Food prices are expected to stay low for the next decade or so, according to recent reports from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
That is good news to people who eat, which, of course, includes farmers. But it does remind us that farmers should not be expecting huge price increases at the farm gate.
Globalization has failed them as they produced more when asked and now face stagnating demand despite world hunger. Food prices are determined by those countries that have and is not considerate of those that have not.
Meanwhile, fear is still being sold through the media, and scientists and special interest groups are piggybacking on the cry that ‘We need to feed the world and save the planet.’
One team of international agrologists is quite clear on our apparent demise and call for solutions such as a change in consumption patterns globally. Absent is the realism that the diet of a person in the developed world differs from the diet of the person in a developing country. Are they speaking to the one who says, ‘I hope I don’t eat too much,’ as well as the one who says, ‘I hope I have enough to eat’?
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As diet and disease are closely related, is this a consumption problem or is baby formula still going to be pitched to impoverished mothers even though this interruption accounts for 1.5 million baby deaths each year because they are not breastfed? Will there still be cola available in the village that lacks food and water?
No worries, chime the researchers, this can be changed with ‘transformative food systems.’ This includes the farmer’s adaptation to climate change; the storage of carbon in soils; new urban and rural social contracts; and innovation in rural areas. This transformative innovation is centred around the solution of growing of maize and this is the main recommendation in the report.
Let’s be clear. The monoculture of maize does not reduce climate issues, store carbon, earn social licence, or transform food systems. Growing more maize benefits those with the seed, the fertilizer, the herbicides, pesticides, and the mill — and contributes to mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria. Monoculture crops such as maize are costly to grow, deplete the soil, pressure the environment, create economic dependencies, wipe out biodiversity, and widen the gap between the urban and rural understanding of food and a balanced nutritional diet. But maize, argues the report, should be for humans and not animals.
Weaving through the text I wonder if this is an address on human need or another attack on animal agriculture. A highly acclaimed report to the FAO created without scientific input argues that maintaining the current growth in dairy and meat equates to the “creation of a public health hazard” which was related to climatic warming.
My question is: Are we trying to feed the world or profit from it? Which lens are we looking through?
Promoting maize in a research project as a solution to global hunger is highly subjective. It would however, be profitable for the owners of the inputs and maize is storable. But so is millet, pulses, barley, spelt, farro, teff, wheat, rice, and a host of other grains. Milk products are also storable as are meat products and the world benefits from leather, tallow, and a host of other byproducts.
All of these reports were written under the guise of addressing world hunger but the slant is to profit from it — a challenge to food systems since the beginning of time. In an American-based report, the author finds the solution in urging taxpayers to fund universal programs that restrict farmers to “supply a moderate amount” of meat and milk. This will apparently also save the planet at taxpayers’ cost. But will it feed her people?
Shifting in our seat to look at the world from a different window is always desirable.
In doing so, we gain a greater appreciation of other points of view. Sometimes though, those views are narrow in perspective, such as the ones highlighted in this column, and as we are thoughtfully trying to gauge the bias behind the discussion and the impact the recommendations will have, policy has changed or industry has been attacked.
As farmers and members of the food system, we cannot be bystanders to this parade. We hold the solutions to obesity, disease, balanced diets, ecology, climate health, environmental healing, strong rural communities, social licence and urban engagement, technology, seed and biodiversity. To help us get to where we need to go we need sound, unbiased science so the world can see a variety of solutions through a holistic lens. We need collaborative sharing and a multidisciplinary approach so many scientific and technical voices are heard, and who along with farmers, are clearly focused on feeding the planet and her people.