07.11.2018 |

EPO revokes patent on conventionally bred “severed broccoli”

Good news for broccoli fans (Photo: CC0)

The European Patent Office (EPO) has revoked a controversial patent on conventionally bred broccoli. This is a great success for “No Patents on Seeds!”, a broad coalition of civil society organizations, which had filed an opposition to the patent. In 2013, Seminis, a company owned by Monsanto, which has meanwhile been bought up by Bayer, was granted patent EP1597965 on a broccoli with a longer stalk than other varieties, making it easier to mechanically harvest the crop. The patent covered the plants, the seeds and the harvested “severed broccoli heads” as an invention. It additionally covered a “plurality of broccoli plants grown in a field of broccoli.” In 2014, the coalition against patents on seeds filed an opposition because according to European patent law, unlike genetically engineered crops, plants and animals “obtained from essentially biological processes” are not patentable. However, EPO had a different interpretation. Its Enlarged Board of Appeal ruled in 2015 on the precedent cases of broccoli and tomato, that even though essentially biological processes for the production of plants are not patentable, the resulting plant can be patented. Despite fierce public protest, it continued to grant patents on conventionally bred plants.

In 2017, due to the pressure from the EU and civil society, EPO adopted new rules in order to exclude from patentability plants and animals derived from conventional breeding using methods like crossing and selection. In its decision revoking the broccoli patent, EPO’s Opposition Division “arrived at the conclusion that in the present case the claimed broccoli plants can only be obtained by an essentially biological process comprising crossing and selection steps”. It is the first time that the new rules have resulted in the revocation of a patent. “This is an important success for the broad coalition of civil society organizations against patents on plants and animals. Without our activities, the EPO rules would not have been changed and the patent would still be valid,” said Christoph Then for ‘No Patents on Seeds!’. “The giant corporations, such as Bayer, Syngenta and BASF, have failed in their attempt to completely monopolize conventional breeding through using patents,” he added.

However, there are still huge legal loopholes as recently shown in the case of conventionally bred barley. In 2016, the breweries Carlsberg and Heineken were granted three patents on barley plants, their usage in brewing as well as the beer produced by these methods. The patents in question are based on random mutations in the genome of the barley. Kernels were brought into contact with chemicals and in reaction showed an increase in their genetic variability. Then, specific mutations, already known to be useful, were selected by standard procedures. Last month, the EPO rejected oppositions filed by ‘No Patents on Seeds!’ and only restricted the patent instead of revoking it entirely. The coalition, which also includes the Foundation on Future Farming, warned that this could threaten free plant breeding in the future since such patented mutations could be hidden in each plant variety. “European politicians now have to take action and close these loopholes. We have to prevent the vested interests of the patent industry from endangering the future of our daily food,” said Then. (ab)

05.11.2018 |

Small-scale farmers are the custodians of Africa’s seed diversity

A variety of seeds (Photo: B. Haerlin)

Small-scale farmers save, use, share and enhance the seed diversity of the crops that feed Africa. However, their traditional practices and their freedom to manage their own seeds are increasingly under threat, according to a new report published by GRAIN and the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA). In this report, the two organizations, together with partners from Ethiopia, Mali, Senegal, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe, outline the battle over seeds, agricultural resources, environmental degradation and the impact on local seed and food systems. “The picture often painted for us is that we need corporate seeds to feed the world: they are alleged to be more efficient, productive and predictable. Locally developed farmer varieties are painted as backwards, less-productive and disease-ridden. But those of us with our feet on the ground know that this is not the reality in Africa,” Million Belay from AFSA and GRAIN’s Henk Hobbelink write in the foreword. They point to the fact that the vast bulk of food produced on the continent comes from homegrown farmers’ seeds – some studies say the share is up to 80%. “If these seeds are so ‘backward’, what moves farmers to keep preserving and planting them and what challenges do they encounter in this effort?” they ask.

The report sheds light on farmer managed seed systems (FMSS), also frequently called “informal”, “local”, “community-managed” or “peasant” seed systems. It concludes that FMSS are not one-size-fits-all; they vary from community to community, are culturally appropriate, customary and inclusive and they produce biodiverse and ecologically resilient seeds. Most importantly, they are centered around community values of selecting, exchanging and sharing seed, as well as sharing knowledge about planting, cultivating, harvesting and processing. Farmers’ seeds are reliable, available and affordable since they are stored locally and are usually distributed for free. “These seeds are intentionally diverse and heterogeneous, and are planted and replanted, season after season, sometimes in mixtures of varieties and with other crops, thus increasing resilience and overall productivity,” says the report. “Farmers’ seeds are very differently nurtured from the way that ‘sow-once’ industrial seeds, some of them genetically modified and all of them designed for monocultures, are manufactured and grown.”

