What should fair food systems look like? While there is enough food for everybody in theory, millions of people still suffer from hunger and poverty. We talked to Yvonne Takang from Action Against Hunger about global food production, agroecology and why local farming knowledge is so important.
One out of ten people worldwide suffer from hunger. Some experts say we need industrial agriculture to feed the world’s 8 billion people. Do you agree?
The development of so-called ‘conventional agriculture’ has led to global mass production – which produces food with much poorer essential micronutrients! Industrial agriculture is based on the use of chemical inputs and long production chains. This is bad for the environment and bad for consumers. We at Action Against Hunger think that there are better systems that could be used to produce healthy food for everybody...
...for example, agroecology, a method that Action Against Hunger is promoting in various programmes around the globe. How does it work?
Unlike monoculture-based systems, agroecology promotes what we call crop diversification. Most people consume one cereal over and over again. In Western and Central Africa, what is referred to as ‘hidden hunger’ is very widespread: people eat enough meals, but have such an unbalanced diet that they suffer from malnourishment. Diversified diets are really important, especially for children.
If all farmers worldwide only used agroecological methods, could we produce enough food for everybody?
Yes. If politics aimed to push the approach of agroecology by putting in place the right support to governments and local farmers, then it would be possible. We would need to turn away from conventional systems altogether and focus on agroecology. We would be able to feed the world with an approach that is sustainable, environmentally friendly healthy – and fair for all human beings.
Can you give us some examples?
In Cameroon, we have a project where we use human urine as a fertiliser – at first, farmers were reluctant to use this new method. But you won’t believe it: improved yields up to 80 percent higher were observed on plots where agroecological practices had been adopted!
In Burkina Faso, farmers regularly tell us about the negative impacts of climate change: yields are decreasing more and more, and farmers are finding it hard to feed their families. We have introduced new methods such as biopesticides and soil rotation. Our team trains farmers to rotate their soil and use animal dung. This prevents the erosion of land and significantly increases soil quality. Farmers participating in this initiative have reported a 70 per cent increase in agricultural yields!
The climate crisis is already heavily affecting West and Central Africa. Do people have to adapt their agricultural methods?
Most small-scale producers have not yet been trained to adapt to climate change. They are still trying to grow the same things they always have. But we are already seeing the reality of climate change. In Senegal, we have had the most severe floods we have seen in years. Right now, the plants farmers used to plant ten years ago no longer grow. We are encouraging them to use more sustainable methods, to rotate their crops, to use biopesticides.
At the same time, we have to acknowledge that agro-industrial methods have destroyed a lot of traditional farming knowledge. Traditional seeds were of much better quality. We always have to look at what works for people in their local context – ultimately letting them decide.
Food systems operate globally today. What are the consequences and what would you like to change?
Globalised food systems are largely responsible for environmental degradation, the collapse of biodiversity and increasingly severe climate change. Moreover, they have had a disastrous social impact in that they concentrate wealth in the hands of few big corporations while destroying the livelihoods of smallholders.
As recent crises have shown, our food systems are not resilient. They don’t provide answers to current food security challenges. These systems have to be rethought. Decision-makers have to act now, considering the needs of small-scale farmers in their own villages. Public interest and human rights need to be at the heart of global food systems.