Tag: food sovereignty

Two food systems, the world does not have accurate figures

From Who Will Feed Us? The Industrial Food Chain/The Peasant Food Web by ETC Group.

Even as we are told that ‘agribusiness as usual’ is unstoppable, less and less information about the reality of markets and market share is made public… This is, in part, because the number of analysts is consolidating as rapidly as agribusiness itself. As a result, policymakers accept that increases in meat and dairy consumption, obesity, and the need for fertilizers and pesticides are unchallengeable realities.

…peasant producers often participate to varying degrees in both systems…

… we use ‘peasant’ to describe all those who produce food mostly for themselves and their communities whether they are rural, urban, or peri-urban farmers, ocean or freshwater fishers, pastoralists, or hunters and gatherers. Many peasants fit all of these categories. Small farmers often have fishponds and livestock. They often hunt and gather – especially in the sometimes-difficult weeks before harvest. Many peasants move back and forth between city and countryside.

The mix of peasant food sources renders statistical estimates difficult. To complicate things further, peasants grow around 7,000 crops but [the available statistics] focus on about 150 crops. The world does not have accurate figures.

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Bad science, bad philanthropy, bad international aid

In east and southern Africa, genetically modified, drought-tolerant seeds, or “new technology” are made available to small holder farmers at the same cost as conventional varieties via philanthropic support and international aid, but many people see programs like these as death traps. Activists and civil society organizations are resisting “climate smart” solutions introduced by Monsanto and the Gates Foundation.

For example, the African Center for Biodiversity in South Africa is engaged in a legal battle because, in their view, these newly-introduced varieties present risks for small farmers, citing the absence of peer reviewed scientific data and evidence supporting the claims of Monsanto and significant economic risks for smallholder farmers.

Yimer explains, “Experience across Africa has shown that once the subsidies and credit [to support the adoption of new varieties] dries up, farmers can’t purchase the more expensive seeds. This also creates dependency on inputs such as synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, and in the meantime their own seed varieties are lost.”

That is why Yimer doesn’t see the fight for food sovereignty in Africa as necessarily subversive. “It’s not like we [food activists] are going against some giant conspiracy. It’s not about our ideology. We work so that each and every person is healthy, doing their jobs, living their daily lives to the fullest. Food production, food systems—that is personal.”

– From 5 Food Systems Lessons the U.S. Can Learn from Africa by Jennifer Lentfer.

What is ‘climate smart agriculture’? It begins with deception

For us, it is clear that underneath its pretense of addressing the persistent poverty in the countryside and climate change, there is nothing new. Rather, this is a continuation of a project first begun with the Green Revolution in the early 1940’s and continued through the 70’s and 80’s by the World Bank’s Poverty Reduction projects and the corporate interests involved. These projects decimated numerous peasant economies, particularly in the South, to the extent that many countries, like México for example, that were self-sufficient in food production, became dependent on the North to feed their population within a short couple of decades.

The result of these projects… a regime that is based on increased use of toxic chemicals, dependent on fossil fuel inputs and technology, a food system that is now under the control of corporations and large industrial farmers, the main beneficiaries of these projects. The result has been the loss of food security and sovereignty, transforming entire countries that were once net food exporters into net food importers. This is not so much that they cannot produce food, but because now, instead, they produce commodity crops used to produce industrialized foods, fuels, manufactured products for sale, and for speculation in the world financial markets.

Climate smart agriculture begins with deception by not making a differentiation between the negative effects of industrialized agriculture and the real solutions offered by traditional sustainable peasant agriculture which has contributed to alleviating poverty, hunger and remediation of climate change. To the contrary, climate smart agriculture equates and equally blames all forms of agricultural production for the negative effects that in fact only industrialized agricultural and food production has caused. The agricultural activity that has most contributed to greenhouse gas emissions has been industrial agriculture, not smallholder sustainable agriculture.

Today, just as in the past, we continue to propose and put into practice wherever we can agroecological production and the construction of people’s food sovereignty. We call on all social movements gathered in New York to denounce climate smart agriculture as a false solution, and oppose the launching of the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the UN Climate Summit in New York City.

– Exerpted from UN-masking Climate Smart Agriculture, published by Via Campesina

A science, a set of practices, and a social movement for distributive and procedural justice

This Symposium comes at an opportune time as climate change, continued food insecurity and rural poverty present myriad challenges to sustainability. Agroecology, especially when paired with the developing principles of food sovereignty and food justice, offers opportunities to address all of these problems to an extent not matched by other approaches or proposals.

[Agroecology is] a well-grounded science, a set of time-tested agronomic practices and, when embedded in sound socio-political institutions, the most promising pathway for achieving sustainable food production. Agroecology integrates multiple fields into a unique “trans-discipline”, drawing on ecology, agronomy, political economy, and sociology, among other fields. It can be considered a science, a set of practices, and a social movement for distributive and procedural justice. In fact, without these elements of justice—which are often lacking in other approaches (for example, “climate-smart agriculture” or “sustainable intensification”)—no approach can be scientifically assessed as “sustainable” according to most established definitions of sustainability. The procedural justice element has been associated with the growing conceptualization of and movement for “food sovereignty”—the right for people to design and decide on the shape of their own food system within their own localities, to the maximum extent practicable, with the maximum possible participation.

We therefore call upon FAO member states and the international community to build upon the proceedings of this Symposium in order to launch a UN-system wide initative on agroecology as the central strategy for addressing climate change and building resilience in the face of water crises: an initiative centered around social, cultural, and food sovereignty issues in agriculture and food systems.

– Exerpted from Scientists’ Support Letter for the International Symposium on Agroecology, 18–19 September, 2014

On hunger, science, and well-known things that aren’t true

The following is a rather simplified/edited exerpt from the article Science means having to say “I’m Sorry” by Dr. M. Jahi Chappell.

Rights have been the most important elements in recent (and less recent) history. In most cases food was indeed available. Hunger and starvation were caused, not by low agricultural productivity or by a lack of food, but by a lack of sociopolitical rights or entitlements to food.

Nowhere is this perhaps more visible than Smith and Haddad’s landmark study, “Explaining Child Malnutrition in Developing Countries: A cross-country analysis,” which found that over half—54 percent—of the decrease in infant malnutrition in developing countries between 1970 and 1995 was due to improvements in women’s status and women’s education.

In short: the most powerful remedies to malnutrition and hidden hunger are and have been food sovereignty, and political sovereignty and equality more broadly. They are essential to get and to protect the right to a fair share of the food available in any society.

People have fought hunger and repression. Science and technology have been tools used to support—and to block—this fight. Without social movements, they are not enough—not nearly.

It is widely “known” that the Green Revolution, particularly the hybrid crop varieties and packages of “improved” seeds and fertilizers saved millions of people from starving. The calculations for this are simple: productivity went up, number of hungry went down. A (increased productivity) must have caused B (decreased hunger), right?

Well, um…no. This is not how science works—while this is by no means a SILLY conclusion to make , it is also not a proven one. The narrative about how the Green Revolution and Norman Borlaug Fed the World is over-simplistic and under-scientific. The issues we’re dealing with in the food system are complex and challenging. We need to go beyond the simple idea that increased food production = hunger reduction. We need to go beyond just focusing on technology and science, to get a moral, ethical and social movement-based understanding of how equality and improvements actually come about.