Who are we?
The Network of Cities for Agroecology is an association formed by local entities of the Spanish state. Its aim is to foster a relationship between local entities in order to build local food systems that respect the environment, are sustainable, inclusive, resilient, safe and diversified, which ensure healthy, sustainable and accessible food for the whole population, and which promote local employment, in line with the perspectives of agroecology and food sovereignty.
The Network's approach is primarily practical, with work aimed at sharing experiences and collaboratively developing innovative solutions to the problems suffered by these entities:
- Access to land. Access to land for farmers
- Protection of agricultural uses. Protection of agricultural practices in urban and suburban areas.
- Incorporation of professionals. The professional incorporation of new farmers.
- Infrastructure Provision The provision of public and/or collective infrastructures for regionalised distribution
- Vocational training. Vocational training adapted to agro-ecological and food sovereignty schemes.
- Use of the Land. The revaluation of the use of land and the professional agricultural activity itself.
- Food strategies. The development of local food strategies
In the 2015 municipal elections, the governments of numerous municipalities in Spain received a large number of municipal candidates with the intention of promoting innovative political agendas. That same year the Milan pact on Urban Food Policies was signed, with an important impact on Spain. These two factors added to the pioneering experience of some cities (Zaragoza, Lérida-Lleida, Vitoria-Gasteiz and others) in the development of sustainable and healthy urban food policies; and to the work that the social movement for Agroecology and Sovereignty had been developing since the beginning of the century. Many of these new governments have the technical support of these social organisations as there are no municipal staff with the time and training needed to promote food policy. Preliminary contacts between local food sovereignty movements established channels of cooperation between territories. Finally, Zaragoza City Council (660,000 inhabitants) includes within the LIFE project "0 km vegetable gardens" an action for the creation of a European network of cities with peri-urban agricultural spaces (http://www.agroecocities.eu), which starts in collaboration with cities such as Ghent and Bruges (BE), Bristol (UK), Freiburg (DE) and Grenoble (FR), generating considerable interest among Spanish cities.
From its beginnings to the present day...
The first informal meetings that would give rise to the Network took place in 2016. It was formally set up in 2018. In 2019 the Network had 14 formal members and 18 collaborating public entities; and in March it created the Council of Social Organisations, as the Network's consultative body. However, the Network's Working Groups (1-governance and participation; 2-Advisorship and support for agro-ecological undertakings; and 3-logistics and local distribution networks) have been operating since May 2017 on the basis of webinars and face-to-face seminars in collaboration with members and academic entities (such as the Higher Council for Scientific Research) or other entities (such as the FAO Office in Spain). Currently the structure has changed: the previous three Working Groups have been transformed into three "exchange pathways", and permanent working groups are being created for the exchange of experiences and resources on specific topics (A-Small Municipalities; B-Multi-Product Community Workers; C-Public Procurement). At the same time, the Network is formalising the relationship with the Entretantos Foundation for the development of a Technical Secretariat, a task that the Foundation had already been carrying out.
Some of the difficulties we have encountered, and how we have dealt with them
Urban food policies appeared in 2015 as a new field in Spain; and consequently, the member organisations of the Network do not generally have staff or a specific budget for this purpose, nor do they have experience. The Network was therefore born with very specific operational objectives including the exchange of experiences and resources between municipal staff for the development of the agenda itself. This has been done through seminars and webinars, the publication of guides and the distribution of other specialised documentation among the member cities, the creation of working groups, the promotion of innovative experiences with some member entities (coordination between social policy and food policy in Cordoba, coordination between food policy and feminist policies in Zaragoza, etc.).
The difficulty in providing a budget for food policies in the member entities has been surmounted through the exposure of ongoing actions and communication actions. All with the aim of capturing the interest of elected officials.
The lack of specific staff in the member organisations has been overcome through the inclusion of local social organisations in the Exchange pathways and Working Groups, as well as in the Council of Social Organisations.
The lack of municipal competences, according to Spanish regulations, in matters such as agriculture, education or health is being confronted via incorporation into the Network of Provincial Councils, with vigorous political advocacy at the regional and national levels.
The difficulty to develop projects with a view to the food system, due to scarce agricultural production in urban territories, has been faced by incorporating in the Network the voice and presence of the ecological agro-food sector, as well as rural municipalities. This is done in order to reinforce the role of cities in agro-ecological transitions in the rural environment; this remoteness of cities from production also generates an inability to apply the agro-ecological approach to the entire production chain, so the incorporation of ecological producers and rural municipalities is also key.
Finally, the lack of financial resources for both the Network and the member organisations is addressed by bolstering the international presence of the Network and by participating in international consortia to apply for European funds (such as H2020 and others).
Outcomes we have been achieving
In a very short period of time, the Network of Cities for Agroecology brings together cities that represent a fifth of the Spanish population. In addition, it has become a reference point for food policies in Spain, and for food policies with an agro-ecological focus in Europe, participating in numerous meetings and publications.
Food policies have gone from being non-existent and unknown to being a relevant aspect to be incorporated in the urban agenda, despite the fact that there is still a lot of work to be done.
The Network has allowed a very rapid evolution of municipal food policy programmes, based on cooperation and exchange between cities in relation to very practical aspects, whether administrative or technical.
The Network is an effective and powerful mechanism to promote bottom-up approaches in cities for the co-production of public policies, by incorporating social organisations in the organisation chart, and by encouraging their presence in all their actions.
By linking agroecology and food policy, the Network reinforces aspects related to the ecological sustainability of the food chain that were absent or had a weak presence in other conceptions of food policies, such as the Milan Pact; or the very application of the CAP in Spain.
The exchange of experiences and resources with peers is a very good resource to open a new space in the local political agenda; as well as the creation of a shared body (a Network) that can provide certain services to its members, in a flexible, fast and operative way. International coordination is key to learning from experiences in other territories and learning faster.
It is good to start working at the civil servant and technical staff level, in order to achieve greater fluidity in work and speed in decision making. However, once the initiative is stabilised and its potential grows, it is necessary to gain support at the political level in order to achieve truly sensible changes.
Food policies are understood by some political persuasions, nowadays in Spain, as being part of left-wing or even extreme left-wing agenda. The Network has made a significant effort to incorporate local governments that are representative of all ideologies, as we understand that they are essential policies for citizens and society; and a lot of energy has been put into the search for consensus that will allow a veritable quantum leap in agroecology. However, this quest for consensus is not easy, and will take even more effort; furthermore, it limits the transformative potential of agroecology. Further work is needed on this contradiction.
At the municipal level, without skills in agriculture, education or health, this is constrained by a profound approach to the agro-ecological perspective. It is therefore necessary to integrate administrations of a higher territorial scale into the Network; to promote horizontal and balanced alliances between urban and rural municipalities; to promote intermediate administrative figures, such as metropolitan areas; and to carry out advocacy actions aimed at higher administrative levels.
Social networks: Twitter: agroecocities; FB: #agroecocities
Updated June 2019.
- Familiarising and reflecting
- Creating networks
- Local institution
- Social movement, social organisation