Last December 13th and 14th , Zaragoza celebrated the public seminar and networking event ‘Walking towards a European Network of AgroEcoCities’, an international seminar organised by Zaragoza’s City Council, framed by the LIFE project Huertas Life Km 0

The seminar gathered representatives from several cities involved in the development of this network together with experts, city councils’ staff, NGOs and social movements, all of them committed to developing urban agroecology initiatives.

The event aimed to a double challenge, on one side generating an open space for exchange, debate and reflection among cities involved in agroecology and food sovereignty, on the other, starting out the European Network of Cities for Agroecology, organising two specific workshops, intended for both cities and people involved.

Along those two days of debates and workshops, once established a common framework over ‘Cities Agrifood management system new policies and models’ the Seminar developed a series of topics articulated in five experience boards, focusing on subjects as revitalising agrifood fabrics, local food networks, access to land, protecting urban agricultural land, food governance and, ultimately, growing up networks in sustainable local agrifood systems.

The Seminar conclusions were built along the whole event process, but they can be depicted by the collaborative work developed in both participatory workshops. The most important of the, starting out the European Network of Cities for Agroecology is synthesised in a few sentences, already read in the seminar’s closing statement:

The cities meeting in Zaragoza have already made the decision of advancing towards a “European network of cities for Agroecology”. The development of this network will be shared among all cities participants, already taking steps to organise new meetings and incorporate new cities. Consequently, the experience sharing and the constitution of thematic groups focused on the most interested topics advanced in the seminar would start as quickly as possible. Among them, reducing food waste and promoting circle economy, creating and coordinating logistics and supply infrastructures to improve food sustainability, improving land planning and protecting agricultural lands, implementing strategic food plans, developing local food councils, starting initiatives of sustainable public purchase and enhancing relationships between local governments and citizen’s organisations.

The network members will be mainly cities along with those social movements helping to boost agroecological policies. However, the network should be designed in an open and flexible way to allow participation of all stakeholders contributing to these goals. Once stated this, there is a clear bet on coordination and even integration with other networks trying to strength and develop other working initiatives. Consequently, the cities would try to be efficient and smart, sharing resources, coordinating the events and meetings, developing projects in common and mobilising resources to keep working. Moreover, the overarching challenge is building a practical and useful network for all cities chosing agroecology as a tool to develop sustainable food and health policies.

Citizens’ organisations support and work complements this statement from the cities. The second workshop developed on the seminar compiles the needs and proposals that the rest of participants ask the cities to fulfil, also synthesised in a few conclusions:

The workshop participants ask the cities to support local food networks and short supply chains, consolidating local agroecological markets and direct sales as identity signs of the whole network. Moreover, there is a need for  underlining their many values (social, identity, educational, environmental, community, etc.), helping to scaling-up results to promote a massive sustainable food model. Nevertheless, cities should start wide social gathering processes to define local agrifood strategies. One last question in this issue is the strong support to local producers, materialised in both access to public infrastructure and promoting local marketing, supply chains, training and market positioning.

Another keystone is Revitalising urban agricultural landscapes, implementing initiatives to restore the linking between urban and rural worlds, promoting cross communication between them while advancing to a true land culture. Food may help to rebuild rural identities, acting as a link to reconnect with the cities. Moreover, cities need to find tools to incorporate social movements to these policies, supporting network at different levels: European, country, state, local. Local governments should step towards governance models overpassing their ruler and inspecting role to work accompanying developments and processes emanating from society. Specifically, this stepping up should be translated to developing transversal food policies pointing to several fields of work (health, energy, waste, access to land, water, landscape), also taking care of the key underlying concepts, such as agroecology itself, avoiding banalisation or emptiness related to misuse.

These conclusions shouldn’t forgot access to land and protecting agricultural lands, especially in urban environments. There is a strong need for better plans and management tools incorporating agroecological policies. Cities should preserve and regain periurban agricultural lands. Land planning instruments should develop participatory formulae for improving access to land, entrusting grassroots organisations helping to run those models. They are the main agents on those initiatives, so accordingly, it is necessary to generate advocacy, support, replacement and accompaniment for farmers willing to transform to agroecological models.

Finally and closing these conclusions, the network should rely on, and incorporate active participation of, three main groups of interest: consumers, producers and social organisations. It is key to develop participatory food governance models, local food policies and sustainable local food system networks. The European Network of Cities for Agroecology should even help guaranteeing the endurance of those urban policies, independently of politics and peoples’ fluctuations, acting even as a seed to develop other cities networks at country or state level.

The early assessment points to the seminar being a huge success in organisation and participation. It held more then 20 speakers from 7 countries, up to 150 participants, the presence of international institutions as FAO, Milano Food Pact and the networks Citta del Bio and Sustainable Food Cities Network, a strong participation of Spanish social movements and up to 15 cities starting the network. Besides those figures, the Zaragoza Seminar would help to consolidate the key role of cities regarding food, health and sustainability of citizens. The city of Zaragoza is proud to have been at the same time promoting and supporting this initiative.