UN: only small farmers and agroecology can feed the world

http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2566719/un_only_small_farmers_and_agroecology_can_feed_the_world.html

Nafeez Ahmed

23rd September 2014

Governments must shift subsidies and research funding from agro-industrial monoculture to small farmers using ‘agroecological’ methods, according to the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. And as Nafeez Ahmed notes, her call coincides with a new agroecology initiative within the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.
This is critical for future agricultural policies. Currently, most subsidies go to large agribusiness. This must change. Governments must support small farmers.

Modern industrial agricultural methods can no longer feed the world, due to the impacts of overlapping environmental and ecological crises linked to land, water and resource availability.

The stark warning comes from the new United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Prof Hilal Elver, In her first public speech since being appointed in June

“Food policies which do not address the root causes of world hunger would be bound to fail”, she told a packed audience in Amsterdam.

One billion people globally are hungry, she declared, before calling on governments to support a transition to “agricultural democracy” which would empower rural small farmers.

Agriculture needs a new direction: agroecology

“The 2009 global food crisis signalled the need for a turning point in the global food system”, she said at the event hosted by the Transnational Institute (TNI), a leading international think tank.

“Modern agriculture, which began in the 1950s, is more resource intensive, very fossil fuel dependent, using fertilisers, and based on massive production. This policy has to change.

“We are already facing a range of challenges. Resource scarcity, increased population, decreasing land availability and accessibility, emerging water scarcity, and soil degradation require us to re-think how best to use our resources for future generations.”

The UN official said that new scientific research increasingly shows how ‘agroecology’ offers far more environmentally sustainable methods that can still meet the rapidly growing demand for food:

“Agroecology is a traditional way of using farming methods that are less resource oriented, and which work in harmony with society. New research in agroecology allows us to explore more effectively how we can use traditional knowledge to protect people and their environment at the same time.”

Small farmers are the key to feeding the world

“There is a geographical and distributional imbalance in who is consuming and producing. Global agricultural policy needs to adjust. In the crowded and hot world of tomorrow, the challenge of how to protect the vulnerable is heightened”, Hilal Elver continued.

“That entails recognising women’s role in food production – from farmer, to housewife, to working mother, women are the world’s major food providers. It also means recognising small farmers, who are also the most vulnerable, and the most hungry.

“Across Europe, the US and the developing world, small farms face shrinking numbers. So if we deal with small farmers we solve hunger and we also deal with food production.”

And Elver speaks not just with the authority of her UN role, but as a respected academic. She is research professor and co-director at the Project on Global Climate Change, Human Security, and Democracy in the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara.

She is also an experienced lawyer and diplomat. A former founding legal advisor at the Turkish Ministry of Environment, she was previously appointed to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Chair in Environmental Diplomacy at the Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies, University of Malta.

Industrial agriculture grabs 80% of subsidies and 90% of research funds

Hinting at the future direction of her research and policy recommendations, she criticised the vast subsidies going to large monocultural agribusiness companies. Currently, in the European Union about 80% of subsidies and 90% of research funding go to support conventional industrial agriculture.

“Empirical and scientific evidence shows that small farmers feed the world. According to the UN Food & Agricultural Organisation (FAO), 70% of food we consume globally comes from small farmers”, said Prof Elver.

“This is critical for future agricultural policies. Currently, most subsidies go to large agribusiness. This must change. Governments must support small farmers. As rural people are migrating increasingly to cities, this is generating huge problems.

“If these trends continue, by 2050, 75% of the entire human population will live in urban areas. We must reverse these trends by providing new possibilities and incentives to small farmers, especially for young people in rural areas.”

If implemented, Elver’s suggestions would represent a major shift in current government food policies.

But Marcel Beukeboom, a Dutch civil servant specialising in food and nutrition at the Ministry of Trade & Development who spoke after Elver, dissented from Elver’s emphasis on small farms:

“While I agree that we must do more to empower small farmers, the fact is that the big monocultural farms are simply not going to disappear. We have to therefore find ways to make the practices of industrial agribusiness more effective, and this means working in partnership with the private sector, small and large.”

