A bright future for food in Quito by 2050. Reality or utopia?

A bright future for food in Quito by 2050. Reality or utopia?

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Nataly Pinto Alvaro
Nataly Pinto Alvaro
Consultora externa | Ecuador

In October 2019, Ecuador was paralysed by public protests against the government's economic measures. The population experienced a lack of food as several establishments were closed down. At the time, we were unaware that our food system would be tested again soon after that.

The pandemic arrived in Quito in March 2020. The first cases were in the city of Guayaquil, an area that was severely affected. Fortunately, the capital's mayor chose to take preventive measures and households were confined in time. Little by little, reports of more and more cases emerged in the city and today more than 63,000 people are infected, according to official reports.

We learned the hard lesson that information is key to overcome the imminent consequences, first at the level of the health system, and then at the level of food. The city launched a study on the vulnerability of the food system, to detect the areas to be prioritised to guarantee the food security of Quito’s inhabitants.

The measures taken by the national government to slow down the advance of Covid resulted in important changes in consumption habits. Before the emergency, 71% of the people ate out. Now they have chosen to eat at home or order takeaway food.

Many households did not know how to cook, so several civil society organisations have provided support to help people prepare easy and nutritious recipes.

Another trend is the high consumption of processed foods, which is also related to the lack of time to cook or not knowing how to cook. According to the latest health and nutrition survey, 6 out of 10 residents between the ages of 25 and 59 are overweight, 83% regularly consume soft drinks, 63% eat snacks, and 58% eat fast food.

Market studies show an increase in the consumption of sweets between meals and a decrease in physical exercise during Covid. This dangerous combination puts the population at risk for chronic non-communicable diseases such as diabetes.

In a context of food insecurity, how do we re-imagine our food systems?

In October of this year, Rikolto was invited to visualise what the food system of a territory would look like in 2050. The Rockefeller Foundation, Open Ideo and Second Muse have joined forces to create the competition: Food Systems Vision Food Prize.

Exactly the right task for the group of professionals whom we are working with on Quito's food strategy and we can’t wait to get started.

Quito puts food on the agenda

Quito puts food on the agenda

Rikolto joined forces with RUAF, the Centre for Rural Development in Latin America (RIMISP) and various departments of Quito’s municipal administration. The purpose of that collaboration? Getting the various actors involved in the food system to sit at the table together and work on what would later become the Quito Food Charter.

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Firstly, we thought about the values that should anchor our approach. The proposal should reflect the principle of equity and ensure that there is a fair relationship between the actors in the food system. Solidarity and interconnection are key. We must recognise that we all depend on each other and it is essential that we take care of Mother Nature if we want to survive as a species.

We highly regard the value of inter-generationality and listening to peers of different ages. We also highly value the idea of integrating elements of continuous learning, sustainability and general well-being or "good living".

Having established the basis, we began to identify the challenges in the food system and think about them from economic, social, environmental, technological, nutritional and cultural standpoints. How can public policy create mechanisms to make our ideas a reality?

Finally, the following title emerged: Citizens in Quito transform their food environment to ensure access to healthy and nutritious food - citizens wield their right to food by participating actively in their neighborhoods and demanding safe, healthy & traceable food.

Just as we got good news, bad news arrived

We passed the second round! We were among 79 semi-finalists out of over 1,300 entries from all over the world. We were happy and proud that our idea resonated with people. Unfortunately, COVID19 arrived just a short time later and forced us to rethink ways of continuing to develop the proposal in a participatory way.

We organised 12 virtual meetings with more than 20 experienced professionals with a background in architecture, economics, social sciences, communication, knowledge management, agronomy, health and nutrition. Meet them here!

The participative work bore fruit and opened many opportunities for synergies. We were able to draw how everything is connected in the food system we're dreaming of for Quito by 2050. Sure, we have to recognise our limits: the system is a complex one. Yet, it is important to reflect the multiple links at various levels.

What we've learnt by thinking about the future in the midst of a crisis

Sur-Siendo cooperative, a consumer organisation founded in the south of Quito, works with small-scale producers to deliver agro-ecological food baskets at home

Thinking about the future in the midst of a pandemic is complex, not only because it is difficult to concentrate when we know that people are going through a difficult time, but also because the outlook is bleak and just the thought of us having to be confined for several months scares us. So how do we think about a promising future and design transformational strategies in the current scenario?

This same question made us realise that there were both limitations and opportunities in ensuring a constant supply of food.

There were collectives who organised immediate responses and would provide food baskets to neighbours in need who had lost their jobs. Restaurant owners set up work cooperatives to deliver home-made products and share the profits with the employees. The delivery service boom has continued until now and appears to be here to stay.

We must not lose sight of resilience in the most vulnerable areas

During the pandemic, urban agriculture once again proved to be a factor that contributes to resilience. Food gardens scattered throughout the city fed several families. The AGRUPAR urban agriculture project, an initiative that has been around for nearly two decades, has continued to offer remote technical assistance and now offers online courses to help more people set up their own home gardens.

The factors that will bolster the future food system are being tested today

Technology was a great ally during the pandemic, not only for connecting consumers with producers, but also to connect citizens with authorities to better monitor the situation through complaints on social networks.

Open source platforms offer an opportunity for entrepreneurs to offer their products in a secure way. For example, a consumer cooperative that Rikolto supports has chosen to invest in a website to showcase its product catalogue online and expand its customer base. Previously the customers were mainly families who attended fairs. Due to the ban on using public spaces, the cooperative is now reinventing itself and looking for new customers, such as small and medium sized food processing companies.

Citizens are going to need a space in the food system vision

Sustainable change requires participatory and integrated food governance. Today, few citizens defend their right to food and sustainable diets. Consumer movements exist, but there is a lack of citizen awareness when it comes to food sovereignty and security.

Before the pandemic, the municipality hosted several public spaces that welcomed citizens of all ages to participate in various activities. The topic of food was not brought up, however. For example, in cooking classes for the elderly, the municipality did not include the issue of sustainable diets, which has proven to be key in boosting the immune system.

Multi-sectoral and multi-level coordination is key to resisting the crisis

Food is a cross-cutting theme that runs across a number of activities. However, data and information on food are generated in silos by different actors, without any coordination, which results in disconnected actions that are not guided by systemic analysis. The absence of coordination makes organisational and individual efforts invisible and limits joint actions among the different stakeholders.

So, how do we see Quito's food system by 2050?

By 2050 we see an empowered diverse citizenry exercising their right to food. Urban design works because it allows people to go to the nearest vegetable garden, food fair and shop by foot or by bicycle.

People value the ability to meet and prepare food together, as well as to set up spaces where food plays an integral part in getting together. Food is viewed in a systemic way and is therefore integrated into the urban landscape. The municipality has invested in green infrastructure and carries out coordinated actions between the different companies and secretaries.

Curious about the full vision text on Quito's food system by 2050?

Discover it here