Food policies must help small farmers

Ten years ago, a spike in food prices ignited a global food crisis that compromised the ability of the world’s poorest people to access an adequate diet.

Governments around the world responded by supporting the expansion of large-scale agricultural production, based on the idea that producing more food in this way translates into lower prices and a reduction in hunger.

As farmers in the Prairies know, the world is in the midst of a major glut in grain production and prices are sagging. But world hunger has remained stubbornly high even in this context.

The latest estimates indicate that 815 million people are chronically undernourished, up from 777 million in 2015. While the causes of global hunger are deeply complex, these numbers suggest that increasing food production via large-scale farming operations alone is unlikely to eradicate world hunger.

The latest edition of Ottawa-based ETC Group’s report Who Will Feed Us? makes the case that small-scale food-production systems outperform large-scale ones on many fronts.

The report’s most striking finding is that the dominant food system, based on large-scale industrial agricultural production, uses more than 75 percent of the world’s agricultural resources (including land, fossil fuels, and fresh water), but feeds only around 30 percent of the world’s population.

This statistic begs the question: who is feeding the other 70 percent of humanity?

According to the report, the answer is the peasant food web, which it defines as small-scale food producers, including peasant and small family farmers, pastoralists, hunters, fisher folk, and urban food growers.

With less than 25 percent of agricultural resources, these small-scale producers feed a much larger share of the world’s population, with a smaller ecological footprint, than the dominant food system.

According to the report, only 24 percent of the total calories produced in the dominant large-scale system are eaten by people directly. About one-third of total production is wasted, and most of the rest is used for livestock feed and biofuels.

According to the report’s data, for every $1 consumers pay for food provided by that system, $2 in costs are incurred by society. For example, around 90 percent of the greenhouse gases associated with agriculture are linked to industrial forms of food production.

By contrast, the peasant food web provides food through many diverse mechanisms. It uses nine times less fossil energy to produce one kilogram of rice, and three times less for corn. It is also more resilient in the face of climate change, and performs essential services such as the preservation of agricultural biodiversity. These latter outcomes, in turn, help to deliver a nutritionally varied diet and ensure the availability of famine foods in times of ecological stress and scarcity.

For those persuaded by the analysis presented in the ETC Group report, the implications are enormous. For years, governments around the world have pursued policies that favoured large-scale agricultural production over the peasant food web. In so doing, the report suggests they have directed resources to a system that is wasteful and costly, and threatens small-scale food production by starving it of resources and weakening its environmental base.

Achieving a policy shift that better supports small-scale producers is no easy task. The report does not provide a detailed analysis of the strategies required, but its analysis of the problem provides an important intellectual foundation for those seeking this policy transformation.

Jennifer Clapp is a Canada Research Chair in Global Food Security and Sustainability at the University of Waterloo. She wrote this article on behalf of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. It was originally published in the Hill Times.

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  • Welderone

    How true, small scale producers help feed 70% of the worlds population. I would being willing to bet there are millions upon millions of bushels of wheat or billions now more in the carry over stocks than there were in 2015. Yet an extra 38 million people are undernourished today. Of course the answer is easy to find. It is only the people who can afford to buy wheat at world prices that will then receive this wheat. There is no shortage of food in the world that everyone should not have enough for a descent diet. This will also be true in the future. There is no use of large scale grain farmers just making companies like Monsanto rich.

    • Harold

      Right from the start this has all been a corporate lie and only a corporate wealth builder which had nothing to do with feeding the world although it was dressed as so and virtue signaling the game. Who didn’t want to feed the poor? The fact that is has not been done has more than exposed the scam and the sellers of the scam have their pockets full of cash while we sit on product that rots or does not move and our pockets empty. All along Monsanto and the like have become filthy rich and the feeding of the poor has never been achieved. It has been almost forty years in their scam and they clearly see another forty years. This Article, although late in its arrival, certainly exposes the scam. It’s been forty years and all we can offer the poor is not food, but solar energy and wind power; Yum: The Paris Accord – another nothing burger that feeds only the rich.

      • Welderone

        Yes, right on with your post Harold. I don’t have facts or knowledge about the Paris Accord so I will just pass on this for now. The rest of your post was completely correct.

        • Harold

          The Paris Accord is the most unheard of agreement and it is kept that way for a reason. The Titles are the only things that are known and they are: Paris Accord and Climate change and beyond that no one knows the content of the agreement nor is it fully exposed to the public in the main stream; Canadians are judging the “book by its cover”. Canadians, through no fault of their own, are being dumbed down and without protest they are allowing our government to take our money out from our already failing economy and pass it over to this globalist wealth transferring scheme. None of the major polluters signed on the Paris Accord are obliged to perform or to make any reductions but Canada – the least of all polluters – will pay a huge fee regardless. Trump was smart enough to walk away and to keep the US money and invest it in local climate related technologies. If we were as smart, we would have done the same and reinvested our own money here in the field of technology to receive a return for our tax payer investment. Like the Canada Space Arm, If we develop it – it will be used in the world for a common good. The Paris accord is a global scam.
          There is a Paris Accord contract “read out” – it is just not read out – nor researched by Canadians. The knowledge of the “book cover” seems to suit them just fine. How can the world be so wrong? Because we all listen to the same content controlled bought and paid for Media. Has the Media provided us with a full disclosure of the Paris Accord? It must be that sports and weather are far more important.

      • Denise

        Many poor people will benefit from the use of solar power. It is getting cheaper to buy and easier to install.
        But, for the poorest of the poor ,this is not a possibility,yet.
        Man’s inhumanity to man can be evident in the most subtle ways, under the guise of “feeding the world” propaganda.
        “The Seeds of Suicide: How Monsanto Destroys Farmers (and the Lives of Farmers)

        • Harold

          I once believed as you did, but unhappy, I set out to prove MYSELF wrong. In doing so I found that the experts did not agree with me and went on to express why. The demonstration convinced me that my previously held belief was wrong. The narrow focus of solar energy dismisses the actual circumstances of the people in need. The narrow focus of solar energy gives us the Illusion that all in the future will be well. What is well is now – and it is not. It is the same narrow focus that was spoken 40 years ago that fed us our illusion of future time well being and the poor fed. It has been 40 years – where is it? The hoaxers are still peddling their propaganda but the ones who were actually doing something were those like Mother Theresa and now she is gone. Mother Theresa is the extreme opposite of Monsanto and each carried with them a very different bible. Denise, can solar energy replace what electric energy gives you or replace what natural gas provides to your home? You’re a rich Canadian in comparison and can you afford all of the replacement solar energy that you need? If not; how will the third world; the poorest of the poor? Solar energy is “a rich man’s club” and a less corporate energy cost equals more corporate wealth. The global warming hoax keeps the Elite and their solar energy rich man’s club alive. However, Doctors without borders in the third world cannot even keep their own small medical refrigeration systems running with solar energy. Fossil fuels are used to create the elements that are necessity to manufacture solar panels. Is this a reduction in the use of fossil fuels? Are wind turbines any different and how often do they fail and require a fossil fuel back-up? If you accept all of these narrow scopes you will not look upon the fossil fuel produced drinking bottles that have polluted the most remote regions of the ocean, the fish, and our drinking water, all of which contain decomposing plastic and plastic particle. In the near future there will be more plastic particle in the oceans than there are fish. Plastic is made from the barrel of oil and it is the reason a barrel of oil holds a high value. Solar energy?


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