possibly expect.

    “information about you wants to be free to us.”

    This year, a host of American cities vilely prostrated themselves to Amazon in the hopes of winning its promised, new second headquarters. They’d do anything for the scraps of Amazon’s shipping business (although, nobody knows what kind of jobs Amazon is really promising). This also made it clear, though, that the flat-world internet game was up, and it’s still about location, location, and location.

    Smart cities will use the techniques of “smartness” to leverage their regional competitive advantages. Instead of being speed-of-light flat-world platforms, all global and multicultural, they’ll be digitally gated communities, with “code as law” that is as crooked, complex, and deceitful as a Facebook privacy chart.

    You still see this upbeat notion remaining in the current smart-city rhetoric, mostly because it suits the institutional interests of the left.

    The “bad part of town” will be full of algorithms that shuffle you straight from high-school detention into the prison system. The rich part of town will get mirror-glassed limos that breeze through the smart red lights to seamlessly deliver the aristocracy from curb into penthouse.

    These aren’t the “best practices” beloved by software engineers; they’re just the standard urban practices, with software layered over. It’s urban design as the barbarian’s varnish on urbanism.

    If you look at where the money goes (always a good idea), it’s not clear that the “smart city” is really about digitizing cities. Smart cities are a generational civil war within an urban world that’s already digitized.

    It’s a land grab for the command and control systems that were mostly already there.
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  3. There’s an understandable impulse in the face of growing national divisions and what for many was the shocking and unpleasant outcome of the 2016 national elections to retreat to a comforting cocoon of the like-minded. Blue cities will do all the things that a solidly Republican national government won’t do: respect LGBTQ rights, provide sanctuary for immigrants, denounce climate change, and tax themselves to pay for needed investments and public services. But withdrawing to the safety of agreeable blue localities cedes the important national battle at just the time when it needs to be contested.

    It is well and good to celebrate the successes that mayors and local leaders are having. But transforming these heartening but small successes into a sweeping call for a new localism is misplaced when the fundamental functions of the national government are being steadily undermined. None of this works in a world in which the federal government is not simply rending holes in the safety net but knocking down its foundations.

    While the rest of the world’s nation-states adopted the trappings of modern social democracies, the U.S. was late to implement things like unemployment insurance, social security and universal health care. The New Deal, the Great Society, and Obamacare were only enacted after various local and state programs to address these problems were simply overwhelmed.

    Cities are not merely ill-equipped to tackle our major challenges on their own. Localism has an undeniable history of making many problems worse. Take two big issues of our time: climate change and surging inequality. Mayors and cities can strike a pose and demonstrate effective tactics, but they lack the policy throw-weight to solve these problems.

    It’s also worth noting that a key aspect of localism that has been effectively exempt from federal control—local control of zoning and land use—has worsened the economic segregation of our nation’s metropolitan areas
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  4. why do some fail? And why San Diego County, of all places, which nurtures the perfect climate for hard-to-find fresh produce like artichokes and abundant, succulent tomatoes and citrus?

    To get to the heart of the spiny question, I turned to another region that is world-renowned for its farm-to-table programs: the Province of British Columbia, Canada.

    farm_to_table_grapes_Kelowna09British Columbia doesn’t grow quite the same kinds of crops as Southern California, but its economy is bolstered by just as many (probably more) small farms and ranches that provide a bevy of local produce to cities like Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna and Penticton and surrounding areas. It also has an additional caveat: a vibrant tourism business that draws business from around the world, just like San Diego.

    B.C.’s farm-to-table movement got its start in the famed Kelowna area, a city at the heart of the Okanagan Valley, the province’s key wine-producing region. As in San Diego, farm-to-table programs make sense in the Thompson Okanagan. The region supports a $1.7 billion regional tourism industry and, in addition to several picturesque cities, is populated with more than 5,000 different farms. Many of those small farms are located within an agricultural land reserve that ensures B.C.’s vital produce and wine industries continue to flourish.

    Perhaps opening the door for new business concepts is the first step. But creating ways to incentivize accountability by making sure that farm-to-table programs give credit to both the producer and the benefiting presenter is critical to ensuring a growing and sustainable leisure and hospitality industry.
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  5. News that the ‘Big Four’ major British supermarkets are experiencing massive losses has become so ubiquitous in recent months it hardly seems newsworthy anymore. The most spectacular fall from glory has been Tesco’s

    it is the German discount supermarkets Aldi and Lidl, not the independent shops, that are credited with dealing the fatal blow to the Big Four and shaking up the food economy. The result is a new breed of shopper – dubbed “promiscuous” by one Sainsbury’s exec for being the kind of people who shop around, buy less at one go but on a more frequent basis, and (shock horror!) visit multiple stores on one outing. But the delinquency of these promiscuous shoppers is still modest, relatively speaking; recent research suggests the average consumer frequents just four separate grocers per month. So, while some consumers are revolutionising the food economy by bed hopping between supermarkets and independents, for most people supermarkets remain a regular haunt.