But the report notes that worrisome developments are threatening FMSS in Africa. Farmers are increasingly being pushed to abandon their seed systems. Well-funded promotion, subsidies, coercion and advertising are being deployed in an attempt to roll out industrial seeds and to displace heterogeneous farmers’ varieties suited to biodiverse agroecological contexts. “The intention is to shift and ultimately change public perceptions, so that people come to believe that the problem of feeding the growing population can only be solved by using genetically uniform industrial seeds of relatively few crops pushed by private seed companies, development organizations and the government,” the authors write. “This approach is shown to be in line with the Green Revolution model of intensification which promotes the uptake of chemical-intensive agriculture, especially monocultures of commodity crops, using so-called ‘improved’ seeds and the agrichemicals they require.” African governments are being pressured to join regional agreements on intellectual property, trade and seed, such as OAPI, ARIPO, UEMOA, COMESA and SADC, which benefit corporations and the industrial seed system, and in many cases the governments are giving in.

Based on the research findings in the six African countries covered in the report, AFSA and GRAIN believe that the promotion of industrial seeds and commodity production should stop and farmers’ local access to and control over their seeds should be supported. “Small-scale farmers on the continent need support and funding from their governments if they are to keep practicing agroecology and protecting their cultures and beliefs that are attached to seed,” they write. Governments should instead support local seed systems and local agroecological farming within the framework of food sovereignty. “Protecting and preserving farmer managed seed systems should be the core business of any government in Africa because any attack on our seed sovereignty is a clear attack to food sovereignty of any nation,” states Andrew Adem from the Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers Forum (ESAFF), the organization contributing the Uganda case study. (ab)

31.10.2018 |

Humanity has wiped out 60% of the planet’s wildlife since 1970, report

Wildlife is in steep decline (Photo: CC0)

The way we feed, fuel and finance our societies and economies is pushing nature and the services it provides to the brink, warns a new report. Humanity has wiped out 60% of the global populations of vertebrate species over the last 40 years, according to WWF’s Living Planet Report 2018. This is undermining the health and well-being of people, species, societies and economies everywhere, says the report released on October 30. It consists of contributions from 59 authors from 26 different institutions and includes the latest findings measured by the Living Planet Index, provided by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), tracking 16,704 populations of 4,005 vertebrate species from 1970 to 2014. “Science is showing us the harsh reality our forests, oceans and rivers are enduring at our hands. Inch by inch and species by species, shrinking wildlife numbers and wild places are an indicator of the tremendous impact and pressure we are exerting on the planet, undermining the very living fabric that sustains us all: nature and biodiversity,” said Marco Lambertini, Director General at WWF International.

The Living Planet Index indicates that global populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles declined, on average, by 60% since 1970. Freshwater populations in particular, have seen an 83% decline since then. Species’ population declines are especially pronounced in the tropics, with South and Central America suffering the most dramatic decline at 89%. The biggest drivers of biodiversity loss are overexploitation and agriculture, both linked to continually increasing human consumption. “Indeed, of all the plant, amphibian, reptile, bird and mammal species that have gone extinct since AD 1500, 75% were harmed by overexploitation or agricultural activity or both,” says the report. Invasive species are another frequent threat, their spread relying heavily on trade-related activities such as shipping. According to the authors, “pollution and disturbance, for example through agricultural pollution, dams, fires and mining, are additional sources of pressure. Climate change is playing a growing role and is already beginning to have an effect at an ecosystem, species and even genetic level.” Over recent decades, human activity has also severely impacted the habitats and natural resources wildlife and humanity depend on such as oceans, forests, coral reefs, wetlands and mangroves. 20% of the Amazon has disappeared in just 50 years while the earth is estimated to have lost about half of its shallow water corals in the past 30 years.

