Rising food prices, climate change and food riots have put agriculture high on the international agenda. Spending on agricultural development has increased, but what kind of agriculture is best suited to respond to those challenges? Too much of the current food security debate focuses narrowly on increasing the volume of food, and assumes that industrial agriculture and biotechnology are the only options for feeding a growing global population. IATP President Jim Harkness spoke at the National Food Policy Conference in D.C., where he challenged that idea. He concluded that, “feeding 9 billion people by 2050 is primarily a policy challenge, rather than just a technological challenge. What we’re doing now isn’t working, so simply doing more of the same isn’t going to get us there. People around the world are demanding their right to food, and they want the right food.” Read more of his remarks.
This means we need to look at how food is produced, and by whom. Agroecological systems, which start from the interplay between the natural environment and agriculture, and build on local priorities and knowledge about site-specific conditions, are at the center of proposals advanced by farmers’, environment and human rights movements and advocates around the world. IATP co-sponsored a congressional briefing on this issue in June, and since then we have been working with experts and allies on agroecology to think through new ways to raise that debate and influence food security and agriculture policies.
As part of that effort, we partnered the Asian Farmers Association for Sustainable Rural Development (AFA) to document successful approaches in Cambodia, the Philippines and Indonesia. IATP and AFA have just issued a new report, Agroecology and Advocacy: Innovations in Asia, which AFA Secretary General (and IATP board member) Esther Penunia is distributing at the Committee on Food Security meeting this week in Rome.
The report highlights some really interesting production methods, such as the System of Rice Intensification in Cambodia. Farmers using that system increased yields by an average of 61 percent, while reducing the use of chemical fertilizers by 72 percent. But changing the production technique is just part of the story. In each case, farmer innovators led the process and worked with environmentalists and consumers to advocate for public policies to support their efforts to provide healthy food at fair prices. It’s time to learn from their experiences, rather than insisting that biotechnology will feed the world.