Anchoring community wealth

Preston’s skyline: Carl Ji, a Chinese student, at the University of Central Lancashire

Austerity has been devolved to local councils and, perversely, areas with higher levels of poverty have been hit hardest, councils have on average faced 40% cuts in their budgets.

In the face of adversity councils such as Preston have responded by bringing together anchor institutions and working with them to drive through a local programme of economic transformation. The government’s Commission for Employment and Skills defines an ‘anchor institution’ as “one that, alongside its main function, plays a significant and recognised role in a locality by making a strategic contribution to the local economy” and ‘tending’ to be non-profit.

By changing their procurement policies, these anchor institutions were able to drive up spending locally protecting businesses and jobs. They are looking at the council pension fund to see if its investment can support local businesses keeping the money circulating in their town.

A study by the Centre for Local Economic Strategies found that six of the anchor institutions in the area are now spending 18% of their budget in Preston, up from 5% in 2013. So an extra £75 million a year is being spent within the city, with the top 300 local suppliers creating an extra 800 jobs last year alone. And others are watching: Manchester city council has now increased its local spend from 44% of its budget to 70%; Lowestoft and Salford are also interested.

Last year this blog reported that Birmingham City Council was to work with Centre for Local Economic Strategies, with funding from the Barrow Cadbury Trust and support from Localise West Midlands, to see how anchor institutions in the non-profit and private sectors, including Birmingham University, Pioneer Housing and the QE hospital, could use their spending power to increase economic opportunities for Birmingham’s communities, businesses and citizens. Read more on the council website here.

In a separate project, Localise West Midlands has been working with the Midland Metropolitan Hospital (under construction, artist’s impression) which will be the closest adult hospital to the centre of Birmingham. The Sandwell & West Birmingham NHS Trust and LWM are partners in Urban Innovative Actions supporting the development of the local economy. The Trust hopes to spend 2% of the new hospital’s annual budget with local suppliers, adding £5-8m to the local economy. It will provide locally sourced meals and the builder has a target of 70% local employment, aiming to source 80% of construction materials locally.

Alice Thomson in The Times pointed out that making a legal requirement that councils buy and hire goods and services locally is banned by EU law at the moment, so it should be noted that the Preston project operates on a voluntary basis.

She commented: “The government should take the idea and encourage it, particularly in hollowed-out market towns where out of town shopping centres have crushed their sense of identity” adding “But (procurement policies) could also be used for more high-profile programmes such as the rebuilding of Big Ben, where the steel has had to come from Brazil, Germany and the United Arab Emirates, or the V&A which showcases Britain’s greatest designs but where the tiles for the new forecourt came from Holland”.

 

 

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A strategic alternative: localised and labour-intensive food production

LWM’s co-founder Colin Hines, in his latest book, Progressive Protectionism, asks: “In a sustainable system, would not each country aim to produce its own staple food? Surpluses and exotics could be exported, speculation in food by unproductive middlemen would be outlawed and vitally important food producers encouraged at every turn”.

He notes that at present, the UK feeds only around 60% of its population of 65 million. The EU was the next largest supplier at 27%. The distribution of UK imports from Europe has changed relatively little over the last 15 years. Other food travels much further: click on the link for a larger picture: http://www.coolgeography.co.uk/A-level/AQA/Year%2012/Food%20supply/Changes%20in%20food%20supply/Food%20Miles%20Britain.png

There is no guarantee that these supplies would continue under the same terms following the outcome of the Brexit negotiations and there are other potential threats, such as drought, floods and/or increased global demand.

A 2007 study ‘Can Britain feed itself?’ by Simon Fairlie estimated that it could, but that the dietary changes would be significant including:

  • far less meat consumption,
  • feeding livestock upon food wastes and residues;
  • returning human sewage to productive land;
  • dispersal of animals on mixed farms and smallholdings,
  • local slaughter and food distribution;
  • managing animals to ensure optimum recuperation of manure;
  • and selecting and managing livestock, especially dairy cows, to be nitrogen providers.

