Thursday, September 27, 2012

Chicken Of The Trees

Sullivan is, in theory at least, a dauntless omnivore. There are plenty of invasive and overpopulated plant and animal species in and around the city for which persuasive arguments could be made for promoting them in our diets: Asian carp, Louisiana crayfish, and garlic mustard greens, to name a few. "The fact of the matter is that we have made a cultural decision to self-limit protein," he says. "That's a very arbitrary decision, and it's silly, ultimately. We have all these other options. Let's use 'em!"

Sullivan doesn't suggest this without caution. He points to the familiar case of the passenger pigeon, once so populous that its flocks blotted out the sky. The species was driven to extinction by habitat loss and hunting, and the last one died in captivity in 1914.

"We as humans have an amazing ability to destroy everything in our path," he says. "As a preindustrial and then industrial society we had a strong need for regulation of firearms and hunting and things like this within our cities. As cities have evolved, as species have adapted, as landscapes have stabilized, we've come to see that there are certain species that do really well amongst us: deer, Canada geese, squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, and opossums. If we could really get over the cultural hang-ups, darn it, we should be eating rats too. And I'm excited about the idea of changing regulations and helping people realize that consumption of wild-born, wild-grown meats is OK, and harvesting of said meats in an urban environment is something we can do in a regulated way, safe for humans and humane for the harvested animal. We can't just have an anarchical harvesting of any game, under any circumstances, in any place. But I don't see why we can't have a regulated harvesting regime of all game of all species in all places, with the understanding that some species will be taken off the list."

Chicken of the trees The rural eastern gray squirrel has long been a valued food source, but what about its urban cousin? (Chicago Reader)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Urban Agriculture In The Third World

Urban agriculture helps improve nutrition and incomes for city dwellers, providing food grown locally, eliminating transportation from rural areas and creating job opportunities. But it is crucial to improve health-related practices so that food is safe to eat.

Tyres and old plastic pots planted with vegetables and sacks rigged up to make vertical gardens. These are just some of the techniques being used by a new generation of urban farmers, who are developing inventive ways to make the most of limited space to produce food. Jennifer Daley lives on the outskirts of the densely populated town of Mandeville in Jamaica. With no access to agricultural land, she uses wheelbarrows and just about anything that can contain soil to grow her crops. Sheila Hope-Harewood farms in a suburban area of the parish of St Michael in what is becoming the newest urban centre in Barbados. She has a drip irrigation system and grows guava, lemon, pomegranate, ackee, sugar apple, mango and banana, as well as a variety of vegetables that she sells at a stall in the local market. Other ACP farmers are producing livestock in urban settings. Husband and wife John and Betty Msowoya have set up several small fishponds on the outskirts of Mzuzu in Malawi. They also keep a few pigs and use the manure to fertilise their ponds and promote the growth of the fish that they supply to city markets. In Nairobi, Kenya, a number of people who lost their jobs as a result of layoffs have turned to urban chicken farming, making an average of €6 per bird and earning additional income from eggs.

For decades, poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition were viewed as rural problems. But with the populations of many ACP countries becoming more urban, poverty and poor nutrition are emerging as growing challenges for city dwellers. More than half the world’s population now lives in urban areas, and 3 billion more city dwellers are expected by 2050. A recent World Bank and IMF report showed that the growth in urban poverty is now rapidly outstripping that of rural poverty, with the urban poor particularly vulnerable to food price rises since food accounts for 60-70% of their income.

Urban agriculture (UA) offers some solutions, ensuring supplies of fresh vegetables and other nutritious food to urban dwellers where poor roads and weak supply chains make it difficult to transport highly perishable produce from rural areas. It has been estimated that some 200 million people are engaged in urban agriculture and related enterprises. For the poorest urban dwellers, the share of income derived from UA often exceeds 50%. UA, which includes peri-urban farming on areas close to cities, may take place on homesteads or at plots some distance away, in parks, along roads, streams and railways and in the grounds of schools and hospitals. It can involve the cultivation of food crops, rearing animals including poultry, goats, sheep, cattle, pigs, guinea pigs, grasscutters and fish and producing non-food products such as medicinal plants. It can also encompass a range of other services such as processing, packaging, compost and animal health services.

FAO estimates that 130 million urban residents in Africa alone engage in agriculture, mainly horticulture, to provide food for their families or to earn income from sales. Advantages include low start-up costs, short production cycles and high yields per unit of time, land and water. UA can be an effective coping strategy when times are hard. In the slum area of Kamae, Kenya, families have been allocated small landholdings by the local administration and given training in growing crops and rearing small livestock. In Havana, the capital of Cuba, urban agriculture developed after imports and exports collapsed following the disintegration of the Soviet Union. With no access to oil, tractors, fertilisers, pesticides or other inputs, urban Cubans turned to organic farming to feed their families. Today, more than 26,000 gardens cover 2,439 ha in Havana and produce 25,000 tonnes of food annually. In Mozambique and Sierra Leone, urban farming developed as a way of feeding the influx of refugees who flocked to the cities during civil wars. In both countries, it continues to be an important source of food, income and employment and has spurred an entire value chain, including processing, packaging, transport and retailing.

City Farmers (Spore)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Trees and Bushes Cut City Pollution

More greenery would be good for our lungs.
    Trees, bushes and other greenery growing in the concrete-and-glass canyons of cities can reduce levels of two of the most worrisome air pollutants by eight times more than previously believed, a new study has found. A report on the research appears in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

    Thomas Pugh and colleagues explain that concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and microscopic particulate matter (PM) — both of which can be harmful to human health — exceed safe levels on the streets of many cities. Past research suggested that trees and other green plants can improve urban air quality by removing those pollutants from the air. However, the improvement seemed to be small, a reduction of less than 5 percent. The new study sought a better understanding of the effects of green plants in the sometimes stagnant air of city streets, which the authors term "urban street canyons."
Climbing ivy cuts nitrogen dioxide and particulate pollution.
    The study concluded that judicious placement of grass, climbing ivy and other plants in urban canyons can reduce the concentration at street level of NO2 by as much as 40 percent and PM by 60 percent, much more than previously believed. The authors even suggest building plant-covered "green billboards" in these urban canyons to increase the amount of foliage. Trees were also shown to be effective, but only if care is taken to avoid trapping pollutants beneath their crowns.
Plants are good for our health. Cities should plant more of them.

Trees and Bushes Cut City Pollution (FuturePundit)