Agro-Ecology: A Solution to the Food Crisis?

On September 19, Hilal Elver, the newly appointed United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, made her the debut speech at the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam. Elver used her first public appearance to talk about her background, to present her views on how to feed the world and to make hints about her plans for the coming months.

In particular, Elver outlined the severity of the current food crisis and how widely-used data is tricky to deal with: she is highly critical of the current measurement standards, pointing out for example that by current standards, people who have access to one meal every other day are not considered hungry…“But they are!”. She also pointed out that current measurements only use calorific values, and do not take nutritional factors into account.

There was one solution to the food crisis that Elver was keen to highlight: agro-ecology. The theme of the evening, Elver is very fond of the idea, referring to it as “a form of trust in resources and in humans”. As governments “can’t always do the right thing”, she suggested the need to work more closely with NGOs to implement change. Her key message was to look more to small-scale farmers to help find ways to solve the very difficult problems presented to us. They have the knowledge, skills and experience to feed the world and thus can point the food system in the right direction.

After her thoughtful speech, people were invited to comment. Marcel Beukeboom, who represented the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, talked about how international food policy is influenced by consulting with different stakeholders, including small-scale farmers. His thoughts on the role of policy can be summarized as acknowledging that in farming “small is beautiful”, but these small-scale farmers need the possibility to grow. He represented a different standpoint to that of Elver, based strongly within the current economic paradigm, stating we should leave agricultural development “to the market”. This didn’t go down well with the slightly more activist crowd.

There was also a small panel of experts, giving an insight into the subject. One of them, Hanny van Geel from La Via Campesina, spoke about the role of small farmers, making the very important point that farmers only produce raw materials and not necessarily food, and thus that we also need to focus our attention on small-scale producers.

As the voices of small-scale producers don’t seem to be heard enough, Slow Food could be an important partner for Elvers’ work. She will have her hands full, stressing that although adding economic value to what small-scale producers are doing is immensely important, this still only focuses on one kind of value; monetary. As policymakers begin to acknowledge the importance of viewing food production in a broader perspective, we should help stimulate small-scale producers to keep going, not only for their nutritious food production, but also for their cultural importance. This food is worth saving as is their contribution to a truly (bio-)diverse agricultural landscape.

Guus Thijssen, Slow Food Netherlands board member

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