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Comment and Opinion

Planet: how to feed all the people whilst respecting the climate?

Translated Saturday 26 September 2015, by Adrian Jordan

The run-up to the Paris climate change conference. With Xavier Compain, member of the PCF’s national council, responsible for agriculture, fishery and forestry; Claire Even, climate change and hunger advocacy officer and Mike Penrose, director general, Action Against Hunger; Cyrielle Denhartigh head of food and agriculture for Réseau Action Climat.

A national agrarian reform by Xavier Compain, member of the PCF’s national council, responsible for agriculture, fishery and forestry

Everywhere in the world austerity policies menace liberties, jeopardise peace and create hunger, which kills more people than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. This is what the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) confirmed when declaring that one in nine people suffer from famine (795 million). Every ten seconds a child under five dies of hunger. Just 3.2 billion dollars would feed them. In the world of tomorrow, over nine billion humans will need to be fed worldwide. Projections for 2050 state that, even with global warming of less than 2 degrees Celsius, half the planet will be exposed to famine! These terrifying figures come from what is a unified struggle against famine, for food sovereignty and climatic justice. Therefore 2015 is an important year.

During the G7 heads-of-state summit at Schloss Elmau in Germany, a resolution was made to recognise the need to act against famine, without, however, any financial commitment. With honest intentions, the states pointed to 500 million people in need of relief from hunger between now and 2030, calling for private and national investment in southern hemisphere countries. However, how can these countries - already under the yoke of structural adjustment policies imposed by the IMF, whose lands are monopolised and fishing licences sold off – finance the relocation of agriculture? The fear is, that absence of public policy, imposed through liberalism, will force the agglomeration of agriculture under the control of big landowners and food industry multinationals, employing underpaid, displaced workers, and stealing resources.

François Hollande promised to act against volatile markets, food stockpiling... To date, France has not undertaken the task of creating food stockpiles, neither to Europe, nor in the international arena. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) figures show, to the contrary, a drop of 9 percent of its public development aid. In the face of this capitalist G7, popular resistance, citizen action and political activity form the key to bringing the real issues to the table of international discussion. The alternative should be a G195 of the people, with the aim of eradicating the politics of famine. This means that agriculture and food must be freed from the current neoliberal logic of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the IMF, the World Bank and free trade treaties. We propose a new international organisation at the United Nations. We support the reform of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) of the FAO which, as never before, links states, international institutions and society.

The challenge to civilisation of giving everyone access to sufficient amounts of quality food should lead international institutions to respect this right of the people. The call from social movements and farmers on a worldwide scale now trumpets the urgent need for agrarian reform to guarantee food sovereignty. This demand should be central to public policy. Agrarian reform will be the pillar of food and agricultural development and of the ecological transition. Based on small holdings and independent fishery, it will produce healthy, diverse, food products. To be efficient, the farmers’ remuneration should be guaranteed. Reform is essential to modernisation of agriculture, notably by access to land, loans and seed stock. In this action, the French communists seek real cooperation and solidarity with groups fighting imperialism, progressive movements, and movements and governments promoting alternatives to capitalism. We propose to lead an international public campaign. A reformed European Union would act firmly to stop speculation on agricultural commodities and to create new means of regulating international markets, with the creation of storage tools and setting up a system which controls the profit margins of big retailers and food companies. It would provide a new cooperative and democratic system and would promote a new way to protect life activities (earth, sea, forest) within a system of “mutual democratic disaster insurance”.

Biodiversity, solidarity and sharing resources by Claire Even, climate change and hunger advocacy officer and Mike Penrose, director general, Action Against Hunger

Today, 800 million people worldwide will not get enough food. Climatic change is an aggravating factor affecting the most fragile countries and peoples. Its consequences on food security and nutrition are manifest in both hemispheres and are not limited to a drop in agricultural yield. Price stability and access to food are directly affected and this primarily penalises the most vulnerable to famine disasters: women, children, small producers in the poorest countries - those who are least responsible for climate change.

In 2050, world population will pass nine billion. Less than 100 days to COP21, we face truly the greatest challenge of our time: how do we feed humanity without further destroying the planet and whilst adapting to the already evident climatic changes?

