Laura Cerrato recently completed her M.Sc thesis entitled “The role of civil society organizations and system relationships surrounding participatory organic nutrient waste cycling.” The following post is a summary of her case study evaluation of the urban De Zuiderhof Voelkstuin community composting initiative (Compoststraat) and its relationship to the city of Rotterdam and the Netherlands.
I embarked on a research exploration for my master thesis in the not-so far away Rotterdam, NL. However the place I conducted my research was in De Zuiderhof (DZ) garden allotment complex (voelkstuin) which was an oasis tucked away from the hustle and bustle you would expect to find in the second largest city in the Netherlands. Originally, allotment gardens provided a place for working class city citizens to grow food and increase their food security. Today DZ (as most allotment gardens in the Netherlands) are mainly used for recreational purposes. Each plot at DZ is between 200-300 square meters with a small cabin where residents are permitted to sleep for six months out of the year resulting in many using the space as a recreational getaway. And while it is still common to grow food on the plot, most residents do so for enjoyment rather than for food security.
My research brought me to De Zuiderhof (DZ) to explore the topic of organic nutrient waste cycling (ONWC) in urban areas where there was an existing urban agricultural component. The current system which addresses organic resources and waste in Dutch cities (and many other western European countries) is technocratic and linear; resources are trucked in to feed residents and what is not used is treated as waste to be disposed most commonly through large-scale, centralized treatment centers (typically incineration for Rotterdam). This is a far cry from the historic tradition of using organic waste cyclically; such as using plant waste, animal and human manure as compost, which provide nutrients and organic matter to nourish crops and build healthy agricultural soil locally. However realizations of a the problems which accompany a broken food system (e.g. cities as resource sinks, pollution from excess nutrient waste) has brought cyclic methods back to the limelight. This resurgence is accompanied by the understanding that supporting sustainable cities can be both beneficial and feasible in terms of environmental, economic and social sustainability. There are many civil society organizations (CSOs) across the globe addressing problems that have appeared alongside a broken food system. Many of these CSOs are doing so in an agroecological fashion; focusing on a holistic and interdisciplinary approach to food system sustainability from farm to fork. In many instances these CSO’s are also beginning to play pivotal roles in influencing political decisions (Scholte, 2004) and shifting existing technocratic regimes. However, most CSO’s do not yet have a holistic approach that embraces organic nutrient waste cycling (ONWC) particularly as it relates to urban food system sustainability. In addition, although much research has been done around participatory organic nutrient waste cycling initiatives in the global south, this has not been so regarding the global north where there is an stronger technocratic approach to organic waste management.
To address this research gap the objective of this study was to determine opportunities and barriers for civil society organizations (CSOs) to increase the development and adoption of holistic and participatory forms of organic waste management involving urban agriculture at the community level where there was an existing technocratic waste regime. The two research questions which supported the study are:
1) How can a CSO encourage participation in a community level organic nutrient waste cycling initiative?
2) How is a CSO’s ability to implement participatory organic nutrient waste cycling initiatives affected by the existing technocratic waste regime?
The actors mentioned in each research question can be seen as working within different, but likely overlapping, systems (internal (local community), external (city, regional, country, etc.). This research is therefore attempting to understand these different system actor relations in order to identify where there is room for improving the current situation (i.e. the research objective). The first research question looks at the interactions between two actors: the CSO facilitating the Compoststraat initiative and the DZ community (made up of individuals) at the local level. The second question addresses how the ONWC initiative is affected by the current technocratic waste regime, also insinuating multiple and overlapping system level relationships.
For more information on this topic please contact Laura Cerrato at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also access her completed master thesis by using the following link: http://brage.bibsys.no/xmlui/bitstream/handle/11250/221088/Cerrato_AgroecologyThesis_BW.pdf?sequence=1