Thursday, December 10, 2009

Organic or Green, agriculture is back on the agenda : CTA briefs on Global Food Crisis and Local Food Insecurity

On 9 December, in its well-known series of Brussels Briefings for policy makers, CTA organized a session on food security entitled From Global Food Crisis to Local Food Insecurity, bringing together a wide range of stakeholders.

Including the most important stakeholders: farmers. After having listened to a number of speakers Mr. Bagna of the Platform of Producers' Organizations in Niger concluded he actually had not heard anything new: food insecurity is a serious problem, we need money, we need research and we need capacity development….. everything has been said already, .... yesterday. But where is the real commitment, asked Mr. Bagna? Maybe policy-makers are not altogether honest with themselves, he felt. Despite all the plans there is no funding, no decent financial credit systems. There is no money for capacity development of people and their organizations. And in the end, farmers do their own research, to survive they have to….. Donors and governments could solve all these problems, Mr. Bagna feels, if they really wanted to…..

The exchange at the CTA briefing was very lively. Not everything may be new but it is useful to contrast different approaches and assessments and reaffirm the need for concerted action.

Presentations and background materials on the Global Food Crisis and Local Food Insecurity compiled by CTA can be accessed at the Brussels Briefings blog, also available in French at Bruxelles Briefings

Dr. Hans Herren co-chair of IAASTD, was the keynote speaker at the 9 December briefing. He presented the key findings of "Agriculture at a Crossroads", the report series of the International Assessment of Agricultural knowledge, Science and Technology for Development. The challenges for food security are quite clear according to Herren: climate change, population- and demand growth, and finally shrinking natural resources. In the past, the green revolution has not been a solution, according to Herren, nor will in the future crop-technology development solve the problem. People have benefitted unevenly from the yield increases generated by the green revolution, and the increases have come at a serious cost in terms of degrading natural resources (soils, water). Across regions, agricultural output is now distributed more uneven than ever.

So while the green revolution is not a solution and there is no simple alternative solution. The organic revolution that Dr. Herren calls for has to deal with “the inescapable connectedness of acgriculture's different roles and function”. Agriculture is not one but two words, Herren argues, “agri” and “culture”. It is not about the production of commodities but rooted in society in culture. Consequently, not crop productivity, but farm productivity has to be the subject of research when 75% of the food is produced by family farms. In his view what is needed is another kind of research based on a participatory, systems approach, working with women, training at agricultural colleges practitioners not people that end up behind desks.

Agricultural economist Steve Wiggins (ODI) emphasized that the 2008/09 food price spike made already high levels of under-nutrition more visible. Also the spike provoked awareness of possible future shocks and the challenges on agriculture agenda.

Agriculture is changing and will have to change according to Wiggins:
- From non-renewables to renewables
- Reducing use of water
- Limiting emission of greenhouse gasses (quite a large contribution (17 – or 32% when including expansion - to 13% from transport)
- From usual to altered climates

Information technology is critical for more efficient use of resources, also pricing of scarce resources and taxing the wastefulness and GHG intensity of food are important strategies. There are win-win scenarios according to Wiggins: climate friendly agriculture = less pollution and land degradation…….

Ndiogou Fall of the Network of Farmers’ and Agricultural Producers’ Organizations of West Africa explained that at micro-level, families and communities develop strategies to address food insecurity. However, so much more can be done in terms of supportive public policies and finance. Fall says support to family agriculture is a priority because they directly suffer food insecurity and there are important multiplier effects of investment in family agriculture. He would like to see that pricing policies favor family agriculture and that support includes various parts in value chain. Also het felt it is very important to support farmers organizations. Maybe not a lot of additional research is needed, said Fall, getting existing knowledge to farming families would already be quite an accomplishment. Finally Fall mentioned that land tenure policies often very negatively affect family farming.

Dr. David Nabarro, Special Representative of UNSG on Food Security, saw with satisfaction that after many years of neglect, agriculture and food security are back on the development agenda. He emphasized that the food crisis is deepening. Food insecurity was already a serious issue before the food price spike of 2008. Now, after the spike, the economic contraction is generating a further negative impact. The crisis is also deepening. Poor people are increasingly susceptible to climate change and systems that do not work.

Global availability of food is not the problem said Mr. Nabarro. The problem is inequitable access and utilization. According to him the question is not “how to feed the world” as the Economist headlined a few weeks ago, but “how to ensure people can exercise their right to the food they need”. Since agriculture is back on the global agenda, Mr. Nabarro is optimistic. He feels major stakeholders are coming together and promising approaches are emerging.

The European Commission, DGDevelopment highlighted aspects of the new EU Framework for support to Food Security and Agriculture. A representative from AIDCO explained how a 3-year funding time frame helps create some continuity in the funding for agricultural research. Several other participants commented on the presentations of the experts.

Rajul Pandya-Lorch - the only women on the panels - of the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington DC, rose at the crack of dawn to contribute her views, but unfortunately technology failed us. Her slides were available on paper and the first one framed the problem nicely: In the late 1950 there were 1 billion people going hungry every day. In 2009 ……. 1 billion people still go hungry every day.

Visit the Brussels Briefings blogs to see all presentations and summaries of presentations.

For more background information on food security check the Euforic newsfeed.