Justice, democracy and diversity in our food system
European Food Security Group narrative – draft, March 2014
, 28 avril 2014
The industrial food system generates huge profits but fails at actually feeding people with healthy food. Outright hunger, where people do not have enough to eat, exists alongside the growing problem of overconsumption and obesity, as well as undernutrition. People may have food but it is of poor quality and lacking in nutrients essential for life and health. The industrial system’s environmental impacts on the planet are so profound that they put our future capacity to feed ourselves at risk. Long supply chains have become unaccountable and waste has been built into the way food is marketed.
Local, small-scale food systems have often been marginalised as backward. This can become a self-fulfilling prophesy when, as a result, they are neglected by policies, research and investment. In fact, not only are they still the basis of the world’s food supply, but they offer the potential to end hunger, restore the environment and improve social justice.
The European Food Security Group (EFSG) seeks to tackle injustice and work for a world with a just and sustainable global food system. It does this by advocating for changes in European Union policies, programmes and positions – knowing that this is only one piece of a huge range of actions that need to be taken across the world and seeking to play our part. As a group of NGOs we recognise it is essential that we ourselves are in solidarity with the self-organised movements of people most affected by hunger. This requires us to reinforce their claims to the right to be part of decision making at all levels, and to acting in solidarity with them in advocacy, taking a lead from their positions and ensuring that NGOs do not speak for them or inadvertently undermine their demands.
A just and sustainable food system
The human rights approach compels us to pay special attention to those most vulnerable to hunger and assess policies by the impact they have on them, rather than dealing only in broad brush terms. It leads us to ask questions along the entire food chain from producer to consumer, including how food is produced, by whom, for whom, at what price and of what nutritional quality.
We recognise that the systems that currently feed and nourish the majority of people in the world – family-based, small scale, diversified and local – must be the starting point and the focus for building and strengthening people’s right to food and nutrition. With the right support, local food production promotes access to fresh, healthy and diverse food whereas currently more and more of our food is making us sick – from micronutrient deficiency to diabetes and heart disease.
Food is produced in these local systems by settled crop and livestock farmers, mobile pastoralists, fisherfolk, urban food growers, rural workers, Indigenous Peoples and forest gatherers. Here we use the term ‘family farmers’ to refer to all of these.
Women are food providers. They make up 43% of the overall agricultural workforce, and in many societies they have the main responsibility for food production as opposed to growing cash crops. Much processing of food is done by women, whether for sale or use within the household, and across the world women still do most of the cooking. Women however often have weaker access to productive resources and are more likely than men to be malnourished. Strengthening women’s ability to claim their rights on the ground is a core part of building a fairer food system.
Fundamental to our vision is the need for our food systems to be participative and democratic, defined by the people and responding to their needs and aspirations, at all levels from local to global. Family farmers, especially women, need to have control of productive resources that determine their livelihood, including land, water, seeds and livestock breeds. Agricultural workers need safe, decent working conditions and labour standards.
Our vision is also shaped by the need for us to live within the boundaries of what our planet can provide. The environmental impact of how food is produced and distributed matters. Agriculture, transport and consumption have profound effects upon climate change, land use change, freshwater consumption, phosphorus and nitrogen cycles, biodiversity loss and chemical pollution. All of these are among nine planetary systems that have been identified as having boundaries which if crossed could lead to irreversible and abrupt environmental change that would threaten human survival. In loss of biodiversity, the nitrogen cycle and climate change we appear to have already crossed those boundaries. Yet agriculture can also be part of the solution, and our vision also includes the deliberate choice to support agroecological and other sustainable approaches to producing food for all the world’s people, which have the potential to help restore the environment.
We also know that we need a food system that is resilient and that can deal with the shocks and changes that will inevitably face us. Natural and manmade disasters have been increasing in frequency and severity and we need a food system that can cope with these and ensure long term sustainability. This is closely linked with the other aspects of our vision, because we can best build resilience by addressing the underlying environmental, social and economic causes of shocks, conflict and disasters.
This is our vision – a food system that enables everyone to eat a healthy, nutritious (and hopefully delicious) diet, that is based in the right to food, shaped by planetary boundaries, resilient and defined by people. The basis for this vision already exists, in the local food systems that feed the majority of the world’s people. However its potential is thwarted by the dominance of a corporate and industrial food model, which undermines support for a just and sustainable food system.
The distorted power in our food system underlies a range of problems :
Because we see hunger as an issue of injustice, we see the basis of all solutions to hunger as lying in a just redistribution of power, in which there is genuine participatory democratic governance of our food systems. It is vital that the organised social movements of family farmers, agricultural workers and consumers, especially women, children and youth, have a meaningful voice in determining decisions, at local, national and global levels, that affect us all on such a fundamental level as the right to food.
The UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS), reformed in 2009 following the food price shock, offers a promise of a central intergovernmental platform to improve coordination and governance of the global food system. It is also very inclusive, with formal participation by civil society, particularly of the organisations of people most affected by hunger. Governments must strengthen and respect the role of the CFS in order to enable it to live up to its promise.
