GM crops rather than sustainable agricultural research are getting the funding in the UK, even though there is no UK market for GM.
By contrast, the French Agency for Development has adopted new sustainable development principles and safeguards that include no funding of GM crops, and giving priority to small scale family farming in agriculture. (item 2)
1.Sustainable food experts call for research regime change
2.Eighteen months of change at the French Ministry for Development
1.Sustainable food experts call for research regime change
Farming News, 22 October 2013
Agroecology is a sustainable agricultural approach, which is quickly rising to greater prominence, having found favour with a number of influential food policy and agricultural research bodies around the world.
The approach uses the latest plant and soil science, as well as social sciences to develop "robust, productive and equitable" food systems that aim to be environmentally restorative, locally sensitive, biologically and genetically rich and to factor in the human communities dependent on the system. Agroecology practitioners claim the approach is both a science – that "studies agricultural systems from an ecological and… socio-economic perspective" – and a movement, like organic farming. In practice, agroecology can borrow from permaculture to create closed systems, or involve rediscovering forgotten techniques that mimic or work with, rather than seek to dominate and overcome, nature.
However, although agroecology has been lauded by some of the most influential policy makers and agriculturalists in the world, its supporters claim there remains a dearth of funding and research into the approach that must be addressed. Despite having found favour with the authors of the 2009 IAASTD report into food security, the UN rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier de Schutter, and even a cross-party group of MPs in the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology which formed in 2011, only 1 percent of agricultural research spending in the UK goes on agroecology projects, compared to 11 percent for organic and 15 percent for GM crops.
At a meeting in Parliament on Wednesday, members of the Centre for Agroecology and Food Security (CAFS) called on MPs to secure research funding for agroecology, which they believe could address problems facing food production in the UK and abroad, as well as driving the farming sector towards long-term sustainability. They said for this to happen, there must be fundamental changes to both the agriculture and research industries.
Agroecologists in parliament
Researchers from CAFS, formed out of a partnership between Coventry University and Garden Organic, said research spending in the UK must be more socially just and directly involve "those on the receiving end" of the research. To illustrate their position, CAFS members published a discussion paper on Mainstreaming Agroecology to coincide with the event. The paper provides some context to the big questions facing food producers and politicians; climate change, peak oil and a growing world population will all massively transform the face of food production around the world.
Although the mid-twentieth century "green revolution" led to breakthroughs that saw physical agricultural output double, it also ushered in a food system that is highly reliant on large inputs of agri-chemicals, mono-cultural crop production (which is extremely fragile in the face of climate change) and large-scale farm units. Furthermore, the narrowing diversity of crops bred for high yield potential has inadvertently stripped nutrients from almost all major agricultural crops. Mineral levels in fruits and vegetables in the UK fell by up to 76 percent between 1940 and 1991.
Whilst the CAFS researchers said the dilemma facing food producers is usually framed form the top-down perspective of "how to feed a growing world population", an alternative perspective – and that adopted by agroecologists – "asks how to enable populations to feed themselves."
Recent research into agorecology has delivered extremely promising results; a study from 2011 examining 40 initiatives in 20 countries, involving 10.4 million farmers and over 12 million ha of land, revealed average yield increases of 113 percent, alongside environmental benefits such as reduced soil erosion, lower pesticide use and improved carbon sequestration. The study looked at the potential of sustainable livestock production, aquaculture, agroforestry, conservation agriculture and the use of improved crop varieties (with locally appropriate cultivars and cropping systems).
Call for better research spending
CAFS director Michel Pimbert, who has done work and research for a number of influential food and environment bodies, including FAO and UNESCO, explained that, although it is portrayed as objective and independent, research spending and allocation are products of the wider social and political landscape. In the UK, research funding fulfills a private sector agenda, not a socially-oriented one.
Agroforestry is just one approach, linked to agroecology, with massive potential but limitations in a neoliberal system
The current research system is influenced by large companies, values specialisation and advocates product-based research. Thus, simplistic "quick fixes", which can be demonstrated to tackle one symptom or aspect of an (often structural) problem will benefit from research spending, rather than more holistic approaches. Michel said public sector spending should shift to uphold public vales and deliver results to support environmentally and socially sustainable food production.
Olivier de Schutter, the lawyer and special rapporteur who prominently championed agroecology in his 2010 report to the UN ,said, "Agroecology is a knowledge-intensive approach. It requires public policies supporting agricultural research and participative extension services. States and donors have a key role to play here. Private companies will not invest time and money in practices that cannot be rewarded by patents and which don't open markets for chemical products or improved seeds."
