Shift In Agriculture Techniques Required To Ensure Future Food Security, U.N. Special Rapporteur On Right To Food Says On World Food Day

Farming techniques must adapt to mitigate the effects of climate change and ensure global food security, Olivier De Schutter, the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food, said in a statement to mark Saturday’s World Food Day, Agence France-Presse reports.

“As a result of climate change, the yields in certain regions of sub-Saharan Africa are expected to fall by 50 percent by 2020 in comparison to 2000 levels. And growing frequency and intensity of floods and droughts contribute to volatility in agricultural markets,” according to the statement. “Current agricultural developments are … threatening the ability for our children’s children to feed themselves,” De Schutter said. “A fundamental shift is urgently required if we want to celebrate World Food Day next year,” he added, calling for the development of longer-term, “democratically developed plan” (10/17).

“Current farming methods focus on the provision of chemical fertilizers and a greater mechanization of production. ‘Such efforts are far distant from the professed commitment to fight climate change and to support small-scale, family agriculture,’ he said,” the U.N. News Centre writes. Agro-forestry, better water harvesting techniques and other low-carbon methods would be a better strategy, he said (10/15).

Also marking World Food Day, Pope Benedict XVI, Rwandan President Paul Kagame and U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General Jacques Diouf “called for global unity to find resolute and concrete actions against hunger by producing more food in the countries where the hungry live,” an FAO press release states (10/15).

The officials joined the heads of the World Food Programme, Josette Sheeran, and the International Fund for Agricultural Development, Kanayo Nwanze, at a ceremony commemorating the day in Rome. World Food Day is marked every year on October 16 – the day the FAO was founded in 1945, according to the U.N. News Centre (10/15).

“United Against Hunger,” the theme of this year’s World Food Day, emphasizes that global food security is everyone’s responsibility, Diouf said, the FAO release notes. “Responding properly to the hunger problem requires urgent, resolute and concerted action by all relevant actors and at all levels,” he said. “Ultimately, sustainable food security will be obtained within the overall framework of poverty eradication,” Kagame said. Meanwhile, the Pope said, “In order to achieve freedom from hunger it is necessary to ensure that enough food is available, but also that everyone has daily access to it” (10/15).

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also released a statement for World Food Day noting that although the number of hungry people around the world went down slightly since last year, “we are continually reminded that the world’s food systems are not working in ways that ensure food security for the most vulnerable members of our societies,” according to the U.N. News Centre. 

Ban “highlighted the need for global cooperation – bringing together governments, intergovernmental organizations, regional and sub-regional bodies, business and civil society groups – to combat hunger. … ‘Let us unite against hunger and ensure food and nutrition security for all,'” he said (10/15).

Report Highlights West African Farmers’ Perspectives On Food Security

A multimedia report, released on World Food Day, highlights ideas from farmers in West Africa about how to improve food security on the continent, Inter Press Service reports. “Instead of new hybrid seeds, chemical fertilisers and pesticides, family farmers in West Africa said they want to use local seeds, avoid spending precious cash on chemicals and most importantly to direct public agricultural research to meet their needs,” IPS writes.

“There is a clear vision from these small farmers,” report co-author Michel Pimbert of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), said of the report, which includes video clips and audio files featuring the concerns of food producers from across the region (Leahy, 10/16). A related website also launched on Saturday. “The multimedia publication presents the findings of citizens’ juries – held in 2010 – at which farmers, pastoralists, food processors and consumers from Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Benin heard evidence from expert witnesses and made recommendations about the future of agricultural research and its governance,” according to an IIED press release (10/16).

The IPS article examines the report’s findings in contrast with “a massive international effort to launch an African Green Revolution,” and interviews several experts on the subject, including Sylvia Mathews Burwell, of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which, along with the Rockefeller Foundation, backs “the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), a $400 million effort headed by Kofi Annan, former secretary- general of the” U.N.

Hans Herren, president of the Millennium Institute, and Philip Bereano of the University of Washington also provide feedback on the different approaches. U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food De Schutter endorsed the IIED findings in a foreword to the publication. “I applaud the efforts described here to organise citizen’s juries and farmers’ assessments of agricultural research in West Africa,” he wrote (10/16).

Asian Countries Agree To Plan To Boost Regional Food Security, Collaboration

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group “agreed on Sunday to boost the region’s agricultural productivity through technology transfer and information sharing as climate change and a fall in arable land threaten future food supplies,” Reuters reports.

APEC, which is comprised of 21 countries, “also called for ‘responsible’ agricultural investment as rising acquisition of farmland in developing countries by other nations to ensure their own food supplies is causing friction with local people,” the news service writes (Inoue, 10/17). A declaration issued at the conclusion of the meeting in Niigata, Japan, states: “Global food security stands at a crossroads. The food price spike in 2007 and 2008 served as a wake-up call about the vulnerability of long-term food security,” according to AFP. “Increasing the availability of sufficient, safe and nutritious food in the APEC region through expanded supply capacity … will be necessary to address a possible supply-demand imbalance for food that may result from future population and income growth,” the statement said (10/17).

APEC also created a food security action plan, which proposes “that a platform for information should be set up by tools like a portal website to spread activities, best practices, research results and statistics,” Xinhua/PhilStar reports. “The plan contains more than 60 measures covering the issues including climate change and disaster preparedness. They will be taken by members in the next five years” (10/17).

U.N. Committee Does Not Enact ‘Land Grab’ Reforms

A Friday meeting of the U.N. Committee on Food Security (CFS) did not endorse principles designed to encourage “responsible agricultural investment” in Africa and Asia, Reuters reports.

“Responding to concerns about countries like China, South Korea and Gulf Arab states buying large swathes of land in Africa and Asia to secure their food supplies, the World Bank and U.N. agencies drew up seven principles” to regulate “land grabs,” according to the news service. “The principles advocated by the World Bank, and sponsored by Japan, say existing rights to land should be respected, investment should not jeopardise food security, and all those materially affected should be consulted,” Reuters writes.

CFS took note of the principles, but did not enact them. China, Egypt, South Africa and farmers’ groups did not want to endorse the principles at the CFS meeting because they said they were not consulted enough about their formulation.   

“It’s terribly disappointing,” said De Schutter, the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food. “We are not moving swiftly enough to find an effective answer to the problems posed by land investments.” The article also looks the factors that have shaped the need for land purchase reforms and reports on a set of voluntary guidelines that are expected in the future (Aloisi, 10/15).

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