The report also focuses on the importance and value of nature to people’s health and well-being and that of our societies and economies. Globally, nature provides services for humanity worth around US$125 trillion a year, while also helping ensure the supply of fresh air, clean water, food, energy, medicines and other products and materials. Pollinators alone are responsible for US$ 235-577 billion in crop production per year. However, a changing climate, intensive agricultural practices, invasive species and emerging diseases have impacted their abundance, diversity and health. “Nature has been silently sustaining and powering our societies and economies for centuries, and continues to do so today. In return, the world has continued to take nature and its services for granted, failing to act against the accelerating loss of nature. It is time we realized that a healthy, sustainable future for all is only possible on a planet where nature thrives and forests, oceans and rivers are teeming with biodiversity and life,” said Lambertini. “We need to urgently rethink how we use and value nature - culturally, economically and on our political agendas,” he added.

WWF urges the global community to unite for a global deal for nature and people to reverse the trend of biodiversity loss. The organization is calling on people, businesses and governments to mobilize and deliver on a comprehensive framework agreement for nature and people under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), one that galvanizes public and private action to protect and restore global biodiversity and nature and bend the curve on the devastating trends depicted in the report. Prof. Ken Norris, Director of Science at ZSL, is still optimistic. “The statistics are scary, but all hope is not lost. We have an opportunity to design a new path forward that allows us to co-exist sustainably with the wildlife we depend upon. Our report sets out an ambitious agenda for change,” he stressed. (ab)

23.10.2018 |

We can feed 10 billion people by 2050 within planetary limits, study

A global shift towards healthy and more plant-based diets is needed (Photo: CC0)

Feeding a world population of 10 billion people by 2050 within planetary limits is possible if we change the way we eat and produce food, new research shows. A global shift towards healthy and more plant-based diets, halving food loss and waste, and improving farming practices are measures required to reduce the environmental impacts of the food system, says the study published in October in the journal Nature. “Greening the food sector or eating up our planet: this is what is on the menu today,” explains co-author Johan Rockström. The international research team quantified how food production and consumption affects the planetary boundaries that describe a safe operating space for humanity beyond which Earth’s vital systems could become unstable. „The food system is a major driver of climate change, changes in land use, depletion of freshwater resources, and pollution of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems through excessive nitrogen and phosphorus inputs,” reads the abstract of the study. The authors show that between 2010 and 2050, as a result of changes in population and income levels, accompanied by a rise of diets high in fats, sugars and meat, the environmental effects of the food system could increase by 50–90%, reaching levels that are beyond the planetary limits.

The study combined detailed environmental accounts with a model of the global food system that tracks the production and consumption of food across the world. With this model, the researchers analysed several options that could keep the food system within environmental limits. “To keep food production within planetary boundaries, we can do three things: eat healthier more plant-based diets, systematically reduce food loss and waste, and improve agricultural technologies like for instance tillage or fertilizer recycling,” said Rockström. Adopting more plant-based “flexitarian” diets globally could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than half, and also reduce other environmental impacts, such as fertilizer application and the use of cropland and freshwater, by a tenth to a quarter. “When it comes to diets, comprehensive policy and business approaches are essential to make dietary changes towards healthy and more plant-based diets possible and attractive for a large number of people,” said the lead author, Marco Springmann from the University of Oxford. “Important aspects include school and workplace programmes, economic incentives and labelling, and aligning national dietary guidelines with the current scientific evidence on healthy eating and the environmental impacts of our diet,” he added.

In addition to dietary changes, improving management practices and technologies in agriculture is required to limit pressures on agricultural land, freshwater extraction, and fertilizer use. “Improving farming technologies and management practices will require increasing investment in public infrastructure, the right incentive schemes for farmers, including support mechanisms to adopt best available practices, and better regulation, for example of fertilizer use and water quality,” said Line Gordon, another study author. Finally, halving food loss and waste is needed for keeping the food system within environmental limits. Halving food loss and waste could, if globally achieved, reduce environmental impacts by up to 16%. “Tackling food loss and waste will require measures across the entire food chain, from storage, and transport, over food packaging and labelling to changes in legislation and business behaviour that promote zero-waste supply chains,” said co-author Fabrice de Clerck. “No single solution is enough to avoid transgressing planetary boundaries. But when they are implemented together, our research indicates it may be possible to feed the growing population sustainably,” said Dr Springmann. (ab)

19.10.2018 |

IPES report highlights successful cases of agroecological transition

Replacing machinery with oxen (Photo: CC0)

