ANALYSIS - While last year the word on everyone’s lips in the agricultural world was sustainability, for 2014 the phrase could be “food security”, writes Chris Harris.
In Berlin last week tens of thousands of people rallied to demand a global right to food and nourishment.
The demonstrators from all over Germany and Europe demanded sustainable agriculture and good food for all, calling for environmentally friendly farming as well as a fair global agricultural policy.
The peaceful demonstration paraded under the slogan “We are fed up”.
The demonstrators were also calling for access to land and the promotion of regional food production.
The also criticised a transatlantic free trade agreement currently negotiated with the US.
Rural farms are being affected badly across the world. In Germany alone, 10,000 farms are shut down every year.
This call for action came as 72 agriculture ministers from around the world were meeting for the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) during the German Green Week.
The GFFA is a unique political conference, which focuses on key issues regarding the future of the global agri-food industry and this year the focus of the event was "Empowering Agriculture: Fostering Resilience – Securing Food and Nutrition".
The agriculture ministers focused enabling agriculture to adapt to new conditions, deal with risks and recover quickly from crises.
They said that particular attention needs to be given to family-owned farms and smallholders, because of their important role in feeding the global population.
“We agree that our core task is to develop an efficient, adaptable and resilient agricultural sector which builds on three fundamental and equal pillars: diversity, sustainability and productivity,” the ministers’ statement said.
They said that by conserving and using diversity the efficiency, adaptability and resilience of agriculture is enhanced and they lay the foundation for producing a diverse range of foods, and consequently contribute towards securing an adequate supply of sufficient, safe and nutritious food.
The ministers pledged to:
• promote diversity of agricultural production systems reflecting geographic and
• strengthen support to research, and provide resources, in order to advance the
conservation and sustainable use of plant varieties and animal breeds that are
adaptable to local conditions;
• transfer existing knowledge about crop-growing methods and different production
structures into practice;
• promote the diversity of agricultural production to enhance dietary diversity to meet
nutritional needs which in turn makes people more resilient;
• promote the breeding of animal and plant varieties that have improved nutrient and
water efficiency as well as higher stress tolerance;
• support global efforts to encourage the conservation and sustainable use of genetic
resources (on farm, in situ and ex situ) and the sharing of the benefits arising out of
their use in order to ensure that future generations have access to the necessary
diversity for breeding;
• use, protect and, where necessary, strengthen diversity in agricultural ecosystems;
• support the diversity of operational and production structures in order to reduce risks ("risk management").
The ministers said that sustainable farming must be economically sound, ecologically compatible and socially responsible and it must use natural resources, in particular soil and water, in a manner, which preserves them for future generations.
Priority must be given to water and its use as an essential resource for food security. Conservation and efficient use of resources are important elements in improving the resilience and adaptability of agriculture, particularly with regard to climate change.
Sustainable agriculture provides relevant and on-going contribution towards eradicating hunger and malnutrition in the world as well as a stable basis and secure income for those working in agriculture.
They promised to promote strategies and measures to adapt agriculture to climate change and to reduce its emission intensity in accordance with nationally defined priorities, contexts and needs.
They also said that to attain full food security they would have to recognise the range of values provided by ecosystems as a basis for the sustainable use of resources.
Their resolution also included a pledge to:
• work towards reduction of soil degradation;
• maintain soil fertility and productivity by sustainable management;
• reduce the loss of agricultural land;
• support efficient water use and resource-conserving, sustainable irrigation systems and water recycling;
• establish and protect tenure rights to land, forests and fishing grounds as well as water rights for all - in particular vulnerable people - as a basic prerequisite for sustainable farming in line with the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security endorsed by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS).
The ministers also promised measures that would ensure that globally, agriculture would increase its production in a sustainable manner and reduce losses, in order to meet the demand of the growing global population; with resources becoming more scarce, productivity must be increased. This, they said, requires technology, innovation, know-how and investment.
While the ministers in Germany were laying down measures and promises for a more sustainable and secure future for the production of food, the Chinese authorities were also setting out policies for sustainable and secure agricultural production.
In the major policy document for the year, the "No.1 Central Document", the Chinese government focused on rural reform and development.
The document lists eight aspects and 33 points for detailed government work on reforms related to the "three rural issues"-- agriculture, rural areas and farmers.
The paper says that China should improve its national food security system, deepen rural land system reform and improve rural governance, while intensifying support and protection for agriculture and promoting financial support for rural areas.
The document puts improving the national food security system on the top of the reform list for 2014 and the next few years.
It says that while relying mainly on domestic grain production, the country will make good use of the international markets for agricultural products as a complement to domestic supply.
The country will also improve the pricing mechanism for important agricultural products and enhance supervision on product quality.
The country will intensify policy supports and protection of agriculture by promoting steady increases in agricultural expenditures, improving subsidy policies for agriculture and setting up an interest compensation mechanism.
It will also promote technological innovation in the agricultural sector, develop modern seed industry and promote the mechanisation of agriculture.