Debate

For the food and the climate - we have to change our footing in the dance

Industrial agriculture feeds just under 30 percent of the earth's population, but uses 75 percent of the agricultural land and is also a major climate culprit. We must stop emissions and invest in small farmers - for both the climate and food security, write the two Right Livelihood winners Pat Mooney and Nnimmo Bassey.

If the world is to be able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep us below a temperature increase of 1,5 degrees by 2100, time will begin to run out. In the coming month, two conferences will be held that address this issue from two different ends, but completely isolated from each other. The UN Committee on Global Food Security is holding its annual meeting in Rome now in mid-October. They sound the alarm that the number of people who cannot eat their fill on the planet has suddenly increased by 40 million in the last year alone - much due to the direct and indirect effects of climate change. At the same time, they say they fear that an unpredictable climate will drastically reduce global food production in the coming decades.

The UN Climate Convention, UNFCCC, will meet shortly in Bonn and high on their agenda is the need to reduce greenhouse gases caused by agriculture. According to experts, agriculture accounts for between a third and a half of global warming. What for government representatives in Rome is about food security is thus in Bonn about a climate problem.

More space for small farmers

The solution for both climate and food security is to dismantle industrial food production and get states to give more space to the growing and resilient global network of small farmers. In the report "Who Will Feed Us?" - distributed to both Rome and Bonn - the ETC Group points out that industrial food production uses at least 75% of the world's agricultural land as well as most of the fossil fuels and freshwater resources used by agriculture in total. At the same time, industrial food production provides only 30 percent of the world's population with food. On the other hand, more than 500 million small farmers around the world use less than 25 percent of the land and almost no fossil fuels or chemicals to support 70 percent of humanity.

In addition to the large amounts of fossil fuel used by industrial food producers, money is also wasted that could otherwise be directed at supporting fair agro-organic food production and at the same time lowering food prices for the world's more marginalized consumers.

Shocking numbers

The statistics from ETC Group are shocking. Consumers pay $ 7,5 billion a year for industrial food production, where half of the production is then wasted on the way to the consumer and where about a quarter of the food that reaches the consumer in OECD countries should not actually be consumed as it leads to obesity and other health-related problems.

In addition to this food waste, which amounts to $ 3,5 billion each year, the food industry's environmental damage - such as land and polluted water - costs close to $ 5 billion. For every kroner spent in the grocery store, consumers will have to pay an additional two kroner for the health and environmental problems that food production causes. In short, governments and consumers spend five times more on a failed food system than the world spends on war materials each year.

The governments of the world, which already consider themselves to have enormous challenges, are now asking themselves in both Rome and Bonn whether they have any choice? The smaller farms today can provide 70 percent of the world's population with food. But can they adapt their farming methods to climate change and do it fast enough so that they can feed the world by 2100? Which agriculture, industrial food production or network of small farmers, has best demonstrated that they are innovative, fast and flexible - qualities that are needed for us to cope with the threats of an unpredictable climate?

No new crops or livestock species

The answer is crystal clear. We know today that industrial food production has not introduced a single new crop or livestock species in the last century. On the other hand, it has reduced genetic diversity by 75 percent, reduced our choices by about a third and reduced the nutritional value of our food by up to 40 percent. Surprisingly, the industry focuses 45 percent of the cost of development and innovation on just one crop - corn. The network of smallholder farmers, on the other hand, has used a total of 7 different crops and 000 livestock species, and has added 34 million new plant varieties to the existing 2,1 of industrial food production, during the same period.

Small farmers also have a tradition of managing new conditions quickly and efficiently. Our recent history is full of evidence that smallholder farmers - before there were telegraphs, telephones or railways - were able to develop varieties of food adapted to different climatic conditions within one to three generations. In this way, maize was spread over most of Africa's plant zones and sweet potatoes were planted from mangrove forests to mountain tops in Papua New Guinea in less than a century - and seeds from Europe were spread by emigrants to the American continent for a generation.

Must move the financial resources

When we compare industrial food production with the network of smallholder farmers, our conclusion, based on our now centuries-long experience of large-scale and high-intensity agriculture developed for industrial food production, is that the methods of industrial food production are too expensive and that they cannot be "scale up". Because at the same time as the industrial agricultural development has taken place, the network of small farmers, almost completely without state support, has provided 70 percent of us with food. And they could do so much more while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

To speak plainly. Continuing on the paved road with a focus on large farms and a few crops often linked to the use of fertilizers and spraying is not an option. Our 10-year-old agricultural traditions will be challenged by cultivation conditions that our planet has not seen in 000 million years - and we cannot rely on hope. We must reduce the impact of agriculture on the environment and shift economic resources to strengthen the network of smallholder farmers, thus ensuring both food and climate security. The clock is ticking. The way forward is not a dance on roses - but we know what steps must be taken.

Pat Mooney and Nnimmo Bassey

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