Urban challenges and resilient cities: A teachers’ guide
teaching tips
Challenge 1

Ensuring a sustainable food supply

Human populations have engaged in agriculture — the use of land for plant and animal production — for more than 10,000 years, and have been enormously successful in doing so. The use of fertilisers, irrigation, mechanisation and genetic engineering have served to increase harvests and support unprecedented levels of population growth.

Use the activities below to design a teaching session on sustainable food supply.

10 minutes

Keynote

Food for life


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Explain to your students how our modern economy makes it possible for an ever smaller number of people to be engaged in agriculture professionally. The proportion is around 2 to 4 percent in most of the world’s developed countries. This small fraction of the population is responsible for supplying food for everyone, freeing up more and more people to work in the industrial and service sectors, which is essential for our urban lifestyles and ensures our urban future.

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Make sure your students are also aware of the true environmental costs of modern agricultural techniques, such as the use of fertilisers and mechanisation. The resulting damage to the environment, combined with increasing urbanisation, are raising new questions about future food security, which the World Health Organization defined nearly 20 years ago as being achieved “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.”

20 minutes

Let’s talk!

Food miles


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Ask your students to picture their local supermarket and the variety of fresh and packaged food products on the shelves. Do they ever ask themselves how it all gets there?

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Explain that cities, almost by definition, are centres of food consumption, not food production. The foods we eat arrive in our cities and markets via extremely complex supply chains. Sometimes the food we buy is grown and harvested close to home, but much of our food originates from halfway around the world and all points in between — cheese from France, oranges from Greece, bananas from Ecuador, jasmine rice from Thailand, or tuna from Australia.

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Ask the students where coffee comes from. (Answer: Brazil and Colombia are the biggest coffee exporters, but some 30 countries around the world, all in the tropics, produce coffee.)

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Explain that Europe is a relatively wealthy part of the world, which is why European citizens can enjoy food products from around the world — and, for the most part, at any time of the year. Contrast this with poorer societies that rely heavily on local food production. They not only have a necessarily limited range of food available, but are highly vulnerable to any set of conditions that jeopardises local food production and procurement.

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Ask the students to suggest what some of these conditions might be. (Examples include droughts and other extreme weather events that can destroy crops; political crises that force people from their land; or food price increases.)

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Suggest that there are two important things to consider when looking at food supply chains in a global context: the chains may be both unsustainable and unjust.

info sheet

Greening the supply chain

PDF | 526 Kb

30 minutes

Game

Fair shares


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This simulation game gives students an opportunity to experience the inequity of world hunger. The fact that one or two students receive most of the M&M’s (or crackers, if you prefer), while over half the class receive almost nothing, will spark discussion. Make sure you discuss how your country fits into the picture. The activity is designed for a class of around 25 students. 

Instructions

  • Divide the class into the following groups: Group A has 3 students; Group B has 8 students; Group C has 1 student; and Group D comprises all the remaining students and should be at least double the size of the next largest group (i.e. in this case should have at least 16 students).
  • Have the groups move into different parts of the classroom so that each group is visually distinct.
  • Tell the students that you have 100 M&M’s to hand out and ask for ideas about how to distribute them. Make suggestions about how to share them in an equitable way. Talk with the students about the importance of dividing the M&M's fairly.
  • Announce that you have decided for yourself how to divide them, and that your decision is final. Group A gets 10 M&M’s; Group B gets 6; Group C gets 20 to 25; and Group D has just 1. As you distribute the sweets, count each one out loud and ask the students to count with you. Make a big deal out of giving only one sweet to the biggest group.
  • Acknowledge the complaints and protests: “Life’s not fair.” Explain how this distribution is an illustration of the world food situation. Many countries with a large population have small amounts of food available, while some countries with a relatively small population have an overabundance of food.
  • Discuss how your country fits into this picture. (Group C, for example, can be seen to represent the U.S. in a general way.)
  • Do not redistribute the M&M’s. The “wealthy” groups should share with the “undernourished” groups only if they think of it themselves. Do not provide extra sweets.
  • After the discussion of world issues, take all but one of the sweets that are in the hands of the single student (Group C) and give them to Group D. Leave Group A as it is. If anyone asks why some people still have two M&M’s each, tell them “Life’s not fair!”
  • Make a show of the “generosity” of sharing just one sweet between groups. Who gets it? Is it eaten by the “leader” of the group? Discuss how sometimes, when we try to share food, it goes to only a small part of the country, not to everyone who needs it.

