Have you ever thought about where your food comes from? How it was grown? The people involved? The processes involved? Though these are clearly important questions to ask, we often don’t take time to ponder on this. Our modern day food systems are vast, complex and highly interconnected networks that rely on various components to function efficiently.

The vast and complex nature of these systems inevitably result in trade offs, compromises and inefficiencies with regards to both access and quality of food that consumers ultimately get. Challenges in the system are most evident in the vast distances food has to travel from source to consumers. This dependence on petrochemicals in both the production and more importantly the transportation of food leaves the system vulnerable to a resource that is highly volatile in pricing and accessibility. Evidence of this can be seen by the recent fuel shortages here in Zimbabwe which have resulted in food price hikes. A strong local food economy provides a panacea to some of these issues.

The emergence of a local food economy in the majority of Zimbabwe’s urban settlements has mainly been fueled by the harsh economic environment over the last 20 years. In an attempt to survive, urban citizens have ditched lawns for green houses, swimming pools for fish ponds and sprawling backyards for chicken coups. An inadvertent shift towards a more sustainable local food economy has occurred and continues to grow. More and more people have taken up some form of urban farming and food production as the rewards of doing so become more evident. This growth has however not been complemented appropriately by government as the focus continues to be on commercial and rural farming. However a strong and robust local food economy in Zimbabwe would provide the following benefits.

Eco-Friendly Farming Practices

The size of most urban farms allows for the exploration of alternative farms practices. Practices that  require little or no agro-chemicals like permaculture, aquaponics and biodynamic agriculture. All these allow for  a high quantity and quality of yield without poisoning the soil and consumers with pesticides.

Resilient Food Networks

A local food economy reduces the distance food has to travel from the producer to the consumer. This helps to protect the system from shocks due to changes in the price or availability of fuel.  When the system is supported by targeted government investments, it can ultimately result in more resilient urban settlements as a greater percentage of food demand is met by local production.

Dietary Diversity

The nature of large scale conventional agriculture does not encourage diversification in the range of crops that are grown. The focus on producing crops with high yields,high value and long shelf life resultantly leaves consumers with less choice. Small scale urban production encourages and rewards diversification in both crop variety and product types.

Community Building

The nature of a local food system encourages deeper connections between producers and consumers as they tend to interact face to face at the point of sale. This is usually done at farmers markets or at the producers residence. It also creates greater wealth within the community as money stays circulating within the local economy.

Healthier Population

A local food economy rebuilds the connection between consumers and the natural processes of growing food. Through the use of clever advertising strategies, consumers have been influenced to consume more and more nutritionally deficient and overly processed foods. Local food systems encourage consumers to make wiser decisions and purchase healthier alternatives. This is due to the fact that the market for local foods rewards products that are organic, free of pesticides, preservatives and
minimally processed,

It is however acknowledged that alone, local food economies might not meet all of a country’s food requirements. It does however remain an important element  that needs strengthening and support.  A food system is held to the virtue that it must efficiently provide us with healthy food that we know the source of.  We therefore remain with much work to do in light of this virtue.

Tanaka Tsikira is an independent sustainability consultant with a special interest in sustainable food systems and circular economics. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Economics and Finance from the University of Cape Town and is a qualified in GRI sustainability reporting. His main work towards building a more resilient food system in Zimbabwe is through his work with Chikafu. Chikafu is Zimbabwe’s first online local food directory which enables consumers to find and connect with quality local food producers in their neighbourhoods. Tel: +263784581273  | Email: tanaka@chikafu.co.zw
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