Abstract: Women’s Experiences of Urban Food Insecurity

In keeping with my earlier commitment to maintain this space better, I wanted to share an abstract from a paper I wrote in 2011. It was my first time approaching a topic using gender analysis and was the first time I realized how different the ways  we approach development could be as a result.

Abstract:

 ‘Women are both vulnerable and powerful – victimized and empowered – through food.’ –Van Esterik

Globally, urban regions are experiencing unprecedented levels of growth, which has caused urban food security to move to the forefront of international agendas, however a gendered analysis is often lacking. This paper will examine the ways in which women are affected by urban food insecurity and the ways in which they respond to the crisis. Through analysis of secondary sources and of the unique experiences of women in a community in Harare, Zimbabwe, this paper will demonstrate that women are affected by urban food insecurity much more severely than men. However, women are also in a better position to change their situation and the situation of their community into one that is more food secure.

‘Revolutionary’ Idea: Use Local Suppliers. . .

As you can imagine, I was pretty shocked when I saw that organizations were just beginning to use local products. . .

I would have thought that using local products would be integral to the sustainability of the programmes, as well as maintaining cost effectiveness. Not to mention using culturally appropriate food!

Hasn’t this local food movement been happening around the world for decades? Why is it JUST spilling into the world of international development?

Maybe everyone was like me and just assumed that it was common sense to use local products?

Rio 20+ Progress after 20 years, or still moving in circles?

As the Rio 20+ conference is set to begin, it will be interesting to see how it progresses and how sustainability has developed as a key item on the global agenda. The two main focus areas for Rio 20+ are a ‘green economy in the context of sustainable development poverty eradication and the institutional framework for sustainable development.”

While these are great focal areas, the conference seems to lack the force necessary to guarantee and police commitments. Developed nations have been notorious for regressing and failing to meet the commitments, promises, and goals set out and there is little to show that this conference will be any different. Prior to the beginning of the discussions, only 37% of the draft agreement had been agreed to, with the refusals and changes made primarily by developed nations.

Nations are still wrapped up in the debate as to whether food, water, and sanitation should be considered universal rights (despite their inclusion in the millennium development goals). Come on Canada! Water is necessary for survival, so as a basic need, shouldn’t it be protected?

What is also fascinating is that all nations participating recognize that 30-100 billion dollars are needed to meet the current and prior commitments to sustainability, but none can agree as to where these funds should come from. So, everyone knows that something needs to be done, but none are willing to contribute in order to make it happen.

Talks begin on Wednesday, I’m curious to see what happens. But in the mean time, what do you think? How will the conference turn out? Will commitments be made or reaffirmed? Will we leave feeling hopeful?

Solution for Food Insecurity?

As I get closer and closer to my field placement in Vietnam, I’ve been doing more research and trying to find as much information on the Center for Sustainable Rural Development as possible. And I came across this site that discusses one of the projects that was implemented by SRD. I chose to use a lot of its information for a paper for one of my classes. So read on, and share your opinion. Is the System of Rice Intensification a potential solution for food insecurity?

Food Security in Vietnam

Food security is a global problem that plagues nations in the Global South and the Global North, it can be achieved when ‘all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life,’ as defined by the World Bank (Potter, Binns, Elliot, & Smith, 2008, p. 211). Achieving food security is a difficult task for many nations that may not have long enough growing seasons, may be affected by natural disasters or unseasonable weather, that are faced with balancing imports and exports, with unequal land ownership rights, and that may be affected by rising costs of production and food sales – all these factors can cause a larger ripple effect and can either make food unaffordable, or unavailable, thereby decreasing food security. Understanding food security goes beyond simple food production; it is about the availability and affordability of adequate food to each person regardless of their income or status. This concept has been best described by Amartya Sen, “Starvation is the characteristic of some people not having enough food to eat. It is not the characteristic of there being not enough food to eat” (Potter, Binns, Elliot, & Smith, 2008, p. 211). Yet, food security is inherently linked to development as when people are food secure they are better able to increase productivity, perform better in school, and live longer, healthier lives.

