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Modern agriculture and urbanization

Modern agriculture and urbanization

There is a close relationship between agriculture and the birth of inhabited centers; the human species is social and gregarious and has always been so: even hunters and gatherers, although mobile on the territory, acted and lived in groups and not as solitaries.
Agriculture is one of the oldest human activities, dating back thousands of years. It was one of the fundamental stages in the development of societies and human aggregations, allowing the transition from nomadic life to sedentary life.
Starting from 10,000 BC about the peasant communities, with their activities and settlements, have transformed entire landscapes.
With the evolution of agricultural systems, demographic growth and the rise of a more complex organization of work and society, the first cities developed. However, over the past millennia, the world has essentially been populated by farmers, hunters, fishermen, closely linked to the land, dispersed in small aggregates across the territory. Urban societies had important roles, but small dimensions. In the Renaissance era, in Central Northern Italy, the most prosperous area in Europe, only ten inhabitants out of a hundred lived in urban centers with more than 10,000 inhabitants, compared to just three or four out of a hundred in France, Germany and England and one out of one hundred in the peripheral areas of the continent, to the north and east.
However, it is the industrial revolution that gives a vigorous impulse to the urbanization of entire areas; industries and tertiary activities are concentrated in cities and their suburbs; thus, for example, London reached one million inhabitants after 1800, and was then the most populous city in the world. Today there are more than 500 urban areas with over one million inhabitants, and the most populous urban complex in the world is Tokyo with almost 40 million inhabitants.
The urbanization process has rapidly accelerated; after 2005 urban populations surpassed rural ones, in 2018 they represented 55% of the total world population, almost double that of 1950.
It immediately becomes evident that it was soon the link between modern agriculture and industrialization of systems that generated the first expansion of the so-called megacities.
The evolution, often uncontrolled or uncontrollable, of the situations and movements of movement towards certain urban areas, with the intensification of the population density and of the productive and commercial settlements has produced, especially since the second half of the twentieth century, very large agglomerations which are been called megacities, a term used by J. Gottmann for the first time in 1961 to indicate this phenomenon.
In 1950 there were only 2 megacities with over 10 million inhabitants (New York and Tokyo), today there are 31 and the forecasts for the next few years are, to say the least, catastrophic, due to the consequences that all this can have on energy needs and on social imbalances.
In fact, urban growth will continue to occur – albeit at an increasingly slower rate – in the coming decades. According to United Nations estimates, by 2030, 60% of the world’s population will live in urban areas, which will rise from 4 to 5 billion, while the rural population will remain almost unchanged at 3.4 billion. Cities with over half a million inhabitants, which numbered 1063 in 2016, will increase to 1393 in 2030, and their incidence on the world population will grow from 27.7% to 33.3%. The urban population therefore tends to concentrate in ever larger clusters: in 2016, around a fifth of the urban population lived in aggregates exceeding 5 million inhabitants; in 2030 it should be almost a quarter.
The growth in number and size of large urban aggregates, which is particularly dynamic in Asia and Africa, obviously generates more than one reason for concern. In these aggregates live populations with higher than average consumption, more waste is produced and more greenhouse gases are emitted, land is consumed at a rate double that of population growth. In less developed countries, almost a third of the population lives in slums or informal settlements, with rudimentary services, precarious access to safe water sources, poor hygiene, subject to environmental risks, often without the right to permanent residence and therefore at risk of expulsion.
For this reason, the rapid development of the disproportionate growth of large urban centers, foreseeable for the coming decades, threatens the “sustainable development” that the international community has solemnly committed to pursuing.
In this direction, the advent of agroecological systems can determine a reversal of this trend since, by its assumption, agroecology necessarily involves not only the reorganization of production systems but also a different connection between these and consumers.
Agroecology is in fact, within the broader scenario of the circular economy, that production and economic model where the connection between the various systems must be integrated and where the flows are not linear.
Furthermore, agricultural biodiversification will also change the interface between those who produce and those who consume, perfectly following the objectives of the EU Farm to Fork Strategy. In this direction, the scenario of traditional markets, which developed and evolved with the advent of specialized agriculture, will change rapidly, requiring a closer relationship, also in terms of distance, between those who produce and those who consume but also in qualitative terms, having to dedicate a greater attention to individual needs.

