‘Virtuous circles’ can help secure food supplies and address climate change

News, 22 November 2011

A book published today by IIED paints a vivid picture of an alternative future in which food, energy and water supplies are sustainable and in the control of local communities.

The book show how the linear systems that shape our world are flawed as they assume a limitless supply of resources and a limitless capacity for the environment to absorb waste and pollution.

The global food system’s dependence on fossil fuels that contribute to local pollution and global warming is just one example of an unsustainable system.

The authors call instead for circular systems that mimic natural cycles to produce food, energy, materials and clean water.

“Circular economy models that reintegrate food and energy production with water and waste management can also generate jobs and income in rural and urban areas,” says co-author Dr Michel Pimbert, a principal researcher at IIED. “This ensures that wealth created stays within the local and regional economy.”

One example is a system that recycles food waste and chicken manure to feed a worm farm. The worms in turn feed the chickens and farmed fish whose bones are used as fertiliser in a market garden. Human waste via a compost toilet also enriches the garden, whose crops -- together with the farmed fish and meat and eggs from the chickens -- feed the people.

The system is a closed circle with loops within it. All the nutrients stay in the system and just move about through the circle, rather than being pumped as sewage into the sea and leaving the soil forever poorer.

“A transformation towards re-localised food systems will significantly help to address climate change and other challenges,” says Pimbert. “Circular systems also provide the basis for economic and political sovereignty – the ability of citizens to democratically manage their own affairs and engage with other communities on their own terms.”

Dr Caroline Lucas, a member of parliament from the Green Party of England & Wales, has written the book’s foreword.

“I warmly welcome this book’s contribution to the debate on how food systems can be redesigned and re-localised to sustain diverse local ecologies, economies and human well being,” she writes.

“The authors rightly emphasise the need for a systemic and fundamental transformation of industrial food and farming in the face of peak oil, climate change, biodiversity loss, the water crisis, food poisonings, and the impoverishment of farmers and rural communities.”

“The challenge is to design resilient food systems with, by and for citizens – to reduce ecological footprints and foster local democratic control over the means of life. But rather than look at food and agriculture in isolation, we need to consider ways of re-integrating food and energy production with water and waste management in a diversity of local contexts in rural and urban areas, - and at different scales. “

To mark the launch of the book – Virtuous Circles: Values, systems and sustainability — IIED invites bloggers to join a virtual circle to share their blog posts about the book. Once you have posted a blog on your own site please send us the link (to Suzanne.Fisher@iied.org). IIED will then profile the best posts on its own blog and via Twitter with the hashtag #vcircles.

Download the book: Virtuous Circles: Values, systems and sustainability


For interviews in English or in French, contact:
Dr Michel Pimbert at michel.pimbert@iied.org

Telephone +44 (0)20 3463 7399.

Notes to editors

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) is an independent, non-profit research institute. Set up in 1971 and based in London, IIED provides expertise and leadership in researching and achieving sustainable development (see: www.iied.org).

Sadly, this book was just about completed when its lead author, Andy Jones, met with a sudden death on 17th November 2010. Between 2008 and 2010 Andy was a much respected researcher associated with IIED’s Agroecology and Food Sovereignty Team.

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