Alternative Food Network: Better for the environment?

In this post, I wish to explore the idea of an alternative food network (AFN), and question if AFN is truly transformative and unconventional (in terms of environmental sustainability) compared to commercial farming. Urban agriculture, as I have discuss in the posts “The light fantastic”, represents a form of AFN.

The topic of AFN was inspired by the mid-term test question (about AFN), which I answered for GE2221: Nature and Society.

Eat local is usual marketing strategy to promote eating local as alternative (to the conventional big-farms produce that have traveled long distance)

What is the Alternative Food Network?

For the food producers whose production systems are vulnerable to the threat of market liberalisation and productivist technological developments (Renting at el, 2003; Jarosz, 2008), AFN embodies the potential way out. Consumers see AFN as an alternative vision of socio-ecological relations embedded in food (Allen et al, 2003), partly driven by the increase public concerns over food scare and issues of ecology and even animal welfare (Renting et al. 2003).

Bridging the 2 understandings, AFN can be defined as the channel of food production, distribution and consumption which is built upon the close communication between the producers and consumers about their food (Hernandez, 2009), thus allowing progression in the relationship and enhancing the societal and environmental equity (Jarosz, 2008).

AFN is characterised by 4 attributes. They are (1) shorter distances between producers and consumers (Renting et al, 2003; Jarosz, 2008; Hernandez, 2009) ; (2) smaller farm size and focus on organic or holistic farming in contrast to agri-businesses; (3) existence of retail venues such as farmers’ markets (Renting et al, 2003; Allen et al, 2003) and (4) commitment to socio-economic and environmental dimensions to sustainable food production, distribution and consumption (Jarosz, 2008; Allen et al, 2003).

These 4 attributes deviate significantly from the practices and the characteristics of the current global food system under the corporate and national institutions.

Current Food Production 

The global food system was characterised by agri-business control, large-scale monoculture, reliance on technological inputs, global sourcing, chemicals, and sees long distances between the production and consumption locations. It is usually mired with critics on its lack of environmental sustainability due to agricultural pollution and use of large amount of oil for production and transport, as well as the lack of economic equity by squeezing small-scale family businesses, and the health implications it has on consumers through allergy in Genetically Modified food or use of chemicals (Jorosz, 2008).

Food Mileage. The total distance traveled by commercial agricultural produce

In contrast, AFN sees distances between food production, food retail and food consumption under AFN cut dramatically, shortening food supply chain. Food is fresher because it is locally produced and this allows AFN to minimise transport distance, oil consumption and bypass middlemen in the usual corporate food distribution chain. Such direct marketing of AFN improves the economic equity and environmental sustainability of food production (Renting et al, 2003).

Since AFN presents itself as both environmentally-equitable and environmentally friendly, is AFN the solution to the environmental pollution caused by commercial farming? In my next post, I will discuss the criticism about AFN and argue that urban agriculture, as seen in the previous post, is a form of AFN and is a form of AFN that we (Singapore) can adopt to enhance food security, yet be environmentally equitable.

Work Cited:

Allen, P., FitzSimmons, M., Goodman, M. and Warner, K. (2003). Shifting plates in the agrifood landscape: the tectonics of alternative agrifood initiatives in California. Journal of Rural Studies, 19(1), pp.61-75.

Jarosz, L. (2008). The city in the country: Growing alternative food networks in Metropolitan areas. Journal of Rural Studies, 24(3), pp.231-244.

Renting, H., Marsden, T. and Banks, J. (2003). Understanding alternative food networks: exploring the role of short food supply chains in rural development. Environ. Plann. A, 35(3), pp.393-411.

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