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Households represent the end source of consumerism, where food and other resources are waste. What if they were channelled to be resources?



In the developed world, a third of food is wasted, typically being thrown away at consumer level. Food waste, usually thrown away with general household waste, produces methane in our landfills, contributing to emissions. In countries such as South Africa, the US, Brazil and elsewhere, inequality levels are high, and joblessness is a major socio-economic problem. Some households have large properties, often covered by unproductive lawn not actively used. Sometimes mere kilometres away, shanty towns play host to poverty, food insecurity, crowding and unemployment. 

My proposal concerns food production, healthy eating, sustainable sources of employment, and lowered greenhouse gas emissions. I propose that households with excess land, i.e. lawn not in active use, register for a program where they offer a portion of their land for agricultural production. A trained vegetable gardener can then grow vegetables on the land, growing one plot for the family and another plot for their own use, and/or providing the household with 'credits', to be returned by an intermediary upon market sale. The gardener makes use of on-site resources such as leaves, lawn clippings and food waste. The gardener sells to the intermediary, who has a stake in ensuring the gardening is done well (involved at the training level). 

The intermediary then sells the produce to the consumer, at the local level, through veggie box delivery schemes, farmers markets, etc. Some of the revenue is returned to the households in the form of 'green credits', which the household would choose, and would be designated for worm-bin composters, solar panels, rooftop rainwater harvesting, greywater systems, creating inputs for the gardening system in turn. Opportunities exist for stakeholders to sell produce that is certified organic, and fair trade. Overall, it is a system designed to make more efficient use of energy at a household level, thus reducing emissions and creating jobs.

What actions do you propose?

By  composting food waste, lawn clippings and general garden waste on site, these waste products are turned into inputs for the vegetable gardens on site, thus eliminating the carbon emissions associated with their collection and disposal. By food being grown for the family on site, the carbon emissions associated with food miles and supermarket storage of foods is avoided. As this food is freshed and picked as needed, no food is wasted. As families can pick the crops that they favour, so the market doesn’t over- or underproduce. By virtue of the food being fresher, less of it is needed to be eaten. By using land that is already in use, and not devoted to biodiversity, new land and associated land use changes and related emissions is avoided.  Once green credits are gained and used to pay for green tech, the household can realise efficiencies in water use (greywater systems and rooftop water harvesting), energy use, (solar and thermal heaters) and related emissions reduction.

Who will take these actions?

Interested NGO's, corporate partners, educational partners and government agencies will all be motivated by personal stake.

The details of whom this idea would attract and on what terms, would come with market research and viability testing. It may be that it becomes an organic idea that grows, such as community supported agriculture has, in which case the idea would ideally be grown as an educational opportunity for others, or it may be that it is profitable enough for the market to become interested in it.

Ultimately, the program is geared toward environmental good coming from market and personal opportunity. For the gardener, there is the opportunity for livelihood, for any business involvement, there is the profit motive, for any household, there is the chance to earn green tech that can reduce household bills, add value to their property, and have an immediate source of fresh food.

So, while all stakeholders have personal stake, the environment benefits through consumption being reduced, resource use being vastly diminished and emissions being avoided. Fertiliser manufacture is avoided, transport is avoided, air-conditioning and cold storage is avoided, intake of processed food is reduced.

Where will these actions be taken?

The idea is that this program is eminently suited to those countries where wealth differences occur. In suburbs in affluent areas in developed countries, water as rainfall and land is often unused (children have left the home, families are sedentary and focus on indoor activities), and at the household level much food is thrown away. There exists a gap here for the unemployed to turn these resources to food and to profit. So, ultimately a country like Brazil, the US or South Africa is envisioned, where abundance exists alongside need, and opportunity exists as a result.

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

If food production counts for 18% of all emissions, and a third of food is wasted, this means that if adopted globally, we can see a reduction of up to 6% in annual emissions in developed and BRICS countries.

What are other key benefits?

Employment. - a key benefit, agriculture is a sustainable source of employment, as the market for basic foodstuffs such as fruit and vegetables is a reliable and permanent market.

Increased health - though initially it is planned that the program will be organic - to avoid associated  emissions of fertiliser, pesticides and other inputs, as well as to avoid the capital outlay - there may eventually be incentive for some level of non-organic input. Some people believe that organic food is healthier, and as the farm is the market in this sense - suburbia - food will be fresh. Householders may also find they develop an interest in food gardening, which would provide physical exercise and be an ethic passed down the generations, and contribute toward establishment of a sustainable cultural norm.

Social cohesion - people from different socio-economic brackets would interact, and be united in a mutually advantageous goal. Suburban communities would support the program to support one another.

What are the proposal’s costs?

The costs are not yet certain at this stage, but it is envisioned to be a minimal cost enterprise, relying on waste inputs and low-tech practices. Most of the costs would be around training of gardeners, formulation of programs, and all in the initial stages. In the medium term, it is envisioned to be a self-sufficient program financially,  and eventually  generating a profit for stakeholders.

Time line

5 years research and development in test locations. Thereafter, rolled out further afield. 

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