It is possible for communities, regions and whole countries to fundamentally redesign their food and farming systems around agroecological principles and break away from industrial agriculture. This is the positive message of the latest report from the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), launched this week in Rome. It presents seven case studies from different countries and continents which demonstrate that agroecological change is taking hold across the globe. The group of leading food system experts, co-chaired by former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food Olivier De Schutter and nutrition expert Olivia Yambi, says that successful transition to agroecology requires changes in four key dimensions – in production practices, in knowledge generation and dissemination, in social and economic relations, and in institutional frameworks. If change happens at these different levels, reliance on the existing brokers of inputs, knowledge, and market access is drastically reduced and the multiple ‘lock-ins’ of industrial food systems can be overcome and new sustainable food systems can start to emerge. “Transition really takes off when change happens on various fronts at the same time. That’s when new power relations start to form and the logic of the system starts to shift,” said Steve Gliessman, lead author of the report.

One case studies focuses in how Cuba managed to turn economic isolation after the collapse of the Soviet Union into an opportunity for agroecological transition. In response to the crisis, the small-scale agricultural sector in Cuba underwent an “agroecological revolution”. The peasantry was able to increase production despite a severe reduction in external inputs. Changes in production practices included input substitution followed by the adoption of techniques such as diversification, crop rotation, agroforestry and crop-livestock integration. Knowledge generation and dissemination were enabled by a burgeoning campesino-a-campesino movement aimed at farmer-to-farmer knowledge exchange. Institutional actors and research centres provided farmers with knowledge and a variety of seeds and biological inputs for free. Farmers and government agencies were able to deepen their scientific and professional competences via ‘bus tours’ to different farms. Peasant farmers also obtained lots of information through the cooperatives to which most of them belonged. Agroecology was institutionalized in the educational curricula of Cuba’s Agricultural Polytechnic Institutes.

IPES-Food says that changes in social and economic relations led to the rapid scaling of agroecology. A highly organized peasant agroecology movement driven by the national small farmers’ association made knowledge dissemination possible and built solidarity among farmers. Social relations have also evolved through and in response to land ownership modalities under the Socialist regime. Most Cuban farmers privately own their land but cultivate it as part of cooperatives which provide services, credit, and bulk input purchasing. Land, machinery and warehouses in these cooperatives are owned collectively. Changes in institutional frameworks include the decentralization of state farm sector, the institutionalization of agroecology in state and research institutions as well as supportive policies such as land reform. Today, some 300,000 small-scale farmers are said to be practicing agroecology in Cuba. Studies suggest that agroecological practices are applied on 46-72% of small-scale farms, accounting for about 60% of the vegetables, maize, beans, fruits, and pork consumed in Cuba. In addition, urban agriculture (virtually chemical free) has flourished, now supplying up to 70% of the consumption of fresh vegetables in larger cities, making Cuba a global leader in urban agriculture.

Another case study describes how an “Ecovillage” project in Chololo, Tanzania successfully used a package of agroecological practices, aimed at making the most of the limited rainfall, improving soil fertility, reducing farmers’ workload, and improving the quality of local seeds. The village in the semi-arid drylands of Central Tanzania faced challenges such as recurrent drought, food insecurity and vulnerability to climate change. A multidisciplinary project team encouraged villagers to take up and refine agroecological practices, from manure-based soil fertility improvements to water conservation features and optimal planting schedules. Technical guidance through technology groups and farmer-to-farmer outreach as well as a participatory approach to problems and solutions changed the way how knowledge was generated and disseminated. Social and economic relations changed due to community-building through awards, celebrations and the visibility of pioneering farmers. Part of the project was also to empower women to pursue new livelihood activities, such as chicken rearing.

