Re: The e-Consultation on Hunger, Food and Nutrition Security

Materne Maetz France
12-12-2012

 

Dear all,

 

I have been following with great interest the discussion.

 

My feeling is that we tend to give too much emphasis to the technical aspects of food security and neglect the political side of the issue. We also tend to mix the two very different questions of i) reducing - now eradicating - hunger and ii) producing sufficiently for all.

 

On the first point, we have to realize that the conditions in countries have been

- in favor of agriculture in rich countries (e.g. farmers better represented politically and well organized to defend their interests; consumers are ready to pay relatively high food prices as food only represents a small share in their expenditure; subsidies for agriculture affordable because of reduced share of agriculture in the economy)

- unfavorable in poor countries (farmers have no political weight on political regimes that for long have been undemocratic, they are disorganized and cannot influence policies, agriculture is a big share of GDP and costly to subsidies; liberalized policies imposed through structural adjustment programmes have been prevented to change because of WTO membership; food is a big share in household expenditure in urban areas where they can put pressure on governments through demonstrations; the option of food aid has given a disincentives to governments to invest limited funds into agriculture).

 

This has resulted on the one hand in high subsidies and protection for agriculture in rich countries, and poor support in non industrial countries. The limited support and services available for farmers in poor countries are benefitting to few better off farmers, while the majority of farmers, those who are the most food insecure, have been excluded

 

So for me the main challenge, to reduce hunger, is to find a way to include these people so that they can improve their standard of living. 2012 is the international year of cooperatives, but while it is said that 1 billion out of the 1.4 billion farmers are part of cooperatives or groupings, we have to admit sadly that most of these groupings are either non-functional or dominated by the local rural elite and do not operate in favour of the smaller farmers. So this is an area where support is needed as, if better organized, farmers can be stronger on markets, get access to cheaper equipment/inputs, be influential on policies. There are of course good experiences to learn from, and we need to apply lessons from them. Authentic democracy can also help to change the political balance that is unfavorable to farmers by giving them opportunity to propel representative leaders to Parliament and/or Government.

We also need to do more for those rural dwellers (particularly the land less) to have more job opportunities or less trouble in migrating to urban areas, where towns can offer jobs.

 

Regarding the two questions (hunger, more production), there is clearly a need to continue increasing production. But not in any way:

First we need to use more environmental friendly technologies.

- Second they should be easily accessible to poor farmers.

 

That requires more funds for independent public research (private research seeks to produce goods that can be sold and that are given characteristics of private goods - exclusion in particular - such as fertilizers, pesticides, hybrid or GMO seeds/ public researchers financed by private firms tend to develop what these firms want). Research has proven to be the most profitable investment in agriculture. Independent public research should focus on crop/animal management that is labour-based (a key asset of poor farmers), knowledge intensive (a potentially public good) and requires limited purchased inputs (poor farmers do not have cash to buy them). In this way, improved technology kill two birds with one stone (although I don’t think we should kill birds...): be at the same time more friendly to poor farmers and to the environment.

 

 

Unfortunately, when people start thinking increased production, they tend to think that we should do more of what we are already doing (input intensive agriculture, work with larger commercial farms). That may help to reach the 70% target of increasing world production, but at a huge and intolerable environmental and social cost!

 

Furthermore, I am not sure that we really need to increase food production by 70% as we have now more food today than what we need of feed the world and that more than 1/4 of what is produced is wasted or lost. Part of the discussion is also the need to adopt food consumption patterns (less meat in particular, less waste) which will have less of an ecological foot print and be more healthy.

 

I stop here for now. For those who read French, I invite you to have a look at my website www.lafaimexpliquee.org  for more information.

 

Regards to all,

 

Materne