Source: http://www.treesforlife.org/learn/fair-share-game

10 minutes

Let’s talk!

Tragedy of the commons


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How can food be produced and supplied to cities in ways that are more sustainable and more humane? Ask students to think of a few of the products that can be found in their local supermarket. Ask them to imagine where those products come from and how they get there. What are all the processes involved? Does everyone along the product supply chain benefit equally? Are there more sustainable, humane alternatives to these specific products?

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Share an example from your country of an unsustainable practice in the food industry. Or tell the students about this European example: The sole fisheries in the Irish Sea, the west English Channel and other locations have become overfished to the point of virtual collapse. Catching as many fish as possible may seem like a profitable practice, but overfishing has serious long-term consequences. Fisheries are depleted more rapidly than their rate of recovery, thus the fish population is no longer able to sustain itself through natural reproduction. This affects not only the balance of life in the oceans, but also the social and economic well-being of the coastal communities who depend on fish for their way of life. When a shared resource is overused, the phenomenon is often referred to as the “tragedy of the commons”.

45 minutes

Game

Go fish!


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This guided inquiry encourages students to come up with a solution to ensure their “survival”. The only way that a fishing community can fish indefinitely is to harvest sustainably. Even though the goal of the fishing game is to gather the maximum number of fish (or “profit”), represented by Goldfish crackers or M&M's, if someone in one of the groups starts overfishing it almost always results in a crash in the fish population and the ultimate demise of all the players.

Instructions

  • Divide the students into groups of four. Each student should have a pair of chopsticks, and each group should have 16 Goldfish crackers in a dish (the “lake”).
  • Each student represents the head of a hungry family. To feed their family, they need to catch a certain amount of fish. The only source of fish is a local lake that holds no more than 16 fish.
  • Students can fish “once per year” (once each round), and on each occasion they can take no more than four fish. It is their choice how many fish they take. One fish means their family starves; two allows them to survive, while more than two allows them to sell fish for a profit.
  • Students fish for five “years” (turns). After each year, they should record the number of fish in the lake (after reproduction); the number of fish caught per person; and the number of fish caught by everyone per year.
  • Add more fish to the lake at the end of each “year” to simulate reproduction.
  • If a student’s family starves, they cannot fish the next year.
  • Students are not allowed to talk or communicate in any way while fishing.
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After the end of game 1, discuss the following questions with the students:

  • Did any player take too many fish? What was the result?
  • How did the other students feel when a player took too many fish?
  • Did everyone in the group try to take as many as possible? Why? Or why not?
  • Does society reward those with the “most”?
  • Did anyone sacrifice the number of fish they caught for the good of the community? Why? Or why not?
  • Does society ever reward that type of person?
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After the discussion, start another round of the game. Again, ask the students to fill in the data table after each “year” of fishing, and remind them that they must not communicate with each other. After the second game, discuss the following questions:

  • In Game 2, did the students change their strategies? If so, what did they do differently and why?
  • Is it possible to maximise the number of fish caught per person AND the number of fish remaining in the lake?
  • Ask the students to think of a local “commons” that they are familiar with (e.g. car parks, streets and sidewalks, public toilets, parks, school cafeteria, school hallway etc.) Do similar situations arise?
  • How can conflicts over street use be solved, e.g. the conflict between car parking vs. pedestrian space or the conflict between cyclists vs. motorists?
  • Ask students to think of some natural resources that are common resources. Are they being used wisely?

Source: http://earthwatch.org/Portals/0/Downloads/Education/Lesson-Plans/Go_Fish.pdf

10 minutes

Read

Food for thought


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From state-supported farming programmes to EU policy to commercial community gardens, the case studies will give your students plenty to think about in terms of solving food security challenges and keeping food supply sustainable.

case study

Urban agriculture in Havana

PDF | 378 Kb

case study

Prinzessinnengarten: Urban gardening and cultural cross-pollination

PDF | 369 Kb

case study

The EU Common Agricultural Policy

PDF | 221 Kb

Follow-up

The food supply chain


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Distribute the info sheet and ask your students to try out at home some of the ideas presented. Ask them to write a one-page report describing which of the practices they tried with their families, and which, if any, they couldn’t — or didn’t want to — try. The report should address the following questions:

  • What were the advantages of eating more sustainably, beyond doing good to the planet?
  • What were the disadvantages?
  • Were there barriers to adopting any of these practices initially?
  • Which of the practices would they be willing to take up for a longer period of time?

info sheet

Greening the supply chain

PDF | 526 Kb