Gathered in Milan for the Universal Exposition 2015, international institutions like the FAO, give their answer: we must augment food production by 70 percent between now and 2050. In the context of climatic change, it must be done with the least cost to the environment. A big project.

Manageable intensification, sustainable productivity, smart agriculture respecting climate: many, initially attractive, themes abound daily. Concepts which are largely supported by food industry companies who are principally responsible for greenhouse gas emissions in the sector. However, we currently produce the equivalent of 4,500 Cal (kilocalories) per day, being twice the daily needs of the seven billion individuals populating the planet. A troubling paradox: while one in nine people go hungry, 2 billion are overweight. Real hypocrisy to say that increasing production will solve the problem. We cannot resolve the challenge of famine while the issue of worldwide inequality of division of food is not resolved once and for all.

In the face of climatic emergency, we are going the wrong way, choosing to opt for a string of false miracle solutions: genetic modification, better seed, artificial fertilizer, among others. Solutions which, ultimately not so new, are beyond the small farmer but lucrative for the market giants. Solutions which history has shown to be ineffective against the scourge of famine and which directly threaten plant and animal diversity. And all agricultural models do not have the same impact on the climate, food and nutritional security, the autonomy of the most vulnerable and on human rights. It is inconceivable that countries such as China and Brazil will repeat our errors: produce, consume and waste more and more. When lecturing others we always make draconian demands. Only food and agricultural policies centred on the rights and interests of the small producer and practices such as agroecology will allow a unified fight against famine and climatic change.

Feeding the planet is not limited to guaranteeing a minimum of calories for each person. Food is not merchandise but a right which, in principle, each person is owed through human dignity and equity. Neither increased yields nor technology will bring lasting solutions. Faced with this double challenge of hunger and climatic change, biodiversity, fair sharing of resources and solidarity between peoples are our main allies.

Towards a fairer food system by Cyrielle Denhartigh, head of food and agriculture for Réseau Action Climat (Climate Action Network)

From the field to the bin, passing over the dinner plate, our food and agricultural system accounts for 36 percent of French greenhouse gas emissions. It is urgent, and possible, to reduce these emissions across our food system and in our choice of agricultural models. This is particularly so in the context of a climatic crisis and considering France must quarter its greenhouse gas emissions between now and 2050. Such choices would also allow the provision of quality food to a growing world population, which is the primary function of agriculture.

An agricultural system producing less greenhouse gases: where grass does not pollute like a 40 ton truck. Agriculture creates 21 percent of greenhouse gases in France (mainly from ruminants’ digestive gases, animal waste, land use and energy consumption). To that we must add indirect emissions produced outside of farming activities (production and transportation of animal feed, chemical fertilizers, agricultural equipment etc), food industry and household emissions (fridge, cooking etc), which take us up to 36 percent. This calculation does not include “imported emissions”, not accounted for in national emissions, which are mostly linked to nitrogenous fertilizers and animal foodstuff.

Technologies exist to reduce our agricultural greenhouse gas emissions: less use of fertilizer, better control of animal waste, energy efficiency on farms etc. But that is not enough. If we want to keep the average world temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, we must halve farming sector emissions in developed countries. For this, our entire agricultural and food system must be modified. We must head towards truly ecological agriculture (free range farming, organic farming, hedges etc) and a diet in which we eat less, less calories, and most importantly, less meat.

A more just dietary model in which the plate becomes militant: change of diet, particularly by the rich and middle classes, is a powerful tool to support a food and agricultural system capable of feeding all of humanity while creating less greenhouse gas. This food system, based on ecological agriculture, depends massively upon short journeys and eating organic, local, seasonal, less processed products. We must also fight against food waste and reduce dairy, sugar and fat consumption and, above all, eat less meat. These changes will bring a double benefit: fighting public health problems (obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease etc) and freeing-up buying power to promote quality products.

In France, animal farming accounts for more than half of agricultural greenhouse gases. Animal farming also necessitates annual importation of the equivalent of 7.7 million tons of CO2 in animal foodstuffs (soya meal). However, we eat on average 90g of protein per day while our daily nutritional needs are only 52g.

Reducing the amount of meat we eat, creating a preference for quality meat, locally raised in the open air, would therefore permit us to jointly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions whilst fighting food injustice worldwide and support quality producers of livestock.

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