Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Paths to Sustainable Food Sovereignty

From AgriculturesNetwork.org:

You can read the whole article at the above link.  Below, I've copied and pasted a few passages (well, more than a few, I guess) that caught my attention.

“Wars are fought over food in the future”
Global Paradigms and the future of agriculture 
The industrial agriculture production system reduces farmers (and pastoralists alike) to money seekers through food and agricultural commodity production. This has led to large mono-cultures, high levels of technical specialization and intensive use of chemicals. Its negative impacts on human health, social economical structures and on the environment were and sometimes still are not accounted for and therefore not acknowledged. 
...meeting the dual challenge of achieving food security and other developmental benefits, on the one hand, and mitigating and adapting to climate change, on the other hand, requires political commitment at the highest level. 
Hoffmann agrees with IAASTD that a shift towards the preservation of the multifunctional character of farming should be the aim. This will result in a knowledge-intensive sustainable way of farming. Important examples of this kind of farming are organic and low external input farming. ...Hoffmann proves to be a realistic man as he states: “There are no quick fixes possible. The key task is to transform the uniform, high-external-input-dependent model of industrial agriculture into a flexible approach of sustainable (regenerative) agricultural systems that continuously recreate the resources they use and achieve higher productivity and profitability of the system with minimal external inputs. (…) A key challenge is to considerably lift the productivity of small-scale farmers by mobilizing and empowering them to use modern methods of regenerative agriculture”[3]
Hoffmann stressed the importance of the development of an autonomous future perspective by national governments based on the economic strengths and weaknesses of their countries. He warns that if a lack of international support for this mosaic of regenerative agricultural systems should discourage national governments of developing countries, industrial agricultural systems will take over and the negative effects that those systems produce in the developed world in terms of climate change, poverty, food security will even increase. 
Sustainability needs a pro-active agenda with a clear concept and a plan that would be much more successful. “Africa has listened too long to the World Bank”, says Hoffmann, “and now the levels of production are lower than a few decades ago. All developing countries need to focus on national food security. Vietnam for example did a really good job... These successful cases depend on a government with a comprehensive strategy and the guts to choose long lasting solutions.” 
Small scale farming lobby
Talking about the heartfelt necessity for change and the rather grim perspective of disaster transition management Hoffmann stresses the importance of a professional lobby. The shift from a technical, chemical and capital intensive agro-industrial system to a sustainable multifunctional agricultural system is one that will evoke a lot of resistance from the vested interests. These interests are thriving because of the perverse financial mechanisms that support it. 
Just like Olivier de Schutter[5], Ulrich Hoffmann stresses the importance of organizations of small-scale family farmers and their advocates, like Via Campesina and the AgriCultures Network. “The fact that sustainable family farming organizations have not got a string and institutionalized lobby behind them, marginalizes them in national and international debates...." 
The downward spiral can be stopped when developing countries take the lead. They should no longer look at the international community but should start developing pockets of restructuring in their own countries. Hoffmann thinks these pockets should concentrate on creating an enabling environment. This asks for investments not in international value chains but in education, infrastructure (to get products to the markets), electricity (to get manufacturing up and going) and e.g. micro credit to facilitate multi-functional agriculture. While the international debate continues and blueprints are developed and re-developed, the economically sound and resilient pockets will grow and shape an independent future for the countries concerned.

For the most part, I agree with what is being said here, and I do think government has a role to play...but, in my opinion, it is particularly important that farmers take the lead in creating sustainability, not governments.  The role of government should be to enable citizens to act in their own best interest, rather than trying to legislate the sustainable system into existence. Sustainable systems will differ according to place and people. Government needs to, more or less, stand by and let it happen. The role of aid organization should be similar, i.e. not to transfer any particular system, or to set goals based on some static notion of 'sustainability,' but to support development of the system from the ground up.

Furthermore, governments need to stop supporting industry and a globalized food system that is led by profit. If profit is the goal, then that is the measure of success, not whether or not people get fed. Communities, on the other hand, have a fundamental interest in keeping everyone fed. That there are cases where the ability to do this has been undermined is unavoidable, of course, but those sorts of things need to be understood on a case-by-case basis.

Lastly, in developing countries, I think so much of what farmers need is access to information. My recent experience in Senegal with urban farmers tells me they are hungry for information....it should be up to them how they use that information to improve their production in ways most relevant to their social and economic situations.

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