UN Report Calls for a Realignment of Agricultural Reform

By Laura Reynolds

The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) has released a report entitled “Food and Agriculture: The future of sustainability.” The report will provide input for UNDESA’s Sustainable Development in the 21st century (SD21) Report for Rio+20, which will serve as a roadmap during the UN Conference on Sustainable Development this June.

A new UN report calls for sustained investment in smallholder farmers. (Image credit: UNDESA)

The report sought contributions from four major groups working in the global food and agriculture system: a policy and trade group, a business specialists group, a rural livelihoods and poverty expert group, and an agricultural production and environmental sustainability group. Nourishing the Planet director Danielle Nierenberg coordinated the rural livelihoods and poverty expert group.

The central idea of the report is that during this century, farmers will need to produce more food per unit of land, water, and agrochemicals to feed the rapidly growing world population. But they will have to do this while facing climate change, market and social volatility, shifting nutrition needs, and an increasing scarcity of most of the factors involved in food production, including fertile soil, fossil fuels, and even farmers themselves.

The report’s contributors agree that one of the most problematic trends in the food and agriculture system is the misaligned focus on maximum production and yield. “The current ‘more production’ orientation is so outdated and unresponsive to our current needs that it is causing its own problems, particularly for our environment and natural resources,” states the report.

Partly as a consequence of this focus on production, 1 billion people are overweight or obese in the world while another billion are undernourished. Instead of focusing on production, policymakers and reformers must work to broaden access to food and improve the variety and nutrition of foods. “Rather than simply ‘more’ production, we must also consider what would be ‘better’ production and better food systems.”

The report warns that the growing involvement of private corporations in reforming the food and agriculture system could potentially create conflicts of interest between the public’s interest and a corporation’s bottom line. It also predicts that the rapidly expanding livestock and biofuel industries will likely create and contribute to serious food related crises, because of their inefficient use of natural resources.

All of these challenges call for strong governmental and international leadership, as well as increased research and investment into environmentally and socially sustainable agricultural practices. The report urges that investment should focus on small and medium farmers, including women farmers. It also recognizes that transparent and intelligent measurement of research results will help policymakers direct their efforts to the most effective areas of reform.

To read the full report, click here.

Laura Reynolds is a research intern for the Nourishing the Planet project.

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