BACK TO MAIN  |  ONLINE BOOKSTORE  |  HOW TO ORDER

Making agriculture truly sustainable for food security in a changing climate

The UN Conference on Trade and Environment (UNCTAD) launched its Trade and Environment Review (TER) 2013 on 18 September 2013. The report, entitled: Act before it is too late highlights the drastic changes needed in agriculture to combat hunger and environmental degradation.

TER 2013 recommends a rapid and significant shift away from “conventional, monoculture-based… industrial production” of food that depends heavily on external inputs such as fertilizer, agro-chemicals, and concentrate feed. Instead, it says that the goal should be “mosaics of sustainable regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers and foster rural development”.

It highlights the need for a two-track approach that drastically reduces the environmental impact of conventional agriculture, on the one hand, and broadens the scope for agro-ecological production methods, on the other.

In addition, it would be necessary to correct existing imbalances between where food is produced and where it is needed, to reduce the power asymmetries that exist in agricultural input and food-processing markets, and to adjust current trade rules for agriculture.

More than 60 international experts contributed to the report’s analysis of the topic. We reproduce below the press release, highlights and key messages of the review. The full report is available at http://unctad.org/en/pages/PublicationWebflyer.aspx?publicationid=666

With best wishes,


Third World Network

131 Jalan Macalister

10400 Penang

Malaysia

Email: twnet@po.jaring.my
Websites: www.twn.my, www.biosafety-info.net

Item 1

http://unctad.org/en/pages/PressRelease.aspx?OriginalVersionID=154

Press release

Take ‘mosaic’ approach to agriculture, boost support for small farmers, UNCTAD Report urges

UNCTAD/PRESS/PR/2013/043

Geneva, Switzerland, (18 September 2013)

Farming in rich and poor nations alike should shift from monoculture towards greater varieties of crops, reduced use of fertilizers and other inputs, greater support for small-scale farmers, and more locally focused production and consumption of food, a new UNCTAD report recommends.



The Trade and Environment Report 2013 warns that continuing rural poverty, persistent hunger around the world, growing populations, and mounting environmental concerns must be treated as a collective crisis. It says that urgent and far-reaching action is needed before climate change begins to cause major disruptions to agriculture, especially in developing countries.



The report, subtitled Wake up before it is too late: Make agriculture truly sustainable now for food security in a changing climate, was released today. More than 60 international experts contributed to the report’s analysis of the topic. The study notes that the sheer scale at which production methods would have to be modified under these proposals would pose considerable challenges. In addition, it would be necessary to correct existing imbalances between where food is produced and where it is needed, to reduce the power asymmetries that exist in agricultural input and food-processing markets, and to adjust current trade rules for agriculture.

The Trade and Environment Report 2013 recommends a rapid and significant shift away from “conventional, monoculture-based… industrial production” of food that depends heavily on external inputs such as fertilizer, agro-chemicals, and concentrate feed. Instead, it says that the goal should be “mosaics of sustainable regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers and foster rural development”. The report stresses that governments must find ways to factor in and reward farmers for currently unpaid public goods they provide – such as clean water, soil and landscape preservation, protection of biodiversity, and recreation.



Climate change will drastically impact on agriculture, the report forecasts, primarily in the developing regions with the highest future population growth, such as sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Much slower agricultural productivity growth in the future and fast-rising populations in the most vulnerable regions will almost certainly worsen current problems with hunger, drought, rising food prices, and access to land. These pressures may easily lead to massive migrations, and to international tensions and conflicts over food and resources such as soil and water.



The report cites a number of trends that collectively suggest a mounting crisis:


* Food prices from 2011 to mid-2013 were almost 80 per cent higher than for the period 2003–2008;


* Global fertilizer use has increased by eight times over the past 40 years, although global cereal production has only doubled during that period;


* Growth rates in agricultural productivity have recently declined from 2 per cent per year to below 1 cent;


* Two types of irreparable environmental damage have already been caused by agriculture: nitrogen contamination of soil and water, and loss of biodiversity; * Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture are the single biggest source of global warming in the South. They also the fastest growing (along with emissions from transport);


* Foreign land acquisition in developing countries (often termed “land grabbing”) in recent years has amounted, in value, to between five and ten times the level of official development assistance.



But most important of all are the persistent problems with hunger, malnutrition, and access to food. Almost 1 billion people currently suffer from hunger, and another 1 billion are malnourished, the report notes, even though current global agricultural production already provides sufficient calories to feed a population of 12 to 14 billion. Some 70 per cent of the hungry or malnourished are themselves small-scale farmers or agricultural labourers, indicating that poverty and access to food are the most critical challenges.



