The wrong conclusion

On 13 juni 2016, in demografie, voedsel, water, by Zef Hemel

Read in De Volkskrant of 13 February 2016:

Two newspaper articles. The first one on water shortages in the world. Arjen Hoekstra, professor Watermanagement at Wageningen University, thinks at least 4 billion people in the world are suffering from water shortages during at least one month a year. That’s far more than expected. Almost half of them live in India and China, the rest in the West of the US, Mexico, Australia, North- and South-Africa, the Middle East, and Southern Europe. When the need for fresh water is more than double the locally available amount, the water resources will deplete, ground water level will decrease, agriculture and industry will collapse.  The use of drinking water is only 4 percent of the total use of fresh water; but one person, Hoekstra charges, uses almost 4.000 litres of water on a daily base, mostly for animal products. All world conflicts are on water shortages nowadays, indirectly they are on hunger and agricultural mismanagement, not on oil, religion, inequality or scarcity of natural resources. Drought explains the bad condition of at least half the world, our gloomy global future.

The other article was an interview with Raj Patel, British development economist and author of ‘The Value of Nothing’. Patel is worried about how to feed 9 billion people on this planet in the future, especially now that the world is confronted with climate change. His Malthusian approach brings him to the conclusion that the only way to solve this problem is to build strong local communities as a countervailing power for the big corporations and the corrupt and failing governments. While we need to rethink our economic model, Patel argues that the larger failure beneath the food, climate and economic crises is a political one. He thinks the pull to the megacities is wrong. Urban people will get poor and stay poor. Is he right? I don’t think so. Cities can store and will distribute fresh water, agriculture will be become more sustainable if cities feel responsible for their food supply, and poor migrants could become a new middle class. Cities are innovative, sustainable, healthy, social, tolerant, prosperous, dynamic. Poor citizens, women in particular, are more free – more free than in rural areas. To think they are better off on the countryside would be a big mistake. Mahatma Gandhi was wrong. So is Patel.

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Alternative models

On 31 augustus 2015, in boeken, voedsel, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘Food and the City’ (2015) of Dorothee Imbert (editor):


A new book about “the complex interrelationship between urbanization and food production” through time and space, in fourteen chapters. Great read. Dorothée Imbert, who holds a chair in landscape architecture at the Ohio State University, is editor. Dumbarton Oaks Trustees for Harvard University, Washington DC, published the book. The monumental volume contains the proceedings of the 2012 Garden and Landscape Studies symposium at Dumbarton Oaks, Washington DC. Architects and historians contributed with essays on food production in highly urbanized regions in the US, Japan, Israel, Europe, China, Africa, with a special role for the cities of Tokyo and Paris: two distinguished culinary centres with a global impact on food consumption and food production. Here you find articles for instance on the invention of sushi and the unique market garden system of 19th-century Paris. I wrote an essay on the regional food supply system of Amsterdam 1930-1969, focused on the IJsselmeerpolders.

Margaret Crawford wrote an essay on ‘’Urban Agriculture in the Pearl River Delta’. Crawford is professor of architecture at the University of California at Berkeley. In her article she describes the rapid urbanisation of the fertile delta landscape in China’s South, in and around the city of Guangzhou, a city-region of some 60 million people. Crawford focuses on the fragmented peripheral counties lying outside of Guangzhou’s urban core, a landscape she describes as a desakota landscape: a spatial form of mixed  urban-rural interaction you find around major urban centers in developing countries. More than thousand administrative villages or 4,300 natural villages, she thinks, will soon disappear if urbanisation continues in this pace. She hopes urban agriculture will survive as community gardens or in any other form, “which would help legitimate them in the eyes of planners and officials.” Growing concerns about food safety among affluent consumers could be a trigger. Crawford thinks France and regions in central and northern Italy might be worthwile studying. I found many similarities with the Dutch situation, although Guangzhou, Dongguan, Macou, Hong Kong and Shenzhen are dense urban centers, while Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht are rather small, not densely built at all. The Dutch farmland survived, that’s true, but is it sustainable? Which spatial model is the best?

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