Economic reform

Vietnam is a nation that has been affected by numerous factors changing national food security, but is also in a unique position to effectively combat national food insecurity through interventions done by the government, non-governmental organization, and grassroots organizations. Through national economic reform and the intensification of crops, Vietnam has been able to decrease food insecurity and drastically increase production. Currently, sixty-two percent of Vietnam’s population relies on agriculture (subsistence and otherwise) for their livelihoods, yet eleven percent of the population remains undernourished and twenty-five percent of children are malnourished (Food and Agriculture Organization, 2011). These are staggering statistics for a country that produces and exports some of the highest rice yields in the world and therefore has the capacity and resources to provide adequate food for its population. Since 1986, Vietnam has been under the ‘doi moi’ policy, or ‘renovation’ policy, which has been revamping their economic policies and structures for global competition and to aid in the economic and human development of the nation (Painter, 2003). This policy has been adapted and changed as the global economy has changed and has determined the patterns of imports and exports, which plays into how Vietnam has been adapting to the 2008 economic crisis and working towards improving food security for its population. Renovation policy has shifted Vietnam into a market-based economy that is becoming more and more diversified and stable.

Globally, 2008 was a critical year for food insecurity, causing widespread raises in food costs, declining employment rates, and damaging global economies – Vietnam was not immune. The 2008 economic crisis hit Vietnam at a critical time, damaging the economy that was previously growing at an unprecedented nine percent (Das & Shrestha, 2009, p. 1). During this time in Vietnam, inflation soared past twenty-five percent and food prices doubled (Das & Shrestha, 2009, p. 2)making food unaffordable and unavailable to much of Vietnam’s population. In response, the government decreased food exports and brought additional resources to state-owned agricultural businesses and community agricultural initiatives, this intervention allowed for the influx of resources in a key sector, ensured employment for the population, and ensured a surplus of food, which would drive prices down in turn (Das & Shrestha, 2009, p. 7). The government has also been focusing on increasing the rates of population attaining education which they believe will increase future production and decrease future food insecurity and poverty.

System of Rice Intensification

An intervention by non-governmental organizations and grassroots organizations has also aided in the battle against food insecurity – crop intensification. This intervention is often described as the System of Rice Intensification also Sustainable Rise Intensification or SRI and involves using ‘younger seedlings, single plant transplantation, wider spacing of plants, water drainage, and frequent weeding” (SRI in Vietnam, 2008)this process was developed to increase crop yields while decreasing crop inputs such as water, seeds, fertilizer, and pesticides/herbicides (SRI in Vietnam, 2008). In developing and rolling out SRI, organizations are also met with the challenges of providing additional inputs to rural farmers and small communities for initial input. These methods involve changing communities historical ways of thinking and farming and have a heavy reliance on education and continued workshops and follow-up. However, with consistent use they have been proven to increase annual incomes by seventy USD per farmer and cut hands-on time spent farming by fifty percent (srivietnam, 2010).

What is key about SRI is that crops are more resilient, rely on less resources, and are of a higher quality than crops grown in traditional methods, by adopting to a more sustainable practice farmers can decrease the costs associated with farming while simultaneously increasing their yields and profit (srivietnam, 2010). Grassroots organizations and non-governmental organizations are key as they often have the resources and community connections required to provide education and reach rural populations who would benefit the most from SRI. These are also the organizations that can receive and utilize international funds and support in the most effective and efficient ways. SRI is one of the most effective methods for combatting food insecurity in Vietnam as rice production accounts for eighty-seven percent of cultivated land in the country, by intensifying and making this process more sustainable yields can be dramatically increased (Trang Thi Huy Nhat, 2010, p. 43).

Areas of future concern

What is particularly challenging in Vietnam is the system of land ownership – current law dictates the government owns all agricultural land, allowing citizens and communities land use rights for twenty-year periods (vietnamsri, 2009). This law makes it extremely difficult to justify private investment in agricultural land, the investment of additional time and personal resources, and holds no guarantee of future subsistence or economic gain for farmers. Without land ownership reform, this could have negative consequences on food security and poverty in the years to come as many rural populations could removed from the land they call home and rely on to live (vietnamsri, 2009). With policy reformation, ideally there could be law reforms made to protect rural populations and populations reliant on agriculture in the years to come. This law would not only benefit the rural farming population, but would also benefit the entire nation as this would allow populations and communities to continue to farm the same land year after year, benefitting from their investments and learning. This could increase production and increase food security for the entire country. This would also allow for private ownership of land, allowing communities and smaller organizations to pool their efforts and develop larger scale production methods.

