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Agriculture at a crossroads

The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) is the most comprehensive assessment of agriculture to date. It was an intergovernmental, multistakeholder process that was co-sponsored by the World Bank, FAO, UNEP, UNDP, WHO, UNESCO and GEF. It warned that business as usual was not an option, and that to feed the world sustainably into the future, fundamental changes are needed in our farming and food systems.

In a recent report Agriculture at a Crossroads: Food for Survival, Greenpeace International highlights a selection of facts and recommendations from the IAASTD that are most compelling, urgent and useful to address the enormous tasks ahead.

Greenpeace believes that the results of the IAASTD must be the starting point for an urgently needed thorough and radical overhaul of present international and national agricultural policies. Governments are urged to actively create the transition to sustainable ecological farming systems through:

1. Prioritising the resource needs and knowledge of the world’s small-scale ecological farmers.

2. Supporting ecological farming systems with public research and investment monies.

3. Supporting the multiple ecological functions of agriculture through policies that value and protect ecosystem services.

4. Addressing climate change through the agriculture sector with support for ecological farming.

5. Recognising the inter-related principles of food sovereignty and the right to food.

We reproduce below an excerpt from the Introduction of the report. The full report can be downloaded at http://www.greenpeace.org/international/press/reports/agriculture-at-a-crossroads-report

With best wishes,

Lim Li Ching
Third World Network

131 Jalan Macalister,

10400 Penang,

Malaysia

Email: twnet@po.jaring.my

Websites: www.twnside.org.sg, www.biosafety-info.net

Agriculture at a Crossroads: Food for Survival [excerpt]

Part 1

Introduction

Climate change, hunger and poverty, loss of biodiversity, forest destruction, water crises, food safety – what all these threats have in common is that a principal cause for each of them is in the way we produce, trade, consume and discard food and other agricultural products. However, agriculture is not high on the agenda of media, politicians, financial institutions or many environmental organisations. Yet, none of the major global challenges ahead of us will be met without profound and lasting changes of today’s dominant agricultural practices and food policies.

Our perception of the challenges and the choices we make at this juncture in history will determine how we protect our planet and secure our future. (Synthesis Report, p.3)

Public neglect for primary production and rural life is probably at least as old as industrialisation. At the point where for the first time in history more people will be living in cities than in the countryside we come to realise the price of the urban habit of looking at agriculture with a peculiar mixture of disregard and romanticism.

Overcoming this fundamental disconnect from the very basis of our existence is a long-term cultural challenge. As the present multiple economic, environmental and social crises have built up over a long period of time, it will probably require several decades - and the hard work and commitment of more than one generation in thousands of different environments - to achieve a situation which would warrant calling our agricultural and food practices economically, socially and ecologically sustainable.

To reach this goal entails changes and adaptations at all levels: farming methods, consumption patterns, trade relations, production, storage and processing technologies, human rights and gender balance, tradition and values, education and sharing of knowledge, innovation and conservation and lifestyle patterns.

Lasting results will have to be measured by the length of life cycles of trees, soil, watersheds and eco-system development, as well as generational cultural adaptation. However, immediate recovery from overexploitation and vicious cycles of destructive management, including of our own health, relief from hunger and despair, debts, serfdom and addiction, providing hope and confidence and liberating the creative and productive potential of millions of families in a better future, can be accomplished within years, if we start today.

“If we do persist with business as usual, the world’s people cannot be fed over the next half-century. It will mean more environmental degradation, and the gap between the haves and have-nots will expand. We have an opportunity now to marshal our intellectual resources to avoid that sort of future. Otherwise we face a world nobody would want to inhabit.“

Professor Robert T. Watson, Director of the IAASTD

Getting there from here: five policy cornerstones

As Professor Robert Watson, director of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) warns, business as usual is not an option.  The way humanity has nearly tripled agricultural outputs over the past 50 years has come at unbearable costs for the environment, public health and social welfare.  Industrial farming, with its dependency on fossil fuels, toxic inputs and ignorance for common goods, has proven to be a dead-end road. Indeed, as concluded by the IAASTD and as we detail in Section IV of this report, business as usual threatens to undermine the basis of our food supply and the web of life upon which we all depend.

To feed the world sustainably into the future, fundamental changes are needed in our farming and food systems. Greenpeace believes that the results of the IAASTD must be the starting point for an urgently needed thorough and radical overhaul of present international and national agricultural policies.  From the findings of the IAASTD we derive five policy cornerstones that provide direction for the changes that need to be made to ensure food security for all in the 21st century. Governments must actively create the transition to sustainable ecological farming systems through:

1. Prioritising the resource needs and knowledge of the world’s small-scale ecological farmers. Focus special attention on the knowledge, capacity and needs of the world’s small-scale farmers, especially women.  Fighting hunger and poverty as well as environmental destruction depends upon ensuring their secure access to and control over land, water, seeds, markets, capital, and basic human rights.

2. Supporting ecological farming systems with public research and investment monies. Redirect research and investment funding towards ecological farming systems that can increase productivity in a sustainable manner, while strengthening ecosystem health and lessening the environmental impacts of agriculture.  Special emphasis should be placed on reducing the reliance of agriculture and the food chain on fossil fuels (for agrochemicals, machinery, transport and distribution). Governments must halt public funding for the development of genetically engineered crops.

3. Supporting the multiple ecological functions of agriculture through policies that value and protect ecosystem services. Governments must shift public sector financial support away from subsidies and programmes that promote unsustainable input-intensive industrial agriculture.  In their place, governments should utilise agricultural policy tools that internalise environmental externalities, including policies rewarding conservation, stewardship and protection of ecosystem services and imposing taxes on carbon emissions, agrochemical use and water pollution.

4. Addressing climate change through the agriculture sector with support for ecological farming. Agricultural research, investment, public policies, and trade should be directed towards ecological farming practices that mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, protect the quality and improve the efficiency and

management of water resources, and enhance the resilience and adaptive capacity of agricultural systems. 

5. Recognising the inter-related principles of food sovereignty and the right to food. Food sovereignty is defined as the right of peoples and sovereign states to democratically determine their own agricultural and food policies; the right to adequate food and freedom from hunger is enshrined in Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  Domestic agriculture policy and international trade regimes must be designed to support, not undermine, these basic principles.

 


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