De Schutter calls for local agroecology and accountability in food systems

By Isaac Hopkins

The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future hosted the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Professor Olivier de Schutter.

Olivier de Schutter has been the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food since 2008 (Photo Credit: Penn State University)

De Schutter linked our current food system problems to the “green revolution” of the 1960’s, during which the focus of agriculture in countries like Mexico, China, and India was on sheer production and providing inexpensive food for urban areas. This had a catastrophic impact on the viability of small-holder farmers, dietary diversity, and the environmental conditions of the land. During the 1980s, governments began to pull away from agriculture, investing in industry, and leaving small-scale farmers to cope with market problems on their own.

Developing countries in particular are now suffering under a “triple burden,” says De Schutter, of under-fed people—malnourished people who get enough, but empty, calories; and over-fed individuals who suffer from weight-related diseases, such as diabetes and cardio-vascular disease. In Mexico, for example, 18 percent of people are food insecure and 70 percent of adults are overweight. De Schutter says that “we have no food crisis. We have a poverty crisis, we have an environmental crisis, and we have a nutrition crisis.”

De Schutter proposed a three-fold solution to these problems, calling for a reinvigoration of localized food systems to augment the global food system, a greater emphasis on agroecology, including agroforestry, and independent accountability that holds governments to specific objectives and strategies. He cautioned that as more countries progress through the “nutrition transition”—toward processed, cheap food and away from traditional diets and lifestyle—it will become increasingly difficult to reverse the process, but that we have the means to do so now.

When it comes to shaping our food system so that it is environmentally and socially sustainable, De Schutter says that we should embrace each step of the transition, rather than focusing only on the lofty final goal of universal access to high quality food. “It’s not,” he says, “about architecture; it’s about music, where every note counts.”

What do you think? How can we ensure that people have access to healthy and nutritious food? Tell us in the comments section!

Isaac Hopkins is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To read more about food security, see: Ensuring Nutrition and Food Security in South Asia, World Health Organization launches new tool to help combat malnutrition, UN warns of 750,000 deaths in drought-affected Horn of Africa, and IFPRI Millions Fed Technical Compendium.

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