As a coastal nation, Vietnam is also challenged by seasonal natural disasters which run the risk of flooding agricultural regions (particularly in the central regions), and salt-water infusion of agricultural regions. Vietnam has been working towards improving their early warning systems and predicting the timing and intensity of natural disasters, however much work remains to be completed (Trang Thi Huy Nhat, 2010, p. 49). With adequate research, natural disasters can be predicted and better mitigated in the future, however with climate change these do present an area of risk in addition to coastal flooding.

Conclusions

As stated earlier, Vietnam is in a unique position with regards to food security, the nation has the ability and resources to more than meet the food needs of its population and can be used as an example for many other nations. The economic policies implemented by the government also provide an excellent example of successful economic adjustment programs as completed by the nation they affect. The innovations and use of SRI also show that often the most sustainable and productive agricultural programs require innovation and may move beyond traditional methods. SRI also demonstrates that expensive fertilizers and genetically modified seeds are not required for resilient, healthy crops. If Vietnam is able to curb food insecurity and develop additional sustainable agricultural practices to be implemented alongside SRI, they could also drastically reduce the percentage of the population living in poverty. Vietnam remains on track to more than halve the percentage of their population living on less than one USD per day and with additional inputs and resources towards food security this goal could be surpassed. In aiding a nation in becoming food secure, Vietnam’s population would in turn be more productive, and better able to meet the future needs of the growing economy. Additionally, if Vietnam were able to become food secure, it would also be able to increase its exports aiding other nations in meeting their food needs.

Bibliography

Das, S. B., & Shrestha, O. L. (2009). Vietnam: Further Challenges in 2009. ASEAN Economic Bulletin , 26 (1), 1-10.

FAO Global Information and Early Warning Service. (2009). Crop Prospects and Food Situation. Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture, Rome.

Food and Agriculture Organization. (2011, August). Viet Nam. Retrieved May 12, 2012, from Countries: http://www.fao.org/countries/55528/en/vnm/

IFPRI. (2012, May). Vietnam. Retrieved May 12, 2012, from Food Security Portal: http://www.foodsecurityportal.org/vietnam

Painter, M. (2003). The Politics of Economic Restructuring in Vietnam: The Case of State-owned Enterprise “Reform”. Contemporary Southeast Asia: A Journal of International and Strategic Affairs , 25 (1), 20-43.

Potter, R., Binns, T., Elliot, J., & Smith, D. (2008). Geographies of Development: An Introduction to Development Studies (Third Edition ed.). Pearson: Prentice Hall.

SRI in Vietnam. (2008). SRI in Vietnam. Retrieved May 10, 2012, from What is SRI?: http://vietnamsri.wordpress.com/about/

SRI-RICE. (2012). System of Rice Intensification. (S. I. Center, Producer) Retrieved May 12, 2012, from http://sri.ciifad.cornell.edu/

srivietnam. (2010, November 5). A Simple Way to Grow More Rice in a Changing Climate. Retrieved May 10, 2012, from SRI in Vietnam: http://vietnamsri.wordpress.com/2010/11/05/a-simple-way-to-grow-more-rice-in-a-changing-climate/

Trang Thi Huy Nhat. (2010). Tackling Household Food Insecurity: The Experience of Vietnam. Asian Journal of Agriculture and Development , 5 (2), 41-56.

vietnamsri. (2009, April 17). Land Accumulation: Opportunity or Threat for Small Farmers in Vietnam? Retrieved May 12, 2012, from SRI in Vietnam: http://vietnamsri.wordpress.com/2009/04/17/land-accumulation-opportunity-or-threat-for-small-farmers-in-vietnam/

SRI in Vietnam

Photo credit: Tormod Sandtorv/Creative Commons

This guest post was written by Le Ngoc Thach, president of the Dai Nghia cooperative and one of the first SRI farmers in Ha Noi province, courtesy of Oxfam America.

