Food crisis fears prompt UN to call for a move away from intensive farming and GMOs to greater sustainability.

UNCTAD's Trade and Environment Review 2013:
Wake up before it is too late: Make agriculture truly sustainable now for food security in a changing climate

1.Wake Up and Smell the Soil! Groundbreaking UN Report on the Paradigm Shift Needed to Feed the Future
2.Food crisis fears prompt UN wake-up call to world leaders
1.Wake Up and Smell the Soil! Groundbreaking UN Report on the Paradigm Shift Needed to Feed the Future
Anna Lappé
Civil Eats, September 18 2013

*Report on the Paradigm Shift Needed to Feed the Future

A doorstop of a report arrived in inboxes this morning. Not so subtly called: “Wake up Before It Is Too Late”, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development new report is a rallying cry for action to move toward greater sustainability in food and farming—to ensure food security in a changing climate.

When Monsanto and other chemical companies are pushing hard on the claim that we need their products to feed the world, when The New York Times is publishing multi-page articles on the benefits of genetic engineering, the report comes at a particularly important moment. Its authors include some of the world’s leading experts on food, sustainability, and agroecology, including Miguel Altieri, UC Berkeley professor, and Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.

Three key findings: First, the dominant message most of us hear about hunger reduction continues to be “Grow more food!” There is not nearly enough emphasis, the report argues, on the economic and social context of hunger. “Hunger and malnutrition,” the authors write, “are mainly related to lack of purchasing power and/or inability of rural poor to be self-sufficient.”

In other words, to address the roots of hunger we must be occupied with how to empower farmers and promote what is known as food sovereignty. As my mother, Frances Moore Lappé, has been saying since her seminal 1977 book, "Food First", “hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food, but by a scarcity of democracy.”

Secondly, the report calls for nothing less than a “paradigm shift” in growing our food, away from input-intensive, monoculture agriculture, toward what they call “ecological intensification.” This means not only rethinking on-farm practices, but also rethinking the farmer herself: seeing farmers as not just producers of agricultural goods, but as stewards of the land, providing us all a valuable service in protecting soil, water, biodiversity, even climate stability.

When I was writing my latest book, "Diet for a Hot Planet", this was perhaps my biggest a-ha moment: Yes, farmers are at the frontlines of the climate crisis—often the first and hardest hit by climate disasters—but they’re also the frontlines of the solutions. They’re the ones who are best positioned to protect our ecosystems—including the soil, water, and clean air on which we all depend.

Finally, the authors emphasize the need for systemic change; that’s the only way to address the roots of hunger and achieve this needed paradigm shift. Folks, this isn’t about “tweaking” here and there; this is a call for a “transformation” at the heart of our food system.

The report includes a trove of data proving the benefits of this paradigm shift, especially as we face an increasingly climate unstable future. In a particularly interesting chapter, Professor Miguel Altieri highlights the growing evidence about the role of sustainable agriculture practices in fostering farm resilience in the face of major climatic events. All the results showed those farmers with greater biodiversity and other agroecologcal qualities fared significantly better post-natural disasters.

After Hurricane Mitch ravaged Central America, the Campesino o Campesino movement organized farmer research teams to evaluate the impact. They visited 1,804 farms in 360 communities in Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. What they found was astounding: Those farmers who had adopted sustainable agriculture practices retained greater soil moisture and 20 to 40 percent more topsoil; they also experienced less soil erosion and economic losses.

The report also highlights how agribusiness and chemical corporations have influenced policy setting, regulatory agencies, and research institutions, slowing  the spread of more sustainable practices in agriculture. To give just one example, Marcia Ishii-Eiteman from the Pesticide Action Network of North America describes how chemical corporations have influenced national and international chemical policy.

For instance, after Malaysia passed a 2002 ban of the highly toxic chemical herbicide, Paraquat, its manufacturer Syngenta joined the country’s palm oil industry to lobby to reverse the ban, which the government did in 2006. Today, Paraquat is still widely used there.