    Supermarkets may be able to cling on to this notion of convenience, but the myth that they are cheap has been irrevocably shattered. Aldi and Lidl’s ‘everyday low pricing’ has shone a torch on the Big Four’s hefty mark-ups, and the simplicity of the German discounters’ pricing exposed the disingenuous smoke-and-mirrors of the promotions, loyalty schemes and shouty price wars between Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and also Waitrose.

    With the illusion of value for money shattered, there seems little to redeem supermarkets other than the convenience of having everything under one roof. Listing all the potentially destructive or unethical features of this dominant food retail model would be a lengthy process. But in brief, supermarkets created a food monoculture in which most people buy and eat the same food across Britain. With their global, long-chain sourcing model, they undermined the age-old cycle of seasonal eating. They were the midwives of the ‘no-time-to-cook’ processed food revolution, which now looks to be a key driver of ill health and obesity.

    As a social enterprise, hiSbe is a very different kind of supermarket. It offers its customers the full spectrum of food and groceries with products that are as local, seasonal, sustainable, ethically sourced, animal and fish friendly as possible, and with as little packaging, pesticides and additives as feasible. There is zero wastage of edible food and staff are paid above the living wage. Despite these principles, hiSbe is no wholefood store: it sells everyday and familiar products for people on regular diets – it just goes about it in a better way. Nor is it a preachy and pricier alternative for an affluent and principled minority. Prices – which dwarf all other factors as the Big Four found out to their expense – are kept low at hiSbe by selling fruit and vegetables by weight, working directly with family-run farms in Sussex and selling packaged goods below the suppliers recommended retail prices.
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  6. so-called “locavores” argue that the fewer miles from field to fork, the less environmental impact of your meal. Others, such as Steve Sexton, Assistant Professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, argue that large-scale monocrop farms actually use fewer resources and cause less harm to the environment than small-scale farms with diverse crops. The gains in efficiency, debatably, outweigh the limited carbon avoidance from reduced food miles on the locavore menu.

    To support his argument, Sexton tests the impact of a scenario in which all food eaten in the United States was grown locally. He concludes that the amount of acres, fertiliser and chemical pesticides needed to make the shift would increase by 20%–40%. This analysis would suggest that large-scale and monocrop agriculture is a better method of sustainable agricultural.

    However, Sexton assumes that nothing else about our food system would change – not eating habits, agricultural practices, government subsidies to large cash-crop farms nor food processing. But if the new locavore nation also started eating fewer highly processed foods laden with corn syrup and soy, this would significantly reduce the demand for these crops at the heart of his analysis, and therefore the amount of pesticides, land and water required in localised agriculture.

    Indeed, efficiencies gained by large-scale monocrop systems have driven the proliferation of this type of agriculture. Many things would need to change for even a single US state to shift to “locavorian” agricultural practices. But eating local is about more than just food miles and small-scale farming; it’s about knowing where your food comes from and the sustainable practices used on the farm.
    Influence and industry

    Consider the largest egg recall in US history: in 2010, half a billion eggs were taken off grocery shelves after more than a thousand cases of Salmonella were linked to hens living in confinement at two of the country’s largest egg producers. A series of undercover video investigations by the US Humane Society (USHS) and later by the Food and Drug Administration revealed deplorable living conditions at the Iowa sites. “One facility had 18 structures, each confining approximately 300,000 birds,” reported the USHS.

    Bigger farms, in this case, meant the risk of exposure was spread more widely. The number of birds harmed by living out their days in battery cages was in the millions and the weight of food waste resulting from the egg recall was immense.

    The larger size also meant that these industrial farmers with a history of environmental violations had the financial capacity for greater legal recourse. Two years after the egg recall, the state became one of many to pass a so-called ‘Ag-Gag’ law. Originally drafted to prevent the video or photo documentation of animal cruelty at farming operations, it was rewritten and passed to make it illegal for investigative reporters to take jobs at factory farms in Iowa, thwarting efforts like the ones that led to this and other food recalls.
    Tools of the trade

    But the plot thickens. Not only do small farmers face significant financial and legal barriers, the very tools used to evaluate environmental impact are designed with only an industrial scale in mind, according to Ankita Raturi, a doctoral student in Informatics at the University of California, Irvine.