Watching my parents’ rice crop fail was a heartbreak I will never forget. It was 1984, and that growing season, stem borer grubs devoured our plants and destroyed our harvest. One little bug meant a lost year of rice for our family and community.

Our community in Dai Nghia, Vietnam, like countless others around the world relies on the work of small farmers like my parents to grow rice and other crops that help us feed our children and support our families’ livelihoods. For farmers like me, the tragedies of a lost harvest are a growing threat as climate change makes the search for scarce resources like water and fertile land increasingly dire…

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Observations from Toronto

I spent this past weekend in Toronto and I had a few observations that I thought might be interesting to share..

Observation 1

One of the first places I went to was the World’s Biggest Bookstore; I love it there, I would go there everyday if it was feasible and wouldn’t destroy my bank account. I’ve been going there at least once a year for a pretty long time, at least 5 years now and my favourite section has undergone a few changes. If you go upstairs and head to the side wall there used to be a tiny section on international politics and international relations. You used to be able to hunt through a few books to try to find one that you hopefully hadn’t already read. Everything in that section used to be fairly similar, my bookcase at home can attest to that.. There would mainly be some books on HIV/AIDS, a few on democracy, maybe one or two on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Now when you walk up those stairs and head to the side of the room there is an entire wall dedicated to international politics, the books fall into a wide range of topics, and new books are brought in weekly. I find it incredible how much interest and expertise has expanded on these topics, but I also find it disheartening how so many of the books are written too quickly to include the necessary background research to get a full grasp and thorough perspective on the topic of choice. What is also interesting is how the topics have expanded, the books have moved beyond looking at the western world as the ‘ideal model of development’ and have started to look for a wide variety of definitions of development and methods of achieving it. It’s moved past what we used to view development as and has almost made it undefinable. It’s looking at food politics, international governance, equality, access, education, health, and assessing each topic as an equal aspect. It’s brought ‘development’ into a multi-disciplinary, interwoven topic, which is where I think it should have been from the beginning..

Observation 2

In the past few years I’ve started to frequent the cultural studies section on the upper floor of the World’s Biggest Bookstore as well. This section includes anthropology, gender issues, aboriginal authors, and numerous other interesting topics, just last year each of these topics had their own mini section in the larger cultural studies section. This year gender studies had somehow disappeared from its home in cultural studies and has moved into a new section on ‘controversial knowledge’. What does that even mean? I view it as a smaller statement that gender issues isn’t considered common knowledge or always appropriate for ‘polite conversation’ as people have told me.. This scares me. It scares me that ideas that over half our population are influenced by, or experience can be considered controversial. Is it controversial that women have different experiences than men? No. Is it controversial that female authors share those experiences? Maybe, but it depends on who you ask.

Observation 3

For supper on Saturday night we decided to go to O’Noir, a restaurant where you eat in the dark. This experience is meant to demonstrate a very small part of how life is different for the blind. I simultaneously loved and was terrified by the experience. As most of you know, I’m a bit of a control freak. I like to control every aspect of my own life and know everything I’m doing well in advance. So this was difficult for me. It was hard to be in a room where I don’t know where I am, who else is in the room, where I’m sitting relative to others, or to guess that I’ve successfully put food on my fork. And to be honest, I probably had at least 20 forkfuls of air.

But, this really made me think about how much I take being able to see for granted. Everything that I experience is based on a combination of my sense and without access to one, everything changes. Many people in the room were talking much louder than normal to overcompensate for not being able to see (which scared me too). But I could smell my food more, smaller portions felt larger, it was delicious.

It was also a great experience to put myself out of my comfort zone again, like a test run for next year, and it was interesting to see how I adapted. As a people watcher, I couldn’t observe those around me, but instead I could listen and focus on the meaning of their words, I could imagine what people were doing. As someone who loves to cook, I couldn’t focus on the presentation or look at what I was eating, but I could really taste it and experience it in a different way.