Monoculture and industrial farming methods are not providing sufficient affordable food where it is needed, the report says, while the environmental damage caused by this approach is mounting and is unsustainable. It says that the highest priority must be given to enabling the rural poor to become self-sufficient in food or to earn sufficient income through agriculture so that they can buy food. 



The report emphasizes that a shift is necessary towards diverse production patterns that reflect the “multi-functionality” of agriculture and enhance closed nutrient cycles. Moreover, as the environmental costs of industrial agriculture are largely not accounted for, governments should act to ensure that more food is grown where it is needed. It recommends adjusting trade rules to encourage “as much regionalized/localized food production as possible; as much traded food as necessary.”  



The past strategy of relying on international markets to meet staple food demand, while specializing in the production and export of “lucrative” cash crops, has recently failed to deliver its desired results, because it has relied on low staple food prices and no shortage of supply in international markets, conditions that have drastically changed since the turn of the century, the report notes. Also, globalization has encouraged high levels of specialization. This has resulted in an increasing scale of production of a smaller variety of crops, and has created enormous cost pressures, the report states. All this has aggravated the environmental crisis of agriculture and has reduced agricultural resilience.

For more information, please contact:

UNCTAD Communications and Information Unit

T: +41 22 917 5828

T: +41 79 502 43 11

E: unctadpress@unctad.org

Web: unctad.org/press

Item 2

http://unctad.org/en/pages/PublicationWebflyer.aspx?publicationid=666

Developing and developed countries alike need a paradigm shift in agricultural development: from a "green revolution" to a "truly ecological intensification" approach. This implies a rapid and significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based and high external-input-dependent industrial production towards mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers. We need to see a move from a linear to a holistic approach in agricultural management, which recognizes that a farmer is not only a producer of agricultural goods, but also a manager of an agro-ecological system that provides quite a number of public goods and services (e.g. water, soil, landscape, energy, biodiversity, and recreation) UNCTAD's Trade and Environment Review 2013 (TER13) contends.

TER13 highlights that the required transformation is much more profound than simply tweaking the existing industrial agricultural system. Rather, what is called for is a better understanding of the multi-functionality of agriculture, its pivotal importance for pro-poor rural development and the significant role it can play in dealing with resource scarcities and in mitigating and adapting to climate change. However, the sheer scale at which modified production methods would have to be adopted, the significant governance issues, the power asymmetries' problems in food input and output markets as well as the current trade rules for agriculture pose considerable challenges.

TER13, entitled Wake up Before it is Too Late: Make Agriculture Truly Sustainable Now for Food Security in a Changing Climate was released on 18 September 2013. More than 60 international experts have contributed their views to a comprehensive analysis of the challenges and the most suitable strategic approaches for dealing holistically with the inter-related problems of hunger and poverty, rural livelihoods, social and gender inequity, poor health and nutrition, and climate change and environmental sustainability - one of the most interesting and challenging subjects of present development discourse.

Agricultural development, the report underlines, is at a true crossroads. By way of illustration, food prices in the period 2011 to mid-2013 were almost 80% higher than for the period 2003-2008. Global fertilizer use increased by 8 times in the past 40 years, although global cereal production has scarcely doubled at the same time. The growth rates of agricultural productivity have recently declined from 2% to below 1% per annum. The two global environmental limits that have already been crossed (nitrogen contamination of soils and waters and biodiversity loss) were caused by agriculture. GHG emissions from agriculture are not only the single biggest source of global warming in the South, besides the transport sector, they are also the most dynamic. The scale of foreign land acquisitions (often also termed land grabbing) dwarfs the level of Official Development Assistance, the former being 5-10 times higher in value than the latter in recent years.

Most important of all, despite the fact that the world currently already produces sufficient calories per head to feed a global population of 12-14 billion, hunger has remained a key challenge. Almost one billion people chronically suffer from starvation and another billion are mal-nourished. Some 70% of these people are themselves small farmers or agricultural laborers. Therefore, hunger and mal-nutrition are not phenomena of insufficient physical supply, but results of prevailing poverty, and above all problems of access to food. Enabling these people to become food self-sufficient or earn an appropriate income through agriculture to buy food needs to take center stage in future agricultural transformation. Furthermore, the current demand trends for excessive biofuel and concentrate animal feed use of cereals and oil seeds, much too high meat-based diets and post-harvest food waste are regarded as given, rather than challenging their rational. Questionably, priority in international policy discussions remains heavily focused on increasing industrial agricultural production, mostly under the slogan "growing more food at less cost to the environment".