A UN initiative on agroecology?

The new UN food rapporteur’s debut speech coincided with a landmark two-dayInternational Symposium on Agroecology for Food and Nutrition Security in Rome, hosted by the FAO. Over 50 experts participated in the symposium, including scientists, the private sector, government officials, and civil society leaders.

A high-level roundtable at the close of the symposium included the agricultural ministers of France, Algeria, Costa Rica, Japan, Brazil and the European Union agricultural commissioner.

FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said: “Agroecology continues to grow, both in science and in policies. It is an approach that will help to address the challenge of ending hunger and malnutrition in all its forms, in the context of the climate change adaptation needed.”

A letter to the FAO signed by nearly 70 international food scientists congratulated the UN agency for convening the agroecology symposium and called for a “UN system-wide initiative on agroecology as the central strategy for addressing climate change and building resilience in the face of water crises.”

The scientists described agroecology as “a well-grounded science, a set of time-tested agronomic practices and, when embedded in sound socio-political institutions, the most promising pathway for achieving sustainable food production.”

More than just a science – a social movement!

A signatory to the letter, Mindi Schneider, assistant professor of Agrarian, Food and Environmental Studies at the Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in The Hague, said:

“Agroecology is more than just a science, it’s also a social movement for justice that recognises and respects the right of communities of farmers to decide what they grow and how they grow it.”

Several other food experts at the Transnational Institute offered criticisms of prevailing industrial practices. Dr David Fig, who serves on the board of Biowatch South Africa, an NGO concerned with food sovereignty and sustainable agriculture, said:

“We are being far too kind to industrialised agriculture. The private sector has endorsed it, but it has failed to feed the world, it has contributed to major environmental contamination and misuse of natural resources. It’s time we switched more attention, public funds and policy measures to agroecology, to replace the old model as soon as possible.”

Prof Sergio Sauer, formerly Brazil’s National Rapporteur for Human Rights in Land, Territory and Food, added: “Agroecology is related to the way you relate to land, to nature to each other – it is more than just organic production, it is a sustainable livelihood.

“In Brazil we have the National Association of Agroecology which brings together 7,000 people from all over the country pooling together their concrete empirical experiences of agroecological practices. They try to base all their knowledge on practice, not just on concepts.

“Generally, nobody talks about agroecology, because it’s too political. The simple fact that the FAO is calling a major international gathering to discuss agroecology is therefore a very significant milestone.”

 


 

Dr. Nafeez Ahmed is an investigative journalist, bestselling author, and international security scholar. He is a regular contributor to The Ecologist and The Guardian where he writes about the geopolitics of interconnected environmental, energy and economic crises. He has also written for The Independent, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Scotsman, Foreign Policy, Prospect, New Statesman, Le Monde diplomatique, among many others. His new novel of the near future is ZERO POINT.

Follow him on Twitter @nafeezahmed and Facebook.

Website: www.nafeezahmed.com

 

New Land Acquisition Act – Rules for Social Impact Assessments and Consent Provisions Notified (Relative Progressive Rules – Can also be a useful guide for EIA Processes)

New Land Acquisition Act – Rules for Social Impact Assessments and Consent Provisions Notified (Relative Progressive Rules – Can also be a useful guide for EIA Processes)

 

The NDA government – amidst speculations that it is set to dilute important provisions of the new land acquisition act – has recently notified the Rules for two of its most important and progressive sections, those pertaining to the Social Impact Assessments and the Consent provisions. These Rules, notified on 8th Aug 2014 detail out how to implement these two provisions of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 which is the full and formal name of the new Land Acquisition Act( referred to hereinafter as Act).

Overall, these Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Social Impact Assessment and Consent) Rules, 2014 (Rules hereinafter) provide a relatively progressive framework of implementation.

Provisions for Social Impact Assessment

There are some significant provisions for carrying out the SIA. First and foremost, the Rules require that the SIA be carried out in consultation with the local self-government institutions in the affected area. This provision is also there in Act.

