Wake up before it is too late

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

Trade and Environment Report says small-scale farming needs

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

unctadGeneva, Switzerland, 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 “Wake up before it is too late” 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 laborers, 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.

I really hate to say this again but it always amazes me that those people need a great study and conference and all that jazz to come up with something that, in reality, the old farmers have known for millenniums already and which so many in the environmental movement have been talking about for ever and a day also.

And this applies equally to forestry as it does to farming. Monocultures have no place in Nature and we must work with Nature and not against her, whether in farming or forestry.

Cash crops, as the report also indicates, are the wrong way to go and first and foremost food and food security of the people need to be considered and not what the world market wants to buy from around the world.

In addition to this we must stop the stupidity of growing crops for the production of so-called bio-fuels. Bio-fuels, first of all, will do nothing as regards to the reduction of the problem with pollution. It is reckoned that, in fact, the particle emissions from bio-diesel are worse than from oil derived diesel and as regards to bio-ethanol it is still being burned in the same way as gasoline and if we look close enough we would, more than likely, discover that the problems still are there in the same way as with gasoline per se. Methane, that is to say natural gas, for that is what methane is, might be an answer but the truth is that we need to rethink (personal) transportation.

The world also and especially does not need genetically modified and genetically engineered crops. They will not feed the world and they also have never been intended to do so. Ordinary crops planted in the proper climate and farmed the old traditional way, together with a reduction in food waste by using all vegetables, even the misshapen ones, on the other hand can and will feed the population of the Planet and will continue to do so.

The soils have been depleted of nutrients and it is for that reason that more and more fertilizer is being used. Only a return to old fashioned ways of farming, such as rotation cropping and application of manure and other organic matter to the soil, such as leaf mold, will bring fertility back to the soil and will bring about a sustainable production of food.

It is not rocket science. In fact, it has been used for millenniums already before the invention of all the chemicals and science. Let's go back to those ways and we will reap the benefits for sure.

© 2013