Emarginazione sociale

Therefore, a system of market networks is envisaged based on new approaches among which emerge, among others, solidarity purchasing groups, better known by the acronym GAS, zero kilometer networks, and other experiences tending to bring together and link production and consumption.
These new experiences arise above all as a need to change a lifestyle in which the economic system, based on the capitalist market economy, does not guarantee the satisfaction of one’s needs on a level of equality, universality, equality of all citizens, generating at the same time all the aforementioned faults.
These are experiences that go beyond the sphere of economics to enter the field of not only ethics, but also health and politics, the latter understood not as that which had or should intervene to correct and regulate the market, which is not always the best rationalizer, since the meeting between supply and demand often triggers friction that creates waste and social damage; A new way of doing politics is therefore necessary which, through a strong reflection on critical consumption, a part of civil society claims to bring directly into the market.
In this sense, the concept underlying GAS is that of the “short supply chain”; in other words the rapprochement between producer and final consumer, both in geographical terms, preferring the companies closest to the place where the group was formed, and in “functional” terms, cutting out intermediaries, such as wholesalers and shopkeepers, in particular like hypermarkets. In the case of GAS the supply chain is as short as possible; in fact, consumers turn directly to producers. The selection of products and producers by GAS members takes place through the criteria of the so-called “critical consumption”, since people choose products that have certain requirements pursuing the objective of purchasing products that respect the environment and people.
These new systems are perfectly linked to the creation of circular cities and territories, strongly connected to issues such as sustainable development, resilience and climate change. Currently there is no clear and shared definition of what constitutes a city or a circular territory. In scientific literature, the circular city is very often seen as a context capable of putting into practice the principles of the circular economy, attempting to close the cycles of the resources it uses, as well as creating social engagement with its stakeholders (citizens, communities, businesses, administrators and knowledge stakeholders). The Ellen Mac Arthur Foundation states that a circular city incorporates the principles of the circular economy into all its functions, establishing an urban system that is regenerative by definition.
Regardless of the different definitions present, in general cities and territories are defined as circular to underline the innovative way of seeing, weighing and above all managing the economic and non-economic activities that take place in the city’s territory. In recent years, numerous cities have proposed strategies and undertaken paths towards circularity such as Rotterdam, Paris, London, Madrid and others.
In any case, the connection of systems and the change in lifestyles will necessarily lead to a recomposition of the urban fabric which, in some ways, the linear economy has led towards a point of no return.
Suffice it to say that in Italy the suburbs are increasingly depopulated (in the last 25 years one person in seven has abandoned the internal areas), with almost two million empty houses (one in every three is no longer occupied) and increasingly elderly inhabitants (two for every young person). It is the photograph of small Italian municipalities that emerges from a recent study carried out by Cresme for Legambiente and Anci on municipalities under 5,000 inhabitants.
A small Italy but with a deep soul that goes from the Alps to the Apennines to reach the smaller islands; 5,627 small towns covering 69.9% of the total municipalities (8,047). Of these, according to the study, almost half (2,430) suffer from severe demographic and economic hardship, small villages that occupy 29.7% of the national territorial surface, over 89 thousand square kilometers, a population density that does not reach 36 inhabitants per square kilometre; almost 13 times less than in municipalities with over 5000 inhabitants.
In particular, in the last 25 years (from 1991 to 2015) in these territories there has been a decline in the active population (675 thousand fewer inhabitants, i.e. -6.3% in municipalities under 5000 inhabitants), one person in seven has gone away, an increase in the elderly (over 65s compared to young people up to 14 years old increased by 83%), with over 2 elderly people for one young person. There are 1,991,557 empty houses against the 4,345,843 occupied: one in every three is empty.
To remedy this social and, consequently, ecological and environmental disaster, we must reverse a political logic that has seen the linear economy and the centralization of powers and decisions as a pathology without the possibility of any cure.
The only remedy for all this is to rethink a relationship between man and nature, to different links between social ecology and ecology, and in which agroecology, within agricultural systems and the circular economy, it is the only solution to cure what the United Nations defines as a Humanitarian Crisis.

Guido Bissanti

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