Oikos - Cooperação e Desenvolvimento
  • Date submitted: 1 Nov 2011
  • Stakeholder type: Major Group
  • Name: Oikos - Cooperação e Desenvolvimento
  • Submission Document: Download
Keywords: Cleaner (0 hits), clean (1 hits),

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The Global Challenge of Food Security in the Twenty-First Century

By: João José Fernandes

Population growth, increased global GDP and the consequent change in consumption patterns, price volatility, market failures, water scarcity, land degradation and soil erosion, loss of biodiversity in ecosystems, climate change and in some regions political instability and social upheaval, are some of the factors that condition the agro-food systems in the coming decades. According to the latest projections, world population, now 7 billion people will reach 8.1 billion in 2030 and 9.2 billion in 2050 (FAO, 2009ai). Virtually all population growth will occur in developing countries (DCs), where the soil and water resources are already facing enormous pressure. In 2006, the population suffering from food insecurity amounted to 854 000 million (FAO 2008ii). In 2009, the population with food insecurity rose to 1.02 billion due to the rising of prices seen in 2008 (FAO, 2009biii). The origin of this trend reversal is the rise in grain prices caused by a set of stressors: drought breaks in production and exporting countries (Australia, Canada), speculative capital in agriculture commodities, rising oil prices and increased demand for cereals ? whether stating the result of demographic pressure ? or the result of demand for raw materials for the production of biofuels. In the future, this combination of factors ? now understood as cyclical ? can become a structural trend. Indeed, demographic pressure and the expansion of consumption in emerging economies, the depletion of fossil fuels (Pick Oil), climate change, soil erosion and soil degradation, advancing desertification and water scarcity are factors that strongly condition the demand for and supply of food in the medium and long term.

How to Answer the Challenge of Global Food Security?

Facing the enormous challenges of food security, two main trends are perceived. The first marked by technological optimism, the second championing the enlargement of the market role, as a panacea for all ills of resource scarcity and environmental degradation. These two trends, with more or less charitable empathy for the poor, mark the mainstreaming economic thinking.

Limits of Technological Innovation Approach

Between 1950 and 2000, world population grew from 2.5 billion to 6 billion people, but the world economy expanded sevenfold. In terms of agriculture, growth in productivity per hectare on the level of cereals rose from 1.1 to 2.7 tons. The application of scientific knowledge to agriculture (advances in genetics and improved agronomic practices), coupled with powerful economic incentives to farmers, has allowed an enormous expansion of world agricultural product. At the level of genetic advances, there is the effort of finding varieties with greater capacity for channelling the photosynthates to the seed. In terms of agronomic practices, expansion of irrigation areas, the intensive use of fertilizers and control of diseases, insects and weeds. However, while in the period from 1950 to 1984 the cereal production rate has expanded faster than population growth, increasing production of cereals per person by 34% since 1984 grain output growth was exceeded by population growth. This drop was not more noticeable only due to increased efficiency in the cereals conversion process into animal protein (Brown, 2005iv).

But is technological innovation the master key and sufficient to meet the challenge of sustainable use of soil and feed a growing population?

In our view, investment in technological innovation may be important but faces major difficulties. Therefore, we are inclined to a more integrated and comprehensive approach. In fact, there are two main obstacles to an answer based solely on technology:

- 1st The current technologies? reserve, available to farmers to increase productivity is almost exhausted, at least for the major powers cereal producers?. As mentioned above, the techniques used during the last decades have extensively explored the genetic potential, in order to increase the percentage of photosynthates that is forwarded to the growth of the seed.

- 2nd A paradigm shift would require increasing the efficiency of the process of photosynthesis, something out of the current possibilities. It is the efficiency of photosynthesis, which, coupled with the availability of agricultural land, defines the quantity of food that the earth can produce.

