Re: Addressing food insecurity in protracted crises: Resilience-building programming

Desirée Quagliarotti Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Italy
10.07.2013

My contribution wants to be a reflection of the consequences of the global food crisis in countries in protracted crises. The continuous spikes and volatility in the prices of agricultural commodities are having significant negative impacts, both geopolitical and socio-economic. According to Lester Brown, the ability to produce food is increasingly becoming a strategic variable and a new “geopolitics of food” is emerging, which is affecting the balance of power among countries. Food prices increases affect, above all, that part of world population still living in poverty and under-nutrition, and therefore also the countries in protracted crises in which the incidence of hunger is particularly high. But today the food security issue does not regard only poor countries. In a context of strong instability of agricultural prices, the loss of trust in international markets increases the perception of vulnerability of food-importing countries. Since the strategy of achieving the objective of food self-sufficiency does not appear as a rational choice in areas where fertile land and water resources are scarce, many countries have started to consider land acquisition abroad as the most effective option to satisfy the domestic food demand. The land grabbing phenomenon is leading to a paradoxical process in terms of food security, where poor countries with high percentages of undernourished people are leaving away their fertile land to developed countries so that the latter can produce food to export back home. Many large-scale land acquisition are taking place in countries in protracted crises, such as Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, etc. For this reason it is not possible to speak of resilience and food security in those countries without considering this phenomenon. Land grab amplifies the crisis factors in areas having low economic, social and environmental resilience. If we consider the instability factors that characterize most protracted crises, it is easy to hypothesize that land transfers could exacerbate weaknesses of these countries, particularly institutional corruption, poverty, forced displacements, disruption of traditional lifestyles, conflicts over lands and natural resources. These variables are likely to worsen further the level of domestic food insecurity. Other risks relate to the degradation of land, water and the environment and all have a direct effect on local communities. Small farmers and pastoralists understand how to manage agricultural and grazing lands, especially marginal ones, in ways that foreign companies often do not. Substantial environmental impacts are expected, since the agricultural projects in question are based on large-scale monocultural farming, which requires irrigation water and large amounts of fertilizers and pesticides. Large-scale land acquisitions and the transition from a subsistence agriculture to a modern one are presented by local governments and international organizations as a fundamental measure for improving productive efficiency, increasing food production and stimulating economic growth. But, as Piero Bevilacqua argues, what is too often overlooked is the deep environmental, economic and cultural strangeness of the concept of development compared to the realities of the South. The North has been able to rely for its modernization process on a series of economic and environmental factors that constitute serious obstacles to the economic growth typical of capitalism in many poor countries. As in all temperate areas, the North has benefited from a suitable climate for agricultural development and human settlements: regular rainfall distributed throughout the year, the fundamental role played by the alternation of the seasons, soil not highly erosive as a result of deforestation. None of this is found in the Southern countries of the world. In the poor countries the ecological resilience is low, the environment is fragile and more vulnerable than the western one. At those latitudes the land can not be transformed into monocultures and large-scale, capital-intensive production systems: investments which proved to be profitable in Europe and in the USA may have a devastating impact in those regions. Then as ecological, cultural and socio-economic contexts are diverse, the levels of resilience change too, and consequently the strategies and the tools chosen to achieve certain goals. According to the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge (IAASTD), we need a new approach that rethinks the role of agricultural knowledge, science and technology and diversifies it according to differences in agro-ecological, social and cultural conditions around the world. This heterogeneity can be achieved by promoting farm systems practicing ecological agriculture, preserving the livelihood of peasants, and producing healthy, safe and culturally diverse foods. This does not mean downplaying the role of science and technology in the improvement of agriculture, but only that the only way to feed the world population (especially in countries at risk) in the future will be to emphasize diversity in all its forms: diversity in crops, genetic resources, landscapes, cultural features, and agricultural and knowledge systems; in one word, agro-biodiversity. It requires the adoption of knowledge-intensive approaches in which science, technology and traditional knowledge complement each other in order to preserve the natural and cultural heritage. When the problem to be solved is hunger it is not possible to rely solely on market rules, because the “Invisible Hand”, by its nature, is insensitive to the common good.

Kind Regards from Naples

Desirée