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CTA. 2001. First, food!. Spore 95. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/46281
Internet URL: http://spore.cta.int/images/stories/pdf/old/spore95.pdf
When your horizon is the next harvest, and your choice of food for eating or selling is between too little and not enough, the long-term and the long words take second place. We look at the simmering clash between those who plea for production, and...
First, food! When your horizon is the next harvest, and your choice of food for eating or selling is between too little and not enough, the long-term and the long words take second place. We look at the simmering clash between those who plea for production, and those who chant protection. 'The first human right of the day is breakfast!' is a lament often heard in dialogues between people submitting funding requests, their sights fixed on the possible, and donor agencies, focused on the desirable. Such exchanges take place at every level, from village to national and regional institutions. Most readers of Spore will have witnessed, perhaps participated in, or even run, several in the last year. The geographer Georges Rossi is convinced that the debate will continue for a good while yet, and have to be tolerated even if no party feels at all comfortable with them. 'In poor countries, the basic needs of tomorrow and the wish to improve the quality of life will make sure that the Western vision of ecology will be noticeable for a long while yet with its policies seemingly driven from afar by aesthetics, the whims of the well-off. These policies are suffered patiently as politically correct external constraints, the prerequisites which governments pretend to accept as a way to loans and to meet a conditionality of aid. Farmers and local authorities implement them under pressure and then do their best to get round them or drop them as quickly as possible.' In one sense, it is a practice that, despite its ambiguities, works reasonably well for all concerned. There are signs though that there is less and less room for niceties in the negotiations between the haves and the have-nots affecting ACP agriculture and rural development and several other sectors. The issue is about who shapes the relevant global policies, and with what. Hey, look, I m all global! While most people have been emphasising the local in development, we have also moved much further along the road of global governance than most people realise. Even if our physical horizons have remained largely unchanged, we have each become plugged into a global culture and a global economy. Like clouds and winds, goods can move across the face of the earth in days, information and opinions in seconds. Such proximity is new and while it can be very enriching it makes us all more vulnerable. We can all be more aware of what is happening in parts of the world within and beyond our horizon, and how these events interact. For those who have a global view, and are linked into world networks, you can get a good picture of market trends in other continents, or an early warning of storms or plagues of locusts, and make plans accordingly. You can look further and observe, for example, soil degradation and erosion, deforestation and man-induced climate change and its impact on food production. Many observers feel that the totality of world agriculture has overstepped the limits of the acceptable. According to the Earth Council, a body of observers based in Costa Rica, we are, using the law of averages, depleting more biological resources than we are replenishing and are using more space than we have. Agriculture in The Netherlands, for example, uses seven times more land outside its borders than inside, principally in Latin America, Africa and Asia, to grow its flowers, tomatoes and animal feedstuffs. There are much such ecological footprints . Thou shalt neither pollute nor grow There are many more direct constraints to ACP agriculture than just footprints. Trawl through the world s conventions on biodiversity and climate change, or the Agenda 21 Plan of Action, and you will be able to compose your own list of Do Nots . All these treaties, launched in 1992, are due for revision at the World (Earth) Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in September 2002. Their environmental considerations now determine agriculture in ACP countries and elsewhere mainly in a restrictive way. It is almost as if there is a timetable of measures which, however well-intentioned, will hit agricultural productivity and incomes. There are already restrictions on the use of fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides, even though often a farmer has no alternative to generate a secure income. Within the next five years, the cost of these inputs, plus that of fuel for local transport and export freight, will rise as eco-taxes are levied on energy in many countries. Over a similar period, the requirements of such standards as ISO 14000 (ISO = International Standardization Organization) for environmental quality will make it harder to enter export markets in the West. These measures in effect raise new barriers in the place of the tariff barriers dismantled by the World Trade Organisation; they are often seen as protection by any other name . Further downstream, there is talk of restricting access to world markets for certain exotic products, such as many tropical fruits, because of the excessive use of energy in their long-distance marketing. There are other pressures on the operating space of the ACP farmer. The guideline launched by the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987 for each country to preserve 12% of its ecological capacity (read: land and water area) for biodiversity protection causes a real dilemma: 12% for the other 30 million species on the planet, and 88% for all of us at an average of 1.65 hectares of biologically productive area per person! Rossi questions the approach: 'To withhold from rural communities the right to manage all or part of their space just to set up parks and reserves, is that really the best way to assure the unbroken evolution of these ecosystems, and those who live in them?' Remember the day before tomorrow Of course, many steps are being taken to help agriculture become greener, especially in being less of the third culprit after industry and transport as a major source of methane, one of the greenhouse gases causing global warming. The widespread research into changing rice cultivation in paddies and into low-cost production of modified livestock feed to reduce gas emissions by animals, are examples of greening. The trouble is that those who prescribe tomorrow s solutions are not necessarily those who can solve today s problems. With the formulation of agricultural policy being de facto defined by such global events as the Earth Summit, these are the people who are most active in the global culture and who have most access to global information networks. They do not necessarily have the wisdom that comes from the field, a wisdom fashioned not only by success but also by the failure of a harvest or the loss of a market. They sometimes have too much information, and too few tools to make sound judgements. Why, otherwise, would so much debate be dominated by the false position of 'Organic Yes, GMO No'? Hard questions Perhaps it is time for the agricultural community to ask some hard questions, and make public the hard answers, about what is being prescribed and which is, in effect, hindering today s production. Are organic methods of production automatically more benign and sounder than inorganic? Can organic farming feed the world, in terms of accessible proteins? Under what conditions? Can small-scale, labour-intensive production meet food security needs adequately? Are we approaching a division into two systems: food production at its most efficient, and agriculture as a modest rural livelihood? These questions need to be raised as the international community enters the next round of environmental agenda-setting. If they could be raised by representatives of farmers, of all hues and hoes, and others on the food chain, then all the better. No-one would claim that the world s agriculture should be practised on individual plots of 1.65 hectares that is only an average. Averages do have their uses though. One average approach, which takes all points into account, would be a fairer debate about the future which includes policies that give ACP agriculture more breathing space in which to meet the needs of today. From there we can reach tomorrow. [caption to illustration] Above us only sky? Some greenhouse gases come from rice paddy fields. See: News in Brief, for how to participate in Earth Summit 2002 Further reading: L ingérence écologique. Environnement et développement rural du Nord au Sud. G Rossi, CNRS Editions, Paris, 2001. 254 pages. ISBN 2 271 05794 9 FRF 195 Euro 29.75 CNRS Éditions 15 rue Malebranche, 75005 Paris, France Fax: + 33 1 5310 2727; Website: www.cnrseditions.fr [summary points] Ecological concerns dominate much of the development agenda. For agriculture: many green measures underestimate the needs of today s food security the major focus is on future scenarios the debate is centred on those with access to global information networks there should be more participation by ACP organisations in the next Earth Summit round