Rio+20 Food is important… Dinosaurs knew that… Ancestors secured it… They are laundering it.

“Malnutrition has finally been recognised as a major concern for the future,” Frison told TerraViva. “And it has been acknowledged that if we want to address the issue of malnutrition, we cannot solve it only by offering pills and supplements, but a more sustainable solution has to be found and this has to come through a more diverse agriculture that provides a more diverse diet and a better health.”

We’re in 2012 and it is now that is has been recognised as a major concern? Oh yes, the MDG mentions hunger, but not malnutrition, and we should be climbing the ladder step by step. Is it that or just trying to cover up previous incompetence at dealing with the same problem? Because I doubt that when they set eradicating hunger as a MDG, they intended for malnutrition to persist. The truth is just that we’re far from achieving either or, which is ok, but we’re also not emplying the right solutions to fix the problem, which is not ok. I wonder what the multi-national companies are going to do with this ‘new’ resolution… Does it mean less monocultures? Less land-hogging? Less exploiting of farmers’ cheap labour to allow them to work a bit for themselves… interesting. How is this going to materialise? Will the international aid agencies pay these multi-nationals to ‘teach’ the farmers how to farm, and give them seeds, fertilisers, etc… all of which were initially taken from them? How will they try to launder what land, money and food they have deprived them of?

But usually nothing concrete comes out of these conferences. Empty words, fancy statements…

To begin with the multi-nationals must be brought to the table just like governmental entities. They are as important, if not more, in the implementation of any effective measures to combat poverty, famine, climate change and all earth’s anthropogenic ailments, since they are a big factor in their appearance.

“45 corporate supporters of the UN CEO Water Mandate issued a communique calling on governments to make commitments related specifically to water, including increased collaboration with the private sector. [...] The CEOs are pushing a failed model. Some of the lead corporations, like Nestle (biggest food coropration in the world!!), are drivers of water privatisation and private water delivery models that threaten equitable access and long term water security.”

And although these last quotes talk about water, 1) there is no agriculture and food without water; and 2) it is the same approach that is adopted by food companies… IF these are not one and the same like is the case with some such as Nestle. As such, there must be a serious and in-depth analysis of how to involve and get commitments from these big, extra-governmental players. Once governments commit seriously to anything (and that might take a while), they must ensure that they bind the corporate world to abiding by the national and international goals. Or less what has hit the economic field of private banks stripping of governments, will happen with food security, which has been happening for a while. Indeed, patents of seeds from Asia and Africa – seeds which had been bred along centuries by local farmers – has stripped the local communities and countries of their own wealth and tool for some food security and resilience. There were hundreds of rice species in India, after patenting and mass production for multi-nationals, only 7 or 8 of these species remain continuously farmed. Farmers in Asia and Africa have to buy seeds from the companies that have patented them and which in several cases have ensure genetic modification prevents the plants from producing seeds that could be replanted in the next season. International loans are often given under the condition that no subsidies or support can be given to farmers. Monocultures – pushed for by the food companies which by lands in masses and want to profit as much as possible – decrease the land’s fertility and resilience to weather and pests. The story goes on… Core message: empty words by governments will not suffice.

Although there has been much damage, and much knowledge of subsistence farming has been lost, it is not all gloomy for people need to eat and if they are given means to do so, they will not refuse! Rural areas have the human resources and often the natural resources to restore most of what has been lost. Cities also have the capacity and must take part in producing food. While an intern in the IDRC, I was talking about how rural areas must be the focus of aid since they are the most ignored and my supervisor drew my attention to the fact that this was a misconception. Around 50% of the world’s population lives in cities and most in developing countries where many live in very bad conditions with little access to sanitation, food or water and barely a living.

“If such a revolution is to succeed, cities must cease to lure rural populations searching for better lives in large urban centres. [...] Cities would have to rely on local and regional food sources to further reduce transport emissions. And so on…” “the sustainable city of the future must not only discourage migration from the countryside, it would have to encourage migration back to rural areas to reduce its own population.”

This is actually a model that is extremely tempting for anyone who wants people to live in good conditions. While the rural areas would retain their human capital and be given the opportunity to redevelop their farming practices to feed themselves and the cities, cities would also become less reliant on external sources. Not to mention the benefits of greening the cement blocks and waste dumps that many cities (or at least of them) have become. With proper planning, cities could allow for farming space, either on rooftops, in private balconies, public areas or secured spaces and those could employ some of the unemployed. This would also reduce all emissions and energy used to transport the food otherwise needed from the outside of the cities, it would be give better chances for small farming businesses to thrive, it would allow people to have better access to quality food.

“The hanging gardens in Babylon, for instance, were an example of urban agriculture, while residents of the first cities of ancient Iran, Syria, and Iraq produced vegetables in home gardens. This is partly because cities have traditionally sprung up on the best farmland:  the same flat land that is good for farming is also easiest for constructing office buildings, condominiums, and factories .  The masses of urban dwellers also create a perfect market for fresh fruits and vegetables.”

Our ancestors used to do it… so can we. And we should, and we will inshAllah.

It is quite promising but I have been hearing of more and more initiatives for urban farming. It is even being heard amongst ‘sustainability consultants’ as an option to consider in their suggestions for clients. It is still in embryonic stages, but I have a feeling it will start picking up more and more. In spite of many consultants being primarily businessmen - just like UN some employees might be after the luring high salaries and not its (ever-failing) mission to make the world a better place etc. – many are sincere and do wish to help things change for the better. Grassroot action is also there, both in the North and the South.

Much talk about Rio+20 being a failure has come out – no real commitment from countries, no set objectives, etc… but people need to eat.  And they will.




Comments are closed.