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OPINION: Food security can bring peace – but agroecology makes it last

The World Food Programme’s Nobel prize is timely – but food security depends on radically transforming our food systems

ARCHIVE PHOTO: A farmer harvests crops in a ricefield in Pulilan, Bulacan province March 3, 2016. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

Originally Published in Reuters on October 15, 2020

During the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, as lockdown restrictions scrambled supply chains, the national peasant movement Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas set up an online farmers’ market and delivery system on Facebook, so urban dwellers in Manila could access locally grown grain, fruits, and vegetables.

In Argentina, as thousands lost their jobs and homes, the grassroots organization Union de Trabajadores de la Tierra (Union of Land Workers), supplied vulnerable communities with fresh food. These “sovereign food canteens'', said UTT’s Lucas Tedesco, are powerful reminders that small producers “are the ones who feed our fellow citizens.”

In Zimbabwe, when markets shuttered and farmers’ crops were left to rot in their fields, the farmers’ organization Pelum Zimbabwe mapped farmers, transporters, processors, and other vendors, to connect them to consumers and demonstrate to Zimbabwean policymakers that better access to locally-grown healthy foods reduces hunger, and strengthens community resilience.

With the pandemic leaving so many families uncertain about their next meal, the Nobel Peace Prize award to the United Nations’ World Food Programme is timely. COVID-19 has plunged millions around the world into poverty; global hunger is likely to double. By the end of 2020, the number of people facing acute food insecurity could swell to a quarter of a billion.

But let’s be clear: We’ll never be truly food secure without radically transforming our food systems.

Even as it acknowledged the honour, the UN agency, which provides food assistance to almost 100 million people worldwide, noted that aid is not a long-term solution. Gernot Laganda, head of climate and disaster risk reduction at the WFP, stated clearly: "You won't get to zero hunger with humanitarian aid alone.”

As food systems funders supporting agroecology, we have seen that food handouts are not an effective antidote to hunger.

Agroecology goes beyond tackling the incidence of hunger to uproot its structural causes. In recent months, we have seen clearly how movements for agroecology fostered networks of producers—in the Philippines, Zimbabwe, and beyond— able to feed themselves and their communities in this moment of crisis.

By farming in sync with nature, agroecological farmers grow abundant and diverse foods, regenerate natural ecosystems, strengthen resilience to health and climate shocks, and bring healthy food to local markets.

More than a set of farming techniques, agroecology is a movement for social justice, improving nutrition without compromising food sovereignty—the right of peoples to determine what they eat and how it is produced.

Agroecology resists the misguided Western policies that have impoverished smallholders worldwide, policies like promoting synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and hybrid seeds through the Green Revolution historically, and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa today.

By directly empowering family farmers, agroecology diminishes the need for imported food aid - too often ultra-processed foods, surplus commodity crops, and GMO grains that are a boon to agribusiness while undermining small farmer livelihoods.

In the past few years, agencies within the United Nations have publicly recognized the importance of agroecology to end hunger. In 2018, former U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization Director General José Graziano da Silva issued an urgent challenge to the global community: “It’s time to scale up the implementation of agroecology.”

We’ve been pleased to see that initiatives such as the World Food Programme’s Home Grown School Feeding Initiative link “school feeding programmes with local smallholder farmers” in 46 countries including Kenya, Honduras, and Haiti. But the agency must do far more to strengthen local food economies.

In 2018, only one third of the 3.6 million metric tons of WFP’s total food purchases were characterized as “locally grown commodities,” and less than 4% of the organization’s food aid ($31 million) was purchased directly from smallholder farmers. (WFP data does not report what percentage may have been agroecologically produced.)

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize is a powerful recognition of just how urgent food security is. We urge the WFP to seize this moment to embrace agroecology, and address the roots of hunger, learning lessons from the food leaders we’re funding in the Philippines, Argentina, Zimbabwe, and beyond.

Private philanthropy alone cannot offer sufficient support to the vibrant, global agroecology movement. We need the WFP to play a lead role, deploying public resources to support innovative civil society organizations and government agencies.

When we support humanitarian relief that builds lasting change, we ensure our dollars don’t just deliver one-time handouts, but drive a fundamental transformation of our food systems. Only then will we yank up the roots of hunger and seed a more peaceful, equitable, and resilient world


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