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Editorial: Rural-urban linkages

Changing urban food demand has many implications on the food supplies from the rural areas. Urban population is increasing all over the world, more so in countries like China and India. Indian Census 2011 indicates that around 91 million people are added to urban areas in the last one decade. A huge number indeed. Changing urban food demand, which depends on the changing lifestyles, changing consumer preferences and affordability, have a great impact on food supplies. In such a context, rural urban linkages play a crucial role in defining how food is produced, what types of food is produced and the way it is produced.

Saraswathamma grows marigold as trap crop in cauliflower. Photo: Sahaja Samrudha

Saraswathamma grows marigold as trap crop in cauliflower. Photo: Sahaja Samrudha

The articles in this issue indicate that sustainable rural urban linkages is not just about better economics – Simplistically meaning, consumers want good quality produce at affordable prices while farmers look for sustained demand for what they grow, fetching them a good price. On the other hand, rural urban linkages are important for offering several other benefits too – increasing awareness of urban consumers of rural realities, understanding mutual dependencies, encouraging support for preserving traditional and unique rural landscapes and cultures.

Producing safe food

The first challenge is production of good quality organic produce which begins with enhancing capacities of farming communities in cultivation practices, not once in a while, but regularly. It is important to help and guide farmers to get back to organic ways of cultivation. Whether it is certified organic which creates confidence in the consumers or PGS based on belief systems too, consumers do show interest. For instance, Sahaja Samrudha illustrated that through enabling marketing linkages, direct marketing of the organic produce to retail outlets in this case, it is possible to help farmers switch to agroecological ways of farming. Also, the article highlights that institutional forms like producer organizations need support and take time to get established. (G Krishna Prasad and B Somesh, p.15)

There are evidences that the educated youth are taking immense interest in spreading the agroecological ways of farming. Students of Agriculture College in Tikamgarh, Madhya Pradesh helped 25 small farmers to adopt organic farming. By linking with the urban consumers, they ensured that these farmers continue to farm organically and make a decent livelihood. (Yogaranjan and Kamini Bisht, p.28)

Creating demand, creating markets

Creating awareness and demand for good quality produce seems to be the prime driver for farmers to get back to agroecological approaches to farming. A number of producer-consumer sharing events are being organized to create awareness among the consumers on the importance of healthy food. Besides this, new movements are creating new energies and synergies. Movements highlighting concepts in practice include – ‘Future foods from the past’, ‘Pleasure of good food’, Slow foods, Consume Green etc. Another way is to link with food habits, preferences and traditional cultures and cuisine, enabling diverse stakeholders like Chefs to participate with live cooking of traditional foods. For example, the Delhi Organic Farmers market (Akhil Kapoor, p.6) which is organized on a weekly basis brings together diverse age groups, young and old – creating new enthusiasm.

Changing life styles, changing food habits, thereby lack of market often lead to disappearance of healthy and traditional varieties. Creation of new markets create demand for lost or disappearing varieties, often leading to then revival. For example, farmers in Pokhara in Nepal started cultivating a traditional rice variety Anadi, when an assured market was created by a farmer entrepreneur. This initiative also helped in improving resilience as well as conserving local biodiversity (Epsha Palikhey et al., p.22).

The key to success seems to be adaptation to changing preferences through diversity of products, innovative processes of collectivisation, backstopping by civil societies, and formal supportive financial mechanisms. However, there are challenges like creating the right institutional framework (eg. Producer organization) or maintaining dynamic and transparent pricing policies. In spite of robust producer consumer institutional frameworks, keeping track of fluctuating consumer preferences is a challenge, especially in dealing with a future demand. Mobiles seem to be helping the farmers to know the differential demands in the neighbouring regions to come up with suitable pricing. For example, a poultry farmer in Jammu district adjusts the bird production schedule based on known consumer preferences, especially around festive occasions. Also, ICTs seem to be breaking barriers in helping create a limited mechanism of demand based production where possible. For instance, Farmily, a mobile app has been designed as a platform for bringing the consumers and farmers in direct contact. (p.30)

Alternative models

To address the food supplies for the ever increasing urban population, alternative models of food production are coming up. For example, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in China is one of the best examples of a successful, alternative food distribution system, providing real income to producers and affordable healthy food for consumers. Food continues to be grown in peri-urban areas and trust between producers and consumers is strengthened. Over 500 CSAs with 75,000 consumers are now contributing to new food systems in more than a dozen cities across the country. (Judith Hitchman, p.17)

Another innovative concept known as the Ownership System, was devised almost 25 years ago in Japan. This has today become a national movement based on the cooperation between rural and urban communities who combine food production with landscape conservation, cultural activities and environmental education. (Pia Kieninger and Marianne Penker, p.34)

Creating regional food cycles is yet another innovative concept. In an initiative by the Development Voyage,the market, farmers cooperative, the biofarm etc are combined to develop it as a prototype of sustainable regional food cycle. It is a model to link the organic farmers, food processors and consumers of organic food, all within a region.(Tulsi Giri, p.9)

Strengthening linkages

For strengthening the linkages on a bigger scale, enabling policy perspectives and conditions are necessary. These include debates on need for sustainable urban planning – integrating urban consumer needs with needs and rights of peri-urban producers. Similarly, not only for economic reasons, for sustainable livelihoods, ecologies and cultures, and regional food cycles, rural urban linkages are necessary. Increasingly, urban dwellers are moving towards rural landscapes to experience leisure. Concepts like ‘learning lunches’ build awareness on production of safe foods and the challenges. This is emerging into a new trust worthy relationship of ‘Friend of Farmer’. (Sudhirendar Sharma, p.26)

Majority of the examples presented in the magazine indicate that there is a shift towards agroecological way of farming, primarily supported by an assured market. Also, the experiences indicate that rural-urban linkages have a vast potential to preserving cultures, ecologies and economies of sustained urban and rural growth by linking demands, needs and capacities. Most importantly, the consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of healthy foods, creating a demand for it and in turn strengthening small farmers pursuing agroecological approaches.