Are you concerned about pesticides in your food? Are you wondering how we could switch to more ecological farming? Then you’ll be excited about this report. It’s by an independent group of experts on food security, agro-ecosystems and nutrition (the interntional Panel of Experts on Sustainable food systems, or iPES-food), and describes how to move from industrial agriculture to a sustainable, ecological food model. It’s a roadmap towards our sustainable food future. Here’s what they have to say:
Industrial agriculture threatens itself
Monocultures are good for one thing: producing a lot of the same on a large scale. Be it cows in feedlots, pigs in mega-stables, fields with soy or corn or orchards of apples and almonds, monocultures can only be maintained with toxic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or antibiotics. In their uniformity they are extremely vulnerable to so-called ‘stress factors’ such as pests, diseases and drought. This high-productivity impacts our farming ecosystem, be it polluting water, climate change, loss of pollinators (like bees), loss of fertile soils and a decrease of insects that control agricultural pests causing an even higher use of chemicals. In this industrial one-size-fits-all agriculture, chemicals rule the daily business of farmers.
Agricultural experts are ringing the alarm bells about the existential threat of this industrial food system to itself – it undermines the ecological basis it relies on and threatens our food security in the long run.
Working with nature, not against it
From the Netherlands to Brazil, from Ghana to China, farmers and communities are proving that farming based on working with nature, instead of against it — “agroecological farming”, or “ecological farming” — is feasible and the way to go. Agroecological models are not only protecting and fostering the ecological basis of farming and food production, such as enough clean water, fertile soils and ecosystem services like pollination, they provide farmers with a higher and more stable income. Farmers and farming are much more resilient to the effects of climate change, pests and diseases, and also market prices. If a farmer has a diversity of crops to rely on, low market price or a bad harvest of one specific crop is a manageable risk and not a cause for bankruptcy.
Industry perpetuated myths are blocking a food revolution
The facts are clear: Fair and sustainable food production today and tomorrow need a fundamental shift in the way we organise the food chain. Front-runners are successfully working with innovative new models of production. Community-supported agriculture initiatives are taking off, sales of organic products are increasing. Sustainable food is hip and happening. But why is it still perceived as a ‘niche market’? Why is the transition to ecological farming happening so slowly? The scientists conclude that there are powerful forces that keep us locked in the current situation.
Companies profiting from the industrial food model, such as pesticide producers and feed traders get no benefits from changing their production. Their core business is industrial agriculture. So they lobby against policies which could benefit diverse eco farming and restrict industrial production. The privatisation of research and technology development is also a problem. Agricultural universities are working with and for big business, and much less on ecological farming innovations. The reasoning is sad, but logical. Ecological farming means less profits for industry and big business.
How we, as a society, perceive our agriculture also blocks real change. After years of industry PR we believe that we need industrial agriculture to ‘feed the world’. While the truth is that it is exactly the opposite: in the long run, we cannot feed the world with industrial agriculture, because it’s destroying our soils, water and ecosystem services which food production relies on, while putting farmers in a stranglehold.
How can we then feed the world with fair and ecological food for all?
The iPES-Food report can be seen as a ‘roadmap’ for a sustainable food future. It shows the way for governments and business. Policies must restrict the worst practices of industrial agriculture immediately and promote ecological farming, which can be done by shifting agricultural subsidies, banning bee harming pesticides and deforestation, for example. Food producers should help shaping a new food future by ending the rat race for always cheaper and uniform food. Also, we, as consumers, need to tackle the problems related to industrial agriculture, by reducing our meat consumption or switching to organic food.
Herman van Bekkem is an Ecological Farming Campaigner at Greenpeace Netherlands.
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