This is a guest post by Saulo Araújo, WhyHunger’s Global Movements Program Director.
From the early images of a melting Artic to the recent ICCP report, even those last hold outs are forced to acknowledge that climate change is a real and pressing danger to our world, especially to our food system. Despite the numerous media reports and hashtags, few articles are telling us the whole truth about the root causes of climate change.
It is even more disconcerting to read that climate change will likely be the major cause of food scarcity when 840 million people do not have access to food and clean water today. In other words, it means that the chances for those individuals to fully enjoy their right to food are slim to none. As the number of people who are hungry will likely continue to grow because of climate change, it is imperative that this phenomenon be seen as a justice issue and that policy makers refrain from using the same economic policy framework to devise remedies that brought us into this situation in the first place.
As you prepare for Earth Day this year, here are 5 things you need to know about the connections between climate change and our food system.
1. Climate change is a systemic issue
According to a report from Friends of Earth Europe, we have “extracted and used 50% more resources than 30 years ago.” Other international environmental organizations, such as WWF, estimate we are already consume more renewable resources than the earth can replenish. This profligate exploitation of resources to address the needs of the global market has already left millions of families without a livelihood, and now it is threatening entire populations.
Geo-engineering techniques and cap-and-trade policies are not enough to put an end to the environmental, social and economic catastrophe of climate change. To slow down the effects of climate change, we will have to fundamentally change our way of life.
We will need to drastically change consumption habits and demand policymakers curb energy waste (for instance, more reliable public transportation). In addition, we should ramp up our support of grassroots organizations that are on the frontlines of climate justice.
2. Industrial agriculture is one of the main contributors to climate change
Our growing dependency on industrial agriculture, which rapidly consumes a large portion of the world’s extracted energy, water and soil to produce global commodities, is a major culprit in contributing to climate change. In the New York Times, Mark Bittman cautions that “one third of these grains will end up in confined animal farming operations (CAFO) and as much as one third is wasted along the food chain.” This system is producing very little nutritious food at the expense of the environment.
Industrial agriculture is unsustainable because it creates environmental imbalances in local ecosystems. Monocrops reduce the local biodiversity and demand an incremental use of petroleum-based chemical fertilizers and pesticides from planting to harvesting. This agriculture model is based on extracting resources from the earth without replenishing them for use by future generations.
3. Sustainable small-scale farming cools the planet
With industrial agriculture clearly not solving the hunger problem, we must turn toward communities where the solution is already clear. Using agroecological practices, small-scale farmers and fishermen can not only feed the planet but also cool it. University of California professor Miguel Altieri asserts that by shifting our focus to agroecology, our planet can feed 9 billion people by 2050.
This set of practices values local knowledge in the search for sustainable local solutions to food production. It works with nature and not against it. Agroecology is the path toward community-controlled agriculture, rooted in farmers’ and fishermen’s traditional practices that do not require the harsh chemical-laden pesticides and fertilizers and replenish the earth rather than extract from it.
To cool the planet and ensure food security, we should invest heavily in agroecological practices by food producers like farmers, fishermen and pastoralists. These men and women are the foundation of a just and more equitable food system that can curb the effects of climate change.
4. Food producers cannot end hunger unless they have access to resources
Even with the knowledge to turn the tables on climate change and food insecurity, agroecology cannot succeed unless we ensure local food producers have access to resources. Every year, we lose thousands of local food producers to cities worldwide. Large tracts of monoculture for export displace local families who were food producers and local food suppliers. These farmers depend on the land to feed their families and sell in local markets.
Unfortunately, agriculture policies across the globe are focused on supporting industrial agriculture and profits. Policies in the United States are not favorable to a new generation of farmers and fishermen in the United States, and those in the Global South favor foreign investments that take away the opportunity for landless farmers to return to agriculture. With 70% of the world’s food insecure as ex-food producers, we will not be able to end hunger without ensuring the rights to land, water and seeds for small-scale food producers.
5. Food Sovereignty and Climate Justice are our way forward
Real solutions to climate change and hunger will demand alliances that go beyond borders, labor, class, age, race, gender, sexual orientation, and rural and urban divides. Food sovereignty, the right of our communities to decide their own food policies, is interconnected with the idea of climate justice, both rooted in the rights of local communities.
Global movements such as La Via Campesina International and the World March of Women are making strides in this direction by embracing diversity as a “dialogue of knowing” while creating spaces for political education. In the United States, the Climate Justice Alliance, a network of 35 grassroots organizations, and the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance, a sister network formed by 31 organizations, are initiatives grounded in the same perspective — that only through a global alliance will we be able to realize our dreams of a society without hunger.