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Prof Elver: Small farmers, agroecology can feed the world

Prof Elver: Small farmers, agroecology can feed the world

Sep 24, 2014

In her first public speech since being appointed in June, the new United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Prof Hilal Elver, has issued a harsh warning: “Food policies which do not address the root causes of world hunger would be bound to fail.”

Prof Elver says modern industrial agricultural methods can no longer feed the world, due to the impacts of overlapping environmental and ecological crises linked to land, water and resource availability.

Speaking recently in Amsterdam, she called on governments to support a transition to “agricultural democracy” which would empower rural small farmers, saying: “One billion people globally are hungry.”

Her message was that agriculture needs a new direction: agroecology. “The 2009 global food crisis signalled the need for a turning point in the global food system,” she said at the event hosted by the Transnational Institute (TNI), a leading international think tank.

“Modern agriculture, which began in the 1950s, is more resource intensive, very fossil fuel dependent, using fertilisers, and based on massive production. This policy has to change. We are already facing a range of challenges. Resource scarcity, increased population, decreasing land availability and accessibility, emerging water scarcity, and soil degradation require us to re-think how best to use our resources for future generations.”

New scientific research increasingly shows how agroecology offers far more environmentally sustainable methods that can still meet the rapidly growing demand for food, Prof Elver said. “Agroecology is a traditional way of using farming methods that are less resource oriented, and which work in harmony with society. New research in agroecology allows us to explore more effectively how we can use traditional knowledge to protect people and their environment at the same time.”

Small farmers hold the key

“There is a geographical and distributional imbalance in who is consuming and producing. Global agricultural policy needs to adjust. In the crowded and hot world of tomorrow, the challenge of how to protect the vulnerable is heightened,” Prof Elver said. “That entails recognising women’s role in food production – from farmer, to housewife, to working mother, women are the world’s major food providers.

“Across Europe, the US and the developing world, small farms face shrinking numbers. So if we deal with small farmers we solve hunger and we also deal with food production.”

According to an article in The Ecologist, Prof Elver is research professor and co-director at the Project on Global Climate Change, Human Security, and Democracy in the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara. She is also an experienced lawyer and diplomat. A former founding legal advisor at the Turkish Ministry of Environment, she was previously appointed to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Chair in Environmental Diplomacy at the Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies, University of Malta.

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