The EU is the only region of the world to have undertaken a binding obligation to be accountable for how all its policies affect the world’s poorest, and for this it is to be applauded. Putting ‘policy coherence for development’ into practice however requires determined political will.
Opt for agroecological methods of production
Agroecological systems aim to maintain the ecological functions that natural systems provide while developing a robust, productive, resilient and fair food system. This means integrating rather than segregating, increasing diversity instead of restricting it, and regenerating not degrading. It also means thinking of inputs and wastes in terms of cycles rather than as a linear process in which fossil fuel derived inputs are treated as endless, nutrients are lost, chemical residues are ignored and animal feed is transported half way round the world.
Agroecology draws strongly on traditional knowledge, including that held in many cultures by women, for instance on seeds. It recognises both farmers’ specialist expertise and the importance of local knowledge in designing systems in a local environment. It is thus easily and effectively adopted by family farmers, and it has proven to be sustainable over many lifetimes. Ongoing adapatation to the continuously changing local contexts, makes agroecology a knowledge intensive approach. Investment in and facilitation of local innovation remain important
Prioritising local economies and trade
A focus on local does not imply that larger scale trade and markets have no role to play in achieving an effective, just and sustainable food system. Many local rural economies and food systems are based around urban centres and local food producers customarily sell to urban markets. As the eating habits of city dwellers change, demanding food that is easier and quicker to cook, with the right policy support this can foster local food processing enterprises at a small and medium scale to meet that changing demand. Food producers and processers also seek the physical and market infrastructure to trade with other parts of their country, as well as cross-border with neighbouring countries. These opportunities should be developed with an intention to redress gender inequality.
There is always also space for foods to be traded globally. However local communities should be able to decide democratically where the policy and investment priorities should lie between local, national, regional and global economies.
The most vital element is that a significant proportion of the benefits of local production remain within the local economy and food system – in terms of access to food, economic gains, environmental resilience, women’s rights and also in terms of social and cultural vitality. International trade rules, investment agreements and the policies and loan conditionalities of the international financial institutions and regional development banks must allow policy space to enable this.
Public investment is essential in providing public goods, such as infrastructure, research and extension services and financial support mechanisms, which complement family farmers’ own investment.
Governments equally have a fundamental role to play in ensuring responsible investments. Foreign direct investment makes up only a tiny proportion of investment in agriculture in developing countries, but despite this the power and influence of agribusiness means they often become the focus of investment policy, with damaging results. Investment policies and programmes can end up supporting environmentally destructive practices ; legitimising land and water grabs ; threatening farmers’ rights to save, use, exchange and sell seeds ; and opening up markets to unfair competition from food imports. Public policies must set in place the regulatory and legal frameworks necessary to prevent this, meeting their obligations under the right to food to protect against violations. This includes a responsibility to regulate the operations of companies based in their country outside of their own territorial boundaries.
Favouring stable agricultural markets
Governments should be able to take measures against import surges and price spikes and to ensure that corporations are accountable to the rule of law. Trade rules and investment agreements should not prevent this.
Water is essential both for production and for good nutrition. Water scarcity is an increasingly urgent issue and as access to water becomes more and more politicised it is essential to secure the rights of family farmers. It is also important to reinvigorate and strengthen community-led systems and agreements for management of shared water resources.
Responsible consumption and healthy diets
Half of the EU population is overweight or obese, and in consequence subject to health problems such as cardiovascular risks, hypertension or diabetes. At the same time in developing counties malnutrition, both underweight and micronutrients deficiencies take the lives of 3,1 million of young children each year. In food insecure countries underweight people live next to overweight people, sometimes even in the same households. The right to food builds on diversified diets, based on locally available foods, combined with access to quality healthcare.
We encourage policy development, broader consumer education and industry action to make sustainable and healthy diets possible. Developing policies on public procurement of food that take into consideration the environmental, health and ethical impacts is one such measure. Regulation of marketing of foods to children is another, to prevent the promotion of high-fat, high-sugar and highly processed food products. Governments should take action to promote better eating habits, in particular with less meat, dairy products, sugar and high-fat foods and more vegetables and fruits. Industry support in such promotion can be useful as long as it is only in support of scientific, evidence-based, public health messages.
Innovation and agricultural research for development
Over centuries, agricultural research has been led by farmers themselves, but our current agricultural research system is top-down and increasingly corporate-controlled. We need one that recognises the skills, innovations and practices of family farmers, particularly women, and where research institutions co-develop knowledge with food producers and consumers. This involves both opening up the decision-making bodies and governance structures of the current research establishment, and strengthening the spaces and institutions of food producers’ organisations and wider communities to debate and agree on priorities for research and to develop their own knowledge. This approach should be incorporated into national research strategies with increased public funding. The outcomes of research should be shared through farmer to farmer extension and similar knowledge and skill sharing programmes between women and men family farmers.
Better aid and development policies
[The role of the EU]
[text from an earlier draft that probably belongs in this more policy specific section instead]
The EU has a major role in the management of global financial markets, and needs to support and take measures including transparency in futures contracts and the setting of strict limits on the amount of the commodities market that can be held by financial speculators as a whole and by individual players.
EU role as major agric exporter (trade rules) and import rules