Theme 1, Second question: What do you consider the main challenges and opportunities towards achieving food and nutrition security in the coming years?
Ensuring food security in a future which will have constrained resources, and which will be feeling the effects of climate change, is one of the thorniest issues facing policy makers today. The natural resource base upon which agriculture depends, soils, water and biodiversity (including seeds), is being degraded and lost. Supplies of fossil fuels used to make inputs, and minerals such as phosphate, will become increasingly scarce and expensive. This means that we urgently need to improve the resource use efficiency of farming systems and enhance resilience through adaptation. Agriculture will come under increasing pressure to contribute to mitigating global warming through reducing emissions and increasing sequestration especially in soils.
FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva writes in FAO’s new (2012) State of Food and Agriculture report that the world will not end hunger if we do not shift towards more sustainable patterns of production and consumption. “We cannot separate agriculture from the management and preservation of our natural resources, from food security and from sustainable development itself…. In agriculture, as soon as you pull on something, you find it is connected to everything else.’’
The key opportunity for achieving food and nutrition security in the coming years is the combined social and ecological intensification of agriculture, farming and gardening. Food and farming systems that enable social inclusion by reducing barriers to entry, such as the affordability of organic farming, and gardening, are critical to bringing rapidly growing rural populations into food production in an effective manner, which can increase access to food to both rural and urban communities. Diverse organic production, distribution and consumption economies operate successfully throughout the world and offer endless models that can be replicated and adapted. These models empower people, farmers and consumers to enter into food production and marketing and therefore enhance livelihoods and food and nutrition security. Productivity is enhanced by increasing ecological functions such as soil nutrient cycling, photosynthesis, soil water holding capacity, soil formation, pest and disease equilibrium and carbon sequestration etc through organic practices such as rotations; crop diversity; nitrogen fixing intercropping and catch crops and trees, plant and livestock diversity, composting, use of perennials, companion planting (e.g. push and pull), innovative systems such as those based on SRI / ‘Planting with Space’ and many others.
- Theme 2, First question: What works best? Drawing on existing knowledge, please tell us how we should go about addressing the hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition challenges head on.
Provide us with your own experiences and insights. For example, how important are questions of improved governance, rights-based approaches, accountability and political commitment in achieving food and nutrition security?
There is a growing body of evidence that organic farming systems can be more energy, nutrient and water efficient than their non-organic counterparts. Research published in the journal Science found that nutrient inputs of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium in the organic systems to be 34-51% lower than in non-organic systems, whereas average crop yields were only 20% lower over a period of 21 years (Mader et al. 2002).
The majority of farming worldwide is rain fed and even if financial resources were available the world does not have the water resources to irrigate all of the agricultural lands. Water use efficiency is therefore a critical issue. Improving the efficiency of rain fed agricultural systems through organic practices is the most efficient, cost effective, environmentally sustainable and practical solution to ensure reliable food production in the increasing weather extremes being caused by climate change.
Research shows that organic systems use water more efficiently due to better soil structure and higher levels of humus and other organic matter compounds (Lotter et al., 2003; Pimentel et al., 2008). The more porous structure of organically treated soil allows rainwater to quickly penetrate the soil, resulting in less water loss from run-off and higher levels of water capture. This was particularly evident during the two days of torrential downpours from hurricane Floyd in September 1999, when the organic systems captured around double the water than the conventional systems captured (Lotter et al., 2008). A recent article in Nature (Seufert et al., 2012) showed that soils managed with organic methods have better water-holding capacity and water infiltration rates and have produced higher yields than conventional systems under drought conditions and excessive rainfall.
Other published studies also show that organic farming systems are more resilient to the predicted weather extremes and can produce higher yields than conventional farming systems in such conditions (Drinkwater et al., 1998; Welsh et al., 1999; Pimentel et al. 2005). The Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trials found that organic yields were higher in drought years and the same as conventional in normal weather years (Posner et al., 2008). Similarly, the Rodale Farming Systems Trials (FST) showed that the organic systems produced more corn than the conventional system in drought years. Water efficiency and resilience of organic agriculture to extreme weather events is very relevant in the context of global climate change and dependence on rain-fed agriculture and therefore should attract much greater international attention.
Organic is a solution that meets smallholders conditions
A report by the United Nations on organic agriculture in Africa found that organic and near-organic methods and technologies are ideally suited for many poor, marginalized smallholder farmers in Africa because they require minimal external inputs and make use of locally and naturally available materials. They studied 114 projects in Africa and they found that organic farming increased the availability of food over time. Access to food improved through increased quantity of food production ensuring household food security, but also selling food surpluses at local markets led to farmers benefiting from higher incomes. Fresh organic produce was found to become more available to more people in the wider community. The study also found that organic farming enabled new and different groups in a community to get involved in agricultural production and trade (UNEP-UNCTAD, 2008).
New support for smallholder agriculture, especially in Africa, is urgently needed to increase productivity and provide economic opportunities for small-scale farmers. They need more than subsistence diet. They need an income so that they can send their children to school, pay for medical bills, have adequate housing, clothing, transport and all the needs that we all aspire too. This investment needs to be focused on agro-ecological systems, such as organic, rather than on intensive farming methods that require expensive inputs made from fossil fuels, that will become increasingly scarce in the future and which further degrade the environment. Organic methods are the most suitable as the necessary methods and inputs that are needed can be sourced locally at no or very little cost to the farmers.
