NutriCities: Learning with Grassroots Food Infrastructures in the Favelas of the Maré, Rio de Janeiro
Food security is one of the key markers of global inequality. But not enough attention is paid to food access at one of the key territories that mark this very inequality: the urban peripheries of the global south. What kind of access to what kind of food do people have here? How do market mechanisms, food habits and (lack of) policies facilitate or pose barriers to people’s food security?
The project hypothesis was that locally developed food growth and distribution networks in cities of the global south can significantly diminish food insecurity. In so doing they can contribute to the well-being of their populations, against the infliction and expansion of a nutritional culture based on poor quality food. The team's research has been based in the favelas of the Maré in Rio de Janeiro, and has focused on the following questions: what kind of food products are available to residents in the urban periphery? What range of choices between different production patterns do they actually have (agroindustrial production based on GMOs and agrochemicals vs. small farmers’ agroecological produce)? How do more traditional nutritional habits, many times based on natural foods processed locally, relate to urbanised fast food culture, which is by now widely spread in the peripheries?
The research team started with a broad outlook of food-related diseases and food distribution/consumption patterns. Through an action-research approach it then actively engaged with grassroots activities and residents’ initiatives to self-organise in order to produce, acquire and consume healthier food. Given the nutritional landscape formed by the expansion of big agroindustrial corporations and the shrinkage of the local agroecological production in Brazil, these local grassroots nutritional infrastructures can help us understand urban resilience as an actual question of resilience and resistance against the market's efforts to impose a culture of nutritional homogeneity on populations of the urban periphery.
NutriCities has four main objectives:
- to map out nutritional data and to record nutritional practices in the favelas of the Maré, reading the local food habits through the food sovereignty and agroecology lens;
- to map out agroecological markets and distribution patterns of and access to organic and agroecological products;
- to evaluate the impact of grassroots rural/urban food networks in the Maré and the wider Rio de Janeiro region looking at urban agriculture through the right to the city context;
- to investigate the genealogies of pacification through its interrelation with the development theories and the food question.
Through research in the urban periphery of Rio de Janeiro, the team wants to develop an interdisciplinary model for researching social infrastructures that strengthen the capacities of communities to self-organise: capacities that can in turn help improve urban life in the global south.
Rosinaldo Lourenço and Alessandra Lima, members of the local Research Group in Rio (CPI), work with members of the theater group Cia Marginal, which features one of the team's community researchers, Geandra Nobre, as one of its actors. In this photograph, the group works on developing a community garden, as CM plan to produce their next play on the community of Angolan migrants in the Maré withinin the park that surrounds the garden. Many of these migrants live in the nearby favelas.
View from inside the community garden "Parque Ecológico", toward some favela homes. In the upper-right part of the photograph are the roof-top plants of one of the community garden neighbours. As in this case, many residents maintain small rooftop gardens or grow plants in pots and buckets around their homes. While many are ornamental, they also include plants for nutritional and medical use.
Principal Investigator: Dr Antonis Vradis, Loughborough University
Co-Investigators: Dr Oonagh Markey, Loughborough University; Dr Richard Pithouse, Rhodes University