Groundbreaking New UN Report on How to Feed the World's Hungry: Ditch Corporate-Controlled Agriculture
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
There are a billion hungry people in the world and that number could rise as food insecurity increases along with population growth, economic fallout and environmental crises. But a roadmap to defeating hunger exists, if we can follow the course -- and that course involves ditching corporate-controlled, chemical-intensive farming.
"To feed 9 billion people in 2050, we urgently need to adopt the most efficient farming techniques available. And today's scientific evidence demonstrates that agroecological methods outperform the use of chemical fertilizers in boosting food production in regions where the hungry live," says Olivier de Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. Agroecology is more or less what many Americans would simply call "organic agriculture," although important nuances separate the two terms.
Used successfully by peasant farmers worldwide, agroecology applies ecology to agriculture in order to optimize long-term food production, requiring few purchased inputs and increasing soil quality, carbon sequestration and biodiversity over time. Agroecology also values traditional and indigenous farming methods, studying the scientific principals underpinning them instead of merely seeking to replace them with new technologies. As such, agroecology is grounded in local (material, cultural and intellectual) resources.
A new report, presented today before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, makes several important points along with its recommendation of agroecology. For example, it says, "We won't solve hunger and stop climate change with industrial farming on large plantations." Instead, it says the solution lies with smallholder farmers. The majority of the world's hungry are smallholder farmers, capable of growing food but currently not growing enough food to feed their families each year. A net global increase in food production alone will not guarantee the end of hunger (as the poor cannot access food even when it is available), an increase in productivity for poor farmers will make a dent in global hunger. Potentially, gains in productivity by smallholder farmers will provide an income to farmers as well, if they grow a surplus of food that they can sell.
With its potential to double crop yields, as the report notes, agroecology could help ensure smallholder farmers have enough to eat and perhaps provide a surplus to sell as well. The report calls for investment in extension services, storage facilities, and rural infrastructure like roads, electricity, and communication technologies, to help provide smallholders with access to markets, agricultural research and development, and education. Additionally, it notes the importance of providing farmers with credit and insurance against weather-related risks.
In the past, efforts to help the hungry involved developing high yielding seeds and providing them along with industrial inputs to farmers in poor countries. However, in poor countries, smallholder farmers who often live on less than $1 or $2 per day, cannot afford industrial inputs like hybrid or genetically engineered seeds, fertilizer, pesticides, or irrigation. Many work each year to make sure their crops go far enough to feed their families, with little left over to sell. And for those who live far from roads and cities, there might not be a market to sell to anyway.
Agroecology requires replacing chemical inputs with knowledge, often disseminated by farmers who work together with scientists and aid organizations to teach their fellow farmers. "Rather than treating smallholder farmers as beneficiaries of aid, they should be seen as experts with knowledge that is complementary to formalized expertise," the report notes. For example, in Kenya, researchers and farmers developed a successful "push-pull" strategy to control pests in corn, and using town meetings, national radio broadcasts, and farmer field schools, spread the system to over 10,000 households.