EARLIER THIS month, Vanus James, a practitioner of the dismal science of economics, penned a piece entitled the “Science of food security,” controversially concluding that food security in our island societies should be achieved by highly subsidised food production…and imports of most of our food from the rest of the world. “After all,” he chortled, “we all live on one planet.”
Indeed we do! But as this global pandemic has shown, long efficiency driven, just in time food chains collapse under the irrationality of a system that wastes 40 per cent of the food it produces and uses over 100 billion barrels of fossil fuels a day to move foodstuffs around our small blue planet that is suffering from its own GHG-induced respiratory failure.
Maybe covid19 is Earth’s way of telling us how it feels not to be able to breathe and to be locked down in ever more restrictive layers of concrete and quarantined so she cannot interact with the beautiful and bountiful biodiversity that are her friends and children.
In this context, it was a real pleasure to see a video of Prime Minister Rowley in his backyard garden, extolling the calming virtues of nurturing and nourishing seedlings, watching them grow and harvesting the fruits of his labours. His serene and joyful expression reflects those of the children the Green Market taught during our Eco Minds projects and those from the Gordon Village Youth Team, all happy and excited about food they had grown and could share.
It is not only our Prime Minister who is encouraging us to grow and eat healthy food, but news stories have captured former prime minister Basdeo Panday standing proudly displaying cabbage and cauliflower that he grew. The Leader of the Opposition and former prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar also produced a video of herself harvesting tomatoes and herbs.
So, the growing of food in your garden constitutes a seminal point of agreement across party lines and across generations. Consequently, food production and food security are foundational vectors in an integrated national development strategy. And importantly, a point of national unity.
PM Rowley also pointed out the “socialising” effect of garden growing. Garden growing stimulates family participation and fosters community engagement through sharing knowledge and harvests – there is always more in the garden than a single family needs.
Which brings me to the several points I would like to make:
Food security is not a science. Food security is a set of policy, production and consumption choices made by people. The pandemic involved the entire nation in procuring and distributing food to hungry citizens and may I add immigrants.
Of interest in this national reordering of food distribution for food drives was its reliance on the purchasing power of the more fortunate and the overwhelming reliance on imported foodstuffs. Ron Finley, the celebrated “gangsta” gardener from South Los Angeles, famously said, “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”
Food security in a community, which I believe is the unit required for this discussion, demands redundancy. Communities should be capable of producing food, bottling, drying, freezing and agro-processing it, in order to have it available for the proverbial rainy day. Since rainy days now can manifest as bush fires, torrential rains and floods due to climate change, more intense hurricanes and storms, these local storehouses and community capacity in basic agriculture becomes mandatory. Of course, every day is not a rainy day! The excess food (largely unmonetised) will be generated as a tangible insurance premium.
Growing food in urban communities will add to national food security because 53 per cent of us live in cities. If there are transport disruptions, fuel shortages, major damage to roads, communities must be able to procure food by walking to decentralised storehouses and stockpiles.
Achieving food security also compels the national community to reimagine urban landscapes so that designs include urban forestry and gardens geared to increase and preserve biodiversity. Town and Country Planning: get ready for serious repurposing of parking lots and residential communities to include watershed management and nature-based solutions to flooding and fire.
Finally, understanding how your garden grows is a science. The multidisciplinary field of agricultural science is fairly recent. The development of new crop varieties along with synthetic fertilisers and pesticides has created controversy about the environmental effects of industrialised, commodified agriculture.
Ernst Gotsch, a renowned expert of syntropic agro-forestry, explains, “We need to know the ecophysiological function of plants,” by which he means we have to understand holistically how individual plants work with the soil, the microbes and the other plants and trees in order for humans to farm in an ecologically sustainable manner. Studying how to do this is the real work for humanity as outlined by our new teacher, covid19.
I think we in TT and indeed the wider Caribbean are up to the task of creating a model for food security at the community level, through participatory democracy and relocalisation of both food production and decision-making that is simultaneously resilient, robust, healthy and delicious.
Again, it makes me and many of us joyful to see our leaders in their gardens reflecting on how plants, seemingly individual, are deeply interconnected and co-operate and collaborate with each other and their larger environment to flourish.
Vicki-Ann Assevero is the founder of the Green Market, Santa Cruz