Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
The twenty-first century is an age of urbanization. More people today live in cities than in rural areas. In developing countries, population growth is three times faster in urban areas, according to United Nations estimates. By 2015, 16 Asian cities will have a population of more than 10 million, with 20-40 percent living below the poverty line. Coupled with the impact of climate change and the increasing frequency of natural disasters, cities today are more vulnerable than ever before. The urban population has the least food security, due to their complete reliance on purchasing instead of production.
As more countries urbanize, food has become merchandise rather than a culture. In the past, the production of food was linked to community relationships, thus ensuring the quality of nutrition as well as the overall quality of life. Neighbors shared seeds, labor and surplus crop. Older generations passed on knowledge about natural resource management, ecology and herbal medicine to the young. Today, urban residents purchase ready-to-eat food or prepare food from processed ingredients, with little control over the quality of food they consume. A recent study found that many Thai monks are diabetic, due to the poor quality of food sold and purchased for daily alms giving. Many studies find that vegetables sold on the Thai market are contaminated with dangerous levels of pesticide. Across Asia, the rate of obesity and diet-related chronic diseases increase among urban populations.
The urban poor are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity. In Thai cities, food spending comprises as much as one-third of entire household expenses. Rising food prices have the biggest effect on the quality of nutrition for the urban poor. Unlike poor people in rural areas, the urban poor often lack secure land tenure and secure jobs – thus having no land, no water, and no time to grow food. In some instances, wealth is not even sufficient to obtain nutritious food. At times of natural disasters, urban residents rush to stock up their food pantries. During the 2011 flooding of Bangkok and metropolitan areas, people raced to supermarkets whose delivery routes were cut-off, causing staple food items to disappear from store aisles for weeks to months on end.
The more food is commercialized, the more consumption is homogenized. Today, most Thais consume only one genetic variety of each food item – the same variety of kale, cabbage, rice, etc. Supermarkets and street vendors do not sell locally-adapted vegetable varieties which are suitable to diverse environmental conditions. The urban food consumption pattern is causing a depletion of plant genetic resources, worsening the problem of food insecurity among the growing urban population.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
In Thailand, urban consumers have limited access to nutritious and safe food. As in all cities worldwide, the urban culture of food consumption relies on a high-fat and high-sugar diet of little genetic diversity. Growing one’s own food has been limited to individual recreation. Supa Yaimuang is transforming household hobbies into community-wide collaborations, creating a national movement of city farming to improve urban nutrition and overall quality of life. She is creating spaces of collaborative problem-solving for diverse groups of urban residents – including slum dwellers, public school students, hospital patients, monks and the elderly. Moreover, Supa is creating links between urban and rural food systems, adapting traditional knowledge of rural farmers to the urban ecology. Supa is developing a rich pool of plant genetic diversity based on the variety of urban cuisine and diverse growing spaces in cities. Beyond creating widespread access to nutrition as a preventive health measure, Supa is using city farming as a vehicle to improve the quality of urban community relations and increasing public awareness of food insecurity.