Cooking porridge, Somalia
Cooking porridge, Somalia

Day 9: Who Will Feed Us All?

19 December, 2012 | Future of Agriculture: Online Discussion

If we are to survive climate change, we must adopt policies that let peasants diversify the plant and animal varieties on our menus. Only they have the know-how and patience to find out what plants and livestock will thrive where. A fundamental change in the regulatory machinery is needed.

By Pat Mooney, Co-founder and executive director of the ETC Group

There has been a Pavlovian conviction that agricultural technology can meet our future food needs - and a pathological denial that industrial agriculture has contributed to today’s food crisis. Now, with climate change, the Global South’s food insecurity has morphed into a shared global challenge. Even soil-rich nations may not have the weather, water and other resources to feed themselves in 2050. 

Policy-makers are conventionally offered two options: the high-tech industrial food chain largely viewed as hyper-productive and efficient; or, the touchy-feely agro-ecological food web – the choice between the eco-foodie/fair traders’ 100 kilometer diet or agribusiness’s belt-busting 100 kilogram diet. The “smart menu,” of course, looks for the illusive middle ground – the best science while trading fairly and feeding sustainably.

“Is the food web just foodie romanticism?”

I am arguing that we are in a common and continuing food crisis; that the development ‘community’ is at the wrong starting point; that we don’t know very much; and, that we have to espouse the policies and practices of the peasant organizations that, today, provide humanity with at least 70 per cent of the food we eat. 

Is the food web just foodie romanticism? We tried to gather the facts that would prove the contribution of peasant provisioners (to describe both rural and urban food providers who are mostly outside the industrial food chain). But data on farm size and estimates on the number of rural peasants, for example, was at least a decade old and far from convincing. And, of course, farm calculations exclude hunting, gathering, fishing, and urban peasant production. 

In the end, we concluded that at least 70 of the food the world actually consumes every year is provisioned by rural and urban peasants. We could also conclude that only peasants have access to the technologies and resources we will all need in order to eat in 2050. 

Our 70 per cent estimate is inadvertently corroborated by the fertilizer industry  who worry that somewhere between 40 per cent and 60 per cent of the world’s food is grown without their synthetic chemicals. This is peasant production – farmers who either don’t want or can’t afford industry fertilizers. But, of course, many smallholders do use fertilizer so perhaps another 10 per cent or more of the world’s actual consumed foods are produced by peasants who do use chemicals. 

“The suggestion that at least 70 per cent of consumed foods comes from rural and urban peasants seems modest.”

Beyond this, a significant share of the world’s food supply – conservatively, 15 per cent - comes from hunting and gathering – including artisanal inland and coastal fishers. Add to this the estimates that somewhere between 15 and 20 per cent of our food is produced in urban gardens and the suggestion that at least 70 per cent of consumed foods comes from rural and urban peasants seems modest.

Looking at the question from the other end - the industrial food chain – strengthens the case. While the quantities are enormous, according to recent FAO studies, at least a third of food produced is wasted either during production, transportation, processing or by rotting in the fridge. Then, calculate how much of our fishmeal and grain is fed to livestock or automobiles. 

We lose food before it can rot. What’s more, in OECD states (and increasingly in the global South) about a quarter of consumed calories are “waisted” - consumed unnecessarily, contributing to obesity.

The unavoidable conclusion is that the industrial food chain is hugely ineffective. It only partly feeds people in the industrialized countries and has little left over for the rest of the world. The industrial food chain only gives us 30 per cent of our necessary consumption. 

“The unavoidable conclusion is that the industrial food chain is hugely ineffective.”

The table below summarizes and updates our 2009 report, “Who Will Feed Us?” available at www.etcgroup.org. Reference sources are available in this report and an upcoming sequel.

schedule

The first policy principle in any crisis is not to mess with what works. The second principle is to be led by those most affected – the peasants. They are the folks who are growing the food and have access to the diversity we will need to survive the challenges ahead. That is why the recently-reformed UN/FAO Committee on World Food Security (CFS) is becoming so important. Not only do we have all the governments and multilateral agencies around the table, civil society organizations and peasant movements are also there. The only thing peasants can’t do is vote. 