Changes in institutional frameworks were achieved through the conscious alignment of the project with national climate adaptation policy. The inclusion of local institutions has allowed Chololo Ecovillage to become relevant to national-level policymaking and to emerge as a benchmark case for building climate resilience. Agroecological transition had an enormous impact on the lives of the people in Chololo. At the end of the first project cycle 2011-2014, 54% of farmers and livestock keepers used climate change adaptation innovations, an increase from just 19% during the first year, and yields increased between 37.5 to 70%. The percentage of households eating three meals per day increased from 29% to 62% and the average period of food shortage was reduced from 7.3 to 2.8 months. “The case studies show that change doesn’t always start in the field. Transition can be kick-started by community-building activities, farmer-researcher partnerships and even by external shocks that make people question the status quo,” said Steve Gliessman. (ab)

15.10.2018 |

Accelerated progress needed to achieve zero hunger, report

Progress in the fight against hunger has been too slow (Photo: CC0)

Progress in the fight against hunger and undernutrition has been too slow and uneven. Levels of hunger are still serious or alarming in 51 countries across the globe – and forced migration is closely associated with food insecurity. This is the message of the 2018 Global Hunger Index (GHI), published by Welthungerhilfe and Concern Worldwide. Since 2000, the index scores related to hunger have fallen by 28% and child mortality rates were halved. However, the number of hungry people increased to 821 million in 2017. Around 124 million people are suffering from acute hunger, a striking increase from 80 million two years ago. This demonstrates that the current trend is heading into the wrong direction. If progress in reducing hunger and undernutrition continues on its current trajectory, an estimated 50 countries will not succeed in eliminating hunger by 2030, says the report, calling for renewed efforts in the fight against hunger.

The GHI captures three dimensions of hunger – insufficient caloric intake, child undernutrition (wasting and stunting) and child mortality. It ranks countries on a 100-point scale, with 0 being the best and 100 being the worst score. The GHI Severity Scale includes low hunger (below 10), moderate hunger (10.0 to 19.9), serious hunger (20.0 to 34.9), alarming levels (35.0 to 49.9) and extremely alarming levels (more than 50). “The 2018 Global Hunger Index (GHI) indicates that the level of hunger and undernutrition worldwide falls into the serious category, at a value of 20.9, down from 29.2 in 2000,” says the report. “Despite these improvements, the question remains whether the world will achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2, which aims to end hunger, ensure food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture, by 2030.” Only 40 out of 119 countries that were ranked have low levels of hunger – at the current rate of progress, only 29 of the 79 countries with moderate to extremely alarming levels will succeed in achieving low hunger by 2030.

According to the 2018 GHI, hunger levels are extremely alarming in the Central African Republic. Since 2012, the country has been suffering from instability, sectarian violence and civil war. Six countries have alarming hunger levels (Chad, Haiti, Madagascar, Sierra Leone, Yemen, and Zambia). In 45 countries, the index indicates serious levels of hunger, among them Sudan, Afghanistan and Timor-Leste. GHI scores for several countries could not be calculated because data were not available for all four indicators. Yet the hunger and undernutrition situations in seven of these countries - Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Libya, Somalia, South Sudan, and Syria - are identified as cause for significant concern. In contrast, Angola, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Myanmar are the frontrunners in 2018 with an improvement in GHI scores of more than 45%.

The 2018 report shows that hunger is both a cause for and a result of flight and displacement. In countries experiencing armed conflicts, rates of hunger are twice as high as in the rest of the world. “There are an estimated 68.5 million displaced people worldwide, including 40.0 million internally displaced people, 25.4 million refugees, and 3.1 million asylum seekers. Hunger is a persistent danger that threatens the lives of large numbers of forcibly displaced people and influences their decisions about when and where to move,” writes guest author Laura Hammond from the University of London. She points out that there are common misperceptions regarding the interplay between hunger and forced migration that continue to influence policy. Hunger is often understood as a result of environmental or natural causes. In fact, hunger, like displacement, is usually the result of political circumstances. She argues that natural disasters only lead to hunger and displacement when governments are unprepared or unwilling to respond. In addition, the world’s response to forced migration is almost always to undertake short-term humanitarian action in the hope that displaced people will be able to return to their areas of origin before long. Instead, most forced migration is protracted, lasting for many years or even generations.

The authors stress that food-insecure displaced people need support in their region of origin. “Most refugees remain in their native regions,” says Bärbel Dieckmann, President of Welthungerhilfe. “Refugees require not only basic social services but also access to education and employment. Humanitarian assistance alone is not enough,” she adds. The reports calls for a more holistic response that focuses on supporting people’s livelihoods in their regions of origin and bolstering resilience in ways that support local markets and strengthen livelihood systems. “Hunger and forced migration are painful realities for millions, but this state of affairs has yet to spur the kind of political leadership and action by national governments that is so urgently needed. More worryingly, we are seeing the issue of migration become a lightning rod for new political discourse that is increasingly more hard-line than humanitarian,” the publishers write in the foreword to the report. “This year’s GHI is not just a renewed call to action on hunger and forced migration but an urgent call for a resurgence of humanity in how we address the shocking truth that – in a world of plenty – millions of people’s human rights continue to be violated and these people still go to bed hungry each night.” (ab)