As Lester Brown notes (Brown, 2005), the advances made until now in genetic engineering and biotechnology are not promising signs in this line of research, limiting the focus on plant tolerance to herbicides, resistance to insects and diseases. To a lesser extent, there were some results about the resistance to drought or salt tolerance. These advances allow only marginal gains in terms of agricultural productivity. Given the physical limitations placed on increasing the efficiency of photosynthesis ? and thus to the increased productivity of the soil ? that the current technological paradigm does not seem able to overcome, we must choose complementary strategies for the expansion of agricultural output. One possible approach is the increase of multiple cropping, i.e. more than one crop per year. In some Asian countries the challenge is to maintain this practice, but countries like the U.S. can gain considerable production with the encouragement of this practice. This will require a reorientation of agricultural research for the development of technologies that enable the acceleration of the maturity cycles of crops from the first and second planting seasons. Another way to increase food production to increase water productivity. The construction of small systems to capture and store rainwater, as well as the development of precision irrigation techniques may prove to be an excellent contribution to conserve the existing irrigation areas, or even to contribute to its expansion. Land productivity can also be increased through the use of crop residues for the production of food, as the case of corn or cane straw of rice and wheat for animal feed, thereby allowing a second crop on the same land. In some parts of the world as in Africa, investment in transport and storage infrastructures could play an important role in increasing food production, facilitating the transition from subsistence farming to agriculture with great economic and productivity increases. These two measures are essential for the efficient link from producers to markets. Finally, it is necessary to find strategies to a more sustainable agriculture, or facilitate the decoupling of product per hectare (Santos, 2009v), given the level of non-renewable resources that produce damage to the natural environment (fertilizers, pesticides, etc...). Sustainable agriculture, particularly relevant in marginal agricultural land implies a more efficient use of resources and the copy of the natural processes at the level of nutrient cycling, nitrogen fixation, soil remediation, and use of natural enemies to control pests. In addition, we need a greater investment in human and social capital, particularly in developing countries. The training of farmers will help to self-sufficiency and the improvement of their agricultural practices, the focus on social capital is decisive for the increase in scale, integrated management of watersheds and forests, as well as access to credit and markets for small producers.

The Market Limits

The creation of markets for all ecosystem services assumes that the commercial interaction between economic agents will reveal the value of services inducing the appropriate incentives to the production, while the ecosystem management organizes itself in order to respond to these incentives. In our opinion, this solution is not applicable in all situations. There are other complementary solutions and, in certain circumstances, more feasible. There are three grounds:

- 1st The market failure does not occur only by the lack of commercial value to some of the services, but also due to the lack of protection of the rights of some stakeholders, including future generations.

- 2nd The creation of markets focuses on the scale of the service, to the detriment of the ecosystem scale. Ecosystem services, object of value, are only the "discrete and identifiable end products" (Kroeger e Caseyvi). Thus, the ecological functions underlying ecosystems are not subject to valuation.

- 3rd Moreover the fact that there are some barriers to the creation of markets as it is the case for some of the services of forest ecosystems. For example, refer to the complexity of the services of biodiversity conservation, the volatility of other services such as carbon sequestration, risks of future losses, the need for long-term monitoring, the impossibility of exclusion in the case of pure public goods such as air quality or climate, and the high transaction costs, e.g. costs of certification of carbon sequestration, which add to the cost of providing the service. The barriers to the creation of markets for some ecosystem services, the need to incorporate all ecosystem services in the decisions of managers, coupled with the need to protect the rights of interested parties who have no voice, as is the case of future generations, lead us to complementary solutions able to ensure effective governance of ecosystems, to be combined in different proportions and whose validity must be assessed according to specific circumstances. We emphasize, in addition to the creation of markets, the regulation by the state, the (re)defining and protecting of the rights of different individuals and groups, the accountability of managers (civil liability, or "societal license to operate"), the definition of new forms of organization for an ecosystem-wide management, or instruments such as green taxes and public payments for environmental services. Finally, it is noted that, even if the solution is the creation of markets, state intervention can be decisive. One of the classical situations is the need for intervention by the states in terms of defining property rights. There are no markets without clear and respected property rights. It is usually the state to define these rights and make them comply, namely through the exclusion of non-owners. Thus, following Bromleyvii, we can say that "while market processes can be used instrumentally after a previous definition of socially desirable environmental conditions, we cannot leave the market to decide on how clean should be our water or our air. The market is also not able to turn out how much biodiversity should be preserved for future generations. " Thus, we cannot accept technological innovation and market instruments as sufficient to solve all the challenges of sustainable food security. They are certainly necessary conditions but not sufficient.

