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for a responsible, fair & sustainable food system

UNCTAD Issues Wake Up Call for Food Production

Immediate release (20 Sep 2013)

Calls to: Pete Riley 07903 341 065

A major new report from the UN’s Conference on Trade and Development, subtitled Wake up before it is too late, is calling for “a rapid and significant shift” away from chemical- and energy-intensive industrial farming to “mosaics of sustainable regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers and foster rural development”. [1]

More than 50 international experts contributed to the report’s analysis that globalisation has lead to a reliance on fewer crop varieties, which “has aggravated the environmental crisis of agriculture and has reduced agricultural resilience”. The report states that monoculture and industrial farming are not providing sufficient affordable food, yet are causing increasing amounts of unsustainable environmental damage. It says we need to concentrate instead on reducing the ecological impacts of industrial farming while expanding the use of agroecological methods.

The report says that food shortages are caused by poverty and inequity rather than a lack of food, noting that we currently produce enough food for 12-14 billion people. It blames free markets for undermining food production and availability in the Global South, as well as for increased food insecurity everywhere caused by extreme price volatility as seen in 2008. Critically the report says trade rules should aim for “as much regionalized/localised food production as possible; as much traded food as necessary”.

This new approach includes ensuring that small farmers are viewed as more than mere producers of goods to be traded. Farmers everywhere need to be supported in producing food for themselves and their communities while restoring the soil and other ecosystem processes to full functionality. This will help us cope with the effects of climate change on food production, reduce sources of food-related violence and political instability globally and slow agriculture’s impact on our environment.

The report recognises the failure of some agricultural technologies (like pesticides and GM) to produce a balanced diet for all in a changing climate or to restore vital ecosystem functions. Reducing food waste and the use of grain crops to produce meat are also given prominence as vital areas for action by politicians and those involved in food production.

Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

Not for the first time a UN report sends out a very clear message that we need fundamental change in the way we produce and trade food in order to feed everyone and reduce the impact of agriculture as a driver of climate change. This is an enormous challenge that so far politicians, bureaucrats, industry and many scientists have failed to understand and act upon.

Millions of male and female farmers around the world already have the skills and knowledge to deliver a sustainable food supply based on food sovereignty and agroecological techniques. Instead they are offered a slightly tweaked version of industrial agriculture, including intensive GM crop production, which UNCTAD says is a major contributor to climate change and environmental degradation.

The report’s clear message to politicians is that business as usual is not the answer. It comes at an excellent time as the US and EU embark on a new round of trade negotiations that are headed in the wrong direction. They need to listen and stop using the empty slogan ‘sustainable intensification’ when all they really mean is more of what is already causing huge problems for everyone other than big business.



[1] UNCTAD, 18 September 20913. Trade and Environment Review 2013: Wake up before it it too late – Make agriculture truly sustainable now for food security in a changing climate