Can urban agriculture become a planning strategy to address social-ecological justice?

University essay from KTH/Hållbar utveckling, miljövetenskap och teknik

Abstract: Last century witnessed an unprecedented growth of cities which has led to the consolidation of an eminently urbanised world population. Meanwhile, agriculture has adopted industrial methods of production in the shape of large-scale, chemical-laden crops in the countryside, which, together with the liberalisation of global trade, have undermined the livelihood of small-scale peasants throughout the world, forcing many of them out of business. The food industry has responded to the high rates of hunger and malnutrition with an extraordinary increase in production that has not solved food security problems, as these have turned out to be more a question of unequal access to food rather than insufficient supply. Furthermore, the activity of large agri-food corporations has resulted in the degradation of natural ecosystems and an increasing pressure over already overburdened critical resources for food production. Consequently, facing the imminent threat of climate change, more and more voices are questioning the sustainability of the current food system and rising against the burgeoning hunger and escalating inequalities resulting from it. Hence, several alternatives to the neoliberal food system are emerging these days with the aim of reducing social inequalities and curbing environmental degradation, being urban agriculture one of them. Precisely, this thesis explores, from a social-ecological justice perspective, whether urban agriculture can address issues of environmental stewardship and disparities in food distribution. Although the many virtues of urban farming might not be enough to subvert the structures of power that are deeply rooted in the foundations of the present food regime, it could still play a significant role in alleviating the gaps in food needs. However, food security comes only after the core reasons of poverty have been addressed and social justice is achieved in the larger society. The pathway towards a greater social and ecological justice seems to require not only to re-examine how to feed the urban population, but also a significant transformation that goes beyond aspects from the whole food supply chain and embraces societal systemic change.

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