Which role for Sustainable Consumption?

An increase of production which corresponds to the expected consumption as a function of population growth and increased purchasing power is problematic. First, because in the coming decades we will face constraints on natural resources such as soil or water and secondly the increased production and agricultural productivity is only sustainable if it does not result in irreversible losses of biodiversity and increased emissions of irreparable greenhouse gases (GHG). Thus, the solution should be found in a balance between a more eco-efficient agriculture and more sustainable consumption. The term "sustainable consumption" entered the international agenda through Agenda 21, the action plan for sustainable development adopted by 179 heads of state at the Rio Summit in 1992. However, the concept of sustainable consumption is far from obtaining a broad consensus. The first problem is related to the perception of the ultimate (or motive) of the act of consuming. The utilitarian approaches value consumption as a means to increase the utility (welfare) and the decisive factor is the information and knowledge that enable rational utility maximization. In this context, the instruments for sustainable consumption are a certification of "green" consumption and tax incentives to the consumption of "environmentally friendly? products. The scale of the analysis is the individual. It is also in the light of this scale that we situate the psycho-social approaches to consumption. Under this paradigm, the consumer arises as a response to a stimulus of the social or psychological needs. The consumption is then a kind of "identifier" of personality and social group membership. In this context the sustainable consumption emerges as driven by social marketing, aiming at the promotion of an ?environmentally friendly lifestyle"; consuming a "green" product often promoted by a ?celebrity?, "is part of belonging to" a ?tribe?. More recently, some movements have been characterizing the consumption as an act determined by the supply-infrastructure (by supply chains). The scale of analysis becomes the society; consumption is understood as a routine habit, almost imperceptible. Sustainable consumption is then to be distinguished not only by individual preference for consumption, but by the initiatives ? usually at the local level ? aiming at overcome the constraints that are imposed by the format of the global supply chain of goods and services. An example is the local initiatives linking producers and consumers that outline the intermediation of large stores (Seyfang, 2009). The latter approach to sustainable consumption is actually a very profound transformation in consumption patterns, the motion falls into the so-called "New Economy" as opposed to current mainstreaming concept of sustainable economic consumption.

Table 1 summarizes the key differentiating elements between both approaches. (Please reference Submission Document for Table)

Sustainable Consumption and the New Economy

In order to understand the specificity of the concept of sustainable consumption in the ?New Economy?, it is necessary to briefly characterize this movement. First of all, bear in mind that we are no longer under a concept of consumption as "green washing", or consumption as a driver of economic growth. On the contrary, it is proposing a reduction in consumption in absolute terms. Immediately, from the three concepts of sustainable consumption mentioned above, it is this that more boldly relates to the global challenge of food security as introduced at the beginning of our text: population growth, rising standards of consumption, resource scarcity, biodiversity loss, soil degradation and climate change.

What distinguishes the "New Economy" of the mainstreaming concept of Economy?