Hines notes that these measures would demand more human labour and a more even dispersal of livestock and humans around the country.

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) promotes a global economy which requires agricultural commodities to be transported for long distances, processed and packaged to survive the journey. As global food production and trade probably consume more fossil fuel than any other industrial sector, substantially increasing greenhouse gas emissions and making climate objectives much harder to achieve, i ts Agreement on Agriculture should be superseded by a World Localisation Organisation (WLO), under which all countries would be encouraged to reach maximum self-sufficiency in food.

Trade in food which cannot be grown domestically should be obtained, where feasible, from neighbouring countries. Long-distance trade should be limited to food not available in the region and countries exporting food should use the revenue to increase their own level of food security.

Hines ends by endorsing – as the answer – Tim Lang’s injunctions in the Foreword to the report of the Sustainable Development Commission (above left): calling for significantly less food wastage, more produced from less land and dietary change – eating more plant-based foods, less meat and dairy.

 

 

 

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Cargonomia: shrinking the distance between producers and consumers 

Planet Local, which highlights examples of localization in action all over the planet, is a project of Economics of Happiness/Local Futures/The International Alliance for Localization. In March thumbnail sketches of three ethical local banks were published here.

The local food movement is about growing food and also shrinking the distance between producers and consumers — and a new initiative in Hungary is doing just that.

In Budapest, an organic vegetable farm, a do-it-yourself bicycle cooperative and a self-managed bike delivery company teamed up to create Cargonomia, an urban food distribution hub which uses locally-manufactured cargo bikes to deliver locally-grown food across the entire city. And the project continues to grow: Two local bakeries have joined Cargonomia which now delivers bread across the city as well as vegetables.

Read more about this one-of-a-kind collaboration here. Within the team of partners, there is expertise in designing and constructing different types of cargo bikes and trailers.

It’s a business model which utilises each partner’s strengths: vegetable deliveries from Zsamboki Biokert are coordinated by Kantaa’s distribution experts and made using Cyclonomia’s bikes. In this way, Cargonomia goes beyond ‘local food’ to encompass the entire local economy. It aims to help local food producers: organic food producers, vineries, apiaries.

It hosts a community centre where local residents can borrow, rent, or buy their own cargo bikes, organise or attend activities focusing on the transition to a local-scale economy and events to connect with other social and environmental initiatives in the city.

Localise West Midlands is a member of IAL, a cross-cultural network of thinkers, activists and NGOs from 58 different countries.

 

 

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Localising new-build housing

Architect and writer Clive Aslet (left) writes about a development of 4,000 houses on 500 acres – houses, small apartment blocks, schools, surgeries, mixed income housing, shops, business premises and leisure facilities and green spaces – on the edge of Newquay. There is an emphasis on local labour, materials and procurement.

“How society chooses to house people is every bit as important as how it chooses to feed people,” says Tim Gray, estate surveyor and chief of operations “If you can get those two things right, you will be happier, healthier and better able to engage socially. the ambition is to build community and engender civic pride, to live so that you can meet your daily needs conveniently on foot, not to differentiate between homes of different tenures, and to be connected socially with the adjacent settlements — this should provide good foundations for deciding how the nation should build homes in the future. There really is an alternative.”

Aslet describes a number of features:

  • a core commitment to spend the money in Cornwall, using local labour and materials and a pattern book with typical Cornish vernacular details, e.g. roofs are made from Cornish slate from a nearby quarry
  • The plans include setting up a town farm in some listed buildings to provide food for residents of the development.
  • There will be mixed-use neighbourhoods, in which the car is subservient to the pedestrian.
  • There will be a community orchard, allotments and ‘edible gardens’.
  • Low-cost rented homes are scattered among the more expensive owner-occupied ones 30% of the housing is affordable.

The area has been given a new lease of life. The quarry provides jobs, and so do the builders responsible for the work — all firms are from the southwest, whose work not only requires local labour, but also helps to establish local supply chains. They form what Gray calls a “consortium” a method that ensures the architecture is practical and appropriate for the local market.

