Our food systems have emerged by default

The current global food systems is efficient only from the point of view of maximising agribusiness profits and producing huge volumes of exportable cereal commodities. They are highly inefficient on every other count: almost 1 billion people are still hungry and undernourished, while 1.4 billion are overweight and obese; millions of small-scale farmers are unable to live from food production; and the natural resource base on which food production depends is being rapidly degraded.

Why we would freely choose a system whose benefits accrue to so few at the expense of so many? The answer is: we haven’t. Our food systems have emerged by default, by diktat and by virtue of the effective veto power of agribusiness to any reform running against its interests. The greatest deficit in the food economy is the democratic one.

Food democracy must start in cities and municipalities. By 2050, when the world population will have reached 9.3 billion, about 6.3 billion of these inhabitants will live in cities. It is vital that these cities identify logistical challenges and pressure points in their food supply chains and develop a variety of channels to procure their food.

Many cities are already making strides in rebuilding their food systems. Toronto boasts an ambitious local food strategy. Durban’s Agroecology Delivery Programme has reinforced local, sustainable supply links, while city-level strategies to integrate local family farms into the food supply have flourished in Brazil.

However innovative these local initiatives are, they can succeed only if they are supported and complemented at national level, yet the Bali Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in December showed how global processes can block ambitious food security reforms. Though India could temporarily safeguard its National Food Security Act, the message to all other WTO members was that they should think twice before increasing support for their farmers – even though rich countries have provided much higher support for years with impunity.

– Olivier de Shutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Food security eludes almost 1 billion, somewhat paraphrased).