Learning About Food Security Through Filmmaking

Photo by Growing Great via Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Making a movie about a research project is frequently mentioned as a desirable output, but it does not happen that often. “Fruits of Our Labour” series is an attempt to make research by making a film and exchange knowledge with those whose stories are told, giving them a chance to learn from the process about themselves and about others.

The “docudrama”, the way David Hallberg calls the short films he and his team produced with the support from SIANI Expert Group funding, reflects on food security through different entry points in Sweden, Venezuela and Kenya, giving the viewer a chance to see how people live in different countries as well as how they cook and grow their food. We caught up with David to learn more about his project and his approach.

What is the movie about?

DH: The collective production of the short film series was set to gain and spread cross-cultural knowledge and awareness of food security and nutrition at the local level in the urban and peri-urban settings of Nairobi, Kenya; Caracas, Venezuela; and Gothenburg, Sweden. We focused on the schools with students from middle-income families. To do this we set up a cross-cultural information exchange to document in-depth knowledge on irrigated kitchen gardening as a means of promoting both awareness of nutrition and human rights and the sustainable use of the scarce resources of water and land to enhance local food security. In addition, we emphasize a gender perspective. The films are the result of the co-intentional learning project, supported by SIANI and various partners in Nairobi, Caracas and Gothenburg.

What is co-intentional learning?

DH: It is about the idea to purposefully reflect reality. Collaboration is “co-intentional” defined as when the participants play both the role of a teacher and a learner. It is a very humanising way to carry out a project.      

Working on this movie, how was it like?

DH: In order to carry out the project, we worked with independent filmmakers, film schools, students, and journalists from Kenya, Venezuela and Sweden. Our team consisted of people with different levels of experience with filmmaking. Many of the participants we had never met before. I found that working with people from such diverse backgrounds throughout this project created unique dynamics that enriched the results of the project and our work experience.

What is the biggest challenge that you have experienced while doing this project?

DH: A real challenge was that there was no consistency in terms of technical equipment. We did not use the same types of cameras, lenses, lighting, etc. for recording throughout the project. Generally speaking, documenting a project runs smoother if you are able to use the same kind of camera gear. On the other hand, we allowed the teams to use what they were comfortable with using or what they had at their disposal. This added an artistic dimension to the project.

Another challenge was taking in consideration ethical issues. For instance, some of the participants were under aged, so we handled this situation by notifying the teachers of the minors’ involved, who then worked with the guardians of the minors, if it was needed. Additionally, sometimes we also needed general permission to film. In these cases we obtained permission from the town clerk or the principal of a specific school.

What can you tell about the results of this project, apart from the film itself, of course?

DH: In Kenya we visited four kitchen gardens; in Venezuela two community gardens; and in Sweden one community garden and two allotments. All the cases we highlight are different, but knowledge from each of them can be used to enhance cross-cultural collaboration and to deepen our understanding and awareness through the exchange of local experience.

In Kenya we wanted to showcase the middle class households, so foreigners could see that there is more to Kenya than just poor children and the Kibera slum. Although all of the people we visited had average or above average salaries, they felt they would make even more money by having kitchen gardens or that kitchen gardening was simply an ecological way to be economical. Urban gardening in Nairobi exists quite naturally, but it is a growing and a densely populated city and space for urban gardening is an issue. Another problem that we highlight is access to fresh clean water. Most apartment buildings only get water one or two days a week, the rest of the time they rely on “boozers,” or larger trucks, carrying water. Such conditions, by no means, have implications for community development.

Urban gardening in Venezuela is supported by the National Urban Agriculture Programme and through this initiative; the country has created over 25,000 orchards in the past five years. Through the programme, Venezuela has re-purposed vacant spaces in cities for the production of horticultural crops, fruit trees, medicines and small ornamental plants to promote self-sufficiency for both family and community microeconomics.

In Sweden we visited a home economics class in primary school in a Västra Frölunda, a part of Gothenburg city. What is notable here is that home economics is mandatory for both boys and girls in Sweden’s primary schools. Home economics that Swedish children learn is not related to textiles or “keeping anyone in the kitchen” but, rather, is a course aimed to prepare them to manage their homes. Children are also introduced to Swedish culture in this class.

Another important observation is about social situations that emerge around the project implementation. For example, the International Criminal Court ruling in the case against Kenya’s President Kenyatta and Deputy President Ruto has discouraged many Kenyans from working with those from western countries. As a result, our team was unable to work with certain locals; we had to change plans and reschedule activities, leading to increased project costs and inability to complete specific goals.

The presence of foreigners and tourists may raise prices for the locals. Locals may experience financial strain or even be forced to move from where they live because they cannot afford the higher cost for goods and services. Similarly, new projects create additional demand for utilities, creating pressure on the environment and infrastructure.

Another important thing is changes in behaviour of those who participated in the project or were involved in it one way or another.  All of these are results, too.

Watch the ”Fruits of Our Labor” series