A Current Development Policy Debate: "Feeding the 9 billion by 2050"
Small-scale producers deliver fresh and nutritious local food to an estimated 70 per cent of the world population. This is the current reality and most realistic future for global agriculture. However, these producers often find themselves marginalised and disenfranchised.
Over the past half century the global policy proposition for reducing poverty of small scale farmers has been the Green Revolution, a package to standardise production of staple crops involving scientifically improved germplasm, fertilisers and pesticides. With approximately 1 billion people still vulnerable to food insecurity, the media reverberates with calls for a "new" or "second" Green Revolution, or a Green Revolution for Africa. There is intense pressure from biotechnology industries for reduced regulation on genetically modified seed. Against this backdrop NGOs are coming under increased pressure to define their vision for a future food system that can combat hunger whilst providing for the projected global population of 9 billion by 2050.
In the first instance, it is important to highlight that some of the poor farming communities that NGOs are targeting are the "losers" from the Green Revolution. The mixed results of the Green Revolution reflect variations in access to the required technologies and the potential benefits of increased production.
In the absence of measures to support food production by those without access to these new technologies, the absolute number of people who are food insecure has grown. Land and wealth is concentrated in the hands of farmers best placed to take advantage, while poorer farmers have often been displaced to marginal lands where they lack formal land title, or are compelled to migrate to urban centres in search of employment.
However, there are many communities engaging in sustainable practices that conserve biodiversity and produce sufficient food for local markets. The characters of these systems are equivalent to those necessary to cope with climate change. The ability to withstand shocks and stresses is increasingly important as climate change alters seasonal temperature and rainfall patterns, disease and pest profiles and brings more frequent extreme weather events such as droughts and floods. The resilience of agricultural systems to these changes is enhanced through diverse practices that reduce risks, enrich natural resources and build synergies between different farm species and activities. This model for the future of agriculture, with support and investment, carries the best chance of resisting the negative trends projected to hit agriculture in the coming decades.
Organisations that seek to support the livelihoods of small-scale producers should be aware of three broad policy responses:
The first is to continue and further entrench the Green Revolution technological model and implement large-scale commercial farming systems in developing countries. This is the dominant Agribusiness Food System Policy Coalition. This form of agriculture is defined by:
- A focus on maximising production and productivity of individual commodities and products
- Monocultural agricultural practices, depending on chemical (fertiliser, herbicide and pesticide) and fossil fuel inputs
- Externalisation of environmental, social and other costs not priced in the market
- Concentration on national and international markets and their control.
Here, agriculture is seen as a business like any other, in which enhanced growth, profitability and labour productivity are sought through the application of technology and economies of scale, and success is measured against returns in other forms of short-term investment. The combined effect is a system that has increasingly impoverished small-scale farmers.
Sustainable Intensification Policy Coalition
Food System Transition Policy Coalition
The third approach is to fully endorse an agro-ecological path for future agricultural development as the only adequate response to climate change and to increase the autonomy and resilience of food producing communities. Rather than dwelling on the need to increase agricultural productivity, it identifies the different forms of inefficiency, misuse of resources and waste within the current food system. This is the Food System Transition Policy Coalition. A transition to ecological agriculture depends on building skills in local communities and requires technologies that are developed in partnership with farmers. This approach is not favoured by corporate and national actors that seek competitive advantage and macro-economic gain from agriculture. These actors promote research outputs that are owned and controlled by input suppliers via intellectual property rights. There is a need, therefore, to change the incentives in scientific research as a component of this approach.