The EM/MENA Project at the Urban Foodshed

SEOUL BIENNALE OF ARCHITECTURE AND URBANISM 2017


“Going Beyond Sustainable: water. soil. land. food.”

Curator: Melina Nicolaides, Director of ACTIVATE →

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EM/MENA refers to the broad geographical area that encompasses the Eastern Mediterranean, Middle East and North Africa, a region that possesses not only one of the fastest growing populations, but has also been identified as the first region of the world that will remain waterless in the future due largely to man-made climate change. Currently, 14 of the world's 33 most water stressed countries are located within this area. Despite sub-regional differences, this region is confronted with many similar but interconnected challenges, such as growing resource demand, desertification, soil degradation, and biodiversity loss. As the health of ecosystems from the wetlands of the Eastern Mediterranean to the Sahara Desert are endangered, so is the future availability of water, food, and energy to communities across this region. The impact of these realities is that to varying degrees, people face a combination of unprecedented challenges to the welfare of their environments, livelihoods, human health, food availability, and even their cultures.  

 At the Seoul Biennale, the EM/MENA Project will contribute to the vision of the Urban Foodshed by bringing an introduction to the concerns and solutions of this geographical region, as a counterpart to the issues raised regarding current Korean food systems and other future resource challenges. Examples from this region of the world already suffering from a combination of the most extreme conditions—and predictions—for the future, can serve as evidence-based and adaptable models to establish that “beyond sustainable” change and remediation can occur in any location and in any climate of the planet. The focus is on regenerating living systems—water, soil, and food production—as a basis to long-term transformation, resource management, and protection from the ongoing effects of climate change.

ACTIVATE’s EM/MENA Project originated from the intention to contribute to the effort of connecting the knowledge of institutions and researchers working towards finding regionally-applicable and resilient solutions for the future, through an exchange not only between countries, but with people engaged “on the ground”. To achieve this, the EM/MENA Project is working with a series of experts from academia and science research centers, and with practicing agro-ecologists of the region. The long-term objective of this approach is to link current studies on regional challenges, to the realities of everyday life and the real-world experiences of innovative individuals and small farming communities. Combining scientific study with creative nature-based solutions that set into place natural cycles which increase the growth of all living systems, will create a stronger base of know-how, to deal with current challenges of food, energy and water security for the projected climactic conditions of the region.

This perspective also aims to emphasize the cultural overlaps of this part of the world, acknowledging the need to consider traditional knowledge in the creation of solutions for the future. In this region, the knowledge of those already most impacted by climate change, the climate-vulnerable groups, already have an understanding of how to cope with environmental variability, and maintain practices to harvest water and grow food based on working with nature and particular local geographical and climactic conditions, rather than modern means which often are counterproductive.

Despite exceptionally high rates of precipitation in the northern coastal Guilan province of Iran, the use of the ‘farm pond’ by Guilani farmers to collect rainwater for irrigation has been replaced by advanced technologies and long-distance water transfer systems. Due to modernization and growing urban areas, these farm ponds have now lost their traditional role in the agricultural activities and fabric of regional communities.  Photo: H. Bazargan, 2017.

Despite exceptionally high rates of precipitation in the northern coastal Guilan province of Iran, the use of the ‘farm pond’ by Guilani farmers to collect rainwater for irrigation has been replaced by advanced technologies and long-distance water transfer systems. Due to modernization and growing urban areas, these farm ponds have now lost their traditional role in the agricultural activities and fabric of regional communities. Photo: H. Bazargan, 2017.

Combining the knowledge-base of efficient traditional practices, with the technology and research being carried out on the institutional level that have more direct contact with the policy-making sectors in the countries of this region, may help to bring a more human dimension to the transitional effort. Future transformations will need input from all sectors, in order to make possible the implementation of appropriate strategies and practices for developing resilient, diversified and productive systems for the communities of this region.


