Sunday, September 2, 2012

Feed Europe, Feed the World

WARSAW, Aug 28 2012 (IPS) - A huge moment for reform of the industrial farming system in Europe has many stakeholders on edge. Farmers who are feeling the crunch of rising input costs – from fertilisers to fuel – believe they can benefit greatly from a transition to more traditional and sustainable farming methods.

But opponents of the European Commission-sponsored reform package – which aims to places tough conditionalities upon subsidies to local farmers in an effort to overhaul an ineffective system of food production – say it could stifle productivity.

In times of global crisis, ensuring food supplies is as daunting a task as ever. But advocates of reform say that the answer does not lie in industrial food production.

“We are already producing a lot in Europe,” Trees Robijns, EU agriculture policy officer at BirdLife, one of the NGOs pushing for reform at the local level in Brussels, told IPS.

“But we have to ask ourselves at what cost and for how long we can go on this way. If we do not set our farming on a sound agro-environmental basis, we will lose out in the long-term. We are destroying our water, soils, our biodiversity, and this will lead to decreased productivity.”

Several studies have shown that sustainable smaller-scale farming has more productive capacity than industrial farming.

The latest International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report, authored by a large international group of scientists and endorsed by governments around the world, shows that sustainable family farming is the best way to address the food and environmental challenges facing the world.

La Via Campesina, a global farmers’ network comprised of over 20 million peasants, also published a report concluding that smaller-scale agriculture can feed the world.

According to the European Network for Rural Development, a body working under the remit of the European Commission, current EU policies could be having a detrimental effect on subsistence agriculture by regarding small farms as “an unwanted feature that hinders the competitiveness of a nation’s agriculture.”

In Eastern European states like Romania, up to two thirds of farms in the country can be subsistence or semi-subsistence. And they are slowly disappearing.

“Most of the people have given up farming in our village, they now go to the city to work and use their salaries to buy food from supermarkets,” Marcel Has, a Romanian farmer who works on a two-hectare farm – most of it on rented land – in Firiteaz village in Western Romania, told IPS. More