Uncovering JAPA

Examining Food Systems and Sovereignty In Conflict Cities

Conflict inevitably disrupts people's livelihoods. Urban smallholder farmers in particular face challenges of economic precarity in the face of violence and environmental change. To ensure urban farmers can survive and thrive, planners must rethink their strategies to preserve and protect food sovereignty in protracted crises.

Conflict Cities Grapple With Food Sovereignty

In "Planning and Food Sovereignty in Conflict Cities," Journal of the American Planning Association (Vol. 89, No. 2), Samina Raja and colleagues examine how planning interacts with broader political factors to influence food sovereignty in conflict cities using the capital city of Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir as a case study. The article also discusses how planners shape food sovereignty through land use and development and how to reconsider their role in strengthening food systems in conflict cities.

Food sovereignty refers to the right to healthy and culturally appropriate food through ecologically sound and sustainable methods.

Essentially, people have the right to define their own food and agricultural systems. In Srinagar, many urban growers cultivate, eat, and distribute indigenous greens known as haakh. Haakh farms are a community development infrastructure and they ensure access to affordable, nutritious, and culturally celebrated greens.

Raja and colleagues drew on several sources to investigate planning and food sovereignty in state-sanctioned conflict regions. First, the team used existing literature, including land use plans and policies, to explore how nation-states, guided by neoliberal policies and planning, dismantle food systems resources. Interviews with 40 smallholder urban farmers who identified as Kashmiris, provided details on the experiences of growers and the downstream effects of planning and governance.

Planning Impacts Urban Growers' Food Sovereignty

Findings indicate a suite of issues that can disenfranchise urban growers from achieving food sovereignty including:

  1. Intersecting burdens of misgovernance and militarism (from India)
  2. Weak forms of local planning
  3. Climate change threatening production.

The authors note that the politics of planning reveal market-based ambitions to reproduce state-sanctioned dispossession of indigenous urban farmers and their practices. To this end, Raja and colleagues call for a reform of planning education to make clear that (local) planning is anything but technical. Planning practice should align their work with smallholder growers who want control over their food systems. In addition, the international community has a role in addressing these issues to protect the land rights of farmers in the face of settler-colonialism.

In terms of future research, the authors want to better understand how planners' and communities' food systems can better serve cities in crisis. This research is distinct from the literature on external food aid during disasters and crises.

Moreover, while evidence indicates state actions on food sovereignty in conflict cities have been less than favorable, identifying ways the planning profession can enable rather than hinder food sovereignty is crucial. Planning can play a role in reimagining how to build safe, equitable, and sustainable food systems for cities in crisis beyond the context of national security and neoliberal political projects.

Top image: iStock/Getty Images Plus — SUMIT

About the author
Jess Shakesprere is a master in urban planning candidate at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design.

May 4, 2023

By Jessica Shakesprere