How Small-Scale Farmers Play a Critical Role as the 'Stewards of Biodiversity'
Zero Foodprint Asia (ZFPA) is a registered charitable organisation in Hong Kong, whose mission it is to mobilise the food world around agricultural climate solutions. ZFPA crowd-funds from member food businesses such as restaurants, cafés, bars and food retailers to help smallholder farmers adopt regenerative farming practices in the region.
In this article, culinary anthropologist Nithiya Laila shares how Zero Foodprint Asia is building regenerative farming practices into local food systems and why supporting farmers is critical for our food future.
“Our mission is to mobilise the food and hospitality sector to help solve one of the biggest challenges in our food system: poor land management that degrades soil fertility and leads to reliance on fossil fuel chemicals. Through our 1% Pledge programme, we crowdfund from restaurant diners and food businesses to grant farmers to adopt regenerative farming practices. Practices such as applying compost, keeping soil covered, and growing a diversity of crops help to restore soil health, improve biodiversity, grow better food and solve climate change through carbon sequestration. In turn, by increasing our smallholder farmers’ resilience to climate impact now, we are helping communities secure a more stable and nutritious food supply well into the future.
Although Eva’s farm is small, she’s able to grow over 60 odd varieties of vegetable crops, roots, tubers, wild herbs, squashes and melons, complete with perennial fruit trees that act as a canopy during the hottest season. The roots of these perennials help to stabilise the farm’s surrounding soil structure, supplying fungi and bacteria that feed the hungry living microbes underground. More diversity means more nutrition for plant health, which means more nutrition for human health. This symbiotic relationship between soil microbes and plant health is what helps to increase biodiversity on the farms, as well as biodiversity in our guts when we choose to consume a larger variety of crops.
The environmental impacts of our food choices are paramount, especially given the challenges of climate change and its disproportionate effects on the global south. Kitchens and farms stand at the forefront, offering solutions that can address climate challenges and those of feeding an ever-growing population. A diverse food system is characterised by its resilience, adaptability and deep roots in indigenous knowledge. This system actively champions local produce, biodiversity and the preservation of culturally culinary traditions. Supporting initiatives like Zero Foodprint Asia and fostering table-to-farm collaboration are key steps in promoting systems like these.
Indigenous food systems bring forth a wealth of sustainable practices, placing a premium on living in harmony with nature. These systems are pivotal for biodiversity preservation and overall environmental protection. The global south, rich in traditional knowledge, has communities that have thrived for generations, underscoring the importance of these systems. There’s a strong emphasis on food sovereignty, allowing communities the right to define and manage their own food systems. By documenting and championing indigenous culinary practices, we can introduce sustainable solutions to contemporary challenges.
Education is the cornerstone: workshops in schools, culinary farm tours or content media projects that enlighten and inspire. Organisations like Zero Foodprint Asia provide an accessible platform for individuals to connect, learn and contribute. At home, individuals can make a difference by prioritising local and seasonal produce, visiting markets, cooking more, exploring traditional cooking methods and minimising food waste. When dining out, it’s beneficial to support restaurants that align with sustainable initiatives and incorporate native ingredients in their offerings.
Chefs wield significant influence in the culinary world and can be catalysts for change. Collaborating with networks that champion sustainability allows chefs to tap into a diverse range of sustainably sourced ingredients. Indigenous food systems offer a wealth of inspiration, allowing chefs to blend age-old wisdom with contemporary techniques. Beyond crafting dishes, chefs have a broader role in promoting food sovereignty advocating for sustainable farming practices, reducing food waste in the kitchen and highlighting the importance of dietary biodiversity.
At its core, supporting farmers directly is about safeguarding our future: farmers are the stewards of biodiversity. They cultivate unique crop varieties that are resilient and crucial for food security. Many employ age-old sustainable practices that are kind to our planet, but beyond the environment, it is also about culture and economy. Farmers carry our cultural stories through their crops and boost local economies. How do we support them? It is about fair pricing, ensuring they are paid what they truly deserve. It is about connecting them directly to us, the consumers, cutting out long supply chains. We should also provide them with the right training and resources to embrace the latest technology available, but also to embrace traditional practices like regenerative farming. As consumers, we should actively seek out and always try to buy local. Every time we support local farmers, we’re investing in a sustainable, culturally rich future.
Regenerative farming is about giving back to the earth more than we take. It is not just about sustainable farming, but about actively improving the soil, the environment and the ecosystem. When we talk about boosting biodiversity, regenerative farming is a game-changer. It encourages the growth of diverse crops, which in turn supports a variety of wildlife and beneficial insects. This diversity isn’t just good for the planet: it’s good for our plates too. A diverse range of crops means a diverse diet, which is richer and nutrients and flavours. In essence, regenerative farming is about healing our land, diversifying our diets, and ensuring a healthier future for the planet and its people.”
Find more information about Zero Foodprint Asia at their website, or read about the benefits of regenerative agriculture here. Make sure you’re following us on Instagram and LinkedIn for more inspiring ways we can #EatForTomorrow.
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