In the mists of the Kenyan highlands where tea bushes cling to steep slopes, women farmers provide good food for their families and communities with a surplus for the market. In the county of Kiambu, women, taking a lead from their late and beloved leader Wangari Maathai , the recently deceased Nobel Laureate environmentalist, in whose honour they planted a tree of remembrance, keep their diverse, productive and nutritious fields bursting with many food plants, bushes and trees. Their soils, enriched by the manure of their cows, goats and poultry, exude fertility. Their fields harvesting rain supplemented by water from wells provide a cornucopia of grain, fruit and vegetables. This is the central core of their food web extended by exchanges with neighbours and nearby communities and family members in town, with some food sold and purchased in the local market.
The good news is that this is the majority food system – not giant supermarkets chained to industrial commodity production that is destroying livelihoods, local markets and the environment. Most food in the world – more than 70% – is grown, harvested and consumed locally.
It is provided usually by women who are small-scale food producers – farmers, livestock keepers, fishers, urban gardeners and others – much of it, like the Kenyan farmers I visited, produced without chemical fertilizers and pesticides. These inventive and skilful people know how to produce good, healthy food for their families, communities and, especially local, markets. They can secure our future food if their production systems can be supported and protected and if they are decisively involved in setting priorities for resource use, research, extension, investment and markets – a message that needs to be broadcast to decision makers who are gathering throughout the coming year to determine the priorities for food production and nutrition , responses to climate change and the governance of the planet’s environment .
Food production practices need to recycle nutrients and protect natural resources rather than rely on fossil fuel dependent inputs that undermine long term productivity. These practices of small-scale farmers and livestock keepers enable them to develop resilient and biodiverse seeds and livestock breeds adapted to the local environment which, when used more widely, have been shown to increase overall yields in degraded systems by 50-200% . These are the practices developed and nurtured by small-scale food providers like the women of Kiambu. They and the many hundreds of millions of other small-scale food providers, including farmers, pastoralists, artisanal fishers and urban gardeners, on whom we depend for our food, need to have decisive input into setting priorities for resource use, research, extension, investment and markets, if sustained increases in food production are to be achieved.
Achieving this requires convincing decision makers at all levels that small-scale food providers are the guardians of our food system. Decision makers are often driven by the mantra that food production must increase dramatically to fulfil the needs of the billion who are currently malnourished and sustain 9 billion people by 2050 and to do so on limited land and water resources while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on increasingly scarce fossil fuels. Therefore they are erroneously persuaded to back ‘ sustainable intensification ‘ of industrial production as a priority.
What those who make decisions about our food system need to understand is that there is enough food in the world for everybody and much more could be readily provided using the existing skills of small-scale food providers. It is poverty that causes hunger not lack of production. In order to make the food system less dysfunctional, a more systemic change in production and power relations is required, with more equitable distribution of food produced as locally as possible.
The food system needs to be securely based on small-scale ecological practices, which have higher productivity in the long term, as confirmed by the groundbreaking international agriculture assessment, IAASTD , to which Practical Action contributed significantly. The needed increase in production will not be achieved, equitably and sustainably, if food production continues to depend on resource depleting technologies that are promoted by global agribusinesses for universal application. Specific attention, research and action needs to be paid to the resilient forms of production, practised by small-scale food providers, that work with nature to raise productivity while restoring degraded resources.
Yet these small-scale providers of the world’s food are under massive threat from the avarice of agribusiness corporations that are intent on capturing their markets, livelihoods and resources. Over many years, however, their organisations, especially our ally La Via Campesina , have shown how these threats can be mitigated and what changes in policy are necessary to secure future food supplies – all summarised in their food sovereignty policy framework .
The food sovereignty approach to providing good, local food in ecologically and socially sustainable ways is the type of proposal that Schumacher would have supported, as new economics foundation fellow, Andrew Simms , said in an interview published in the Summer 2011 issue of Practical Action’s newsletter Small World :
“The food sovereignty movement, for example, is an ideal manifestation of everything Schumacher believed in. It is a model of how you would apply Schumacher’s notions of subsidiarity and appropriateness of scale to the food system. Food sovereignty, with its focus on local food needs and making sure these are compatible with local ecosystems, is a living vehicle of the ideas and insights of Schumacher.”
We support this approach, as summarised in our policy narrative , which shows how Practical Action’s values – justice, sustainability, diversity, democracy, and empowerment – describe the fundamental components that need to be in place to realise our vision of an equitable food system. These values allow us to analyse systematically the current state of global and local food systems, establishing the extent to which they contribute to the realisation of this vision.
