“Transformation of our food systems – the making of a paradigm shift”

Ten years after the IAASTD report - still business as usual? A new book takes stock

More than a decade has passed since the publication of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report. Now, a new book takes stock of what has been achieved since the release of that ground-breaking “Agriculture at a Crossroads” report (see Original Report). Co-publishers Benny Haerlin and Hans R. Herren present 31 contributions of 40 eminent experts in their fields to sharply criticise the current dominating food systems whilst simultaneously providing evidence that a real paradigm shift has emerged and that change is happening all over the globe.

“Business as usual is not an option” – the global report by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), published in 2009, came to a clear and straightforward conclusion. A decade later, world food prize winner and former co-president of the IAASTD, Hans R. Herren, together with an NGO-representative in the IAASTD bureau, food and farming activist Benny Haerlin, initiated the IAASTD+10 advisory group.
Together they have published “Transformation of our food systems – the making of a paradigm shift” and are pleased to share key messages prepared by Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, Lim Li Ching and Ivette Perfecto and approved by the IAASTD+10 Advisory Group. The book is written by 40 authors, many of them original contributors of the IAASTD report, others involved in follow-up reports and UN agreements. The authors take stock of what has been achieved since the release of the original report, where "business as usual" is still prevailing and which new challenges have emerged since.

Thousands of coffees in the UN Vienna Café

The book is published in the run-up to this year’s virtual annual event of FAO’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS) where, for the first time,  agroecology will be at the centre of discussions. Alexander Wezel, co-author of the CFS High Level Panel of Experts report on “Agroecological and other innovative approaches”, explores, in his contribution how agroecology, as an overarching political framework for many social movements and peasant organizations around the world, has found its way into the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Wezel’s contribution is one of 13 essays covering landmark reports on food and agriculture that have followed the publication of the IAASTD.
Mayumi Ridenhour and Michael Bergöö go on to describe how the findings of the IAASTD made it into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of 2015 and substantially improved them – aided by „thousands of coffees in the UN Vienna Café“ that were necessary to achieve this goal.

COVID-19 and our food systems

The IAASTD predicted an increase in zoonotic diseases, but not the present pandemic. As part of his contribution, evolutionary epidemiologist Robert G. Wallace analyses the outbreak of COVID-19 in the context of past outbreaks of Zika, Swine Influenza, Ebola Makona and other diseases. He explains why “these outbreaks (…) are more than bad luck” – but in fact relate to changes in production and land use associated with intensive agriculture.
In their contribution, Philip H. Howard and Mary K. Hendrickson present a worrying update on the state of the dramatically accelerating corporate concentration in global food and agricultural input and trade industries and its impacts on farmers and rural livelihoods.
In the year 2019 the IPCC published its special report  "Climate Change and Land", which also came to a grim conclusion. However this report made an important contribution to the change of paradigm, as Marta G. Rivera-Ferre, director of the Chair Agroecology and Food Systems at the University of Vic – Central University of Catalonia, explains in her appreciation of the report.

From uniformity to diversity

In their contribution, Angelika Hilbeck and Eugenio Tisselli analyse what the process of digitalization means for the development of agroecology, a topic that has not yet been on the agenda when the IAASTD report was written.
In 2016 IPES-Food published the report “From Uniformity to Diversity”. In his contribution to the book, Emile A. Frison presents the key mechanisms the report identified that keep today’s industrial food system in place, plus the seven pathways that would enable a transition towards diversified agroecological systems.
Alexander Müller and Nadine Azzu present the 2018 TEEBAgriFood report, a new framework to measure and value the success and failure of food systems whilst Kate Brauman and Bob Watson reflect on the 2019 IPBES “Global Assessment report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services” – the first global assessment of this kind in almost 15 years and the first ever carried out by an intergovernmental body.

“An enlightening experience”

One of the book’s conclusions is that the problems have intensified since 2009. Global warming has accelerated, biodiversity is decreasing at a breath-taking speed and we face a serious food crisis – hunger and malnutrition are on the rise again while ever-increasing numbers of people are suffering from obesity.
Professor Boyd Swinburn (Auckland University), co-chair of the Lancet Commission on Obesity, calls it “an enlightening exercise” to reflect on the evolution of this “massively important issue”. In his article he presents the 2019 Lancet Commission report which links the phenomena of obesity, undernutrition and climate change. He concludes that “we have made considerable strides at the levels of paradigms, concepts, rhetoric, and global commitments” – but policy action on the ground has remained “patchy and sluggish”.
If the conclusion is that big steps have been taken in the field of theory, but only small steps have been made on the ground, then the 2019 report of the Global Alliance for the Future of Food and Biovision Foundation for Ecological Development provide glimpses of hope: This report covers findings by an expert group who selected ‘Beacons of Hope’ initiatives from across the globe, providing not only a source for inspiration for food systems’ transformation, but also an aid to better understand how to support and facilitate the transformative processes.

Agreement on the questions - not the anwers

The answers still differ, but, unlike a decade ago, there is now agreement on the questions that need to be answered: How can 10 billion people stop and adapt to global warming and the biodiversity crisis and respect the planetary boundaries while feeding themselves in a socially sustainable and healthy way?
Transformation of our food systems” offers a treasure trove for decision makers and activists alike. As business is as usual is still not an option, the need to find new ways of doing just and sustainable business along the food chain is more urgent than ever.


Donors of globalagriculture Bread for all biovision Bread for the World Misereor Heidehof Stiftung Hilfswerk der Evangelischen Kirchen Schweiz Rapunzel
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