At the Urban Foodshed, the EM/MENA project presented a solutions‐oriented perspective with documentary material and live presentations. These proposed practical knowledge and innovative examples from several countries in this region that discard conventional and industrial farming practices, and illustrate that current agri-food systems are actually deepening water and food insecurity.

The message was that if we mainstreaming agro-ecological principles, it will be possible to empower people anywhere to restore their natural environments, to collect rainwater, to sequester carbon, increase soil organic matter, re-establish biodiversity, mitigate against flooding, and increase drought-resistance.

The long-term objective hence, is to rehabilitate damaged ecosystems, and replace them with productive and resilient systems capable of withstanding external shocks such as extreme drought or unpredictable population influx that are characteristic of the region. Moreover, these methods can create productive food systems that will ensure both future water and food security, but can also ultimately reverse the effects of climate change.

The Al Baydha Project is located in rural western Saudi Arabia, at the foothills of the Hijaz Mountain range, an area with extreme desert conditions. It is a land restoration and heritage preservation project led by agro-ecologist Neal Spackman, whose overall environmental goal for the project is the reversal of desertification. Pictured here are small-scale water management structures and terraces that help slow rainwater so that it can be absorbed into the dry ground. These are part of the project’s permaculture design implementation of different water harvesting techniques to create the conditions to begin greening the desert.  Photos: Neal Spackman, 2011/2015/2015.

The Al Baydha Project is located in rural western Saudi Arabia, at the foothills of the Hijaz Mountain range, an area with extreme desert conditions. It is a land restoration and heritage preservation project led by agro-ecologist Neal Spackman, whose overall environmental goal for the project is the reversal of desertification. Pictured here are small-scale water management structures and terraces that help slow rainwater so that it can be absorbed into the dry ground. These are part of the project’s permaculture design implementation of different water harvesting techniques to create the conditions to begin greening the desert. Photos: Neal Spackman, 2011/2015/2015.

Invited guests at the Urban Foodshed acknowledged the need to combine scientific strategy with real world action in order to face the enormity of the challenges ahead, and the wisdom of bringing together diverse knowledge systems and worldviews in global climate policy and decision-making regarding solutions for water, food and energy.

At the Foodshed, they personally exchanged experiences, hands-on knowledge and practices with their Korean counterparts—scientists and farmers—and with the general public of Seoul.

See images of the events and Urban Foodshed participants at our Seoul Biennale NEWS page →


The EM/MENA Project’s live presentations:

Atsas Organic Farm is partially located in the UN Buffer Zone, in the most water-challenged part of the island of Cyprus. Organically certified, and based on 50 hectares of land, the olive tree is the main part of the farm’s multi-function diverse agro-ecosystem. Photo: Nicolas Netien, 2015.

Nicolas Netien of Atsas Organic Farm - located in the most water-challenged location of the island –(put in caption), an environmental engineer, soil biologist, and authority on regenerative farming and dryland ‘integrated agro-ecology’ systems, will share his knowledge on topics such as how the agro-ecological system has a crucial role to play in our future, not only in bringing diversity to ecosystems, protecting soil and water and seeds, creating food abundance for self-sufficiency, growing nutrient-dense food, but also in actually reversing the effects of climate change. Netien will demonstrate how these methods can be applied and integrated into the dense urban environment and fabric of the city of Seoul, such as with soil-less food systems. He will also present the science and biological strategies behind High Phenolic olive oil, and reveal how through his use of the farm’s limited water resources, its soil quality, and geology, he produced the world’s most nutritious olive oil.

Unripened olives of the ‘kalamon’ variety ready to be milled at Atsas Farm. Contemporary scientific research has confirmed statements made by the Greek physician, pharmacologist, botanist Dioscorides ca. the year 60 AD, that olives must be picked while still unripened for them to have the maximum healing properties.  Photos: Nicolas Netien, 2017.

Unripened olives of the ‘kalamon’ variety ready to be milled at Atsas Farm. Contemporary scientific research has confirmed statements made by the Greek physician, pharmacologist, botanist Dioscorides ca. the year 60 AD, that olives must be picked while still unripened for them to have the maximum healing properties. Photos: Nicolas Netien, 2017.

