UN says Small is the new Big

Written by Clare Leschin-Hoar

The United Nations released a whopper of a report today. In the midst of soaring global food and oil prices, the agency let loose a public stunner: World hunger and climate change cannot be solved with industrial farming. So much for seed-giant Pioneer Hi-Bred’s “We Feed The World” slogan. Yowch.

http://www.slashfood.com/2011/03/08/u-n-small-scale-farming-could-double-the-worlds-food-productio/

The U.N. study makes it clear — small-scale farmers can double food production in 10-years by using simple farming methods. According the The Guardian, insect-trapping plants in Kenya or weed-eating ducks in Bangladesh’s rice paddies may be the way to feed the world’s burgeoning population.  

“To feed 9 billion people in 2050, we urgently need to adopt the most efficient farming techniques available. Today’s scientific evidence demonstrates that agroecological methods outperform the use of chemical fertilizers in boosting food production in regions where the hungry live,” says Olivier De Schutter, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to food and author of the report.

De Schutter told the Wall Street Journal that promoting natural farming techniques is the only sustainable way to guard against future food crisis.

“We set up our farming techniques in the 1920s when we thought there would be a never-ending supply of cheap oil,” he said. “Developing farming in a way which makes it less addicted to fossil energy is much more promising.”

The agroecological methods mentioned throughout the report sure sound like organic farming to us, but ag writer Jill Richards says there are subtle differences separating the two terms. Agroecology increases soil quality, biodiversity and can make farms more resilient to climate change, but it also values indigenous farming methods, she says.
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“A net global increase in food production alone will not guarantee the end of hunger (as the poor cannot access food even when it is available), and increase in productivity for poor farmers will make a dent in global hunger. Potentially, gains in productivity by smallholder farmers will provide an income to farmers as well, if they grow a surplus of food that they can sell,” she writes.

So are we on the verge of an agricultural sea change? asks WSJ reporter Caroline Henshaw.

“As leaders debate how to combat record food prices and producers struggle to meet rapidly growing demand, the world is looking for a new agricultural revolution,” Henshaw writes.

We think today’s U.N. report might give that revolution the mighty shove it needs.