- Ecological Approaches to Food Production
Large-scale, agro-industrial methods of production are exhausting the planet’s resources and emitting large quantities of greenhouse gases (as much as a third of the emissions burden according to reliable estimates). As the IAASTD Report and other respected sources make clear, ecological farming methods result in far better long-term productivity, sustainability, and fairness to small producers. These methods preserve rural communities, protect resilience, and avoid destructive use of pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, and fossil fuels. Ecological approaches conserve the soil, promote rainwater retention, and conserve biological diversity. Accordingly, agricultural and food policy must center on a global transition to ecological farming if future generations are to be fed and the planet’s resources conserved.
- New Green Revolution & Agro-Industrial Ideologies
Advocates of the New Green Revolution create dangerously misplaced hope for an agro-industrial solution to the crisis. They argue falsely that scientific and technological break-throughs, new capital investments, and global market forces alone will solve the great challenges we face. They ignore the enormous environmental and social ill effects of the agro-industrial model, and they overlook serious, scientific approaches to the food crisis such as that offered by IAASTD, UNEP, FAO and others. Policymakers must abandon strategies that are driven by prioritization of private interests. Citizens need an open and democratic debate about the future, in which agricultural science and practice is respected, food-consumers’ and producers’ needs are recognized, and claims of future generations are honored.
- Local Food Production and Food Sovereignty
Following decades of pressure from food-exporting countries and international lenders, numerous developing countries have adopted agricultural policies that privilege export cash crops over food production for domestic consumption. As a result, many countries fail to produce enough food to feed their populations – some with significant shortfalls even in regard to basic provisions. Today, rising and volatile global food prices are creating a crisis that presents serious challenges for people residing in vulnerable countries. Some analysts mistakenly argue for an even more “open” approach to agricultural trade, but the dangers are clear – such trade is far from free and fair, and cheap subsidized food imports often ruin smallholders, while agro-industry displaces local producers in order to expand the export sector. Though smallholders face increasing difficulties, they continue to produce a high percentage of the food consumed in developing countries, and they possess the capacity to boost production considerably. Governments must do their utmost to protect and strengthen smallholders, so that basic food needs may be met in the most local, reliable, and fair fashion as possible. Food policy must be subject to local democratic control by producers and consumers, through the exercise of food sovereignty and the affirmation of the right to food. All citizens need the space to participate in the difficult choices necessary to avert famine in a world of rapid climate change.
- Global Food Governance & the Committee on World Food Security
Lack of a strong, coherent, and democratic system of global governance has deepened the multiple crises facing humanity, such as climate change, economic instability, resource depletion, and hunger. In the food policy sector, there exists a confusing multiplicity of responsibilities and competing authorities, ranging from the World Bank, through the UN High Level Task Force, to the G20, the UN General Assembly, the various UN agencies, and the Rome-based Committee on World Food Security (CFS). Of the aforementioned entities, the CFS serves as the most knowledge-based and democratic, with input from the vast majority of all concerned actors, including civil society groups and small producers. The CFS should be strengthened and given the lead in policy formation. Also, the UN General Assembly, the World Bank, and other actors should increase their coordination and harmonization with the CFS in order to achieve global policy coherence. The General Assembly should produce annually-focused (not general) resolutions on food security and the right to food, harmonized with the CFS, enriched by civil society and expert consultation, and addressing recommendations by the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.
- Land Rights and Land-Grabbing
For the past several years, private investors, governments, and agro-industrial companies have been buying or leasing large tracts of agricultural land worldwide, in a process commonly referred to as “land-grabbing.” Falsely promoted as creative ventures and a step towards greater market efficiency, this process is largely driven by speculation and investors’ search for new, high-profit investment vehicles. Since 2000, over 60 million hectares of land have been lost to land grabbing and over 10.6 million more are currently under speculation. Far from increasing food production for local consumption, this action frequently results in export-oriented crops, including non-food commodities such as bio-energy feedstocks. Land grabbing has already displaced millions of small producers (peasants and pastoralists) who have lost their livelihoods, thereby worsening poverty and hunger and driving waves of migration. The Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security, endorsed officially by the CFS, provide the best policy directions in this matter. However, these remain voluntary, and great need exists to establish binding rules, which would provide strong protection to small producers, increase security of land tenure, and ensure that land use meets food and conservation needs, not investors’ hunger for wealth accumulation.