Independently analyzed at the Dept of Pharmacology & Natural Product Chemistry of the University of Athens, using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance to measure phenolic content, this extra virgin organic olive oil set the record for the highest concentrations of oleocanthal and the highest total phenolic compounds ever recorded. This granted it a ‘pharmaceutical grade’ health and nutrition certification, but also officially classified it that year as the healthiest olive oil in the world.

Independently analyzed at the Dept of Pharmacology & Natural Product Chemistry of the University of Athens, using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance to measure phenolic content, this extra virgin organic olive oil set the record for the highest concentrations of oleocanthal and the highest total phenolic compounds ever recorded. This granted it a ‘pharmaceutical grade’ health and nutrition certification, but also officially classified it that year as the healthiest olive oil in the world.

Ongoing olive oil tasting; talk was titled Under the Olive Tree and thematic dinner “Going Beyond Sustainable: The Global Case for Agro-ecology”.
Workshop/Lecture on human health in relation to the right environmental conditions “Let thy Food be thy Medicine (Hippocrates)”


The objective of Fornelia Portable Solar Oven is to harness solar power, which is clean, renewable and efficient energy, for the daily cooking of food and boiling of water.  The hope is to provide an alternative to the wood and charcoal used by 3 billion people throughout the world, which generate up to 16 million tons of CO2 emissions per meal.   Photo: Melina Nicolaides, 2017.

The objective of Fornelia Portable Solar Oven is to harness solar power, which is clean, renewable and efficient energy, for the daily cooking of food and boiling of water.
The hope is to provide an alternative to the wood and charcoal used by 3 billion people throughout the world, which generate up to 16 million tons of CO2 emissions per meal.

Photo: Melina Nicolaides, 2017.

Savvas Hadjixenophontos, electronics engineer and inventor, shared his knowledge of renewable energies and the promise of the world’s next energy systems—where oil, gas and petrol no longer play a crucial role—that will help deal with the world’s growing energy consumption. He demonstrated over the course of three weeks at the Urban Foodshed, his innovative invention, the ‘Fornelia’ Portable Solar Oven, which requires only the energy of the sun to cook meat, vegetables, even bread, through a process that is a healthier cooking method that traditional ovens, wood burning or coal.

This solar cooking method can be used year-round in the EM/MENA region, and by over 80% of the world’s population, and could contribute to a global energy transition to a future without the use of fossil fuels that cause devastating deforestation, land and air quality degradation, and increasingly adverse impact on our climate across the globe.

Ongoing presentations of solar cooking and a talk “Harnessing Solar Energy for Cooking our Daily Food: Saving Energy, Saving our Air, Saving our Trees”


In Marsa Matrouh, on the northern-western coast of Egypt, the Bedouin population implements traditional nature-based water catchment techniques through the construction of different types of dykes. Rainwater collection is the sole source for the irrigation for the farming of olive and fig trees. Pictured is the Valley of Kharoba, one of the 218 valleys of this area, showing multiple water collection practices used by local farmers.  Photo: M. El Baroudy, 2017.

In Marsa Matrouh, on the northern-western coast of Egypt, the Bedouin population implements traditional nature-based water catchment techniques through the construction of different types of dykes. Rainwater collection is the sole source for the irrigation for the farming of olive and fig trees. Pictured is the Valley of Kharoba, one of the 218 valleys of this area, showing multiple water collection practices used by local farmers. Photo: M. El Baroudy, 2017.


Dr. Salah A. Soliman of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, discussed ongoing environmental threats to the fertile farmlands of the Nile Delta, a low-lying zone on the northern coast of Egypt where climate change and rising levels of the Mediterranean have affected vegetation, threatened water resources, agricultural activity and coastal populations. He also discussed how agricultural practices of local farmers in these vulnerable lands have been changing since the since the early 20th century as a result of saltwater intrusion into the Delta area. Soliman addressed the current food crisis in Egypt, where this food insecurity is represented in the rising prices even for government-subsidized “balady” bread. In recent years, food prices have been going up 38.6% annually, and led to Egypt’s ranking at third place among Arab countries on the Global Hunger Index for 2016.

