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Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area – DAPA

Everybody is talking about food!!!

In recent weeks food production has become one of the most hotly discussed global debates. In particular, a number of reports and comments have been released by leading organisations about agriculture’s ability to feed a growing world population subject to changing climatic conditions and land constraints.

One of these latest report’s was released yesterday by a UK government-commissioned study. The Foresight Report on Food and Farming Futures argues that the current system is unsustainable and immediate action must be taken or widespread hunger will not be resolved. The study took two years to compile and received input from a wide range of disciplines (involving 400 experts from 35 countries).

Hunger levels could increase in the future

The report emphasises radical change stating that increasing yields should not come at the expense of sustainability. Moreover, incentives should be given to the agricultural sector to address malnutrition. Similar to the Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World report (mentioned in the previous post), the authors believe that more has to be done to reduce food waste; where in developing countries, a majority is attributed to poor storage and inadequate transport facilities. However, in richer nations wastage is often caused, simply by consumers’ throwing away food.   Another contradiction between the developed north and developing south is the huge disparity in consumption levels (925 million people suffer from hunger while 1 billion people overeat). Professor Beddington, who commissioned the study, believes that those who overeat indicate yet another failure of the current food system because of its inability to deliver good health.

The authors are calling for agriculture to become a higher priority in the political agenda. This must be collaborated with efforts to address the effects of climate change, declining water supplies and the loss off farm land. Perhaps the most radical statement is: “Nothing less is required than a redesign of the whole food system to bring sustainability to the fore.”

Others are also taking a critical stance including Olivier de Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food.  His radical and outspoken views about country and donor practices are leading him to be seen as a champion for smallholder rights and food security. In London this week to present to a UK parliamentary group, he has challenged leading actors by discussing what he believes are mistakes being made in the current system. Speaking to the Guardian, here are some of the statements he made:

“Chronic underinvestment in agriculture over the last 20 years combined with trade liberalisation has trapped many developing countries in a vicious cycle of low agricultural productivity and dependence on cheap food imports. The one exacerbates the other as local farmers struggle, and fail, to get a decent price for their produce in competition with imports, which have often benefited from government subsidies.”

Mr de Schutter has launched some fierce views on the current food system

“Since the early 1990s, the food bills of developing countries have increased by five- or six-fold,” this addiction to cheap food leads to balance-of-payments problems and then political instability. It deprives countries of their abilities to feed themselves.”

“Donors are finally recognizing the need to invest in agriculture, but the danger is that they put money into monoculture cash crops for export, a strategy that that has no impact on improving food security for the poorest.’’

Overall, de Schutter is a fan of strengthening public goods (better infrastructure, improving local markets, and building storage capabilities). Moreover, he thinks smallholder need to increase their bargaining power by organizing themselves, which would give them a greater voice. To solve hunger issues and develop the rural economy, de Schutter argues for the development of grain reserves. Grain can be bought at a good price from farmers. Then when there is a price hike, it could be sold to the population at affordable levels.

In conclusion, more and more attention is being given to global agriculture because of rising fears of future food crises. Hopefully, with stronger and more critical views being expressed as mentioned above, food can be given a higher priority in politics, which may eventually lead to these key problems to be solved.

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