Food Security Depends on Local Strategy

Van foraging
Food sustainability: the author foraging for nettles along the Eramosa River


Foraging and slow food have become recurring themes here at Speed River Journal. Yesterday Barb Freda’s blog, Babette Feasts, hosted my guest post, Foraging Nettles: A Bitter Misadventure. It highlights some of the challenges of adapting to locally-available foods. Likewise, Barb’s recent guest post here shows how foraging and local food can be hard to sell in places like Bermuda. Nothing works everywhere except the laws of physics. This has implications for global food security.

It is tempting to apply philosophies with broad brush strokes without regard for different social and geographical contexts. For example, it would be nice to believe permaculture principles developed in North America or Australia will solve food problems in Africa. Missionaries have made similar mistakes for eons.

Apparently the photo attached to that last blog link was taken on a permaculture farm in France, not Africa. It is a frequent practice for bloggers to illustrate posts by drawing attractive pictures freely from the Creative Commons (I sometimes do). Unfortunately, the placement of this image may deceive about the ease of producing sustainable food in drought-ridden areas. The blogger makes a valuable argument, but should have found a more appropriate photograph.

Likewise, it is naive to dispel food scarcity as a myth or vilify mono-cropping and pesticides. It is like saying people need only think positively to cure mental illness and cancer. I agree that corporate farming is evil, but the problem of global food shortages is more complex than that. Famine has made the rounds throughout history; it likely contributed to the fall of Egypt’s Old Kingdom more than 4,000 years ago. Undoubtedly an over-reliance on grain crops contributed to the civilization’s demise, but temporary climate change could also have decimated a more balanced food supply. Soon we may face similar challenges even in North America. Food security will require more social and political change besides everyone converting to permaculture (or Jesus).

This is not to say permaculture will fail in any particular region, but it can only succeed on a local, unique formula. The best solution to food scarcity lies in empowering people to organize their own solutions appropriate to culture and land. This is what conventional agriculture misses, driven by the greed of chemical and seed corporations. A recent BBC photo essay illustrates how a group of Nigerien women started growing the drought-resistant moringa tree for food. This innovation arose from cultural knowledge that had practically been lost.

What solutions work in your particular place? Describe local foraging or agricultural practices. Maybe you have a story about something that did not work, like the bitter nettles I harvested after a month of dry weather. We can learn from mistakes as well as successes.

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