As for butter versus margarine, I trust cows more than chemists. ~Joan Gussow

Agroecology Can Double Food Production in 10 years

For some of you, this may be old news. However, I still want to share it because I think it is positive (yay for positive news at a time when nuclear radiation is seeping deeper into Japan and the Middle East is unraveling) and extremely important in terms of food sovereignty and sustainability for peoples around the world.

What is food sovereignty, you ask? Well, I would define it as a people who is able to feed themselves using local knowledge and resources without negatively impacting future generations. Let’s see, what does Via Campesina say? :

Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through sustainable methods and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It develops a model of small scale sustainable production benefiting communities and their environment. It puts the aspirations, needs and livelihoods of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations.

Food sovereignty prioritizes local food production and consumption. It gives a country the right to protect its local producers from cheap imports and to control production. It ensures that the rights to use and manage lands, territories, water, seeds, livestock and biodiversity are in the hands of those who produce food and not of the corporate sector.

Ok, so I was close 🙂

And, what is agroecology?

Agroecology is the application of ecological principles to the production of food, fuel, fiber, and pharmaceuticals.  Agroecologists do not unanimously oppose technology or inputs in agriculture but instead assess how, when, and if technology can be used in conjunction with natural, social and human assets…. it recognizes that there is no universal formula or recipe for the success and maximum well-being of an agroecosystem.

Instead, agroecologists may study questions related to the four system properties of agroecosystems: productivity, stability, sustainability and equitability. As opposed to disciplines that are concerned with only one or some of these properties, agroecologists see all four properties as interconnected and integral to the success of an agroecosystem.

Agroecologists study these four properties through an interdisciplinary lens, using natural sciences to understand elements of agroecosystems such as soil properties and plant-insect interactions, as well as using social sciences to understand the effects of farming practices on rural communities, economic constraints to developing new production methods, or cultural factors determining farming practices.

Ok, now that you the terminology down–

I’ve pasted the press release in the blog post (so that I may comment on sections), but you can read it, unadulterated, here. And if you are so inclined to read the full 21 page report, click here.

As I’ve done with other posts, if something is italicized in bold and in [ ], that means they are my comments.

