Sustainable Food Security
The discussion on “Sustainable Food Security” was lead by presentations by Prof. Niels Halberg who presented a paper titled “Is Organic Farming an unjustified luxury in a world with too many hungry people?” and Lawrence Woodward with a paper titled “Organic Farming and Food Security – A UK Perspective”. Halberg set the scene saying that the world population will reach 9 billion people before it levels off. This will need 50% more food than is produced now and this all needs to be done against the background of climate change. Regardless of climate change areas of sub-Saharan Africa will not be able to feed themselves in 2050 and this has resulted in a new call for a “Green Revolution” for Africa. However, this will not work and new approaches are needed. The IAASTD and FAO approach is moving towards a new paradigm with the integration in natural resource management with food and nutritional security.
Organic production can play a part in this either in its high value export form (vanilla, pineapple), which is a valid way of raising livelihoods or the informal approach to organic farming using a lot of the organic principles but not certified as there is no need when growing for a local market. This approach has demonstrated positive impacts and can improve natural resources i.e. soil fertility. It is being promoted in West Africa as well as in Asia. It can result in lower yields but economically the producers are better off as the costs of inputs are much less. Where this approach has been adopted there has generally seen improvements to food access, utilisation and stability. Much of this was due to improved to household economics due to fewer inputs and associated costs. A mixture of certified and non-certified organic is being used to great effect.
He concluded that organic farming approaches can improve food security but be careful as this requires an ambitious yield increase in organic farming. It also needs to address the interaction with diet i.e. reduction in meat based diets. Policy initiatives needed as no agricultural system can change much in itself.
Woodward stated that organic farming can address the sustainable food production and that this is accepted by many across the world but not in the UK. A Royal Society report recently promoted GM to address these issues but does mention ecological approaches and does not mention organic farming (although the principles are all organic). Similarly the recent Government Food Strategy report did not mention organic farming although mentioned LEAF, precision, GM. This is probably due to low productivity and this needs to be addressed.
Food Security, Food Sovereignty, Self Sufficiency. What do we mean? UK Government knows what they mean by food security and it is about access to food and not UK production. A recent study from Reading University shows the challenges for organic farming. It suggested that many organic crops would produce similar yields/amounts to a conventional approach. However, there would be less of many livestock (and products) but an increase in beef and sheep.
The ability for organic farms to vary their systems of production is limited and this would suggest this constrains output. But it depends on how this is looked at. If “total productivity” of an area; by all crops and animals that might use the area is taken into account and then compare this to wheat equivalents. Then organic farming gives more production and GHG emissions would be less. The real challenge is shifting the policy debate from more food at any cost. How we do this depends on what they mean by food security. Defra Food Security is not self sufficiency but about global market interpretation and is a business as usual approach at a time when it is not business as usual. How does OF address this? Must put food first, therefore it is food sovereignty is what is needed. We need to reject this definition of food security and embrace food sovereignty and will this will allow us to call for and make fundamental change.