“Africa’s enslaved peasants smuggled almost 50 crops when they were shipped to the Americas.”

Peasants bring unique resources to the table and need support to deploy them. Within the first century of the colonial era – without trains or telegraphs – much less blogs or Twitter - peasants adapted Mayan maize to almost every growing region of Africa, while Asian peasants accomplished the same success with sweet potatoes. Meanwhile, Africa’s enslaved peasants smuggled almost 50 crops when they were shipped to the Americas. 

The Columbian exchange of 500 years ago was preceded by an Arabic transfer and, before that, the Silk Road and the mud trail kept moving crops and livestock between and among Eurasia and Africa. More recently, in 1849, the US began shipping free packets of experimental seed to settlers to kickstart crop production west of the Mississippi. By 1897, more than 20 million packets of exotic experimental seed were being sent to settlers every year. The highly successful seed experiment only ended in the late 1920s when seed companies realized that public sector distribution was interfering with private sector profits.

To address climate change, we need this kind of seed exchange once again. Over the past six decades, peasants have donated at least two million locally-bred plant varieties for storage in the world’s major gene banks. Peasants are also the breeders and protectors of almost 8,000 rare livestock breeds of 40 species. Gene banks, as a policy priority, must multiply the peasant varieties and make them freely available to peasant organizations upon request. 

“Over the past six decades, peasants have donated at least two million locally-bred plant varieties for storage in the world’s major gene banks. “

If we are to survive climate change, we must adopt policies that let peasants diversify the plant and animal species and varieties/breeds that make up our menus. Plants and livestock are going to have to move around so that they can be used under the conditions in which they can thrive. There are, of course, phytosanitary considerations; support will be needed from FAO and perhaps from the Biodiversity Convention. 

The only people with the know-how and patience to experiment with crops and livestock are peasants. Peasants will require a fundamental change in the regulatory machinery – including intellectual property regimes - so they can exchange and develop seeds/breeds among themselves around the world. 

The rest of us urgently need to come together across all of the food web to see how we can collaborate. As cell phone technologies spread across every continent, our collective capacity to exchange information makes it possible for all of us to keep up with the innovative energies of peasants.

Download: Who Will Feed Us All?

Comments

Farmer knowledge, small-scale agriculture and food security

Wednesday's discussion responded to posts on the value of technology and on farmers' knowledge and innovation. Up for debate were the roles of large agribusinesses and whether it's possible to achieve scale with locally appropriate solutions.

Today we discuss whether "peasant agriculture" is something that can be defined universally.  Will the "new farmers" that Michael O'Gorman wants to see more of in the United States resemble those producing 70% of the world's food in Pat Mooney's essay? Will agriculture that doesn't rely on synthetic inputs always be sustainable? What portion of those producing most of the world's food are also the most poor, malnourished, and deprived of education and resources? Will lack of wealth and access to land be a common challenge faced by small-scale farmers in both the developed and developing world?

What do you think?

 

RE:Who Will Feed Us All?

 Thanks Pat Mooney for your insightful post. Here are my some personal views;

As the world population continues to grow, the global demand for food increases; certainly there will be a mounting pressure on food security for the donors communities, governments , nongovernmental organisations, local civil societies and private sectors to meet this growing challenge  in near  future .yes there are many promising commitments from donor communities ,good policy documents , technology innovations , innovative market development approach/ best business practices , various good R&D  and  abandon  of  resource endowments available ( if we consider the current resources availability in Africa –like land, water, natural resources, and traditional agriculture knowledge system ) ,but experiences shows in spite  of having all those elements in place , the  agriculture sector is still  remain uncompetitive/unattractive as compare to the other sectors  and  while at the same time meeting consumer demands for products that match their health issues , environmental aspects and social expectations are lacking, than where is  the missing links ? .

