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TAKING FOOD SECURITY INTO THEIR OWN HANDS: COMMUNITY GARDENING IN CHANGING ENVIRONMENTS

As in the poorer suburbs of Los Angeles in the USA – evidenced by A guerilla gardener in South Central LA – in the barrios above Caracas in Venezuela, a group of women are planting herbs in a community garden which they designed from land reclaimed from a building site. Surrounded by unsafe terrain with risks from landslides, they need a safe space to meet together and to play with their children. Using the space to grow fresh vegetables and herbs – and sell surpluses to the local community to sustain their families, particularly with many young men being killed in gang warfare, has become a huge benefit. An overreliance on processed and long-lasting foods brought up the slopes from the city, has resulted in a poor diet for those living in the barrios and obesity is on the rise, particularly amongst women. A national survey carried out in 2014 found that Venezuela was a country with two diametrically opposing forms of malnutrition: undernourishment and obesity. On the other side of the world, in a built-up area on the Gaza strip in Palestine, young people are working on a garden on a site previously used as a rubbish dump. Access to fresh foods has been severely disrupted in Palestine, with the appropriation of agricultural land by the Israeli occupation resulting in a loss of local food growing and knowledge, leading to restricted imports of mainly processed foods via Israel. Israel’s ‘siege’ or draconian closure of the Gaza Strip since 2006 has led to shortages of potable water, electricity and basic nutrition, as well as essential medicines and medical care. The occupation of lands deprives the Palestinian economy of 63% of the West Bank’s agricultural resources, including the most fertile and best grazing land. Other physical barriers, such as walls, fences and no man’s land (Category C land), have effectively decreased the available land, restricting it to a tight geographical space, while the expansion of Israeli settlements has further diminished the area available for agricultural activities. Here too, there are high rates of obesity, particularly among women. With a shortage of fresh drinking water, there has been a rise in the consumption of sugary drinks, and diabetes is also an increasing concern, including among young children. Global food security is one of the biggest concerns of our time. Conflicts are on the rise, driven largely by political unrest and instability and the impacts of climate change which are affecting our food production and distribution, are bringing increased inequality, poverty and declining human health. Food security, `when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life’ (FAO, 1996, Plan of Action, Point 1), is decreasing. In 2016, the number of chronically undernourished people in the world was estimated to have increased to 815 million from 777 million in 2015. Increasing urbanisation means that more and more people are dependent on accessing food from within urban areas, which is also associated with dietary shifts towards more processed and pre-prepared foods, in part in response to long working hours and, for many, in combination with reduced physical activity. Climate change, a decline in the biodiversity of the land and a lack of knowledge of food growing present similar challenges around the world, and this is felt acutely in places such as Venezuela and the Palestinian territories, where political decisions are impacting on the poorest in society most. However, these communities are taking the solution into their own hands – reclaiming spaces, growing food, interacting with nature and the land, and with each other. Local ownership, management and control and the added value of enhanced social cohesion have ensured the success and long-term sustainability of these initiatives, even in environments with limited or scarce natural resources. Policy makers need to take this evidence from the ground into consideration when looking at food security to ensure that policies allow for an equitable distribution of resources to build the foundation for a sustainable future, even in unfavourable and unsupportive political climates. Abridged from Kenton & Singha, 2018 Community empowerment in changing environments: creating value through food security, Contemporary Social Science.

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