Another way is possible :
Changing course to feed the future world
The 2008 global food price spikes were a wake-up call to global
policymakers, shaking them from the lethargic slumber of the overfed.
The rhetorical responses were swift, but policies and practices have
changed little. That is in part because they relied on the
tried-and-failed solution of increasing commodity food production.
Agribusiness led the charge, with dire warnings about unsustainable
population growth and looming resource constraints. How can we produce
enough food to feed this growing population?
“Between now and 2050, we need to double the food supply,” said Dr.
Robert Fraley, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of
Monsanto, during an interview with National Public Radio’s Takeaway host
John Hockenberry.“That’s probably the greatest challenge facing
Indeed, that is the theme of this year’s World Food Prize event,
taking place October 15-17 in Des Moines, Iowa. This event promises more
of the same solutions.
The panic is not warranted, the claims about the need to double food
production are unfounded. According to ActionAid’s report, “Rising to
the Challenge: Changing Course to Feed the World in 2050,” the solutions
lie not in the rush to increase industrial food production but in
supporting sustainable and productive farming practices among
small-scale farmers - particularly women - in developing countries while
halting the diversion of food to biofuels and reducing the obscene
levels of waste and spoilage that keep one-third of the world’s food
from nourishing anyone.
Sowing the seeds of panic
As the ActionAid report shows, reliable international projections
from the United Nations suggest the need to increase global agricultural
production - not food production - by 60 percent, not 100 percent, to
feed a population of 9.3 billion by 2050.What’s more, they estimate
that, with important caveats, we are on track to do just that. Yield
improvements, land use changes, and new investment should get us there,
based on current trends.
For companies such as Monsanto that sell agricultural inputs,
producing more is indeed the solution to just about everything; after
all, that lets them sell more seeds and chemicals. It is not surprising
that Monsanto and other agribusiness firms might overstate the
Girl planting dry rice and beans
But if we can put aside the panic, maybe we can talk about our real
problems, and they have everything to do with policymakers’ fixation on
throwing more high-yield industrial agriculture at the hunger problem.
Why? The hungry are not hungry because the world lacks food. We grow
enough food right now to feed about 10 billion people, yet according to
the UN nearly one billion of today’s seven billion people are
chronically undernourished and well over one billion suffer from
significant malnutrition, in a world of plenty.
They are hungry because they are poor, and they are poor because they
are (by and large) either small-scale farmers without enough land,
credit, extension services, or investment, or they are underemployed
workers with incomes too low to support their families. Increasing the
global supply of agricultural commodities might bring food prices down
for a while, but it won’t feed the hungry.
What will? Public investment in sustainable small-scale food
production in developing countries. Seventy percent of the hungry live
in rural areas and rely primarily on agriculture for their livelihoods.
A UN report confirmed the consensus that the best area to invest in
agriculture is small-scale farming, where the “yield gaps” are the
largest and where hunger is the most prevalent.
Yet policymakers and multinational firms continue to promote
large-scale industrial agricultural projects - some denounced as “land
grabs” - such as those encouraged by the G8 countries’ New Alliance for
Food Security and Nutrition. The UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS)
meets in Rome this week to approve guidelines for responsible
agricultural investment that can limit the most damaging impacts. Many
displace small-scale farmers without their consent to grow export crops
that offer few jobs and contribute nothing to local food security.
Such codes of conduct might stop the worst abuses, but they won’t
bring the change in direction that we need, toward public investment in
small-scale farmers using low-input, agroecological practices. This is
consistent with the findings of an unprecedented 2009 multi-agency
report that called for an end to “business as usual” policies.
There is no question that we need to continue to invest in
appropriate technologies to enhance productivity, reduce environmental
damage (including greenhouse gas emissions), and adapt to climate
change. Public investment is crucial, and it has grown in the wake of
the 2008 price spikes. So is private investment, which has responded to
those high prices with a surge in investment that has driven prices
below pre-crisis levels.
But if we’re going to achieve the goal of zero hunger, we have to
change course. In addition to investing in climate-resilient small-scale
agriculture, particularly with women farmers, we must: Stop diverting so
much of our food and feed to biofuel production, which the National
Academy of Sciences estimated was responsible for 20-40 percent of the
2008 price spikes. FAO’s food projections do a poor job of incorporating
biofuels into their estimates, and biofuels are one of the leading
non-food uses of agricultural land. According to the International
Energy Agency, crop-based biofuels demand will grow 150 percent by 2035
if we don’t change our policies.Government consumption mandates, such as
the US Renewable Fuel Standard, must be scaled back, an action that can
do far more to keep food prices in check than investing in expanded
agricultural commodity production.
Reduce food waste and spoilage, which squanders one-third of all food
grown in the world today.
In the US, most of that waste is at the retail and consumer levels.
In developing countries, it comes from poor storage, transportation, and
infrastructure, the very things that should be the focus of public
It is time to stop the Malthusian fear-mongering. We can feed the
world in 2050 if we change course and if we stop focusing only on
producing more agricultural commodities. That has never solved the
hunger problem. Instead, let’s increase the availability of land and
food by reducing bio-fuel production, get more of the food we grow to
the dinner table by reducing food waste, and invest in the most
important food producers in the world: small-scale and family farmers.
– Third World Network Features