Urban agriculture and resistance in Gaza
Across the Occupied Palestinian Territories, urban agriculture and livestock keeping have always been an important component to community survival and resistance to occupation [Rami Zurayk, Anne Gough, Ahmad Sourani, and Mariam Al Jaajaa, “Food Security Challenges and Innovation: The Case of Gaza”, High Level Expert Forum: Food Insecurity in Protracted Crises, Rome: 13-14 September 2012]. In the Gaza Strip, these small, but ubiquitous rooftop gardens have become a necessity.
Traditional peasant agriculture in the Gaza Strip is practically impossible. This densely populated territory hosting a large local and refugee population consistently loses its productive land for many reasons. With a current population estimated at 1.8 million, land is often lost to the necessary expansion of human settlements and land pollution resulting from non-functioning or damaged sewage systems. Conflict and security controls have seriously damaged or restricted access to arable land. The destruction caused by operation ‘Cast Lead’ in 2009 and the expansion of a “security buffer zone” along the south-east border with Israel, rendered 46% of agricultural land in the Gaza Strip inaccessible or out of production [FAO and OCHA, “Farming without Land, Fishing without Water: Gaza’s Agricultural Sector Struggles to Survive”, May 2010]. The buffer zone contains some 30% of Gaza’s arable land and previously held many rain-fed crops and grazing lands for livestock; many producers risk their lives trying to access this land that they so desperately need. Recent Israeli offensives in 2012 and 2014 have further damaged arable lands and agricultural infrastructure, including equipment and other inputs, as have export and import sanctions by Israel [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Gaza Situation Report 88, 16 April 2015].
With the limitations on traditional food production, agriculture in Gaza has become more urban than rural. With the increasing need for access to safe and nutritious food, income generating activities, and improved environmental quality, rooftop gardens have become a critical and necessary solution, as well as a mode of resistance for the people of Gaza. Rooftops are some of the only open spaces left in many parts of Gaza and many families rely on these gardens for staple items keeping small animals, and growing foods such as tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. When there are market shortages or during times of conflict it is unsafe to go to the markets or venture out into the street and many families and neighbourhoods rely on what they can access from their roofs.
The Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee (PARC) has led the way in supporting improved urban agriculture across Gaza, through providing training courses and assisting families set up home and rooftop gardens. Recognizing the critical need for urban food production to ensure the nutritional, health and food needs, many international organizations are now also providing technical support to help Gazan families grow household and community gardens.
After each Israeli attack that Gaza has suffered, as the homes and lives are rebuilt, the gardens also continue to emerge. The green roofs that mark the crowded landscape of Gaza represent the tenacity and resilience of the community and are a real testament to the depths of the struggle for food sovereignty; what external bodies and states deny the people, they provide for themselves [For more information see: Ahmed Sourani, “The Relief and Reconstruction Plans in Gaza Strip: Between the Resilient Development Strategy and Feed to Survive Strategy”, UN Working Paper, 1 April 2015].
Food sovereignty, the right to have food and the effects of conflicts of interest
Food sovereignty among the population is one of the rights most at risk, especially in Mexico. Political will is necessary in order to achieve food sovereignty among the population. The state has to establish the necessary mechanisms for guaranteeing this right among the people, not only by considering consumption but also by considering agricultural policies in the countryside.
Some of the factors which are creating instability for the population are: human rights violations, conflicts of interest and poor public policies which “rob” citizens of the power to decide what to consume and the quality of food to offer their families. In the last few decades the interests of the private sector have been strongly favoured over public health interests at the cost of deterioration in the health of the population.
Much has been the result of misleading advertising, a lack of adequate labelling and clear guidance which allows the population to know where basic products like maize come from. There has been a devastating abandonment of agricultural policies which favour small-scale producers with priority given instead to industrial-scale practices.
In Mexico political commitments in the countryside have been ignored, nevertheless civil society continues to resist through demands for empowerment and fulfilment of their human rights. Examples include the demands of the Alliance for Healthy Eating for a tax on fizzy drinks and the installation of drinking fountains in schools. This was successful in bringing about a tax on sugary drinks and the installation of drinking fountains in all the schools in the country. Both initiatives were big strides towards the improvement of public health, but much more still needs to be done (planning, implementation, appropriate evaluation) and all this needs to be implemented in its entirety, free of conflicts of interest.
