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Rio+20: A Cheaper, Better Way to Feed the World

20. June 2012

    As world leaders gather in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), churches and related organizations are working for the adoption of fundamentally different approaches to food production and consumption. The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA) and its member organizations are calling on world leaders to invest in agro-ecological production methods in harmony with nature, in order to ensure sustainable communities and food justice for current and future generations, as well as highlighting the central importance of addressing food waste and post-harvest losses.

    Speaking at a 17 June EAA side event on “Scaling up Agro-ecological Food Production”, Dr Hans Herren, co-chair of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), highlighted the energy inefficiency and unsustainability of prevailing agricultural methods.

    According to Dr Herren, asking whether agro-ecological methods can feed the planet is “the wrong question”. Instead, we should be focusing on the inability of the current food system to “nourish 9.5 billion people, eradicate hunger and poverty, assure rural livelihood, eradicate inequities, assure good nutrition and health, and do all this in a socially, environmentally and economically sustainable manner.”

    “Industrial agriculture actually only produces 30% of the food produced on the earth, most of which feeds cars and cattle,” stated Prof. Miguel Altieri, President of the Latin American Scientific Society of Agro-ecology, another speaker at the event, and the lead author of an EAA discussion paper on the topic. “Using agro-ecological methods, you can produce the same amount of food using 1 hectare of land as industrial farming needs 1.6 hectares to produce.”

    Noting governments’ continuing failure to invest in agro-ecology, Prof. Altieri declared that “No matter what governments decide this week, agro-ecology is already in the hands of social movements and farmers who will continue to promote what works best on their fields.” He stressed that it is impossible to separate biological diversity from cultural diversity, noting that traditional and indigenous communities are the guardians of both crop varieties that may contribute to a sustainable food future, and of the knowledge of how to grow them successfully.

    Dr Herren showed that, in order to transform current agricultural practice to sustainable systems, governments would need to invest between 0.1% and 0.16% of GDP – or between $83 billion and $141 billion – per year, and compared with the $400 billion currently spent each year on agricultural production subsidies.

    But Wilfred Miga of the Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM), a network promoting farmer-to-farmer networking to scale-up agroecological production in East and Southern Africa, noted the obstacles presented by lack of government support for research and implementation, and interference and pressure from multinational corporations.

    Consumers carry a key responsibility. As Dr Herren declared, “Change will not happen until the consumers change. If people want cheap food, governments will continue to earmark the nearly 400 billion that is spent on subsidies annually in the wrong direction”.

    Food waste must also be tackled as part of the global food and climate solution.

    A side event on 19 June, organized by EAA and EED focused on food waste and post-harvest losses. Participants heard that while current global food production exceeds the needs of the current population, approximately one-third of the total production - 1.3 billion tons – is wasted annually due to a combination of post-harvest losses and consumer behaviour, while 15 million children die of hunger each year. Speaking at the event EAA Executive Director Peter Prove stressed that in rising to the challenge of feeding the world’s growing population, “the first task is not to produce more, or to irrigate more, or to fertilize more, but to reduce this outrageous waste.”

    Summarizing the perspectives on EAA members working in this field and their expectations for the UN conference now taking place in Rio, Christine Campeau, EAA’s food campaign coordinator observed that “the solutions to the current global food crisis and for future food justice are known, achievable and affordable. All we need now is the political will and social commitment to implement them.”


    The EAA’s discussion paper on scaling up agro-ecology and further information on the positions and events related to the EAA and its members can be found at:


The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance is a broad international network of churches and Christian organizations cooperating in advocacy on food and HIV and AIDS. The Alliance is based in Geneva, Switzerland. For more information, see http://www.e-alliance.ch/

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