The Rules require the state or the central government to establish a Social Impact Assessment Unit, “an independent organisation which shall be responsible for ensuring that Social Impact Assessments are commissioned and conducted by such person or bodies other than the Requiring Body as per the provisions of the Act”. (Emphasis added). This is a critical provision for maintaining the credibility of the SIA. Here, a lesson seems to have been learnt from the problems with the Environment Impact Assessments (EIA) process, where the project proponent selects, commissions and pays the agency that carries out the EIA. This creates a direct conflict of interest, and it’s not surprising that most EIAs are highly biased towards the project proponent’s interests.

The Rules empower the SIA Unit to formulate the Terms of References for any SIA proposal, list the activities required, decide the size and profile of the team required, and prepare the costs estimates for the same. Then, the Requiring Body (the agency that wants the land) will deposit the money with the Government, and the SIA Unit will select the agency to carry out the assessment from the roster that it maintains.

To further ensure a distance between the Requiring Body and the SIA team, the Rules explicitly state that the Requiring Body shall not be involved in any way in the appointment of the SIA agency, and that it should be ensured that there is no conflict of interest involving the team members of the SIA agency.

The Rules allow the SIA team to include independent practitioners, academics, qualified social activists, and mandate the inclusion of at least one woman member.

The SIA Unit is also tasked with building and “continuously expand a Database of Qualified Social Impact Assessment Resource Partners and Practitioners”, “conduct training and capacity building programmes for the Social Impact Assessment team and community surveyors”, and “continuously review, evaluate and strengthen the quality of Social Impact Assessments and the capacities available to conduct them”.

Apart from giving a detailed list of the aspects that the SIA must cover, which include all direct and indirect impacts, the Rules also require the SIA to “assess the viability of impact mitigation”. This is critical because often, the mitigation measures are just listed out as a lip service and the project cleared on this basis, but the affected people suffer because it is practically impossible to carry out the measure effectively particularly when the displacement involves large numbers.

In this context, it is also important that the Rules require the SIA to “provide an assessment as to whether the benefits from the proposed project exceed the social costs and adverse social impacts that are likely to be experienced by the affected families or even after the proposed mitigation measures, the affected families remained at risk of being economically or socially worse, as a result of the said land acquisition and resettlement”.

There are several other important provisions including the time period for the SIA (six months), recording the views of the affected families in writing, involving local voluntary organisations and media in the public hearings, recording and considering in the SIA every objection raised in the public hearings, the SIA and public hearings to be in local language and a web-based flow management information system of the acquisition process.

The Consent Provision

The Consent related Rules specify that the Consent process shall be carried out by the Government, through the District Collector. The consent would be obtained (where required by the Act) at two levels – the Gram Sabha level and for the private and public-private partnership projects, at the individual land owner levels.

For getting the consent from the Gram Sabha, the quorum requirements not only ask for 50% of the total members to be present, but also require that one third of total women members also to be present.

The Rules specify that negotiated terms for rehabilitation, compensation, impact management and mitigation which the Requiring Body has agreed to, shall form a part and parcel of the Consent Agreements. This means that the Consent is given only against these commitments.

It also declares that any attempt to coerce or threaten anyone into giving consent shall be treated as a criminal offence, and most important, if any such threat has been made, the consent so given shall be void.

Two Caveats

Of course, these Rules cannot and do not transcend the fundamental problems with the original Act itself (see here  for a detailed account of these), but within that limitation, provide a much better process than has been available earlier for project affected people.

Second, it’s a question as to whether and how long these Rules will survive, as the very provisions that these Rules help actualise are the ones that the Central Government seems to want to do away with. However, till such an eventuality, these Rules will be the ones that will provide the framework for implementation of the Act.

A Lesson for the MoEF

All in all, even with several limitations, these Rules provide a process of SIA that is miles ahead of all earlier processes. Indeed, at this time, the Ministry of Environment and Forest is examining all the environment protection laws, and it could do well to adapt all these provisions of the SIA for the EIA process too.

