The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance is launching a report that highlights the need for investment in agricultural practices that effectively tackle chronic hunger among the most vulnerable while taking into account climate and energy constraints. The report, “Nourishing the World Sustainably: Scaling Up Agro-ecology” will be the focus of EAA events and advocacy at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD/Rio +20) taking place on 20-22 June in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“The solutions for smallholder agriculture advocated by donors, governments and the initiatives of private foundations have tended to center around the promotion of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and hybrid seeds, which are costly for farmers and often resource depleting and not sustainable nor resilient,” states the EAA paper. Yet, “hundreds of projects throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America show convincingly that agro-ecology provides the scientific, technological and methodological basis to assist smallholder farmers enhance crop production in a sustainable and resilient manner, thus allowing them to provide for current and future food needs.”
The paper questions current claims by policy makers and private sector companies that food production will have to be doubled by 2050 in order to feed the entire global population. Although almost 1 billion people face chronic hunger today, the world currently produces enough food to feed 10 billion people, the population peak expected by 2050. The causes of hunger are complex, and primarily relate to poverty and inequality.
The paper states that “the call to double food production by 2050 is based on the assumptions that we will continue to prioritize feeding automobiles and livestock over feeding hungry people and that we will fail to act to reduce food waste.” The majority of industrially produced grain is used for biofuels and animal feed, and one-third of all food produced each year is wasted either through post-harvest losses or consumer habits.
There is a growing body of evidence that traditional crop management practices, combined with ecological concepts and science, customized for local contexts, can significantly increase agricultural yields, reduce the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and lead to greater resilience in the face of more volatile climatic conditions.
One of the case studies included in the paper looks at results from conservation farming in Zimbabwe, which has demonstrated significantly increased yields that far outperform conventionally farmed fields, while requiring fewer chemicals and capital investment.
One farmer, Essie Mpofu, shared her experience echoed by many others in the programme: “At the end of my second year, I managed to harvest three times more with these new farming methods compared to conventional farming. With the extra harvest, I donated 10kgs to our own community seed bank and kept some for my own planting in the next season, thereby not depending on the market to buy seed. I see a lot of improvement in the soil. It has more nutrients and is less affected by erosion. This season, I harvested 480kg from the conservation plot while I only got 20kg from my old plot.”
“The need for a more enlightened approach to agriculture is long overdue”, the paper concludes, “and in fact is the only viable path of food provisioning for humanity to take under current, predicted and difficult climate, energy, financial and social scenarios.”