In the same way, we can better understand how it is that the food and agriculture system is failing. By identifying where it is that the food system falls short of these values, it becomes possible to ascertain the changes that are necessary at all levels if we are to move closer to the vision of world in which the right of people to sufficient food and to food sovereignty is realised in ways that also protect the environment on which we all depend.
We are committed to realising this vision – to develop a food system as if people and the planet mattered – a system that emulates the good work of the women of Kiambu.
Patrick Mulvany, Senior Policy Adviser to Practical Action,
See tribute to Wangari Maathai http://practicalaction.org/blog/news/wangari-maathai-an-inspiration/
See ‘Who will feed us?’ www.etcgroup.org/upload/publication/pdf_file/ETC_Who_Will_Feed_Us.pdf
See website of the Civil Society Mechanism of the UN Committee on World Food Security www.cso4cfs.org/
See paper on the links between climate change and agriculture www.econexus.info/publication/agriculture-and-climate-change-real-problems-false-solutions
See Civil Society joint statement on the key agricultural issues to be considered at the Rio+20 conference www.timetoactrio20.org/en/
See Report of Oliver De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Agro-ecology and the Right to Food , which reveals that small-scale sustainable farming would even double food production within five to 10 years in places where most hungry people on the planet live. www.srfood.org/index.php/en/component/content/article/1174-report-agroecology-and-the-right-to-food
See reflection on the Beddington Foresight Report on global food and farming practicalaction.org/blog/news/contribution-to-the-westminster-forum-on-food-and-nutrition/
IAASTD, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, is the groundbreaking international scientific assessment to which Practical Action contributed significantly. Practical Action was one of the six NGO members of the governing bureau of the assessment which reported in 2008. See www.iaastd.net and www.ukfg.org.uk/agriculture_crossroads/ for details
Even in the 1970s Schumacher had already declared that “present-day industrial society everywhere shows this evil characteristic of incessantly stimulating greed, envy, and avarice.” See: Modern Industry in the Light of the Gospel , b y E. F. Schumacher http://neweconomicsinstitute.org/content/schumacher-modern-industry
See the website of the International Farmers’ Movement www.viacampesina.org/
See UK Food Group publication Securing Future Food: towards ecological food provision www.ukfg.org.uk/ecological_food_provision.php
See the Synthesis Report of the Nyéléni 2007: Forum for Food Sovereignty www.nyeleni.org/IMG/pdf/31Mar2007NyeleniSynthesisReport-en.pdf
See full interview with Andrew Simms of the new economics foundation practicalaction.org/andrewsimms
See Practical Action’s policy narrative on Food and Agriculture practicalaction.org/food-and-agriculture-policy-narrativeNo Comments » | Add your comment
Have you watched our ‘Fat of the Land’ video? I imagine pretty early on you guessed it was a spoof? Some people have been more confused and having watched the film they jump to the small print – I imagine to be sure whether it’s real or not.
But what’s it all about?
A fundamental principle of Practical Action’s work is that it should start from the people themselves. Development shouldn’t be imposed. Engaging people and working together to develop and/or implement solutions is the way poverty reduction becomes truly sustainable.
You still see and hear of examples where aid (often big projects) is imposed. I’ve recently seen examples of loos and water pumps installed but with no thought as to their maintenance. When they go wrong or need repair communities have no idea how to fix them and no one to call on. Not Practical Action projects of course.
The issue that ’Fat’ tackles is broader than this too – it’s about how we think of aid and development. I recently heard an interview on Radio 4 about population, poverty and food – with the argument being that we need GM or on the other hand that we don’t need GM because their push is all about big company profits. At no stage in the conversation did anyone say we need to listen to what people want, what will work for them and what will be sustainable into the longer term. The conversation was framed as the choice of imposed solutions.
What we wanted to do was to create a debate; we also wanted to widen the audience out beyond Radio 4 listeners and those with an interest in poverty reduction. We wanted to engage others. In January much of the UK seems to be obsessed with diets and the body beautiful – in trying to reach out to a new and bigger audience and get them to think we started with where they are – fat.
And finally I should say thank you to Quietstorm, the advertising agency who made and donated the video to us. Thank you. Together we have got people thinking.No Comments » | Add your comment
We hope you enjoyed our spoof video. It was created to provoke debate and get people thinking about development in a different way. More »
See others’ reactions and why the video was made, or add your voice to the conversation below …8 Comments » | Add your comment