In early March, the government of Qatar played host to the 5th United Nations Conference for Least Developed Countries (LDCs). First devised 50 years ago, the LDC category is today a measure of both poverty (low per capita GDP) and economic, social and environmental vulnerability. Today, 46 countries have the dubious honor of LDC status; together, they are home to more than half of world’s extremely poor (those living on less than $1.90 per day). Unsurprisingly, food security is a priority concern for these countries, and our organization, IATP, was in Qatar with partners from organizations who work in close to half all LDCs, calling for a halt to agricultural development that fosters dependence and debt, and for investment instead in agroecological transitions and food sovereignty.
Sadly, the dominant story told by governments at the U.N. LDC5 was a story of vulnerability, scarcity and lack. The speeches on food security from governments, private sector actors and UN officials assumed lack of supply was the problem, a scarcity explained by lack of technology, fertilizer, energy, credit, transport and storage infrastructure, all contributing to low productivity. That is the story told by Bill Gates and his foundation staff, by the former Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (now simply AGRA), by USAID and myriad U.N. agencies, and by many LDC governments, too.
At the 5th U.N. Conference for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in Doha, Qatar on March 6, 2023, IATP Executive Director Sophia Murphy delivers an intervention on behalf of IATP.
There is truth to many parts of this story, yet its overall effect is deeply misguided. It presents limited choices, shortchanges diversity, and proposes an industrial model of agriculture based on economics that has a long record of extracting wealth from farms and rural communities. The dominant story misses entirely the natural wealth many LDCs possess, and the knowledge and know-how of their people. It overlooks the failings of industrial agriculture and the achievements of the food systems that do the lion’s share of the work to provide food for hundreds of millions of people, despite the lack of investment and attention from government or donors.
Eighty years of green revolution technologies have dramatically increased yields, but hunger persists, and environmental damage has reached alarming levels in many parts of the world.
LDC partners speaking in Doha told a different story: a story of agriculture full of hope and possibility. The stories centered on farmers and communities investing in what they already have, building on their knowledge with new ideas and adaptations learned from other farmers and scientists grappling with similar challenges. Instead of growing export crops to pay for food imports, agroecology values local knowledge, farmers’ own seed systems and local capacity. Outside help is welcome, and often needed, but only if it comes in partnership, ready to learn and share knowledge and technology rather than to impose an external solution. Agroecology is about local and democratic control.
AFSA Floraison Program Coordinator Claire Améyo Quenum speaks on the importance of food sovereignty and agroecology in meeting sustainable development goals.
The complex of indicators that define LDCs correlate dependence on agriculture (a high share of agriculture, forestry and fisheries in GDP) with vulnerability. Food sovereignty turns this on its head. Access to arable land, livestock and fisheries, and the knowledge of how best to cultivate them, can be a strength, not a weakness.
There is nothing trivial about the complex problems facing many LDC food systems. One of our partners, Cantave Jean Baptiste, was from Haiti with an NGO called Partnenariat pour le développement locale (Partnership for local development). Cantave told us about Haiti: It is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere (and the only LDC in the Americas). The U.N. ranks it 10th in the world for the scale and extent of hunger in the country; over 37% of the population are estimated to be in urgent need of food aid. Yet Cantave’s story is one of hope. Evaluators of the agroecological farming led by Cantave in communities in Haiti’s north found that the adoption of agroecological model farming leads to impressive increases in productivity and a doubling of per hectare profitability; agroecological practices can increase water retention and carbon sequestration in the soil, reduce topsoil losses and mudslides, and increase food security; and farmer-centered and decentralized agricultural innovation, extension and development deserve support for the promise they offer for the country’s economic wellbeing, farm community livelihoods and climate resilience.
Smallholder producers are the heart of the food system. They are one of the four central elements of the second U.N. Sustainable Development Goal. Most of the world’s population lives in food systems that still rely on local production, uncultivated foods and crops that never cross a border. Making good on the LDC plan for the decade ahead requires us to understand, invest and engage with those food systems and the people that steward them, using the agroecological principles adopted by the U.N. Committee on World Food Security. It’s time to see where the real potential lies, for LDCs as for others: in food systems that build the wealth we want and need, in healthy people and the health of the planet that sustains us.
April 20 U.N. Town Hall
Our LDC group was selected to deliver one of three CSO statements addressing the mid-term review of the SDGs (UN Agenda 2030) at the April 20 United Nations Town Hall in New York. Cantave Jean Baptiste of Partnenariat pour le développement locale (Partnership for local development) delivered the statement at the U.N. Town Hall on agroecology as a strategy to meet SDGs in LDCs on behalf of IATP, Alliance for Food Soverienty in Africa (AFSA), Groundswell International, UBINIG, Food Information Action Network (FIAN), ROPPA, SID, SEARICE, PDL, RAPDA-Togo and Cultivate!
Cantave's statement was based on the following statement recorded by Rehema Namaganda Bavuma of FIAN Uganda.