Another big achievement in the area of public health has been the prevention of mass cultivation of transgenic maize in the country. This was achieved through a Demanda Colectiva Ciudadana (Citizens Collective Claim) to protect native maize. Other initiatives have arisen in the same way to protect lives and land such as national days for the defence of the earth, employment, water, life, and the Mexican Alliance against Fracking, to name just a few important causes [http://www.hoyquecomierontushijos.org/, http://elpoderdelconsumidor.org/, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Encuentro-Nacional-Defensa-de-la-tierra-agua-y-vida/478188112283948, http://mexicovsgmo.org/, http://alianzasalud.org.mx/, http://nofrackingmexico.org/].
It is imperative that policies are free of conflicts of interest, based on human rights (especially the right to health, to food, and to water), that they favour small producers, and as a consequence make the food available to consumers nutritious, fresh and free from agrochemicals.
Building alternative food systems through Community Supported Agriculture
URGENCI is the global network of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) around the world. As such, we are part of the food sovereignty movement and the Nyéléni Europe process. The network is built on the principles of shared risks and benefits and solidarity between producers and consumers. It has now over 1 million members.
Our key objectives are to strengthen small-scale farmers’ role in the food chain, relocalise food chains and peasant agriculture, and ensure that solidarity and commitment towards farmers remain at the core of short supply chains.
One central aspect of CSAs, from a right to adequate food and nutrition perspective, is the participation of marginalised members of the community through a diversity of mechanisms. An interesting example is the Community Farm in Cloughjordan, Ireland’s famous Ecovillage. Here there is a sliding scale of payment, where the elderly, unemployed and students pay less than those who have jobs. And because the system is trust-based, the vegetables are just laid out for people to take what they need. This encourages people to really think about how much food they actually require, ensures equity of access, and discourages any potential waste. The very nature of CSA implies that all produce is organic – although not necessarily certified – and that the local producer to consumer chain ensures maximum freshness. These two factors are both key in terms of preserving a high nutritional value in the food, as it is chemical-free and travels from farm to fork at a record rate.
CSAs cover a wide range of produce, and the current trend is towards multi-producer CSAs. The meat is always from grass-fed, pastured animals and free-range chickens. Other produce varies from country to country and is always seasonal. In some cases in Europe there are now arrangements between CSAs in different countries: in South-West France, near Toulouse, some CSAs have a monthly direct delivery of oranges and olive oil from across the border in Spain [For a selection of case studies, see Hungry for Rights project (2015) Community Based Food System: a collection of case studies and recommendations from Cyprus, France, Italy, Lithuania, Senegal and UK-Scotland].
In China, where the next URGENCI conference will be held, there are now over 500 CSAs, with a membership of 750 000 families. The farmers here, like in many other countries, are generally young, qualified neo-rural populations, who have returned to the land to be closer to and care for their aging relatives, and to ensure their communities have access to healthy locally-grown food. By using not only the State-allocated land, but also renting additional communal lands, they are building alternative food systems to the industrial agribusiness model. The Chinese and other CSAs are providing millions of people at global level with locally grown, safe, nutritious and organically grown food, in line with the principles of agroecology. www.urgenci.net
13 steps for good nutrition
1. All women and men have equitable access and control over productive resources, jobs and incomes.
2. Women are guaranteed equal rights to study, to work, to have full control over their bodies and lives.
3. Families and communities guarantee the conditions for a woman to exercise her right to breastfeed, as the first act of food sovereignty.
4. Small scale producers, communities and consumers define public food and nutrition policies in a participatory way.
5. Agro industrial and big food production and marketing are regulated by public interest.
6. Priority given to local diversified production, by small scale producers, in line with agroecological principles.
7. Consume preferentially locally produced fresh and diversified food, products of agro-ecology, purchased at local producer markets or similar.
8. Prepare your own food, according to traditional recipes or create new ones.
9. Use oil, fats, salt and sugar in small quantities.
10. Limit the use of process products and avoid ultra-processed foods.
11. Eat regularly, attentively, with adequate time and preferably in the company of family or friends.
12. Be critical in relation to the marketing of food.
13. Exercise regularly.