Feeding Cities: Who’s Going To Do It?

If domestic policy and international trade policy keep pushing farmers to urban areas, who’s going to be left to feed our cities?

A Haitian woman selling “mudcakes.” Credit: Scott Bonnell on Vimeo

This is your first of three free stories this month. Become a free or sustaining member to read unlimited articles, webinars and ebooks.

Become A Member

As the 2013 Feeding Cities conference unfolds this week in Philadelphia, Next City, a media partner for the event, will feature regular updates from bloggers covering its talks and workshops. Click here to see a rundown of our coverage.

This is a U.S. Farm Bill year, so subsidies are on the mind. In my work, the conversation mostly centers around what kinds of agriculture and food systems we actually want our government, and our taxes, to support.

It’s challenging enough to mobilize people in the U.S. to advocate for a cohesive and powerful response, as the issues are complex. We tend to boil it down to a simplified sound bite — “We want real food, food that’s good for people and the planet” — but we barely even scratch the surface of the impacts of our domestic subsidies in a global context.

In a Feeding Cities session today, Marc Cohen of the global relief organization Oxfam America and William Martin of The World Bank explored the interconnections between subsidies, tariffs, trade and survival — essentially their life’s work, a fact demonstrated by the depth of their presentations.

Cohen’s extensive work in Haiti illustrated the devastating dual impact of subsidies in the U.S. and disinvestment in rural agricultural economies. In short: Subsidizing rice here creates suplus — more than could be consumed “feeding ourselves, feeding animals or through Rice Krispies,” as Cohen put it. Meanwhile, farmers in Haiti weren’t getting the support that they needed. The two policies (or lack thereof) converged in a perfect storm: Rice prices in Haiti went up five times over fives years until people could no longer afford it. They turned to other nutrient sources, like the infamous fried “mudcakes” (see above photo), which themselves tripled in price in 2008.

Today, Haiti imports 80 percent of its rice from the U.S. Meanwhile, 75,000 farmers are forced to move to urban areas annually, seeking work. They constitute a high percentage of the urban poor that we’ve been talking about these last two days.

In my view, the real food that good policies will support — food that’s good for the people and good for the planet — is food on which farmers and workers, rural and urban, can make a livelihood and build a life around. So I probed deeper.

I didn’t get quite the response I’d hoped for from Martin, who said he wants to see more and more people moving to urban areas. “We want don’t want farmers to be pushed out,” he said, “but we do want them pulled out by better opportunities.”

Don’t we want agriculture to be a better opportunity? Otherwise, who’s going to feed the cities?

Like what you’re reading? Get a browser notification whenever we post a new story. You’re signed-up for browser notifications of new stories. No longer want to be notified? Unsubscribe.

Tags: philadelphiahaiti

Next City App Never Miss A StoryDownload our app ×

You've reached your monthly limit of three free stories.

This is not a paywall. Become a free or sustaining member to continue reading.

  • Read unlimited stories each month
  • Our email newsletter
  • Webinars and ebooks in one click
  • Our Solutions of the Year magazine
  • Support solutions journalism and preserve access to all readers who work to liberate cities

Join 1106 other sustainers such as:

  • Rodney at $5/Month
  • Chris in Chicago, IL at $10/Month
  • Anonymous at $60/Year

Already a member? Log in here. U.S. donations are tax-deductible minus the value of thank-you gifts. Questions? Learn more about our membership options.

or pay by credit card:

All members are automatically signed-up to our email newsletter. You can unsubscribe with one-click at any time.

  • Donate $20 or $5/Month

    20th Anniversary Solutions of the Year magazine

has donated ! Thank you 🎉