The Trade and Environment Review 2013 by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) is subtitled ‘Wake up before it is too late: Make agriculture truly sustainable now for food security in a changing climate’, so as you’d guess it’s of particular interest to this blog. The media release is headlined ‘Take ‘mosaic’ approach to agriculture, boost support for small farmers’ and so far that summarises all the text I’ve read. For stabilising the agriculture sector globally into the future, rich and poor nations alike need to a) bring diversity back into their agriculture and b) support their farmers. The last pricked my ears up a bit.
This is a publication about trade, so it spends a chunk of time looking at how the trade strategies between developing and developed countries have been working recently. Crucially, it finds that they’re not working well enough – they did work when brought in, but the global situation has changed and won’t go back to being enough like the 1990s again for the current strategies to be effective. So it calls for a “rapid and significant shift” in the way we produce food.
The trade strategies brought in over a decade ago to assist developing countries and their economies had some underlying assumptions about staple foods remaining available and affordable on the global market. The review points out that those assumptions haven’t been true in the last few years and so the current strategies aren’t helping nations improve their food security. Rather, several trends point towards the development of a collective crisis. From the highlights page: these trends include
• 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.
Back to farmers. The report argues that faming 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. 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 biggest point though is that it insists that nations and governments need to recognise that a farmer is not just a producer of goods but a manager of a system that provides a lot of other unpaid things too. Like clean air and water, among other environmental and social benefits. And that recognition should be tangible.
From the summaries,
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.
y en Español:
Informe de la UNCTAD insta a adoptar un planteamiento de “mosaico” para la agricultura y potenciar el apoyo a los pequeños agricultores.
En el Informe se incide en que los gobiernos deben encontrar formas de calcular y recompensar a los agricultores por los bienes públicos que actualmente no se pagan, como la conservación del agua potable, el suelo y el paisaje, la protección de la biodiversidad y el espacio de recreo.