HABIBA ORGANIC FARM, a permaculture-based farm in Nuweiba, Egypt


 

Growing vegetables at Habiba, a community-based farm that aims to benefit the people of the South Sinai region by demonstrating the benefits of organic permaculture farming practices in the desert sands. Photos: Melina Nicolaides, 2017.

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Talk: “How Climate Change has affected Rural areas and Agricultural Practices since the early 20th Century: Sea level rise, Water intrusion, & Salinated soil”


Dr. Manfred A. Lange, Director of the Future Earth MENA Regional Center discussed climate change impacts on water availability, and the distinct challenges faced by the arid to semi‐arid regions of the EM/MENA area. The countries of this region are particularly sensitive to changes in the water balance and to water scarcity as caused by altered climate conditions of lower precipitation, higher temperatures and increasing extreme events of drought and floods, and the over-exploitation of existing groundwater bodies. He also put into context the interconnected nature of water, energy, and food (WEF Nexus) and how these pose a threat to the futures of people living in urban and rural areas of this region.

Talk: “Responding to the Challenges in the MENA Region: Sustainable Adaptation & Mitigation Strategies”


A food forest in South Sinai, Egypt.  Photo: Melina Nicolaides, 2017

A food forest in South Sinai, Egypt. Photo: Melina Nicolaides, 2017


The drought-resistant olive tree represents one of the most historical connections of the EM/MENA region. Its fruit has always been of agricultural importance in the Mediterranean Basin through to the Arabian Peninsula.

Pictured is the Valley of Eleonas, the ancient olive grove on the island of Aegina, where trees are surrounded by wild shrubs and aromatics, in an area that has had little human intervention. Many of the trees still bearing fruit are over 2,500 years old, and date to a time when the Greeks were aware of their curative capabilities. The olives and their oil have been used as food and as medicine since ancient times. Photo: Melina Nicolaides, 2017.

Other introductory regional examples brought highlights from locations across the EM/MENA region. Videos showed images from countries such as Lebanon, Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran and touched upon issues such as seed saving and future food security; permaculture-based soil-restoration and reversal of desertification; regional composting techniques and beekeeping practices; traditional climate-based water harvesting methods; ecosystem restoration in extreme desert conditions; citizen initiatives to contribute to food and water crises; high phenolic olive oil as a natural resource and commodity of the ancient Hellenic world.

Beekeeping workshop in Saidoun, Jezzine, South Lebanon organized by SOILS Permaculture Association, within the framework of their AFIR Beekeeping and Nature Discovery Center, in collaboration with APIFLORDEV.  Photo: SOILS, 2016.

Beekeeping workshop in Saidoun, Jezzine, South Lebanon organized by SOILS Permaculture Association, within the framework of their AFIR Beekeeping and Nature Discovery Center, in collaboration with APIFLORDEV. Photo: SOILS, 2016.


Images from the Thematic Exhibition located at the Donuimun Museum Village


 

The Donuimun Museum Village was newly-renovated for the Seoul Biennale. This village is rich in history and culture that was achieved through Seoul’s urban restoration efforts, and is home to remodeled traditional Korean ‘hanok’ timber houses, and about 30 buildings dating from the Japanese colonial era to the 1980s.

The Museum Village had a central square, restaurant, café, library, shops, the Seoul History Museum next door with a movie theater, and the parks of Gyeonghuigung Palace.

Within this venue was the Live Project Urban Foodshed’ that sought to provide a vision for alternative urban food systems based on the sustainable use of land, water, and energy. It also housed the Biennale’s Restaurant and Water Café, where lectures and talks were organized through the two-month duration of the Biennale.