In an opinion piece appearing in The Huffington Post, Lori Thrupp, Alistair Iles and Maywa Montenegro of the UC Berkeley Food Institute make a strong argument that the current framing of how to feed a world population expected to reach 9 billion is flawed. They argue that the way we’re thinking about the problem – “based on projections of aggregate food production, population growth, and consumption trends” – is an oversimplification and “almost inevitably leads to a singular focus on technology-driven solutions.”
They express concern about the “many adverse ecological and social impacts — from climate change, biodiversity loss, and negative health effects to loss of land and livelihood for family farmers” they feel have been caused by “standardized technology-intensive approaches to industrial agriculture.”
“In fact, there is more than enough food produced today at a world aggregate level to meet per capita needs. The primary problem is that a focus on yield alone does not translate neatly into fulfilling the needs of hungry people — as attested by the fact that nearly one out of six people on the planet suffer from under- and malnutrition. Poverty and socio-economic disparities, not deficient production, prevent nutritious food from reaching all people.”
They note that developing alternative solutions to the “predominant system takes time.” They present some of the progress being made around the world and end with a call for more justice in the food system, writing:
“Finally, while building up the necessary systems, actions are needed simultaneously to break down barriers to change. The concentration of market power among large agricultural and food companies must be countered, by enforcing antitrust laws, and by restricting corporations from moving production freely to other countries where they avoid tax, labor, and environmental regulations. Equitable access to land, water, and seed must be provided and prioritized. Such changes are possible, and they are taking root in farming landscapes and in promising experiments from California to Peru. Agroecology and justice in food systems are critical to empower people to feed themselves.
And indeed, their comments seem to align with recent reports, including one from the United Nations, which urges the global community to provide stronger protections for smallholder farmers and the assurance of social support, such as health care, education, etc.
One of the most valuable contributions of this piece is the information that the authors give about agroecology – “a science that provides ecological principles for the design and management of sustainable food systems.” Agroecology is a term somewhat like sustainability – often used, but not always clearly defined.
A provocative read.
The UC Berkeley Food Institute is part of the University of California’s Global Food Initiative, which seeks to harness the institution’s resources to address one of the most compelling issues of our time: how to sustainably and nutritously feed a growing world population.