The report also makes it very clear how important it is to act now, because the very resources we depend on for food security are at stake: from a stable climate to abundant topsoil to accessible water. In chapter after chapter, the authors highlight the importance of embracing sustainable agriculture, not only to foster greater on-farm resiliency, but to preserve these vital natural resources.
2.Food crisis fears prompt UN wake-up call to world leaders
Claire Provost
The Guardian, 18 September 2013

*United Nations urges governments to do more to support small farmers to curb hunger, poverty and climate change

[image caption: Local food production must be better supported to achieve global food security, says the UN.]

Governments in rich and poor countries alike should renounce their focus on agribusiness and give more support to small-scale, local food production to achieve global food security and tackle climate change, according to a report from Unctad, the UN trade and development body.

The 2013 Trade and Environment Review, calls on governments to "wake up before it is too late" and shift rapidly towards farming models that promote a greater variety of crops, reduced fertiliser use and stronger links between small farms and local consumers.

Persistent rural poverty, global hunger, population growth, and environmental concerns must be treated as a collective crisis, argues the report, which criticises the international response to the 2008 food-price crisis for focusing on technical "quick-fixes".

"Many people talk about energy, transport, etc, but agriculture only comes on to the agenda when there is an acute food-price crisis, or when there are conflicts at the national level over food," said Ulrich Hoffman, senior trade policy adviser at Unctad. "At the international scene most of the discussion is on technicalities, but the matter we have before us is far more complex."

The report warns that urgent and far-reaching action is needed before climate change begins to cause big disruptions to agriculture, particularly in vulnerable regions of poorer countries.

It says that while the 2008 crisis helped to reverse the long-term neglect of agriculture and its role in development, the focus has remained on increasing yields through industrial farming.

The report, which includes contributions from 60 international experts – covering topics from food prices and fertiliser use to international land deals and trade rules – demands a paradigm shift to focus efforts on making farming more sustainable and food more affordable through promoting local food production and consumption.

Several of the contributors call for a focus on food sovereignty, a concept introduced more than a decade ago by the international peasants' movement La Via Campesina. Unlike food security, often defined as ensuring people have enough to eat, food sovereignty focuses on questions of power and control. It puts the needs and interests of those who produce and consume food at the heart of agricultural systems and policies.

The report argues that industrial, monoculture agriculture has failed to provide enough affordable food where it is needed, while the damage caused to the environment is "mounting and unsustainable". It echoes the work of Nobel prize-winner Amartya Sen in arguing that the real causes of hunger – poverty and the lack of access to good, affordable food – are being overlooked.

Agricultural trade rules must be reformed, it says, to give countries more opportunity to promote policies that encourage local and regional food systems.

The report follows last week's publication of Unctad's annual trade and development report, which urged governments to focus more on domestic demand and inter-regional trade and rely less on exports to rich countries to fuel growth.

"Export-led growth is not the only viable development path," said Nikolai Fuchs, president of the Geneva-based Nexus Foundation and a contributor to the trade and environment report. "We don't say 'no trade', but … trade regimes should secure level playing fields for regional and local products, and allow for local and regional preference schemes, for example in public procurement.

"Highly specialised agriculture does not create enough jobs in rural areas where most of the poor are." He argued that industrial, export-oriented farming typically offers a few highly skilled and specialised jobs, or low-skill, seasonal, and precarious employment.

The report says governments should acknowledge and reward farmers for the work they do to preserve water sources, soil, landscapes, and biodiversity.

Hoffman acknowledged it would be difficult to implement the agenda the report was suggesting. "Subsidies are a key hurdle … at a national level but also [in terms of] dealing with subsidies in the context of the WTO [World Trade Organisation]," he said. There must be more scrutiny of agricultural subsidies, he argued, including those that appear to promote environmentally sustainable farming, as there were "ample opportunities for abuse or misuse".