08.10.2018 |

Scientists urge rapid and radical changes to limit global warming

Global warming will increase the intensity and frequency of droughts (Photo: CC0)

Limiting global warming to 1.5°C will require rapid and far-reaching changes in all aspects of society, including agriculture and food systems. This is one of the key messages of the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, adopted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in Incheon, South Korea on October 5th. The report was prepared by 91 authors and review editors from 40 countries and cites more than 6,000 scientific references. It warns that we are already seeing the consequences of 1°C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes. The climate scientists predict that global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate. The researchers warn that every fraction of additional warming would worsen the impact of climate change. “Every extra bit of warming matters, especially since warming of 1.5°C or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II.

The report highlights a number of climate change impacts that could be avoided by limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared to 2°C. For example by 2100, global mean sea level rise is projected to be around 10 cm lower with global warming of 1.5°C. In addition, there is also high confidence that the probability of a sea-ice-free Arctic Ocean during summer is substantially lower with a 1.5°C rise. If global warming reaches 2°C, virtually all coral reefs would be lost whereas declines could be limited to 70-90% at 1.5°C. Limiting global warming is also projected to lower the impacts on terrestrial, freshwater, and coastal ecosystems and to retain more of their services to humans. “Climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth are projected to increase with global warming of 1.5°C and increase further with 2°C,” the report states. The groups most affected will include disadvantaged and vulnerable populations, some indigenous peoples, and local communities dependent on agricultural or coastal livelihoods. The regions which will suffer most are Arctic ecosystems, dryland regions, small-island developing states, and least developed countries. Poverty and disadvantages are expected to increase with rising temperatures. “Limiting global warming to 1.5°C could reduce the number of people both exposed to climate-related risks and susceptible to poverty by up to several hundred million by 2050,” the report finds.

The report also examines pathways available to limit warming to 1.5°C and highlights that this would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. Mitigation and adaptation options for achieving land transitions are grouped around agriculture and food, ecosystems and forests, and coastal systems. Adaptation options in food and agriculture include improved livestock management, increasing irrigation efficiency, agroforestry and management of food loss and waste. The authors stress that livestock are responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all other food sources. Emissions are caused by feed production, enteric fermentation, animal waste, land-use change and livestock transport and processing. “There is increasing agreement that overall emissions from food systems could be reduced by targeting the demand for meat and other livestock products, particularly where consumption is higher than suggested by human health guidelines,” the report says. “Adjusting diets to meet nutritional targets could bring large co-benefits, through greenhouse gas mitigation and improvements in the overall efficiency of food systems. Dietary shifts could contribute one-fifth of the mitigation needed to hold warming below 2°C.”

Another option mentioned in the report is agroforestry: “The integration of trees and shrubs into crop and livestock systems, when properly managed, can potentially restrict soil erosion, facilitate water infiltration, improve soil physical properties and buffer against extreme events.” According to the authors, there is high agreement on the feasibility of agroforestry practices that enhance productivity, livelihoods and carbon storage, including from indigenous production systems, with variation by region, agroforestry type, and climatic conditions. Decreasing food wastage also has high mitigation and adaptation potential and could play an important role in land transitions towards 1.5°C, provided that reduced food waste results in lower production-side emissions rather than increased consumption. Around one-third of the food produced on the planet is currently not consumed, affecting food security and livelihoods. “This report gives policymakers and practitioners the information they need to make decisions that tackle climate change while considering local context and people's needs,” said Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II. (ab)

05.10.2018 |

Empowering Africa’s rural women will help fight hunger, study

Women are the backbone of rural production (Photo: CC0)

If women have the same access to skills, resources and opportunities as men, they can be powerful drivers in the fight against hunger, malnutrition and poverty. However, gender gaps in agriculture in Africa are currently holding back progress. This is the key message of “The Regional Outlook on Gender and Agrifood Systems”, published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and the African Union Commission. The report is based on a review of statistics and country gender assessments carried out in 40 countries. “We need to better recognize and harness the fundamental contribution of women to food security and nutrition,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva. “Evidence shows that when women are empowered, farms are more productive, natural resources are better managed, nutrition is improved, and livelihoods are more secure,” he added.