Newquay is poor and homes are particularly needed by young people. Judging from conversations with a number of people in their twenties and thirties and young families met in the area, they like the designs, the edible gardens (herbs and fruit bushes are planted next to houses), espaliered pear trees and bee bricks (bricks with holes laid into the eaves of houses to welcome threatened bee populations), they’re all part of the philosophy — as well as local style, local materials and local employment . . . local food.

This is symbolised by the community orchard. seven acres of land that has been turned into allotments. “Trespassers will be composted”, reads one of the signs. Orchard and allotments are visible signs of the local food web that is being encouraged. They’re also somewhere that people from the new housing can meet long-time Newquay residents.

As Tim Gray said, this should provide a good foundation for deciding how the nation should build homes in the future. There really is an alternative: Aslet sees it as the beginning of a movement that made Britain better to live in.

 

 

 

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International Alliance for Localization: Local Futures

In the Times, Ed Conway, economics editor of Sky News, describes problems arising from the complexity of globalisation, ‘the hallmark of 21st-century life’ and the International Alliance for Localization records examples of new modes of development and progress. He concludes: “Globalisation, once a means of boosting everyone’s income, has instead evolved into an excellent vehicle to help the rich get richer”.

The International Alliance for Localization sees that the building of more resilient economies will require a rethinking of the financial system, and its Planet Local series has been turning the spotlight on some inspiring examples of ethical banking:

* In Maine, USA, a local resident with money to invest  is providing nearby small farmers with loans whose interest is paid exclusively in the form of farm products.

* Brazil’s Banco Palmas, governed and managed by residents of the impoverished Palmeiras neighborhood in the city of Fortaleza, has issued a local currency, dramatically shifted spending patterns to keep money circulating locally, and extended basic financial services to people shut out of the mainstream banking system.

* In Croatia, the democratically-owned Ebanka functions as a non-profit bank, in stark contrast to most financial institutions worldwide. Their loans are given without interest, and every member has an equal voice when it comes to voting on big decisions, regardless of the value of their deposit.?

Visit IAL’s growing library of localization initiatives

 LWM is a member of IAL, a cross-cultural network of thinkers, activists and NGOs from 58 different countries.

 

 

 

 

Localising moves in four Eastern European countries

The Romanian parliament has passed a law requiring large retailers with a turnover of 2m euros to allocate a minimum of 51% of existing space for fresh produce to products sourced locally, from a short supply chain.

The law, which came into effect last month, initially stated that products should come only from Romania but had to be amended after Brussels warned that this would be a breach of EU regulation. Under the amended text, Bulgarian and Hungarian products would also qualify as part of a short supply chain.

roamiancoop

French retailer Carrefour has founded an agricultural co-operative in a Romanian village to bring local fresh produce to its shelves. It includes 80 families of producers who own 60 hectares of agricultural land. Carrefour will source 5,000 tonnes of fruit and veg from the local co-op in the village of Varasti.

Through the co-op, which officially launches this month, farmers will be able to scale up production and have a single collection centre. The partnership with Carrefour guarantees them a production plan and price, and means they will receive fast payments for their products.

RetailEU described the legislation as protectionist but added that Romania is not the only country concerned about its local manufacturers; Slovakia  wanted to force supermarkets to inform customers at the entrance of the number of Slovakian products in the store and recently the Polish government introduced a “supermarket tax” on all major (and therefore foreign) retailers, as Hungary has already done.

 

 

 

Are the region’s schools and hospitals sourcing food locally?

BBC Scotland made freedom of information requests to all 32 Scottish councils about the sourcing of food products bought last year.

Despite campaigns by the Scottish Government to buy local produce. Of the 28 authorities which responded, it was found £1.3 million was spent on chicken products from Thailand, more than £125,000 on carrots from Belgium, £125,000 on mashed potato from France and almost £12,000 on raspberries from Serbia.

scottish 2food        Read more about Scottish food here: http://www.taste-of-scotland.com/foodproducers.html

Farmers said they want to see more done by councils to source local produce and  the Scottish Greens first raised the issue of councils buying chicken from Thailand in 2013.The party’s health spokeswoman Alison Johnstone said:

“It’s disappointing that, three years on from our investigation, this remains a problem. Our economy is losing out. Government food policy remains too focused on exports rather than supporting local procurement. Councils need support so they can buy Scottish more often.”

