Farming to nourish the planet
Yesterday, January 12th, I participated in Worldwatch Institute’s launch of its new report, State of the World 2011: Innovations to Nourish the Planet. The report presents a dazzling array of creative down-to-earth solutions from African farmers that can help solve the scourge of global hunger and poverty. I had the great pleasure of co-authoring the concluding chapter of this report.
State of the World 2011 not only introduces us to the latest agroecological innovations from Africa and their global relevance. Our final chapter also analyzes the underlying causes of global hunger and poverty, tackling issues of international politics, unfair trade rules, governance and social equity. (In contrast, these topics were strangely absent from the commentary of most of the global food policy “experts” quoted in Monday’s NY Times blog—with the notable exception of Fred Kirschenmann.)
As I explained in State of the World 2011:
We find ourselves poised today on the threshold of the potential collapse of vital ecosystem functions on which people and the planet depend. We urgently need a rapid and decisive reorientation toward ecological sustainability and equity. The good news is that we already have the capacity to produce plenty of healthy food while building ecological resilience and social equity, and cooling the planet.
The challenge? Resistance to “scaling-up” these remarkable innovations is deep-seated, both from our own government and from corporations with vested interests in keeping research money and aid flowing towards technologies and products that can be patented and exported. Not only does the obsession with silver bullet products like genetically modified crops enrich biotech and agrochemical company coffers (and keep D.C. lobbyists in business); worse, it actually undermines farmers' ability to feed the world and distracts all of us from challenging the institutions that have been set up to keep things the way they are. I’m talking about unfair trade rules that benefit wealthy countries and grain traders like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland; commodity speculation and land grabs that benefit foreign investors and drive farmers off their land; and intellectual property laws that protect corporations and criminalize farmers for saving seed.
Communities acting in isolation cannot reshape the global structures, institutions, trade and market forces that favor short-term financial gain by powerful interests. But as a growing global social movement for food democracy, we can—and must—demand strong moral leadership from our governments to reverse corporate concentration. Policymakers must adopt and enforce strong environmental and social justice standards, and ensure that our public policy and research agendas serve the global good.
State of the World 2011 is being released at a time when global food security initiatives—such as the Obama administration’s Feed the Future program—need critical guidance to avoid repeating mistakes of the past. Nearly half a century after the Green Revolution, almost 1 billion people go hungry every day. Chemical-based industrial agriculture has clearly failed us. Supporting the ingenuity of small-scale farmers developing planet-cooling agroecological systems around the world should be a no-brainer. Yet it’s not only about finding the right technological solutions. We also must tackle the political constraints, especially corporate capture of our food systems and government agencies; our future depends on it.