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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.
"If we deal with small farmers we solve hunger and we also deal with food production."
The stark warning comes from the new United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Hilal Elver, in her first public speech since being appointed by the U.N. 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
"The 2009 global food crisis signaled the need for a turning point in the global food system," she said at the event hosted by the Transnational Institute, a leading international think tank. She continued:
Modern agriculture, which began in the 1950s, is more resource intensive, very fossil fuel dependent, using fertilizers, 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 U.N. 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 a healthy future
"There is a geographical and distributional imbalance in who is consuming and producing," Hilal Elver continued.
Global agricultural policy needs to adjust. In the crowded and hot world of tomorrow, the challenge of how to protect the vulnerable is heightened.
That entails recognizing women's role in food production--from farmer, to housewife, to working mother, women are the world's major food providers. It also means recognizing small farmers, who are also the most vulnerable and the most hungry.
"Food policies which do not address the root causes of world hunger would be bound to fail."
Across Europe, the U.S., 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 U.N. 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.