- Price Speculation
Financial firms and agro-industrial companies have moved very large sums of money into produce markets, or derivatives markets, based on agricultural products. Four companies control seventy-five percent of the world’s international grain trade, while governments (under pressure from the World Bank and the IMF) have dismantled their national food reserve and marketing systems. Speculative investment funds have multiplied, as billions of dollars have flowed into the derivatives markets, driving prices higher, contributing to price volatility, and resulting in increasing financial desperation for small producers. Policy solutions to this dangerous speculative frenzy need to include tough new market controls to limit speculative pressures. Additionally, public grain reserves and marketing arrangements at the local, national and regional levels would greatly help to buffer speculative price swings and maintain stocks for emergencies.
Bio-energy policies are diverting enormous quantities of food and plant matter into fuel for motor vehicles and various other energy demands. In the 2014-2015 fiscal year, an estimated 153 million tons of food grains were diverted for this purpose worldwide at a time of severe food shortage. Today, bio-energy production continues to climb, critically reducing the food supply of hundreds of millions of people. This production also results in modifications to land utilization on a massive scale, clearing forests and disrupting agricultural and environmental systems. Supporters of bio-energy claim that it results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels, but this claim is a largely false assertion. A multitude of studies validate the allegation that bio-energy crops have a negative environmental impact, especially when all factors are taken into account, including land-use change, production inputs, storage, transportation, and water use. Government subsidies and mandates for fuel-mix percentages are driving the increase in bio-energy production. The bio-energy market leads to rising land and food prices – due to crop substitution effects – and yet bio-energy cannot make up for declining fossil fuel reserves. To avoid further detrimental diversion of food crops, bio-energy must be de-subsidized, fuel-mix mandates must be eliminated, and utilization of this manufactured source of energy must be taxed or rigorously restricted to promote food security and environmental sustainability.
The increasing demand placed on freshwater by population growth, especially among the most vulnerable and already under-served populations, restricts the amount available for agricultural production. Seventy percent of all freshwater consumption is currently utilized for agriculture purposes; this impact is compound by escalating demands for water to irrigate farmlands and meet the food needs of the growing global population. Consequently, it is imperative to commence the utilization of water in a human rights-based, environmentally sustainable manner.
Thus, to achieve global food security, humanity must radically increase conservation and reduce pollution of what UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called “our most critical finite resource.” To do so, global efforts need to focus on sustainably decreasing the use of aquifer groundwater supplies as well as ending abusive industrial and mining uses of water (i.e., water-intensive methods of gas extraction and bio-energy production). In response to widespread global drought, re-forestation and conservation land-use efforts must be implemented to promote more reliable rainfall and improve moisture-retention in soil. Measures also need to be taken to distribute and share the world’s dwindling freshwater resources, in a just manner, amongst a diversity of claimants, with due regard to established water right and agricultural production needs. We must transform water conflicts into water cooperation and affirm the right to water for all.
- Soil Protection
Soil is being destroyed (or taken out of food production) at a rapid rate, by means of wind and water erosion, pollution, desertification, destruction of soil organisms through the use of pesticides and herbicides, salinization, deforestation, and unchecked expansion of human settlement. Climate change intensifies these negative ramifications. Industrial agriculture, responding to speculation and bio-energy demand, seeks to grow crops in marginal areas, with thin soil cover and/or poor soil quality, placing additional valuable soil resources at risk. Only robust global conservation measures, including conservation guidelines and the implementation and enforcement of well-defined land use laws, will enable the earth’s agricultural lands to remain healthy and productive for future generations.
- More Investment?
Food policy discourse often refers to the “need” for “more investment.” Unquestionably, humanity demands increased rural investment to generate constructive pathways to the future – investments that are subject to long-term social goals and priorities. However, if investments primarily result in land-grabbing, agro-industrial development, and massive infrastructure, they will result in severely negative effects. Smallholder and agro-ecological farmers are already making considerable investments in their production, and their efforts need to be encouraged and supported. Positive investments from all outside sources (i.e., in more sustainable use of water resources or in new cropping techniques) would improve standards of living for individuals living in rural settings and speed the transition to environmentally sustainable food production.
