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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, by either spoiling before reaching market, or more likely 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 vegetable and/or fruit production. A trained vegetable gardener can then grow vegetables on the land, in exchange, providing a certain percentage of the yield to the household, and/or providing the household with 'credits', to be returned by an intermediatary upon market sale. The gardener sells to the intermediatary, who has a stake in ensuring the gardening is done well (involved at the training level). 

The intermediatary then sells the produce to the consumer, perhaps initially at the local level, through veggie box delivery schemes, farmers markets, etc. Some of the revenue is returned to the land-providing households in the form of 'green tech credits', which the household would choose, and would be designated for worm-bin composters, bokashi bins, gutter rainwater collectors, greywater systems, etc., creating inputs for the gardening system in turn. Opportunities exist for stakeholders to sell produce that is certified organic, and labour creating. Overall, it is a system designed to make more efficient use of energy at a household level, thus reducing emissions and creating jobs.

Category of the action

Reducing consumption

What actions do you propose?

Market research/viability testing

Questions to ask at this stage, is how to structure the program in order to attract stakeholders. Any venture has to offer enough incentive or profit to the stakeholders. For the household, there has to be the desire for fresh food, upgrades that can reduce their energy consumption at home, or to providing meaningful employment for someone, or presumably a combination of the three. For the gardener, there has to be enough financial reward to motivate them to work, for the NGO involved, the cause has to be seen as worthy enough. For any capital that may be involved, the profit margin has to be significant enough. At this point it is unclear whether it would be viable enough to attract business, or whether it would rely completely or at least partly on NGO involvement.

Formulating a business model.

Here, one could assess how households might react to the idea of their land being used, what financial or food they might expect in return, what conditions would make them feel comfortable in terms of someone working in close proximity to their houses (rapport establishment and setting of mutual responsibilities). What sort of contract would best suit the arrangement, and who takes responsibility for which potential pitfalls and shortfalls? What kind of upgrades to their home would most attract them?  The concept of locally grown fruit and vegetables, grown organically or otherwise, would have to appeal to consumers. The idea has to be marketed in the appropriate way. What green tech would turn consumer waste into resources for the gardener, and in doing so cut down on household emissions? What reward model and incentive structure would most motivate and engage the household? Logistics, storage, etc. would have to be worked out for the outlet. Protocol, guidelines, practice would have to be developed by professionals. Vectors would have to be formulated and measured (water usage, soil fertility, water purity, compost safety, greenhouse gas emissions avoided, etc).

Gauging stakeholder interest.

What kind of NGO's would want to be involved in a program of this nature? Would they have a socio-economic bent or would they be environmentally-oriented, or both (green jobs)? Would this be better developed as an experiment, which could then be proferred to the wider NGO community in general? Would business find the idea profitable? Would government see this as a noticeable approach to job creation, enough so to become actively involved? 

Would there be room for financial services, where green infrastructure is provided for initially and paid off by future sales, savings on common household bills, etc? This would kickstart the business and profitability of the gardener.

Finding and forging partners and partnerships.

All actors would delineate their various roles, responsibilities and rewards, and craft together a cohesive model. If the project is implemented in more than one locale, involvement may extend more toward one actor. For example, if soils were particularly good in one city, business may be more involved. If unemployment was high, government might be more active. 

Choosing a test site/country/city.

Some areas would lend themselves to success better than others, based on site conditions, rainfall, market behaviour, levels of trust. Extent of land would decide whether operations were viable enough at a small scale.

Developing training programs and markets.

Next, training has to be rigorous in terms of formulating blueprints that would work i.e. timing of crop plantings, and choice of plantings, spacing of seedlings, companion planting, etc. that would produce high yields relative to the soil and climatic conditions of the area. The gardener has to be more than an employee, rather a partner who is actively involved in the success and growth of their business and operation. Typically, one gardener might rotate between different households and plots. Regulations and rules relative to farming alongside a living area would have to be considered (pets/fencing off of plots/entry into property). Co-ordination, between plot and market would also be important, and management and household liason would be vital to the success of the program.

Monitoring, evaluating and refining the overall program.

Adaption and a waming-up period would be integral to the long-term success of the operation, given it is a new concept currently not practiced. Typically, food grown at home has been for personal consumption alone, and food purchased at the super market has been grown on commercial farms. Any new concept takes time and patience to develop as a commonly accepted practice.

Implementing on a wider scale, with more partners.

Should a few test sites work well, larger corporate and NGO partners may become interested in the concept. In these terms, one hopes that the idea is spread globally, as a new industry, rather than a market opportunity to be kept for oneself.

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?

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 be encouraged to get involved, which would provide physical exercise.

Social cohesion - people from different socio-economic brackets would interact, and be united in a mutually advantageous goal.

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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