Hunger, food and agriculture: responding to the ongoing challenges

Practical Action’s food and agriculture policy narrative 2011

Practical Action’s values - justice, sustainability, diversity, democracy, and empowerment - describe the components that need to be in place to realise a just and sustainable food system.

Practical Action’s vision is ‘a sustainable world free of poverty and injustice in which technology is used for the benefit of all’. For food and agriculture, this can be equated to ‘sustainable resource use through appropriate technologies from which smaller scale providers gain viable livelihoods providing adequate, healthy and sufficient food for the benefit of both producers and consumers’ – a vision that reflects widely shared values including those of the small-scale food providers themselves. This vision contrasts sharply with today’s world, in which a billion people go hungry and a similar number are otherwise malnourished.

Practical Action’s values - justice, sustainability, diversity, democracy, empowerment - describe the fundamental components that need to be in place if the vision is to be achieved. These values allow us to analyse systematically the current state of the global food system, establishing the extent to which it contributes to the realisation of the 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 the values, it becomes possible to identify the changes that are necessary if we are to move closer to the vision.

What is needed: the fundamental choice in food and agriculture policy

Achieving this vision means meeting multiple challenges. Food production must fulfil the needs of the billion who are currently malnourished, sustain 9 billion people by 2050 on limited land and water resources, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on increasingly scarce fossil fuels. This will not be achieved if production continues to depend on resource depleting technologies that are promoted by global agribusinesses for universal application. Specific attention needs to be paid to the forms of food production that work with nature to raise productivity while restoring degraded resources. Practices need to recycle nutrients and protect natural resources rather than rely on fossil fuel dependant inputs that undermine long term productivity.

Supporting a movement for change

Practical Action believes that to achieve the necessary transformation it is essential to work with poor people in their efforts to secure influence over the policies that shape their lives:

  • We urge all actors with an interest in ending hunger and securing social justice to support Food Sovereignty, its sub national supporters, and its global advocates in the social movements.
  • The organisations and social movements of food providers must be fully empowered so that they can press for Food Sovereignty and their right to decisive involvement in relevant decision making processes at all levels.
  • It is critical to avoid lending weight to those whose interests are opposed to this transition – global seed, fertiliser and pesticide companies, related foundations, and their local proponents and beneficiaries, for example.
  • Instead, influence should be brought to bear on governments to secure responsive and inclusive institutions that support local capacities and the development of appropriate technologies, knowledge and skills, thereby strengthening resilience and adaptive capacity in the face of climate change.

Practical Action policy narrative on food and agriculture

Applying Practical Action's values to analyse the current state of the global food system, this policy narrative suggests that there is a fundamental choice facing food and agriculture policy and practice: between continuing with a food system that is degrading natural resources and failing to feed people, and making a transition towards equitable and sustainable food provision. It also outlines the necessary actions in support of this transition, in terms of changes to agricultural practice, technologies and markets. First published 2011.

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