The FAO director general Graziano da Silva, has stated that small scale farming is essential for fruit and vegetable production and many other local products and that local markets are based on small-scale agriculture. He stated at the opening of the Committee on Commodity Problems in June this year “Smallholders cannot continue to be seen as part of the hunger problem. They are an important part of the solution and are crucial to promote sustainable agriculture and management of our natural resources.”
The United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, has argued for the scaling up of such models of agriculture and ensuring that they work for the benefit of the poorest farmers. However, in most African countries organic agriculture is not specifically supported by agricultural policy, and is sometimes actively hindered by policies advocating the use of high-input farming (UNEP-UNCTAD, 2008). Agroecology is a science and a set of farming practices that seek to improve agricultural systems by mimicking natural processes, creating beneficial biological interactions among the different components of the agro-ecosystem (De Schutter, 2010)1 Organic systems put into practice the core principles of agroecology such as recycling nutrients on the farm, integrating livestock and crops, diversifying species and genetic resources, and considering the productivity of an entire agricultural system rather than a single crop. Agro-ecological farming is based on knowledge-intensive techniques that are developed through farmers’ knowledge and experimentation.
The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (‘the IAA STD report’) is supported by FAO, 400 scientists and 60 countries, recommends support for agro-ecological sciences that would contribute to addressing environmental issues whilst maintaining and increasing productivity. It also recommended that community-based innovation and local knowledge combined with science-based approaches as the best way to addressing the problems, needs and opportunities of the rural poor.
There are many existing examples of innovation in agroecology. In Cameroon, training for local people in tree propagation and the setting up of nurseries has led to the widespread planting of trees that can fix their own nitrogen and can rehabilitate degraded land. Yields of wheat, maize, beans and potatoes have doubled. It has also led to the cultivation of indigenous fruit and nut trees for planting and for sale to neighbouring communities (Ebenezar et al., 2011).
In East Africa, fodder shrub species have been researched and introduced as a reliable source of less expensive and easily available protein feeds for dairy cattle that can improve milk production and reduce soil erosion and increase soil fertility. It is estimated that 25,000 smallholder farmers have planted fodder shrubs, contributing about 3.8 million US dollars to farmer incomes across East Africa (Wambugu et al. 2011). The largest ever study of agroecology approaches in the developing countries analyzed 286 projects covering 37 million hectares in 57 countries. The study found that on average crop yields increased by 79% (Pretty et al., 2005).
In Tigray, Ethiopia, from 1996, the Institute for Sustainable Development worked in cooperation with the farmers to revegetate their landscape to restore the local ecology and hydrology. The biomass from this revegetation was then harvested to make compost and to feed biogas digesters. The result was more than 100% increases in yields, better water use efficiency and greater pest and disease resistance in the crops. The farmers used the seeds of their own landraces, which had been developed over millennia, which proved to be very responsive to producing high yields under organic conditions, whereas under conventional input practices they were susceptible to diseases such as rust. The major advantage of this system was that seeds and compost were sourced locally at no or little cost to the farmers. The organic system had both higher yields and a much better net return for the farmers (Edwards et al., 2011).
IFAD's Office of Evaluation conducted two thematic evaluations of organic agriculture and poverty reduction: one covering Latin America and the Caribbean (2001-2002), and the other covering Asia (primarily China and India, 2004). The evaluations looked at the practice of organic methods and their relation to poverty reduction, food security and trade. They also analyzed small-farmer groups that have been successful in adopting organic technologies and in marketing their organic products. The results of the evaluations were very encouraging. IFAD included organic agriculture in some of its successful projects as for example the IFAD's Sustainable Development Project for Agrarian Reform Settlements in the Semi-Arid North-East of Brazil ( Dom Helder Camara project ) and the Organic and fair trade production revitalize cocoa industry in São Tome and Principe.
Argentinean government has been developing from more than 20 years the national program Prohuerta with the aim of improving food security and sovereignty. At the moment the program has 589,000 organic gardens, 160,000 small farms (with animals). The population involved is 3.3 million people Economic performance is extraordinary, for every dollar invested by the government obtained organic vegetables and farm products worth $ 40. Prohuerta has also been included in the programs of international cooperation of Argentina, obtaining the support of other international donors. For more than four years later in Haiti takes place "Project Fresh Food Self Production – Prohuerta Haiti" aimed at small food producers. In the last period Prohuerta cooperation is being extended to Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico and Mozambique.
Brazil government implements a number of public policies that are intended to support organic production and agroecology. These are: i) financial measures, such as specific credit for organic farmers; ii) educational programmes, from the school to specific university courses in organic farming and agroecology, iii) creation of the resources necessary to produce organically, such as community seed banks, an official register for phytosanitary products, publication of technical information for farmers, etc, iv) incentives to organise and strengthen the organic production network; v) promotion of organic farming and consumer information: such as the Government’s measures to help purchases and support direct sales, plus specific campaigns to promote organic food and to inform consumers.
Cristina Grandi - IFOAM Food Security Campaigner
This thematic discussion was led by FAO and WFP in collaboration with “The World We Want”.
The consultation was facilitated by the Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)