22 September 2014

The Rules can be downloaded from http://dolr.nic.in/dolr/downloads/pdfs/RFCTLARR%20%28SIA%20and%20Consent%29%20Rules%202014.pdf

New farming practices can increase yields and lower pollution in China, Stanford study shows

An integrated approach to managing soil and crops could help meet the demand of rapidly rising population while reducing greenhouse gases that drive climate change.

Hector Garcia/Creative Commonswheat fields in Guangxi, ChinaA new study compares current farming practices in China for staple crops including wheat to alternative approaches that can increase yield and lower environmental damage.

Farming practices in China could be designed to simultaneously improve yields and reduce environmental damages substantially, according to a new study by Stanford biology Professor Peter Vitousek and a team of his colleagues at China Agricultural University.

The research paper, published in Nature,compared current farming practices for staple crops corn, wheat and rice in Eastern and Southern China to three alternative approaches:

  • Incremental improvements of the current method, aimed at boosting crop growth and improving environmental quality
  • A yield-maximizing approach with no regard to either financial or environmental cost
  • An integrated soil-crop system management” (ISSM) approach that used crop models to redesign the production system

The integrated soil-crop system approach aims to tailor decisions like crop selection, planting, sowing and nutrient management to each field’s conditions in order both to enhance yields and to minimize environmental damage.

Nitrogen fertilizer is used extensively in modern agriculture – and nowhere more than in China. Overall, Chinese farmers overuse fertilizer, with much of it ultimately polluting the air and water and contributing to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths each year. The production and transport of fertilizer also contributes significantly to agriculture’s share of greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change.

In total, the team tested the four farming methods in 153 site-years of experiments between 2009 and 2012 in widely distributed sites within China’s regions of intensive agriculture. Of the four methods, the yield-maximizing approach produced the highest yields of corn, wheat and rice. Yields from ISSM treatment were a close second, reaching 97 to 99 percent of the levels seen in yield-maximizing fields. Crops grown in the ISSM approach also required much less fertilizer, and used it much more efficiently, resulting in nearly no wasted nitrogen and significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions.

“This is exciting work, because the joint challenges of increasing agricultural yields and reducing the environmental costs of agriculture are particularly stark in China – which has less farmland than the United States, a population that’s four times greater and really horrendous levels of air and water pollution,” Vitousek said. “If we can combine much higher yields with much lower environmental consequences in China, there is real hope that those challenges can be met around the world. It’s globally significant that agricultural science in China is meeting these challenges in fundamental ways, and it’s a pleasure to collaborate with our colleagues there.”

The authors predict that if farmers can reach even 80 percent of the yields seen in the study’s ISSM test fields by 2030 (when China’s human population is expected to reach its peak) on the same amount of land that Chinese farmers cultivated in 2012, grain production could then meet demand for both human and animal consumption.

This would help ensure food security in China and make China’s role in global food markets more deliberate and predictable. At the same time, nitrogen losses could be cut by nearly half, thereby saving many lives, and total greenhouse gas emission could fall by one quarter. Moreover, the ISSM approach could be applied in other areas of the world, where it would boost global yields of major grain crops on existing farmland, while simultaneously reducing nitrogen use, greenhouse gas emissions and economic costs to farmers.

Vitousek is the Clifford G. Morrison Professor in Population and Resource Studies in the Department of Biology and is a faculty affiliate of the Center on Food Security and the Environment at Stanford. He also is a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and is a professor, by courtesy, in the Department of Environmental Earth System Science, School of Earth Sciences.

