Agriculture and food system experts from around the world contributed to a recent report calling for a shift away from industrial agriculture to agro-ecological practices. Industrial agriculture is at the root of many of the worlds biggest problems including global warming, biodiversity loss, water pollution, public health issues and antibiotic resistance. The report’s contributors argue that a paradigm shift is necessary for humanity to nourish a more eco-friendly, resilient and abundant food future.
In the 1900s, the “Green Revolution” led to increased agricultural yields the world over. Some people argue that transitioning to organic, smaller scale, more diverse agriculture would decrease output and make it more difficult to feed the global population, especially the poor. If you clear the dirt, a different picture arises.
One study, cited in the report, shows that organic agriculture in developed countries may slightly reduce yields. However, the same study of nearly 300 farming systems around the world showed that properly managed organic systems produce up to 80 percent greater output in developing countries. The report also indicates that, on average, farming systems with multiple crops outperform monoculture systems.
From a climate adaptation perspective, diversifying crop variety is critical to fostering a resilient food system. There are an estimated 7,000 plants available for humans to eat, yet over 50 percent of plant-based food eaten global is rice, wheat and corn. In 2007, three companies (Monsanto, Dupont and Syngenta) owned almost half of the seeds on the planet. Limited variety and availability of alternative crops puts us at risk of diseases, like the recent banana blight, and climate impacts wiping out critical food supplies.
In terms of feeding our planet, despite the fact that households in developed countries waste an average of 19 percent of food brought into the home, 795 million people and two billion people experience hunger and micronutrient deficiencies respectively. “Hunger is fundamentally a distributional question tied to poverty, social exclusion and other factors affecting access to and utilization of food,” the report says.
The report points out that adopting an agro-ecological approach would create local jobs, reduce dependence international agro-industrial corporations, reduce unhealthy power dynamics associated with food distribution, increase nutrient availability and boost local economies.
What’s keeping us from fixing our broken food system?
“It is not a lack of evidence holding back the agro-ecological alternative. It is the mismatch between its huge potential to improve outcomes across food systems, and its much smaller potential to generate profits for agribusiness firms,” said Dr. Oliver De Schutter, co-chair of IPES-Food (the group that put out the report).
There is already a movement working to bring food back to the people away from industrial agriculture corporations. The report concludes that policy incentives are necessary to water the agro-ecological seeds that could grow a more sustainable food system.