The researchers acknowledge that, amongst the factors that have hindered agroecology's transition into the mainstream is its economic viability in a market system; because the negative impacts of industrial agriculture are currently externalised (that is, impacts on human and environmental health) and paid for by government and society in other ways, to many it appears a cheap way to keep producing food. Unless its social and environmental aspects are valued and supported, agroecology approaches can struggle when faced with relatively high set-up costs, and the realities of working within "an international economy dominated by neoliberal narratives... and entrenched political interests of agri-businesses", the CAFS researchers said.
They therefore acknowledge that greater support for agroecology, including increased uptake of the approach in the field, may require an overhaul of the research industry and the political game to create more citizen engagement and responsive policies. Professor Pimbert called for "fundamental changes in the way we produce knowledge, in the way research institutions are organised," to ensure policy makers are mindful of the people on the receiving end of their policies and research.
The CAFS researchers recommend looking across traditional barriers, to link research into energy, health, food production, waste and education. Such a cross-sectoral approach was recommended in May this year by the Commons' Environmental Audit Committee in its report on Sustainable Food, which was heavily critical of the current government's approach to food policy.
On Wednesday, Pimbert said key policy and research decisions should be framed around the question, "what kind of society do people want?" He said growing evidence of unsustainable waste, increasing food insecurity and environmental degradation illustrates the pressing need for cooperation between traditionally distinct sectors to devise wasteless, healthy and socially just food systems. In the UK, 40 percent of food that is bought currently goes to waste, while the Trussel Trust revealed last Tuesday (World Food Day) that the number of people being referred to foodbanks (which has increased alarmingly since the coalition government came to power) has tripled in the last year and the latest review of soil health in 2009 found the country is losing two million tonnes of topsoil every year.
Pimbert said the CAFS researchers' recommendations would amount to "an overhaul of the knowledge production industry" in light of the social and ecological challenges facing humanity, to which market forces, and the current food production paradigm, have yet to find an answer that fits.
Growing profile of agroecology
However, despite the urgent problems facing society, the CAFS team said some researchers have already made invaluable inroads into agrocecology research. Not content to wait for government approval, BASE (a group of farmers conducting their own self-funded research in France) and other grassroots research organisations have been experimenting and sharing their results "open source". In the UK, sustainable food groups and Community Supported Agriculture projects such as those in Stroud and Totnes provide examples of citizens coming together to furnish their communities with sustainable food and improve their own environment.
Michel Pimbert said this is one of agroecology's most productive areas – many important leaps forward have been led by people working outside the university or conventional market systems, but he stressed that public support is needed to see these ideas shared on a national or international scale.
As well as increasing support for these decentralised research networks, allowing peer-to-peer knowledge sharing to influence work in the field, those gathered in Parliament suggested that Pillar Two (rural development) funding could go towards agroecology research under the reformed Common Agricultural Policy.
However, although the rising profile of agroecology means it is gaining political attention, the CAFs researchers said this means it has suffered from ideological attempts to water down or slightly alter understanding of the approach, or even greenwash conventional agricultural techniques via association with agroecology.
The CAFS team warned that agroecology remains loosely defined, which is a strength in some senses (as it avoids the dogma and high-prices attached to organic food production) it has also become the victim of its own success in some ways. As with 'sustainable intensification', which by disavowing nothing has been co-opted and subsumed into corporate discourse, agroecology is at risk of being diluted, or having its socially-focused tenets stripped to assimilate it into the current agricultural paradigm.
In France, the national research institute INRA and foreign development bodies have already made commitments to deliver agroecological solutions. Although these commitments show some progress has been made in mainstreaming agroecology, Pimbert warned that the agencies' understanding also involves "window dressing damaging approaches through modernised language". The CAFS discussion paper warns that "such attempts to include some sustainable practices in industrial agriculture do little to address the fundamental structural problems of the model."
Nevertheless, the researchers were positive in parliament that, with the political will, and the right engagement with farmers and citizens, sustainable and affordable food can become a reality in the UK and elsewhere.
The CAFS discussion paper is available here.
2.Eighteen months of change at the French Ministry for Development
France's Minister Delegate for Development, 24 October 2013
After 18 months of actions within the Ministery for Development, I would like to share with you this little “midterm review” of our new development policy.
Five key markers of our new development policy:
The first French Law on Development and International Solidarity will be discussed in Parliament early 2014;
In 2013, 10% of the revenues of the French financial tax transaction are earmarked for development activities (15% in 2014);
The French Agency for Development (Agence Française de Développement) has adopted new sustainable development principles and safeguards: no funding of coal and of GMO crops; zero deforestation objective for primary forest and no impact on critical biodiversity habitats; priority to sustainable energies in energy projects; priority to small scale family farming in agriculture;
Strengthened dialogue among Development stakeholders, and doubling of funding made available to NGOs for the implementation of French aid;
Gender equality is positioned at the heart of French Development policy and programs; by 2014, 50% of French supported development projects to include gender equality objectives.
Please click here to read the details of these accomplishments (only in French)