How to Feed the World?

During the FEI, we critically analyse the question how to feed the world. We will go beyond the narrative of the ‘second Green Revolution’ which tells us that ‘we’ can only feed the world by increasing use of technology and to scale up even more. We will turn the question around: can conventional agriculture feed the world?

* Did you know that 97 % of all farms worldwide is smaller than 2 hectares? Those small (family) farms produce more than half of all the food, while using only 20% of all agricultural land. So 50% of all the food produced on 20% of the land – that seems to me like a pretty efficient way of farming.” – Pablo Tittonell, 2014 (Farming Systems Ecology Chairgroup, Wageningen University, the Netherlands). That’s why it’s so important to support small scale family farms

* Currently, some 30-50% of the produced food is wasted, thrown away. Because the cucumber isn’t straight enough, because it loses quality during the transport or storage, because of the ‘date of expiry’ etc. and can’t be sold anymore. If, however, we promote small scale agriculture and local markets, as well as urban farming, having some fresh veggies from your own garden, you can eliminate this waste, which means we would have even more than enough food to feed 9 billion people in 2050. (Note that small scale farmers/gardeners also have food waste. However, this waste often ends up at their composte heap, which means the food isn’t actual waste, since the nutrients will be reused on the land again.)

* Conventional farming is completely dependent on non-renewable energy. Farmers are using tractors (on diesel) to plow the field, and drill the seeds into the earth. To protect the crop, the farmer will add fungicides, herbicides, insecticides: all made from oil. For the nutrients, chemical fertilizers are added: made from natural gas, and partially extracted from mines (e.g. phosphor mines in Morocco and China; see ‘Peak-Phosphorus’). Then, the crop needs to be harvested with a tractor – on diesel. Afterwards, it will be transported by trucks – even more fuel, and then processed in huge industrial factories with machines that run on fuel. After this, the final product will be transported over very large distances via trucks, planes or container ships. We are now around the tip of the Peak Oil, which means that food prices are going to rise in the very near future.. See documentary Farm for the Future. And besides Peak Oil, there is the less known Peak Phosphate – see short video ‘Het fosforprobleem‘ or the article ‘Peak-Phosphorus’

* The true costs of conventional agriculture are externalized (not included in the price), leading to unfair competition. A study of Trucost for the FAO shows how alternative approaches to agriculture can benefit farmers and the environment, ensuring sustainable and affordable food supplies for all. “The high environmental cost of industrialized farming practices is not reflected in food prices, leaving us vulnerable to supply disruption and price shocks as the effects of climate change worsen.” Industrialized farming practices cost the environment some $3.33 trillion per year, see summary or full document of the Trucost Study for FAO.

* What’s the use of producing a higher yield, when the vitamins and minerals are decreasing… Banana’s lost 95% of vitamin B6, potatoes lost 78% of their calcium, carrots lost 75% of the magnesium, spinach lost 65% of the vit.C between 1985 and 2002 – all due to the fact that conventional (Industrial) farming exhausts our soils, thereby killing soil life which is needed for healthy food, rich on vitamins and minerals – and partly due to transport,storage etc. (see Geigy)

* Just to make it clear: there is no food shortage in the first place. According to the United Nations UNCTAD report, we currently have enough food to feed 12-14 billion people. Those who claim there is a shortag of food (ignoring access to food, land, water, resources) are often also claiming that only they can solve this problem. This is called Food Power (Jonathan Latha, PhD).

* ‘How to feed the world’ – is it a question or part of a method used to control food production (and in this way countries) throughout the world? See:
* Zap! The Weapon is Food  
* Scarce Goods as Political Weapon
* Hungry Corporations, Helena Paul (a summary)
* How the Great Food War Will Be Won.

If we really want to feed the world, we have to urgently put land back in the hands of small farmers and make the struggle for agrarian reform central to the fight for better food systems. See this report GRAIN, 2014.

Professor Pablo Tittonell explains: “Towards ecological intensification of world agriculture
See also the TEDx Presentation: “Feeding the world with Agroecology
And this article (in Dutch): Tittonel, 2015. Lang leve de biologische landbouw (NRC)



❢Concentration of land and wealth: Small family farms are disappearing rapidly in Europe!
The EU has approximately 12 million farms.
–> 3% are large farms (more than 100 Hectares).
–> this 3% controls 50% of all farmed land in Europe!
❢E.g. Germany: 1,246,000 farms in 1966/67 to only 299,100 farms in 2010 (only 24% of farms left).  Of these holdings, the land area covered by small farms (less than 2 ha) shrunk from 123,670 ha in 1990 –> 20,110 hectares in 2007. While the land area covered by big farms (more than 50 ha) expanded from 9,200,000 ha in 1990 to 12,600,000 ha in 2007 (see map)
Meanwhile, the price of Agricultural land in Germany has skyrocketed. This is a reflection of the new ‘interest in land’ by those with large amount of capital.
❢This concentration of land and wealth is supported with public money, through subsidies paid under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The winners of the growing land concentration and land grab are large Industrial farm-holdings, strengthening the agribusiness.
❢Land is being grabbed across Europe for multiple reasons: production of raw materials for the food industry dominated by transnational companies, extractive industry, bio-energy, “green grabs” such as vast solar greenhouses, urban sprawl, real estate interests, tourism enclaves, and other commercial undertakings.
(Read more: Land concentration, land grabbing and people’s struggles in Europe, La Via Campesina)


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