Development expert Michel Pimbert proposes a return to local production and distribution of food.
Credit: Courtesy of IIED
Lack of Food Is a "Persistent Myth"
By Stephen Leahy
Rising fuel and transportation costs could force governments to return to local production of food, scientist Michel Pimbert says in a Tierramérica interview.
LONDON, May 19 (Tierramérica).- The current food crisis has revived the myth that the world doesn't produce enough food for its six billion people, according to Michel Pimbert, author of a new study that highlights local production as a potential solution.
It is a "manufactured crisis" that is the outcome of a market-driven, global food system, says Pimbert, director of the agriculture and biodiversity program at the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).
That system needs to evolve towards localized food production that allows people to improve nutrition, income and economies, starting at the household level and through the regional level, he says.
Pimbert outlines his ideas in a web-based publication, "Towards Food Sovereignty", which has linked video and audio files of testimonies from farmers, indigenous peoples and consumers. The first three chapters are available on IIED's website (www.iied.org).
Pimbert is not alone in calling for a major shift in agriculture
On Apr. 15, the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) released the results of three years of research. It concluded that "business as usual" in agriculture is the road to disaster.
Although not directly involved in IAASTD, Pimbert said his research parallels that effort by directly working with traditional herders and farmers to include the viewpoints of marginalized peoples around the world.
Tierramérica's Stephen Leahy spoke with Pimbert at his office in London.
TIERRAMÉRICA: Many public officials and institutions are calling for increased food production to solve the food crisis. What do you think?
MICHEL PIMBERT: It is a persistent myth that there isn't enough food to feed everyone. There is still enough food grown to feed everyone. Food distribution and income inequity are the real issues.
The FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization), CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agriculture and Research) and other agriculture research centers are calling for more research on boosting crop yields. That's more of the same thing. No one is looking at access to food and land. It's much easier to talk about technology fixes rather than the big picture.
It is now time to look long and hard at what is wrong with the global food system and to find ways to make it work better, especially for poor and marginalized communities. We need to open up our vision or the problems we face will simply continue.
TA: What are local food systems?
MP: Local food systems start at the household level and expand to neighborhood, municipal and regional levels. Aside from food production they also include processing, distribution, access, use, recycling and waste. Local food systems vary greatly and are the foundation for livelihoods, cultures and wellbeing of hundreds of millions of people, mostly in developing nations.
TA: What are the advantages of local food production?
MP: They are far more democratic, offering greater control by citizens. They are more ecologically sustainable and more adaptable to changing conditions.
They also keep money in the community and generate more local income. And equally important is that local food production enhances cultural diversity, reflecting the local history and circumstances. After all, food is cultural.
TA: What needs to be done to create or strengthen local food systems?
MP: Governments, international corporations and other elites either marginalize or directly threaten these diverse systems and the ecologies they depend on. Thirty years of neo-liberal policies have devastated local food systems by dumping heavily subsidized foods from the rich nations on the poor.
TA: How could local food systems be rebuilt, say, in a place like Haiti where there have been food riots?
MP: The first thing is to look at the policies that are preventing or hindering the emergence of local food systems. Halting the imports of cheap subsidized food would be a first step. Food systems can be made fair and sustainable, but to achieve that national and international policies promoting food sovereignty are needed along with stronger federations of local organizations.
Protection of domestic agriculture is absolutely necessary in many poor countries. It's interesting that a number of nations are doing exactly that right now. India, for example, is simply rejecting the World Trade Organization's mantra of open markets to take control of its own food security.
TA: What do you mean by the term food sovereignty?
MP: Food sovereignty is the right of people to define their own food and agriculture. It is about regenerating a diversity of autonomous food systems based on equity, social justice and ecological sustainability.
TA: What impact will rising oil and energy prices have on agriculture?
MP: The global industrialized agriculture system is utterly dependent on cheap energy. Ten to 15 units of energy are used in that system to produce one energy unit of food. Local food production systems are far more energy efficient and rising energy costs may push governments and others to recognize this.
As the IAASTD study concluded, our food system needs a complete transformation to meet the challenges of the next few decades. Will we simply tinker at the edges of the existing unsustainable system, or will we make the deep transformation that integrates food, ecology, livelihoods and culture?
TA: What do you hope to accomplish with your book?
MP: I hope it will generate conversation around these important issues and that it will increase awareness that transformation is needed at all levels. I really hope people will think deeply about this and push for change.
* Stephen Leahy is an IPS correspondent.