Come February of this year Urbanag will be 6 years old. While its true to say we have done much and developed new ideas on the progress of Urbanag's central theme, the development of urban agriculture, has not however greatly progressed. That does not mean to say that there has not been plenty going on. Quite the contrary many groups and communities have engaged in food growing activities and now have poly tunnels and plots of local produce at their community and other centres. This addition to total food supply is however extremely limited and projects have been as much about community activity and cohesion as that of food production. This is not to be critical but simply make the point we are still a very long way from having urban agriculture as an easily recognised activity.
Do we need it?
Certainly the supermarkets are full of food and competition has kept prices low with new retailers changing earlier model's in order to keep prices down. Yes we have seen the rise of those reliant upon foodbanks but this is more about their economic situation than it is about the price or availability of food generally. Changing those economics will help those individuals and wont produce problems in the food supply, far from it, it will create larger markets for suppliers who remain able to meet demand.
Urbanag always believed and still does that it was attempting to deal with a long term problem and not an immediate need and one that goes well beyond the supermarket shelf. It does so on the basis of that need arising within the lifetime of at least our younger members of society if not the older ones. Issues such as climate change, population growth in both size and consumption capacity are some of the issues likely to bring about a future food crisis. For example the ever increasing consumption of meat, a product costly, in terms of resources and production efficiency. That's not say we are against meat eating but that it has to be seen in terms of overall needs and not in isolation. Britain is not particularly raising its production in the light of these issues and will thus become more dependant on imports as population rises. Those imports in turn will face increased competition with subsequent rising prices from equally needy countries. Prices that many in this country can and will continue to afford for the foreseeable future. The adverse impact will however lay heavy on the poorer members of society. Experts talk of global food crises by the middle of the century. Maybe their right or it might happen sooner or later or not at all although this seems the least likely.
Britain's agricultural industry is currently among the most productive in the world although its size means we remain reliant on imports. That productively is under scrutiny by some who question its sustainability. Government policy seems to be produce more from less as land is taken up with other developments and smaller farms are seen as unproductive. This view is not shared and when inputs are matched against outputs that picture becomes distinctly dodgy. Even the World Bank state that the most productive farms with this input/output model are African and Asian small and medium size enterprises
We believe Britain needs an urban agriculture employing people and making a significant contribution to our food needs as it does in those areas mentioned above. A figure of 10% is often quoted as doable. Of course other factors count. Waste remains a problem and could if tackled lead to increases in supply without any corresponding increase in production. Equally consumption needs to be reduced with certain foods especially sugar. Here Urbanag believes in imposed reductions in processed foods based upon the best scientific understanding and with continued research rather than any taxation which will again adversely effect poorest. In the long term taxation almost certainly wont fix the problem even if some short term research in other parts of the world indicates otherwise.
Its what urban agriculture will look like and what it needs to look like that matters. With pressure on land resources and urban soils often degraded large growing areas seem unlikely. Urbanag has increasingly looked to aquaponics. This is the production of fish and plant stock in recirculating systems. But aquaponics raises as many issues as it attempts to address. Is there a desire or palate for fish products which are generally on the decline in the nation's diet. The economics of any type of urban agriculture is difficult and no less so with aquaponics. When land can get better financial returns from house building the siteing of an aquaponic systems is problematic. We advocate derelict industrial sites which are also most prolific in the poorer areas of cities. Employment from aquaponics will never be great even if markets are developed although investment is not so great, when compared to other job creation. Even with grants sustainable enterprises still remains beyond the pockets of the communities where it could be most beneficial.
So 2016 will, as previous years, remain difficult for communities and for Urbanag but we are still committed and so hopefully are you.