The strategy recommended to developing countries of relying on international markets to meet staple food demand, while specializing in the production and export of 'lucrative' cash crops has not produced the intended results, because it relied on low staple food prices and no shortage of supply in international markets, conditions that have drastically changed since the turn of the century. Globalization has also encouraged excessive specialization, increasing scale of production of few crops and enormous cost pressure. All this has aggravated the environmental crisis of agriculture and reduced agricultural resilience. What is now required is a shift towards diverse production patterns that reflect the multi-functionality of agriculture and enhance close nutrient cycles. Moreover, as environmental externalities are mainly not internalized, carbon taxes are the rare exception rather than the rule and carbon-offset markets are largely dysfunctional - all factors that would prioritize regional/local food production through 'logical' market mechanisms - trade rules need to allow a higher regional focus of agriculture along the lines of "as much regionalized/localized food production as possible; as much traded food as necessary".

Climate change will drastically impact agriculture, primarily in those developing countries with the highest future population growth, i.e. in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Against this background, the fundamental transformation of agriculture may well turn out to be one of the biggest challenges, including for international security, of the 21st century. Much slower agricultural productivity growth in the future, a quickly rising population in the most resource-constrained and climate-change-exposed regions and a burgeoning environmental crises of agriculture are the seeds for mounting pressures on food security and the related access to land and water. This is bound to increase the frequency and severity of riots, caused by food-price hikes, with concomitant political instability, and international tension, linked to resource conflicts and migratory movements of staving populations.

Item 3

Key Messages

* The 2008 food crisis was an important catalyst for realizing the need for a fundamental transformation and questioning some of the assumptions that had driven food, agricultural and trade policy in recent decades. However, actual results achieved since 2008 suggest that a paradigm shift has started, but is largely incomplete. Priority remains heavily focused on increasing industrial agricultural production, mostly under the slogan “growing more food at less cost to the environment”. The perception that there is a supply-side productivity problem is however questionable. Hunger and malnutrition are mainly related to lack of purchasing power and/or inability of rural poor to be self-sufficient. Meeting the food security challenges is thus primarily about empowerment of the poor and their food sovereignty. Furthermore, the current demand trends for biofuels, concentrate animal feed, excessively meat-based diets and post-harvest food waste are regarded as given, rather than challenging their rational.

* The fundamental transformation of agriculture may well turn out to be one of the biggest challenges, including for international security, of the 21st century. Much slower agricultural productivity growth in the future, a quickly rising population in the most resource-constrained and climate-change-exposed regions (in particular in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia) and a burgeoning environmental crises of agriculture are the seeds for mounting pressures on food security and the related access to land and water. This is bound to increase the frequency and severity of riots, caused by food-price hikes, with concomitant political instability, and international tension, linked to resource conflicts and migratory movements of staving populations.

* The world needs a paradigm shift in agricultural development: from a “green revolution” to an “ecological intensification” approach. This implies a rapid and significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based and high- external-input-dependent industrial production towards mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers. We need to see a move from a linear to a holistic approach in agricultural management, which recognizes that a farmer is not only a producer of agricultural goods, but also a manager of an agro-ecological system that provides quite a number of public goods and services (e.g. water, soil, landscape, energy, biodiversity, and recreation). 


* The required transformation is much more profound than simply tweaking the existing industrial agricultural system. Rather, what is called for is a better understanding of the multi-functionality of agriculture, its pivotal importance for pro-poor rural development and the significant role it can play in dealing with resource scarcities and in mitigating and adapting to climate change. However, the sheer scale at which modified production methods would have to be adopted, the significant governance issues, the power asymmetries’ problems in food input and output markets as well as the current trade rules for agriculture pose considerable challenges.

* Elements and key achievements of the required transformation of agriculture, elaborated upon by the authors of this Review, include:

-  Increasing soil carbon content and better integration between crop and livestock production, and increased incorporation (not segregation) of trees (agroforestry) and wild vegetation.

-  Reduction of direct and indirect (i.e. through the feed chain) greenhouse-gas emissions of livestock production.

-  Reduction of indirect (i.e. changes in land-use-induced) GHG emissions through sustainable peatland, forest and grassland 
management.

-  Optimization of organic and inorganic fertilizer use, including through closed nutrient cycles in agriculture.

-  Reduction of waste throughout the food chains.

-  Changing dietary patterns towards climate-friendly food consumption.

-  Reform of the international trade regime for food and agricultural products.

* In pursuing a fundamental transformation of agriculture, one should take into account systemic considerations in particular (i) the need for a holistic understanding of the challenges involved due to inter-linkages between sometimes competing objectives; (ii) the merits and demerits of single climate-friendly practices versus those of systemic changes (such as agro-ecology, agro-forestry, organic agriculture); and (iii) the need for a two-track approach that drastically reduces the environmental impact of conventional agriculture, on the one hand, and broadens the scope for agro-ecological production methods, on the other.

 


BACK TO MAIN  |  ONLINE BOOKSTORE  |  HOW TO ORDER