As a field practitioner for more than 15 years working in the different context and agriculture production system I found a huge gap on supply side delivery and demand attributions. Agriculture economy itself has its one echo-system and has its one unique pattern in different socio-economic context. Due to the current food security pressures globally, there are many short-term but quick impact oriented programmes are being implemented and making very quick positive impacts/changes in the sector, but they are equally distorting the local production system. Some programmes are more focusing on production and productivity with heavy subsidy , hybrid mechanism and counting the bomber harvest as a breakthrough but totally forgetting about the market environment , which is making producers more victimised at the end due to lack of market response for their produces . on the other hand , there are many innovative market development /value chain development programmes in agriculture sector which are more focusing on market linkages , value additions , creating industry level linkages etcs  but somehow neglects the production and  productivity  characteristics. If we do not have a long term and balanced/and all-inclusive approach, are we not creating a bigger problem for future generation by having a quick solutions to address the current food crises? 

Let’s be smart about climate change

The ten warmest years on record have all occurred since 1998 according to the World Meteorological Organization. Undoubtedly, climate change will add high hurdles to the already great challenge of providing food to a world population of 9 billion in the 2050. To enable farmers, and entire communities to become more resilient to the effects of climate change, the Netherlands advocates an approach of climate smart agriculture.

 

Central to climate smart agriculture in LDCs is the small-scale farmer and the strengthening of his or her adaptive and entrepreneurial capacity. Practices such as agroforestry, improving water conservation and increasing soil fertility are appropriate for small-scale agriculture and can help farmers to adapt. Smallholder farmers currently produce half of the world’s food, including as much as 90 percent of the food grown in Africa and 41 percent of the food grains grown in India, FAO estimates. Moreover, by building resilience into their systems, small-scale farmers in developing countries have the potential to contribute 70 percent of agriculture’s technical mitigation of climate change and large-scale industrial agriculture too can learn important lessons from these practices. 

 

Knowledge and innovation are key for being able to continuously adapt to new circumstances as well as to respond to new opportunities. Cowpeas are a nutritious and relatively climate-resilient crop, but will still fail in severe droughts. Chickpeas are a traditional source of protein, but vulnerable to environmental stress and pests. Barley, millet, cassava and yam will all become attractive alternatives. However, conditions could change so drastically that new varieties especially resistant to drought, heat or specific diseases may be needed. Climate change is a factor for which no silver bullet solution exists. Traditional knowledge is in any case an important starting point, because this is what small farmers already possess, control and put to use. But in order to respond to new challenges and shocks, this knowledge base will certainly need more dissemination, as well as more intensive development and innovation. The latter undoubtedly has to be done in co-operation with modern plant breeders that come up with adapted varieties. In combination with modern agronomic practices, such as eco-efficient precision agriculture and integrated soil fertility and pest management techniques, this would make small-scale farming a source of sustainable growth.

 

The policy of the Netherlands to promote climate smart agriculture is directed at such a combined approach. We should address climate change, agriculture, water management and development in a joint context to ensure an effective approach that increases the productivity and the resilience of small farmers. Always taking these farmers and their views and capacities as point of departure. And always building on their knowledge base.

 

Marcel Beukeboom,

Head of Food Security and Financial Sector, Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs

 

Marcel Vernooij,

Head of Food Security and Agrocommodities, Netherlands Ministry of Economic Affairs

agriculture as religion

Who Will Feed Us All?

 

This discussion is for most part almost religious, using the antithesis in argumentation; I am right, the other is wrong. It is again the case in Pat Mooney’s “Who will feed us all?” Instead of ETC’s former antithesis HEIA and LEISA, it is now the industrial agriculture and food chain against peasant agriculture.

 

The question formulated by Gine Zwart is functional in this context: “What portion of those producing most of the world's food are also the most poor, malnourished, and deprived of education and resources?” Use FAO statistics on the use of inorganic fertilizers and the functioning of agriculture in the economy and related to food security: those countries using most per acreage are the big agricultural exporters; average using countries know food security but do not make money out of export; countries using almost no fertilizer (most sub-Saharan countries) encounter often years of hunger and need almost constantly food imports and/or aid.

 

The country using less than any other, DRC (< 1 kg/ha/y), is the most food insecure country on earth; about 70% of the population is food insecure. Indeed, Gine Zwart, poverty is the common challenge faced by small-scale farmers in the Africa I know, also for many of those with access to land (In course of 40 years, I visited 25 African countries in the context of my work)!