- Agricultural Families and Agricultural Labor
The largest proportion of hungry and under-nourished people are, incongruously, those who work in the agricultural sector, whether as marginal smallholder producers or as landless agricultural laborers. Among this grouping, women and girls remain particularly vulnerable despite the fact that women often function as the major family food producers. The expanding contemporary industrial food production system drives families by the millions into destitution and abandonment of the land. Thousands of farmers have been driven to suicide. Big agribusiness companies and large landowners regularly employ migrant laborers, denied the full protection of law, for the most arduous and crippling field work. Humankind needs to answer the call to end this oppressive system. Innovative gender-sensitive assistance to rural families, new legal protections, minimum wage standards, and additional protection policies must be put in place in order to guarantee a decent life to those who grow the majority of the world’s food.
- Nutrition & Food Quality
Food represents more than basic caloric intake. Sufficient diets require proper nutrition, and safe, high-quality food for overall health and well-being. Nutritional issues most heavily impact those living in poverty – those who lack access to or cannot afford nutritious, safe, and quality foods required to achieve a balanced diet. Yet, nutrition and food safety concerns are also observed throughout developed nations, largely due to the over-consumption of unhealthy foods and beverages. The international problems of overweight and obesity, affecting almost two billion people on the global scale, testify to the widespread nutrition problem. Corporations that sell processed foods and soft drinks, aggressively advertise and lobby to gain the rights to market and sell astonishingly unhealthy products, which are subject to minimal regulation. Thus, food and agricultural policies must adopt a novel stance that takes nutrition and food quality clearly into account, with closer scrutiny of nutritional issues – ranging from emergency nutrition for under-fed infants to public regulation of food products, food safety rules, planned food availability in under-served urban neighborhoods, and restrictions on food advertising. Public authorities must prioritize the production of nutritious, quality foods, as well as ensuring their availability to citizens living in conditions of poverty. Moreover, in higher-income settings, governments need to improve labeling of prepared foods, develop robust food safety regulations, and take further action to promote healthy diets for all citizens.
- Gender and Development
Smallholder farmers, the majority of whom are women from rural areas, produce the vast majority of the world’s food for household consumption. These women are feeding the world on less than 25% of the earth’s agricultural land but are also among those most affected by hunger and extreme poverty. Without access to resources, most women work on marginal land in harsh conditions; in some cases their lives and livelihoods are disrupted by conflict, including resource wars, which result in widespread displacement, often intensified by gender-based violence. Largely unpaid, unseen, and undervalued, the role of women and girls in social and economic development is too frequently undermined. Unpaid care work should be recognized for its contribution to local economies. Governments, civil society and the private sector must apply a gender-focused lens to the food and hunger sector, striving to end the agricultural gender gap, and encouraging fair and equal development for all.
- Food Enough for All
The world’s agricultural system possesses the capacity to produce more than enough nutritious and quality food for all the people on the planet, but this incredible productivity is not organized to end hunger. Instead, it is rapidly being re-organized to provide return on capital investment, maximize capital growth, and prioritize the most affluent consumers. Policymakers need to recognize that the supply shortfalls leading to massive hunger and malnutrition are not the result of natural forces, but on the contrary, the shortfalls primarily result from human choices that can and must be changed. Governments will face unprecedented political upheavals if global solutions are not adopted with the required urgency. Innovative policies must be based on well-established science, sharing of the world’s bounty, democratic accountability, and the fundamental human right to food.
- Other Issues
Many other areas of concern exist in relation to food and hunger. Bees, the world’s most important pollinators, are suffering from an unprecedented population crash, and simultaneously, other insect pollinators are facing decline or extinction largely due to the widespread use of toxic pesticides. Escalating meat consumption, an unhealthy trend (for both humans and the environment), is diverting more grains into animal feed, thereby reducing primary food availability when bio-energy demands are rising. In addition, genetically modified seeds threaten to eliminate the rich diversity of local seed stocks, which provide crop resiliency in the face of climate change and various other threats such as plant disease and pests. Furthermore, over-fishing and pollution of the world’s oceans are leading to a sharp reduction of global wild fish stocks, thus depleting a significant source of protein as well as destroying the livelihoods of seashore communities. And finally, a human population increase of approximately 82 million people per year places a rising pressure on the world’s food resources, on land-use, and on the global environment.