A review of food and drink nutrition in schools is now under way. John Swinney, the education secretary, said that he wants school food to be “sourced as locally as possible” and has asked experts from Food Standards Scotland, NHS Health Scotland and Education Scotland where provision can be improved.

LWM is working with a number of partners to promote this agenda.  While the Carter Review of 2015 put obstacles in the way of localising NHS procurement, with its insistence on frameworks and catalogues, it recognised the value of locally sourced food.  County Hospital, Stafford was one of the first to gain a gold Food for Life Catering Mark, an initiative of the Soil Association recognised by NHS England.  This experience is being passed on through the West Midlands NHS Sustainability Network.

The fragmentation of the schools system means it’s less clear how many schools are following this approach, though many are growing their own salads and fruit as part of healthy eating projects.  In Smethwick, Victoria Park Academy has its own social enterprise, Ballot Street Spice, and it’s hoped they will sell their spice mixes at the Midland Met Hospital food market when it opens.  The Department for Education has recognised the Food for Life Catering Mark, and the government plan for Procurement cites it as a best practice tool.

 

 

Storing food in a localised low carbon system

 

Traditional methods of storing food include preservation of food in ice brought from the mountains and kept inside caves & icehouses, low-tech bottling and jam-making, drying of meat & fruit and underground storage at lower temperatures in hot countries.

On Monday Mark Shapiro, a Californian reader, sent this link to information about another method: fermentation, a localised probiotic food system which has significant economic, social and health benefits.

aaronAaron Vansintjan reflects that it’s easy to get the impression that we live in a world of scarcity, where there just isn’t enough food to go around, and food production all around the world is limited by technological backwardness.

On the other hand, there is an increasing problem of food waste in Western food systems. Though a range of expensive and complex technologies protects our fresh food supply against spoilage, a large proportion food produced is thrown away.

Aaron has a background in Natural Resource Sciences and is currently conducting research into food related issues, including marginalized communities access to food. He has observed the Vietnamese practice of fermentation, embedded within people’s livelihoods, local agricultural systems, food safety practices, forming a fundamental component of a sustainable food system. With the rise of the local food and food sovereignty movements, many are realising that we need food systems that could support everyone: from small farmers to low-income families. In a localised food system food needs to be stored for long periods. Fermentation makes that possible. He comments:

“Unlike many high-tech proposals like ‘smart’ food recycling apps, highly efficient logistics systems, and food packaging innovations, fermentation is both low-tech and democratic—anyone can do it. It has low energy inputs, brings people together, is hygienic and healthy, and can reduce food waste”.

vietnam market

In Vietnam there are wholesale night markets, mobile street vendors, covered markets, food baskets organized by office workers with family connections to farmers, guerilla gardening on vacant land. Food is grown, sold, and bought all over the place, and supermarkets are just a small (albeit growing) node in the complex latticework. Most people still get food at the market, but many also source their food from family connections. With this easy access to wholesale produce, many can turn to small-scale fermentation to complement their income—or spend less on food at the market.

The article goes into great detail about various recipes for fermented food Some call for water and salt: “At just a 1:50 ratio (2%) of salt to food, an environment is created in which bad bacteria doesn’t flourish and good bacteria is encouraged”.

the most popular fermented dishes in Vietnam

From left to right: Nem chua (fermented sausage), Thịt lợn chua (sour fermented pork), Com me (sour rice with fermented paste), Dưa chua/dưa muối (fermented fruit or vegetable), Mắm chua (sour fermented fish paste),Tôm chua (fermented shrimp), Nước mắm or Nước chấm (fish sauce),Tương (fermented soybean paste)

Vietnamese street vendors know the rules of hygiene and food safety, and, because they have to be careful with their money, they know exactly what kinds of food will go bad, and what kinds of food can be preserved. In doing so, they practice a food culture that has been passed down through generations—to a time before fridges, a global food system powered by container shipping, factory trawlers, and produce delivered to far-off markets by airplane.

