In a recent UN news release, Olivier De Schutter highlighted the need to understand food insecurity and hunger as a political problem, not just a technical one.

In a recent UN news release, Olivier De Schutter (the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food) highlighted the need to understand food insecurity and hunger as a political problem, not just a technical one.

Mr. De Schutter calls for improved accountability to fight against the socio-political circumstances, including marginalisation and discrimination that leaves many groups in societies without access to adequate food.  He presented his report to the UN Third Committee, detailing the progress made on the right to food over the past 10 years.  He argues for the importance of understanding food as a human right as a tool towards building legal frameworks to increase accountability among decision makers of food and agricultural policy.    

Recent revelations pertaining to the extent of food waste (estimated that one third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted) further point to the fact that hunger cannot merely be tackled by increasing productivity, for example by intensified farming or GM crops, but incorporates problems of distribution and availability as well as social equity. Although scientific and innovations have brought about benefits in many cases, there is an increasing awareness that farmer-led innovations which challenge the top-down model of technology and knowledge transfer are a much more effective way to tap into farmer’s expertise and give them control over their own livelihood strategies.

Ecosystems approaches that support smallholder expertise, such as agroecology, are showing their potential to offer greater opportunities for sustainable production. Many commentators, including Olivier De Schutter are pointing out the increasing relevance of small-scale famer led innovations and techniques in the context of climate change and resource depletion.  Some figures show that small scale farming accounts for 50-75% of the domestic food supply in many developing countries, using culturally and biologically diverse agricultural methods.  Agroecology is now becoming considered as the “science of sustainable agriculture” that is founded on collective farmer’s knowledge. Olivier De Schutter stated that “agroecology, if sufficiently supported, can double food production in entire regions within ten years while mitigating climate and alleviating rural poverty.”

Agroecology also faces many dilemmas, and one of its main challenges is that it is often too dynamic, complex and context specific to be objectively assessed or scaled up. Its affects are often unquantifiable and difficult to measure, especially in the face of technocratic approaches to agroculture using transgenic crops, herbicides and mono-cropping to increase aggregate yields.  

Investing in people, though understanding the interconnectivity between social, political and technical approaches could bring a much more effective and sustainable approach to improving food production and security.

Read more:

Schutter, O. D. Agroecology and the Right to Food (Report presented at the 16th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, 2011) (Africa: Agroecology Taps a Wellspring of Farming Knowledge)