One of the themes of the IUCN World Conservation Congress is Nature+Food. The World Leaders Dialogue on the topic this past Saturday set out to address the overarching question, ‘can we feed a growing population in a sustainable manner?’ The discussion centered largely around agricultural production, with broad-brush strokes on topics like livestock and changing diets, genetic modification, and crop and biological diversity. While the five experts on the panel generally found consensus that ‘we’ can feed the world, perspectives differed slightly on areas for emphasis. And although many elements of a landscape approach were addressed individually – the institutional structures, management practices, etc. – there was little effort to address the coordination needed to achieve a truly sustainable system.
H.E. Mr. Tae-Pyong Jang, Former Minister for Food, Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries of Republic of Korea, began by discussing agricultural intensification as a means to reduce pressure on natural habitats and resources from agricultural expansion. He also stressed the importance of government policies, referencing the transition from collective farming to small family farms in China in the 1970′s, which subsequently contributed to the increase in productivity. He also referenced recent Korean campaigns to recuperate soil quality, promoting organic farming.
Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, member of parliament in Rajya Sabha, India, laid out three organizing principles for the way forward in feeding the world:
- Defending the gains, by shifting from a ‘green revolution’ to an ‘evergreen revolution’ that mainstreams ecology into technology development and dissemination.
- Extending the gains to new crops and new areas, as well as closing yield gaps.
- Making new gains, by improving upon traditional crops like millets and adopting new technologies.
But then he goes on to address a second aspect of the question – “even today people are going hungry, not because there is no food in the market. Access to food, even today, is the most important impediment to sustainable food security…How do you create multiple livelihood opportunities? This is going to be a greater challenge, than simply making more food available in the market.”
Director of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), Ms. Camilla Toulmin, attempted to define the world food system – a patchwork of billions of different people, with huge asymmetries in knowledge and power. These assymetries, she argues are part of the reason there are still people going hungry. She says “now we have the capacity to feed the world equitably and sustainably, but we are not doing it.” Ms. Toulmin commented on the issues of tenure and property rights with regards to the preservation of wild resources, but also paid a good deal of attention to institutions and policies within the food system.
H.E. Mr. Valli MOOSA, former IUCN President, presents his view that it is not possible to feed the world in a sustainable way if “our ideal is an American way of life.” The inefficiency of meat consumption and livestock production proved to be a point of agreement among the panelists, with the recognition that it uses considerable energy and water while emitting greenhouse gases. Plausible solutions included decreasing consumption and employing practices that don’t utilize cereal crops as feed.
Finally, the CEO of Syngenta, Mr. Michael Mack, described his company’s role as raising yield on less land. According to him, the world can be fed with today’s technologies, but the right policies are needed, and the discussion needs to include water, property rights, consumption patterns, biofuels, and trade, among all the other factors.
The discussion reflected the complexity of the ‘food system’ and the challenges associated with addressing food insecurity in a changing world. Moderator, Ms. Solange Marque Espinoza, journalist and political analyst, closed the session by advocating for working together to make synergies between sectors, to find future solutions and secure food for future generations.
Watch the full video online.