Because of its low investment costs, fermentation lends itself well to supporting small businesses, allowing them to take advantage of seasonality while practicing a time-tested low-tech method of food preparation. Fermented food doesn’t depend on high inputs of fossil fuel energy to preserve food, high waste, and high-tech. It has to be produced locally: transporting it will risk explosions on the high seas

Aaron ends; “With increasing concern over the health side effects of common chemicals such as BPA (Bisphenol A, a  polycarbonate plastic) found in almost all cans and pasta sauce jars, people are looking to safer kinds of preservation, which aren’t killing them and their families slowly. In a world facing climate change, we need a low-impact food system, and fast”.

(Ed: some links and pictures added)

 

 

MUFP: 100 city regions hope to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by changing the food system

urban-food-policy-pact

In 2015, led by Milan, a coalition of 100 cities from all continents signed a Milan Urban Food Policy Pact (MUFP) in Milan’s Palazzo Reale and presented it to Ban-Ki Moon, UN Secretary General, in New York on World Food Day, October 16. To read the latest news go to its website.

They now recognise that their food systems are having high health and environmental impacts. As Professor Tim Lang comments in ‘Food Research’: “Aspirations for cheap food have become hard-wired into consumer expectations. Waste is rampant. Governments bow too much to giant food companies selling sugary, salty, fatty, ultra-processed food. Marketing budgets dwarf food education. No-one seems to be in overall control”.

He continues: “Cities are powerhouses of work but parasitic on cheap labour on the land. Their budgets are squeezed but their diet-related costs are rising. Their dense populations could be energy and food efficient but require huge infrastructure and change to be so . . . A new urban politics is emerging, gradually recognising the need to move beyond the neoliberal era’s commitment to cheap and plentiful food which has only spawned an horrendous new set of challenges which it cannot resolve . . .  Waste. The new food poor. Rising obesity. Street litter. Inequalities. Low waged food work”.

17sd-2-g-goals

Though the 17 Sustainable Development Goals are translated as 169 targets, 70 of which involve food, as Lang says: “New techno-imperialists whisper sweet nothings into politicians’ ears, offering another bout of technical intensification to keep this show on the road. This is not just genetic modification, which is already in trouble, yoked as so much is with use of glyphosate, the herbicide previously deemed benign but now in trouble as a probable carcinogen. There’s a raft of new technical sectors offering food fixes: robotics, nanotechnology (putting minute particles into food); synthetic biology; Big Data and the information revolutions; the promise of personalised healthcare applying life science wizardry. Underpinning them all is continued reliance on but nervousness about oil-based fertilisers. It was they who kept the food wheels turning at the last big moment of reflection in the mid 1970s”.

tim-langLang says, “Now we need another package. But which is it to be? Is it more Big Farming or more horticulture? And what sort? Plants not animals are the key to the new metric: how to feed people from declining available growing space”.

He calls for strong political voice and says that the positive news about a sustainable future needs to be grasped: closer foodways, better jobs, healthier populations instead of cheap food, overflowing hospitals and denuded nature.

 

 

 

Localisation/swadeshi: a programme for long-term survival

 

Swadeshi has been described by Satish Kumar, founder and Director of Schumacher College in Devon as a programme for long term survival.

It is the principle of preferring the neighbouring to the remote.

It relates to need-based lives, ruling out unlimited consumption.

It is not autarky; but a needs-based global alternative.

Economic swadeshi was shaped by Gandhi, who advocated the production and use of indigenous food and goods. In 1956, the Khadi and Village Industries Commission was established in by Act of Parliament.

 

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Active today, a list of its SMEs may be read here. 

 

Swadeshi practices economics according to its original definition of good household management, seeking to preserve natural wealth and promote the balanced development of all regions and society as a whole.

It regards the market as an instrument, not as master; the swadeshi global view is “let a thousand markets bloom – and not merge into one global market”.