News Flash! Global Food System Fails Millions

25 Feb

A recent article about a new report on hunger and food security caught my attention recently, just as work and the news of mass protests across North Africa have kept me from paying any attention to it. Not that the headline in the Guardian, or rather the deck, wasn’t compelling: “The existing food system fails half the people on the planet and needs radical change if world is to feed itself, report warns,” it said.

Said report, handily named ‘Foresight,’ has called for a “transformation on the scale of the industrial revolution.” Wow. Its suggestions include the provision of technical support in more modern agricultural methods to poor countries, greater investment in GM crops and even animal cloning, all in an effort to beef up the amount of food the world produces. It also calls for better transport links and for cutting down on the vast amounts of food that goes to waste — anywhere from 30 to 50 per cent of everything produced. (To me, that would seem like the answer right there.)

But while it makes clear the imperative that increases in food production need to come without the corresponding increase in greenhouse gas, it also warns that organic agriculture “should not be adopted as the main strategy to achieve sustainable and equitable global food security.” (my italics)

So here is where many, including myself, start to find the short-sightedness in ‘Foresight’ (which was originally commissioned by a branch of the British government). While the U.N.’s Olivier de Schutter points out that hunger is not a technical question but a political one,  Devinder Sharma said the authors “call for radical change but they really want to intensify existing policies.”

In fact, the report acknowledges the concerns many have regarding corporate concentration in the global food business, but says that “there does not seem to be an argument for intervention to influence the number of companies in each area or how they operate…” (my italics again)

Nor could I find any reference at all, in the executive summary at least, on the need for land reform – to take land away from governments, companies and big private landowners and give it to landless peasants along with, yes, technical advice and good infrastructure.

This is odd considering that the summary does indicate that in poor nations like those of Africa, “agriculture provides not only food for households but also very important means of broadly based income generation.”

It cites studies showing that a one per cent gain in GDP from agriculture “generates a 6 per cent increase in overall expenditure of the poorest 10 per cent of the population, while the equivalent figure for GDP growth originating in non-agricultural sectors is zero growth.” So land reform does make economic sense.

Yet for all its headline-grabbing rhetoric, Foresight’s recommendations are really pretty conventional. Compare them to those of the eye-glazingly-titled  International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development; despite the boring name, that study does, for example,  see “increasing access by small-scale farmers to land and economic resources” as an “important option” for improving the lives of the rural poor.

Whether it’s planting ‘cade’ fruit trees around crops in Senegal or transforming urban wasteland into organic vegetable plots in São Paulo, personal experience has shown me numerous examples of peasant farmers themselves finding ways to increase production and enhance environments at the same time. From Indonesia to Africa and Mexico to Brazil, having sufficient land, fairer market access and freedom from expensive commercial fertilizers and pesticides have brought the poor not only better livelihoods and nutrition, but dignity.


2 Responses to “News Flash! Global Food System Fails Millions”

  1. Rachel O'Dowd September 13, 2011 at 11:31 am #

    Dear Augusta,

    I work as a freelance designer for a small academic publishing company
    and we are interested an image (back view of farmer) on your website on a book cover.

    Can you give us any information about it? Where you found it, who the photographer is etc?

    Many thanks,

    Rachel O’Dowd

    • The Global Kiosk September 20, 2011 at 7:48 am #

      Hi Rachel, I am travelling in Brazil right now and will get back to you asap.

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