Mar 2015

Food Deserts

Posted by / in Agriculture, B4Blessing News / No comments yet

Food Deserts – Missional Business Responses

By David Gould, International Facilitator for Creation Care, OMF International


David Gould

Food deserts are places where nutritious food is difficult to obtain. In developed economies 12 neighborhood types have been identified where food deserts can be found, including inner city districts (http://hej.sagepub.com/content/59/2/137). In the developing world food shortages are usually associated with areas of occasional drought, storm and flooding; but the growing mega-cities are also places where malnutrition is the norm for many.


Food deserts in cities have a number of causes, including:

  1. over-long and complicated supply chains;
  2. poor transport infrastructure, which cannot keep pace with city growth;
  3. inadequate education and information about healthy, sustainable nutrition, which could increase demand for ethically-sourced quality food; and
  4. excessive wastage:
  5. in production, through disease, pests etc,
  6. in processing, for instance discarding carrots, bananas etc that do not look right,
  7. in storage and distribution, and in consumption – over-large portions in restaurants etc.

How can missional businesses respond to these challenges? Here are some approaches to consider:

Promote local food production

Food has always come from the countryside, right? No – it’s only relatively recently that many city areas stopped producing food. Here are some advantages of local food production in cities:

  • people are more likely to know where their food comes from, and this will encourage a relationship of trust between producer and consumer;
  • it can foster a culture of recycling nutrients, moving toward a zero-waste economy;
  • it can reduce the risk of importing and spreading disease and pests;
  • it can reduce the need for storage, double-handing and refrigeration;
  • it can reduce the need for elaborate packaging, and the resulting trash, blocked drains etc;
  • it can reduce the need for preservatives, flavor-enhancers and other potentially harmful additives and modifications;
  • it can promote fair trade, and work against monopolies, hoarding, price-fixing etc;
  • it will provide employment, not least for migrants coming to the cities;
  • these things will foster community spirit and food security.

Develop smart, simple, local, reproducible food technologies

  • community seed banks – collecting and exchanging locally productive seeds;
  • plant-based protein sources;
  • smart/lean drip-feed and other irrigation systems;
  • vertical farming – producing food on roof-tops and balconies, and in window boxes etc;
  • recycling waste safely – composting; composting toilets; partnerships with shops, markets, restaurants, and coffee shops etc to recycle uncooked vegetable waste, coffee grounds etc;
  • planting systems that help restore toxic soil and water systems;
  • movable food growing containers for use on ‘fallow’ land that is awaiting redevelopment;
  • hydroponics and aeroponics;
  • ‘edible landscape’ – working with schools, hospitals, highway authorities etc to use plants that are both decorative and edible – see for instance http://kwmc.org.uk/projects/elm/
  • ‘odorless pig production’ that turns pig waste into compost – see for instance https://www.pig333.com/videos/odorless-pig-pen-phangnga-thailand_5109/
  • cross breeding of goats, pigs, poultry etc to enhance disease-resistance, increase feed options and improve meat/feed ratios;
  • local food specialties, that require particular skills and local materials to produce;
  • food outlets that promote local quality rather than quantity;
  • biogas and other technologies to reduce dependence on unsustainable, expensive and polluting fuel sources.

Develop fair trade partnerships with communities of specialist food producers

  • coastal communities sustainably producing fish, shellfish and other marine products;
  • rural communities producing organic fruit and vegetables etc;
  • these partnerships can reduce the pressure on people to leave home and migrate to already over-crowded cities.

Develop training schools and programs for

  • nutritionists providing training programs in schools, community groups etc;
  • small local food producers;
  • manufacturers of food ‘infrastructure’, using appropriate technology for locally sourced and assembled equipment for hydroponics, vertical farming etc;
  • business start-ups and management for sustainable food production and distribution.

Partner with government agencies, NGO’s etc to promote

  • the setting, labeling and monitoring of food standards;
  • fair and sustainable food production and trade;
  • community gardens;
  • food production and distribution in crisis situations (floods, typhoons, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions etc).  

These approaches can make significant contributions to more sustainable food production in cities and their hinterlands.

food deserts

An example of roof-top hydroponics/vertical farming in Singapore. (image David Gould)

What do you think?

Comments and the beginning of a conversation:

  • Where does the food supply bother you and your family?
  • What would you like to see for your neighborhood?
  • How might that change the way food is produced in developing countries?

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