_______________________________

8 March 2011
Eco-Farming Can Double Food Production in 10 Years,
says new UN report
GENEVA – Small-scale farmers can double food production within 10 years in critical regions by
using ecological methods, a new UN report shows. Based on an extensive review of the recent
scientific literature, the study calls for a fundamental shift towards agroecology as a way to
boost food production and improve the situation of the poorest. [I don’t know off the top of my head how much of the earth’s agricultural lands are farmed using these agroecological methods methods, but I find it interesting that the report calls for a “shift”. I suppose when they mean shift, they mean away from the path they are headed down–genetically modified patented seeds and use of harmful fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. In other words, farming much like what they did before and how their forefathers had been doing for centuries past.]
“To feed 9 billion people in 2050, we urgently need to adopt the most efficient farming
techniques available,” says Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food and
author of the report. “Today’s scientific evidence demonstrates that agroecological methods
outperform the use of chemical fertilizers in boosting food production where the hungry live —
especially in unfavorable environments.” [This is huge, the fact that the UN is saying that such methods are superior to chemical fertilizers. Often times, the scientists of agri-biz giants like Monsanto, Syngenta, Cargill, claim that genetically modified seeds and harmful chemical treatments offer better yields with less land.]
Agroecology applies ecological science to the design of agricultural systems that can help put
an end to food crises and address climate-change and poverty challenges. It enhances soils
productivity and protects the crops against pests by relying on the natural environment such as
beneficial trees, plants, animals and insects. [Soil is probably the most vital component to growing food. If your soil is depleted of the nutrients plants need, the plants will not grow. More often then not, (non-organic) farmers have to add large amount of chemical amendments to the soil for the crops to grow. How about taking care of the soil in the first place, rather than stripping it, and then adding “artificial” components back to it to make up for what was taken out? Seems way too logical…]
“To date, agroecological projects have shown an average crop yield increase of 80% in 57
developing countries, with an average increase of 116% for all African projects,” De Schutter
says. “Recent projects conducted in 20 African countries demonstrated a doubling of crop yields
over a period of 3-10 years.”
“Conventional farming relies on expensive inputs, fuels climate change and is not resilient to
climatic shocks. It simply is not the best choice anymore today,” De Schutter stresses. “A large
segment of the scientific community now acknowledges the positive impacts of agroecology on
food production, poverty alleviation and climate change mitigation — and this this is what is
needed in a world of limited resources. Malawi, a country that launched a massive chemical
fertilizer subsidy program a few years ago, is now implementing agroecology, benefiting more
than 1.3 million of the poorest people, with maize yields increasing from 1 ton/ha to 2-3
tons/ha.” [I can already hear agri-biz giants saying, but our genetically-modified seeds use less inputs! and so on. But what happens when you have a superweed? Can the scientists work quickly enough to mitigate the problem by creating a strain of crop that will be viable before the next evolutionary change happens? Are farmers in Malawi who live thousands of miles away from the lab in St. Louis and who make $500/yr going to be able to afford these seeds? Do they really want them?]
The report also points out that projects in Indonesia, Vietnam and Bangladesh recorded up to
92 % reduction in insecticide use for rice, leading to important savings for poor farmers.
“Knowledge came to replace pesticides and fertilizers. This was a winning bet, and comparable
results abound in other African, Asian and Latin American countries,” the independent expert
notes.
“The approach is also gaining ground in developed countries such as United States, Germany
or France,” he said. “However, despite its impressive potential in realizing the right to food for
all, agroecology is still insufficiently backed by ambitious public policies and consequently hardly
goes beyond the experimental stage.”
The report identifies a dozen of measures that States should implement to scale up
agroecological practices.
“Agroecology is a knowledge-intensive approach. It requires public policies supporting
agricultural research and participative extension services,” De Schutter says. “States and
donors have a key role to play here. Private companies will not invest time and money in
practices that cannot be rewarded by patents and which don’t open markets for chemical
products or improved seeds.” [THIS. IS. WHERE. MONEY. TALKS. Have you ever wondered why organic agriculture does not produce cheaper food? Or why it is not more widespread, at least in this country? Well, part of the problem is that compared to conventional agriculture, there is very limited funding to research organic methods, because, who is benefiting? The worms eating the compost and the lady bugs eating the aphids, not the stockholder or businessman or corporation. Sure organic produce often costs more because there is more manual labor involved. But again, there are so few research dollars out there to invest in this type of technology. Just imagine if the billions of dollars invested in creating the latest and greatest chemicals were instead invested in how to best rotate crops, use companion planting methods, biological controls, sustainable irrigation methods, no-till techniques…the list would go on…]
The Special Rapporteur on the right to food also urges States to support small-scale farmer’s
organizations, which demonstrated a great ability to disseminate the best agroecological
practices among their members. “Strengthening social organization proves to be as impactful as
distributing fertilizers. Small-scale farmers and scientists can create innovative practices when
they partner”, De Schutter explains.
“We won’t solve hunger and stop climate change with industrial farming on large plantations.
The solution lies in supporting small-scale farmers’ knowledge and experimentation, and in
raising incomes of smallholders so as to contribute to rural development.” [This is a key phrase for me–supporting farmers’ knowledge. Their knowledge is often disregarded  and written off as less important than that of a scientist.  I applaud the report for recognizing that farmers *do* have a wealth of knowledge. Together, farmers and scientists can work together to create better outputs.]

“If key stakeholders support the measures identified in the report, we can see a doubling of food
production within 5 to 10 years in some regions where the hungry live,” De Schutter says.
“Whether or not we will succeed this transition will depend on our ability to learn faster from
recent innovations. We need to go fast if we want to avoid repeated food and climate disasters
in the 21st century.” [Ready. Set. Go. Who’s gonna win the race? Agri-biz giants looking to maximize profits at the expense of subsistence farmers and the environment or evidence-based agro-ecological methods that take into consideration truly sustainable and food sovereign practices?]

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