The distinctive features of the "New Economy" (NE) are four: (i) a comprehensive understanding of the meaning of "welfare" (wealth), (ii) a richer conception about the "labour", (iii) new uses for the money and currency options, (iv) reintegration of ethics in economic life (Boyle, 1993). Influenced by the ecological economics (Costanza, 1991x) the New Economy (NE) puts the environment at the heart of economic analysis, accepting that there are ecological services that cannot be replaced by other types of capital and that ecosystems do not respond in a predictable and linear way to external pressures. It follows that the economy cannot be seen as an abstract mechanism that can generate indefinitely "value" and should take its place in the environment and society as a starting point. The first consequence is the need to design the development of new paradigms such as "welfare", "quality of life", using indicators that can measure social progress and the goals of economic activity more appropriately, in detriment of the sole use of Economic Growth Indicators (GDP - Gross Domestic Product) and its derivatives (Seyfang, 2005xi). The second starting point of the NE is related to the concept of "labour", trying to include the performance of unpaid tasks but socially reproductive, which support communities and families and, accordingly, contribute to the market economy. This approach implies a view of economics that assign "value" to informal, voluntary and unpaid "labour", complementing the formal remuneration for work. A sustainable economy would allow people to enjoy a portfolio of options, undertaking a wide variety of forms of labour ? domestic, voluntary work for the community, paid informal employment with local currencies and informal employment in the market economy. The third feature of the NE is the concept of money. The conventional economics describes the money as a politically and socially neutral technology, which allows to fulfil four functions: to serve as a medium of exchange, a unit of account, a store of value, and a standardized instrument for the deferred payment. NE, by contrast, argues that these functions are rather conflicting agendas (e.g., withdraw money from a local economy to a store of value, inhibits its movement within the community and meeting local needs), and acknowledges that monetary systems are social constructions whose design emphasizes certain purposes and encourages certain behaviours over others. For example, I think we can all agree that the use of the monetary system favours a narrow range of economic activities (valuing what is scarce and not what contributes to the well-being), uprooting the exchange currency of its environment and social ambiance, and inhibiting sustainable consumption. The corollary of this understanding is the need to design new systems of exchange, designed to serve different purposes and to allow an inclusive systemic approach of the social and environmental context of economic activity. NE acknowledges that this approach may be less efficient than a strictly economic point of view, however, by incorporating social and environmental factors appears to be much more rational. Embryos of this approach are the many initiatives around the "complementary currencies" that have emerged among local communities as diverse as the United Kingdom, Brazil and Argentina since the early 1990s. Last but not least decisive, NE considers ethics as central to economic activity. Unlike the apolitical abstractions of conventional economics (which obviously obeys ideologically based policy prescriptions) NE implies a normative analytical approach, which aims to describe and facilitate the transition to a more sustainable society (Seyfang, 2005). With regard to the experience of practical application of this new economic model, NE still lacks empirical investigations to test its ideas and concepts. One area where is relevant to promote a systematic scrutiny of the NE? initiatives is precisely the assessment of its contribution to sustainable consumption. To meet this challenge, Seyfang advances five indicators that must be present in a strategy of sustainable consumption, consistent with the proposals of NE, namely: location, reducing the ecological footprint, community-building, collective action, and creating new procurement and supply infrastructures (Seyfang, 2009). These indicators are briefly presented in Table 2.

Table 2: Evaluation/ Assessment indicators for sustainable consumption (Please reference Submission Document for Table).

In contrast to a "green consumption", so often vulnerable to strategies of "green-washing," the proposal from the NE suggests a sustainable consumption that contributes to an effective reduction of all consumption that does not contribute to the well-being. In contrast to the utilitarian concepts of sustainable consumption, or approaches based exclusively on the identification around social and psychological standards, NE points to the core of sustainability challenges: the promotion of social welfare, quality of life, a quest for courageous social cohesion and environmental protection. In conjunction with measures of eco-efficiency in agriculture and climate change adaptation, the use of economic policy instruments that allow the internalization of many of the environmental impacts of agricultural and livestock production (including market based instruments, such as payment for ecosystem services) ? proposals for sustainable consumption of NE certainly have an important contribution to make in response to global challenges of food security. Will these measures be enough? Will we be able to implement them fast enough? Here's the challenge I leave to civil society practitioners and public decision makers.
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