A step towards collaborative sustainability

(Guest post by Ananya Mukherjee)

The problem

At a time when the UN forecasts that the world population is going to reach a staggering 10 billion somewhere between 2050-2100, it adds to the already present problems of lack of food security and sustainability coupled with lack of space, dearth of arable farmland and severely damaged ecosystems in certain parts of the world.

This also comes in view of the fact that in certain places around the world, agricultural practices sustain a vast majority of the population, now struggling to come into terms of a future that involves land and resource crises. The problem intensifies for women food growers as land availability is the biggest hurdle and challenge in their quest to achieve food security and also to take home a good income.

STOA (Science and Technology Options Assessment), a part of the European Parliament, organised a workshop in December, 2013 on “How to feed the world in 2050?”. The keynote speaker, Prof. Louise O. Fresco elucidated the fact that no one on the planet is immune when it comes to the challenges imposed by our quest to attain ‘food security’. According to her,”It touches everybody as without food we do not survive for more than a few days”.

Importance of Collaborative methods

Professor Fresco also stressed on the importance of a long term social contract by implementing sustainable methods of production, food purchase, cutting down wastage and also integrating the fundamentals of the concept called Eco-footprint. Eco-footprint basically refers to the amount of land, water and sources of energy required to produce sustenance for an individual. It is also representative of the average rate of consumption of resources by an individual and to also the fact that we need to develop ways to reabsorb the wasted resources and energy back into the system to reduce the Eco-footprint.

This only goes on to validate the importance of conscious and educated collaboration among the members of the involved communities who are affected by changes at all levels.

What are ‘Food Forests’?

There are various ways a community can garner a status as a self-sufficient food producing unit. One such community-based collaboration can be in the form of developing a Food Forest where a variety of indigenous fruits, nuts, berries, herbs and mushrooms can be grown. Unlike in ‘Community Gardens’ that involves a concept of owner-ship of the vegetable patches by individuals; a food forest is not designed on the lines of ownership by individuals.
USA has already started the implementation of this concept in Massachusetts and Washington.

The development of food forests can also be of great help in places that are cut-off during winter months or are located at high altitudes. In such places, the indigenous seeds are first acclimatised to the harsh conditions and short growing seasons and the robust lines are interbred by traditional techniques. Since, there is a window between the acclimatisation period and a fully-functional food forest, it’s leaves enough time for the residents and the members to be educated so they take only as much of the forest produce as required and reduce wastage.

Hydroponics and Aeroponics; some of the other methods that can be implemented on a community level

Apart from developing food forests and in order to address a lack of space and to get more city dwellers involved, hydroponic and aeroponic systems can also help deliver effective results by producing healthy food , reducing the dependence on resources and encouraging resuse and recycling.

In an hydroponic or aeroponic system, the soil that is essentially required to anchor the roots together and supply nutrients to the plant is replaced by coconut husks or clay pellets that simply support the plant system while nutrients are added via a water pumping cycle in case of hydroponics. Nutrients are sprayed in form of mists in a system based on aeroponics. Many practitioners urge people to come up with their own varieties of such systems in order to increase effeciency and yield as being the consumers, they are on the receiving end of all such processes. Therefore, they need to have an idea of what would work best for them and implement it accordingly by taking in account our current understanding of scientic processes.

Some practitioners without an access to roof-tops or live in cramped places in major cities in the world utilise the concept of vertical hydroponic and aeropnic systems.
Even scientists are now growing fresh herbs and vegetables at zero gravity aboard the International Space Station.

A possible outcome of collaborative efforts
These practices when implemented from the grass-root levels and involve communication with other communities can help improve indigenous systems in order to be able to work together towards a sustainable future.

Ananya Mukherjee is the Founder of The Idea Bucket, an initiative that tries to develop lifestyles based on the ideas of sustainability, collaborative economy, a scientific understanding and practical utilisation of a variety of subjects in order to help people in their quest to lead simple, fulfilling, debt-free lives.