Media Contact

Peter Vitousek, Biology: vitousek@stanford.edu, (650) 725-1866

Dan Stober, Stanford News Service: (650) 721-6965, dstober@stanford.edu

Integrated Assessment of Scale Impacts of Watershed Intervention

Integrated Assessment of Scale Impacts of Watershed Intervention (1st Edition)
Assessing Hydrogeological and Bio-physical influences on Livelihoods
Author(s): Dr. V. Ratna Reddy and Geoff Syme, Elsevier | Expected Release: October 2014
 
Integrated Assessment of Scale Impacts of Watershed Intervention: Assessing Hydrogeological and Bio-Physical Influences on Livelihoods
Key Features
  • Integrates hydrogeology, bio-physical, and socioeconomic aspects of watersheds in a hydrological context
  • Provides a comprehensive understanding of the impacts  of watershed interventions
  • Assesses the role of watershed interventions in enhancing household resilience
  • Provides hydrological and socio-economic methodologies for  design of sustainble watershed  interventions including scale and institutional arrangements for implementing and sustaining watershed interventions
Description
 
Integrated Assessment of Scale Impacts of Watershed Interventions is the outcome of a multi-disciplinary research team of social scientists, hydrologists (groundwater and surface water), modellers; and bio-physical scientists who have worked together over five years to develop an integrated model of the sustainability of biophysical, economic and social impacts of watersheds. Impacts of watershed interventions are assessed at upstream, mid-stream and downstream locations of two hydrological units that are characterised with differential bio-physical attributes. The editors propose that watershed interventions, when integrated with hydro-geology and bio-physical aspects, have greater influence on the resilience of the socio-ecological system. This book takes these aspects in to consideration and in the process provides insights in to watershed design and implementation.
 

 

Farm Income Insurance Scheme to Provide Protection to Farmers Against Natural Calamities is on the Cards

4.9.2014
Farm Income Insurance Scheme to Provide Protection to Farmers Against Natural Calamities is on the Cards: Radha Mohan Singh

Production and price risks affect the income of farmers, which has adverse effect on their capacity to invest in advance crop varieties, techniques of production and capital formation in farm sector. Inaugurating a Seminar on concept of farm income insurance scheme at Ahmedabad today, Union Minister of Agriculture, Shri Radha Mohan Singh said that agriculture is largely dependent upon monsoon, which leads to uncertainty in production and price of agricultural produce.

Government is considering to launch farm income insurance scheme so that these two important components i.e. production and price can be tackled under single policy instrument. The objective of this scheme would be to protect the farmers by giving them insurance cover for their production and market risks. The scheme aims to ensure continuous production, protection to livelihood and crops, encouragement to multiplicity of crops, which may promote competition from the angle of exports.

Mentioning the sea change in agricultural scenario over the past few years, Shri Singh said that foodgrain production has touched a record figure of 264.38 million tonnes during the year 2013-14. It is a matter of great pride that today we are producing more than our requirement of consumption. Even the States considered to be backward are producing foodgrains in excess. Our godowns have adequate foodgrains and we are in a position to meet any adverse contingency. During the year 2013-14, the country exported agricultural products worth Rs. 2.41 lakh crore. The country anticipates to exceed the targeted growth rate of 4% during the XIII Five Year Plan, he added.

Shri Singh said that we are facing difficulty to deal with storage capacity of our godowns and our procurement agencies like Food Corporation of India (FCI) are facing financial and structural difficulties. As such, mere subsidy cannot ensure guarantee for appropriate income to our farmers. Appropriate management of agricultural produce and improvement in processing technology can ensure good prices to farmers and they can also contribute to it.

The Minister said that Government of India is implementing since 1985 crop insurance to protect farmers from adverse affect of natural calamities at national level. Based on experience gained from implementation of farm insurance schemes, consultation with State Governments and stakeholders, a revised scheme is being considered which may be more conducive to farmers’ needs. During 2003-2004 rabi season some states and districts had started a scheme under which farmers were entitled to get compensation in the event of their getting lesser income from their production than guaranteed income. However, this scheme was applicable in case of rice and wheat only and it could not be implemented further, he added.

The present government has invited suggestions from all states to protect the income of farmers by way of giving a concept paper for insurance scheme so that difficulties experienced in the past could be overcome. Ministry officials have held discussions on 14th August, 2014 with all State Governments, Shri Singh said.

He expressed the hope that deliberations held in the seminar would firm up solid suggestions which would be helpful in preparing a practical and durable farm income insurance scheme.

GG:CP: insurance (4.9.2014)