    While the story of sustainable agriculture in the 21st century is still being written, we can draw some morals from the journey so far.

    First, large-scale farms are better equipped to manage the administrative and financial costs of organic certifications, but this does not mean they are more environmentally sound than smaller, uncertified farms. Streamlining the certification process and providing incentives may help small farmers get certified. But until the label holds to the principles of organic that reflect actual environmental and social impact, small farmers and consumers will grow ever more weary of the label itself.

    Second, large-scale farms may be more efficient in their use of resources, but may likewise be able to wield those resources for legal advantage and regulatory resolutions. If efficiency in farming is the way forward, we must engender a watchful citizenry and greater checks and balances on regulatory decisions that make trade-offs between financial risk and human, animal and environmental risk.

    Finally, the tools designed to assess sustainability in agriculture have been based on the practices of large-scale farms, and not geared towards assessing whether large-scale farming is superior to small-scale in terms of sustainability. For as long as industrial agriculture enjoys readily available data on conventional, though unsustainable, practices, and small farmers using alternative methods must invest significant resources into assessment tools, we will lack systematic and rigorous evaluation of actual impact. With new measures on the horizon we may soon be able to carry out a more robust comparison of sustainable agriculture across scale, and confidently celebrate a hero in this story.
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  7. Eventually, self-sufficiency and exhaustion trumped the Colonial lifestyle. They put in a satellite phone, dug a well.

    Harvesting by hand gave way at first to Star and Bright’s efforts, and then they sold the team to buy a tractor. They bought a generator and power tools, including a jigsaw. “That was fun — we put gingerbread trim on everything,” Johannes said.

    They tried wind power, then solar. “You might get 40 minutes a day, and then it would crash,” he said. “Lightning storms would hit and blow up the transformer.” Four years ago, they hooked up to the power grid.
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  8. Growing produce in South America and trucking it to locations in North America requires a huge amount of energy. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is helping to fund improvements in agricultural energy efficiency, as well as conversions to renewable energy systems, that will make regional growing more affordable.

    Cozy Acres Greenhouse in North Yarmouth, Maine, utilized the USDA program to create its signature line of produce — described as “Zero Emission” products. Cozy Acres’ produce is grown in a greenhouse that uses electricity created from the sun and heat from a geothermal system. When it distributes its products to local restaurants and farmer’s markets, their carbon footprint is negligible.
    3. Advanced technology

    Year-round grow operations were unheard of in northern climates due to the short daylight of winter. The use of supplemental grow lights tended to be expensive and limited profit potential. New LED grow lights have dramatically reduced the energy demands of a greenhouse operation and make year-round operations more profitable.

    One Michigan grower recently received a sizable weekly contract for produce simply because their lettuce was grown locally and year-round. Restaurants, catering to the demands of their customers, want to offer more locally-grown produce. Advances in vertical farming and hydroponics are now taking the weather variable out of farming and making predictable harvests a reality
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  9. "She started directly and got right to the point. She presented Asturias, the “natural paradise,” as a place of productive desertification, not very different, and for similar reasons, from Eastern European countries. But her focus was somewhere else: on turning away from dependence both on grants and on financial capital. And she brought a warning: the “saviour business” isn’t coming, and start-ups won’t rebuild industry or create employment.

    She started to give examples, models from the vuvuzela to BQ, outlining a true small-scale, large-scope program for local reindustrialization.

    And she had an uncomfortable message for the dominant nationalism and localism: abandon the obsessive idea of “from here,” and put a real effort into “attracting developers, engineers, designers, makers…” that feed a cooperative fabric that makes a place for an unemployed generation and feeds large repositories of free designs."
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  10. I see much better prospects for the continuation of capitalism. After all, who will grow and transport our food? It can’t all be grown locally in large cities, particularly in cold climates. Who will produce the computer chips, optical fiber, and plastic upon which the Collaborative Commons and 3D printing depend? And who will maintain the international communications cables across which we will all send our open designs? Although Rifkin doesn’t investigate these topics, he admits that large, centralized institutions will continue to play a role in the new paradigm.

    Finally, I have a tremendous appreciation for human entrepreneurship (as does Rifkin, an admission that comes to full fruit in the book’s afterword). So long as some medium of exchange (that is, money) needs to exist, people will find unique goods and services that appeal to buyers. Like all the other changes to come, this will be enabled by the Internet commons and will have strong local components.
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