The Regional Outlook highlights the crucial roles of women in food production and food security. In African countries, agriculture is the most important economic sector that employs over 50% of the population, with women representing about 50% of the agricultural labour force. In some countries, women even account for up to 60% of the labour force in family farming. They are largely responsible for agricultural activities such as growing vegetables, preserving harvests and raising small ruminants such as sheep and goats. According to the study, women are also involved in household food security and nutrition through the education and care of children, the preparation of safe and nutritious meals, and the diversification of household food intake through their home garden and incomes. The authors highlight that investing in women’s education, nutrition knowledge and economic empowerment has stronger impact on food security and nutrition of children than similar investments in men, as women tend to spend a larger portion of their income on children and family welfare.

Despite women being key figures in agriculture and food security, persisting gender inequalities constrain their productivity and food security. Women’s deficits in agricultural productivity range between 20 and 30% in Sub-Saharan Africa. Closing productivity gaps could increase food production and consumption by up to 10% and reduce poverty by up to 13%. One reason for the gender gap is that women do not have equal access and control over productive resources and opportunities. Women have less access to and control over land and the size of land owned by women is 20 to 70% less than that owned by men. Only 32% of women own agricultural lands across 27 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa through either joint, sole ownership, or both (as compared to 43% of men). However, only 13% of female against 40% of male have sole ownership on all or part of the land they own. In addition, land owned by women is often of lower quality with less access to irrigated land.

Further constraints are that women have less knowledge and capacities to access and use efficiently and sustainably their resources to generate income. They are 22% less literate than males (54% literacy rate against 69%) and illiteracy rates and gender gaps are higher in rural areas. Women have 13% to 200% less access to advisory services in the countries where data is available. The report also points out that women face stronger constraints in their access to cash income and rural financial services. This is limiting their use of productive resources and services. In 2017, 51% of male against 32% of female owned a bank account in Northern Africa, and 45% against 35% in Sub-Saharan Africa. Due to those inequalities, women and female-headed households tend to be more vulnerable and less resilient to risk, climate change and environmental degradation as they depend more on natural resources for their income.

“We need to put in place gender targeted programmes that address women’s specific vulnerabilities but also their key role in household nutrition and resilience,” said Graziano da Silva. Significant efforts are required to address structural causes of gender inequality and ensure that investments equally benefit men and women. He called for better representation of women in governance mechanisms and decision-making processes, as well as adequate and equal access to land, financial resources, social protection programmes, services and opportunities for women in rural areas. (ab)

28.09.2018 |

UN Human Rights Council adopts peasant rights declaration

Peasant farmers are the backbone of our food systems (Photo: CC0)

The UN Human Rights Council (OHCHR) has passed a resolution adopting a declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas. On 28 September, 33 countries voted in favour, amongst them all Asian, African and Latin American OHCHR member states with the exception of Brazil. Australia, Hungary and the UK voted against the resolution while 11 countries abstained in the vote, mostly European countries including Germany and Spain. The declaration recognises the rights and special needs of peasants and other people working in rural areas, including older persons, women, youth and children and takes into account the need to address the multiple forms of discrimination and threats suffered by peasants worldwide. “The adoption of this UN Declaration is a turning point for the international human rights system,” said Sofia Monsalve Suárez, secretary general of FIAN International, one of the organisations campaigning for the peasant rights declaration. “At a time where the UN risks its legitimacy by a biased promotion of corporate interests, this declaration shows that it is possible to revitalize the original mandate of the UN,” she added.

The declaration includes the rights to equal access to land and natural resources; to a safe, clean and healthy environment, to biological diversity and the right to food and food sovereignty. Article 19 says that peasants and other people working in rural areas have the right to seeds, including the right to save, use, exchange and sell their farm-saved seeds. Most of what the declaration contains is based on pledges already made elsewhere, whether in international human rights instruments or in intergovernmental fora. However, the European Union countries abstained, voicing their concern over the recognition of the rights to seeds, lands and a clean and healthy environment as well as food sovereignty. Ahead of the vote, a group of researchers and scientists, including the former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, urged European states to vote in favour of the resolution. “Should we fear the reference the draft declaration makes to land reform and the right to land?,” they asked in an open letter, pointing out that a binding international treaty, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, already emphasises agrarian reform as a means of guaranteeing “the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger”.

