16.10.2017 |

Peasant farmers will feed a warming world, ETC Group says

Small-scale producers feed the world, using resources more sustainably (Photo: CC0)

Today is World Food Day. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the world produces enough food to feed everyone. But who produces this food and who will feed us in the future, the industrial food chain or small-scale farmers? A new report from ETC Group, a Canadian-based international civil society organization, shows that in fact it is a diverse network of small-scale producers that feeds 70% of the world, including the most undernourished and marginalized people. The authors argue that those small-scale producers, dubbed the “Peasant Food Web”, which includes farmers, livestock-keepers, pastoralists, hunters, gatherers, fishers and urban and peri-urban producers, have the diversity, resilience, and light footprint needed to successfully adapt to climate change and to feed a growing world population.

The report, which is now already in its third edition, compares the industrial food system with peasant farming, collecting data and statistics and drawing on most recent research. “We are told that it is big agribusiness, with its flashy techno-fixes and financial clout, that will save the world from widespread hunger and malnutrition and help food systems weather the impacts of climate change,” reads the press release announcing the publication of the report. “Industrial farming gets all the attention (and most of the land). It accounts for more than 80% of the fossil fuel emissions and consumes over 70% of the water supply used in agriculture, but it actually produces only about 30% of the world's food”, the researchers found. The Peasant Food Web on the other hand uses less than 25% of agricultural lands to grow the food that nourishes more than 70% of the world population. In addition, it also produces about 70% of the world’s available food, in calories and weight. ETC estimates that those small-scale producers use only approximately 10% of agriculture’s fossil energy and no more than 20% of agriculture’s total water demand, with far less damage to soils and forests than the industrial food chain.

ETC Group also blames the industrial food chain, dubbed the “Chain”, for wasting food. “The Chain produces vast quantities of food that can’t just disappear. How is it that it feeds less than 30% of the population?,” they ask. According to the report, 44% of the chain’s crop calories are ‘wasted’ in meat production: more than 50% of the Chain’s crop calories are used as livestock feed, but only about 12% of those calories (or 6% of total calories) are then converted into food for people. ETC Group estimates that another 9% of the Chain’s crop calories go to biofuels or other nonfood products and at least 15% of the Chain’s calories are lost in transportation, storage and processing while about 8% of the calories are wasted in households. In total, this means 76% of the Chain’s total calories are wasted before making it to the plate, and only 24% are eaten by people.

The report concludes that food sovereignty through the Peasant Food Web is the basis for the world’s food security, and supporting those small-scale producers is our only realistic choice in the face of climate change. “But ‘peasants as usual’ are not an option,” ETC Group warns. Peasants will not be able to feed all people without major changes in a warming world. But they argue that with the right policies, land and rights, peasant-led agroecological strategies could double or even triple rural employment, substantially reduce the pressure for urban migration, significantly improve nutritional quality and availability and eliminate hunger while slashing agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions by more than 90%. The report names six policy areas in which changes are needed in order to enable the billions of peasants worldwide to continue feeding themselves and others. Policies are needed that would firstly ensure agrarian reform including the right to territories (land, water, forests, fishing, foraging, hunting), secondly restore the right to freely save, plant, exchange, sell and breed seeds and livestock and thirdly remove regulations that block local markets and diversity. According to ETC Group, it is also necessary to reorient public research and development to respond to peasants’ directions, to establish fair trade determined by peasant-led policies and to establish fair wages and working conditions for food and agricultural workers. (ab)

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