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2016-06-03 |

Food experts urge global shift towards diversified agroecological systems

Vielfalt From uniformity to diversity (Photo: CCO, Pixabay)

The world needs a paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems to protect human health and the environment, a group of leading food system experts has concluded. According to a report released by the IPES-Food panel on 2nd June, food systems based on diversified agroecological farming succeed where current systems are failing, namely in reconciling concerns such as food security, environmental protection, nutritional adequacy and social equity. “Many of the problems in food systems are linked specifically to the uniformity at the heart of industrial agriculture, and its reliance on chemical fertilizers and pesticides,” said Olivier De Schutter, co-chair of IPES-Food and former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food. “It is not a lack of evidence holding back the agroecological alternative. It is the mismatch between its huge potential to improve outcomes across food systems, and its much smaller potential to generate profits for agribusiness firms,” he added. The report identifies industrial agriculture as a key contributor to the most urgent problems in food systems. These include the widespread degradation of land, water and ecosystems; high greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss. The report warns that extinction of wild species and the application of insecticides threaten the 35% of global crops dependent on pollination. While current food systems produce an abundance of energy-rich, nutrient-poor crops, around 800 million people are still going hungry and 2 billion people are suffering from micronutrient deficiencies, alongside the rapid rise of obesity and diet-related diseases. According to lead author Emile Frison, “The way we define food security and the way we measure success in food systems tend to reflect what industrial agriculture is designed to deliver - not what really matters in terms of building sustainable food systems.” The report therefore calls for a change of course in global agriculture: “What is required is a fundamentally different model of agriculture based on diversifying farms and farming landscapes, replacing chemical inputs, optimizing biodiversity and stimulating interactions between different species, as part of holistic strategies to build long-term fertility, healthy agro-ecosystems and secure livelihoods, i.e. ‘diversified agroecological systems’. The food experts refer to a growing body of evidence which shows that diversified agroecological systems have also a major potential to keep carbon in the ground, increase resource efficiency and restore degraded land, turning agriculture into one of the key solutions to climate change. Moreover, diversifed agriculture can also contribute to increasing dietary diversity at the local level, as well as reducing the multiple health risks from industrial agriculture (e.g. pesticide exposure, antibiotic resistance). The food experts admit that a shift to agroecology is not without its challenges. “Farmers can only be expected to transform their practices when they are certain that they will find markets. And consumers will only shift towards healthy, sustainable food when it is accessible and affordable to them,” said Frison. De Schutter added: “We must change the way we set political priorities. The steps towards diversified agroecological farming are steps to democratize decision-making and to rebalance power in food systems.” (ab)

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