The development of the declaration on peasant rights has been a long process. After many years of lobbying work, an open-ended intergovernmental working group (OEIWG) was established in 2012 with the mandate of negotiating, finalising and submitting a draft declaration. “This has been a long tough path but as peasants, as people who have seen the worst of poverty and neglect, we are tough too and we never give up,” said Elizabeth Mpofu, the General Coordinator of La Via Campesina, a global movement of peasants, indigenous people, pastoralists and migrant workers and important driving force behind the declaration. “Today, we are just a step away from acceptance by all member nations of the United Nations,” she added. The declaration now goes before the upcoming 3rd Committee session at the UN General Assembly in New York in October. Then, the declaration will be up for voting and adoption by all UN member states. (ab)

21.09.2018 |

Agroecology could feed Europe without pesticides by 2050, study

The study calls for more hedges, trees and stony habitats (Photo: CC0)

European agriculture could shift entirely to agroecological farming, abandoning pesticides and synthetic fertilisers while sustainably feeding 530 million Europeans by 2050 with healthy diets. This is the result of new research published on September 13th by the French policy research institute IDDRI. The authors Pierre-Marie Aubert and Xavier Poux point out that the current European food system is not sustainable. “The European food system is often perceived as being highly productive,” they write. “However, for several decades, these successes have produced more and more serious social and environmental impacts. In terms of health, diet-related diseases are growing at an alarming rate (diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease).” European agriculture is also threatening biodiversity and contributing to the destruction of tropical forests through soybean imports. “Today, the European Union imports the equivalent of 35 million hectares of farmland, essentially soya from South America used to feed cattle,” Pierre-Marie Aubert was quoted by EURACTIV. “We are presenting an alternative scenario that can lead to a large scale transformation of the agricultural sector via the agroecological transition,” he added.

The experts developed a quantitative model, systemically comparing agricultural production and its uses (food, animal feed and fuel), modes of production and land use, and used it to quantify the implications of an agro-ecological scenario for 2050. Their TYFA scenario is based on abandoning pesticides and synthetic fertilisers, redeploying natural grasslands and extending agro-ecological infrastructures (hedges, trees, ponds and stony habitats), and adoptioning healthy diets. A shift to more healthy diets is needed since Europeans currently consume three times the recommended amount of sugar and double the recommended amount of protein while not eating enough healthy products. The scenario therefore includes fewer animal products, but more fruit, vegetables and fibre, consistent with recommendations by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

The proposed transition to agroecology in Europe includes phasing-out pesticides and synthetic fertilisers. “The goal is to return to agroecosystems that make maximum use of soil life and legume symbiotic nitrogen fixation capacities,” the authors write. “Unfertilised natural grasslands and the animals that enhance them play a key role in this nitrogen supply.” In addition, the model includes a significant development of agro-ecological infrastructures – hedges, trees, ponds, stony habitats favourable to insects - to cover 10% of cultivated land, in addition to the extensive grasslands that are the main component of these infrastructures. “The shift to low-input agriculture with a high proportion of permanent extensive grasslands and other agroecological infrastructures thus makes it possible to directly address the restoration of biodiversity, the quality of natural resources and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.”

However, a transition to agroecology would be accompanied by a decline in production relative to the current situation and would imply a considerable reduction in non-food uses of biomass and biofuel production. The scenario uses the yield values observed today in organic agriculture to quantify the production levels in 2050, and assumes advances in research, such as plant breeding. The result is a decline in production of 35% compared to 2010 in kilocalories (-30% for plant products and -40% for animal products). However, the authors say that production would still be sufficient to feed Europeans, even when a high proportion of land is given over to agro-ecological infrastructures that do not directly produce but contribute to the functioning of agro-ecosystems. In addition, this agroecological Europe would still be able to maintain its export capacity for cereals, dairy products and wine. A transition to agroecology would results in a 36% reduction in agricultural greenhouse gas emissions compared to 2010 and the figure could even increase to 45% if emissions associated with “imported deforestation” are included, which will disappear if plant proteins imports are suspended. Such a transition would also help to restore biodiversity and to protect natural resources. “An agro-ecological Europe is a desirable, credible option to address food and environmental challenges,” the authors conclude. (ab)


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