 

Being a quantitative biologist, having studied for years the carrying capacity of natural resources for livestock and men, I had no other choice than accepting that too often the natural resources are insufficient to feed those exploiting them and to make a living out of the land. Soil nutrient deficiency being far the most limiting factor, I do not see another option than reinforcing the natural resources by using inorganic fertilizer.

 

This does not mean at all that I am promoting industrial agriculture. Why not helping peasants to use external inputs while maintaining or even improving their land and their pastures? Why not finding together ways to benefit from natural processes such as biological nitrogen fixation and access to P through micorrhiza, reinforcing the first with fertilizer-P and -Mo, and the second with –N? Why always the antithesis? Why making agriculture a religion?

 

reasons for food security

The example of DRC is a good one, but not to prove the need for chemical fertilizers. DRC has not had many periods of peace for decades. Neighbouring Uganda uses almost as little fertlizers per hectare as DRC and has no food security problem (it had during the unrest). Food security is a compex matter, but shortage of fertilizers (organic or non-organic) is not the most relevant point of intervention in most cases. The fertilizer subsidy programs are largely not successful.

http://gardenearth.blogspot.se/2012/05/markets-dont-distribute-food-to-t...

 

fertilizer use and food security

Fertilizer use and food security

 

Dear Gunnar Rundgren

Please don’t use my single illustration for rejection through another one; I used it as illustration for my statement that “FAO statistics on the use of inorganic fertilizers and the functioning of agriculture in the economy and related to food security: those countries using most per acreage are the big agricultural exporters; average using countries know food security but do not make money out of export; countries using almost no fertilizer (most sub-Saharan countries) encounter often years of hunger and need almost constantly food imports and/or aid”.

Why using Uganda; why not using Burundi and Rwanda, two other neighbors? Rwandan farmers use at present an average of about 35 kg/ha/y of fertilizer and the country is food secure in normal years. Burundi, with uses rather similar to those of DRC and Uganda, has almost every year problems of hunger in its Northern region.

It is useful realizing, as far as Uganda concerns, that the production conditions are much better than those of DRC: Ugandan cereal yields are still double of those of DRC (about 1500 versus 750 kg/ha).  Interesting is a recent IFPRI article about fertilizer use in Uganda ( Fertilizer use among smallholder farmers in Uganda; Stephen Bayite-Kasule, Patrick Lubega Korugyendo, and Todd Benson ), comparing the characteristics of fertilizer users and non-users.Non-users seems rather similar  to what Gine Zwart called yesterday “the most poor, malnourished, and deprived of education and resources”. See the yield differences and realize that the users are also using more organic sources of nutrients, beside the inorganic fertilizer. They practice what I try promoting, integrated soil fertility management.

dear Henk Breman, I do think

dear Henk Breman, I do think we are in total agreement about the need for (integrated) soil fertility management. That is essential for any sustainable agriculture system. I put "integrated" in brackets because it seems to mean almost anything (unfortunately, also "sustainable" has little meaning today). I do work in the countries you talk about, and my experience is that soil fertility management is essential, but that use of (mostly subsidized) chemical fertilizers is not the best strategy to encourage good soil management or farm economy. In general there is far too much attention to technical solutions to problems that are mostly social, economic or about security - which is the real issue in DRC, and also in Northern Burundi (which is not stable, last time I was there there was fighting going on). Rwanda's government is currently pushing fertillizer heavily, but as the policies are new we can't assess them.

Danida's evaluation of four countries with input subsidies, http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/18/44/49231998.pdf  as well as my post about Zambia's fertilizer subsidy make quite clear that this strategy is not working.

The link between exports and high use of fertilizers is not clear at all to me. I believe South Korea, Egypt and Japan use a lot more fertilizers per hectare than the US, Argentina,  Russia, Australia and Brazil. Fertilizer use is more linked to the general intensity in farming, and this is linked to many factors, such as available land vs population pressure, possibilities for multiple harvests, degree of specialization etc.

 

wrong link

Sorry, they had moved the document, new link is: http://www.oecd.org/derec/49231998.pdf

 

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