The Future of Food - an age of crisis?

2 Jun 2011 13:58

By Barbara Crowther, Director, Communications and Policy, Fairtrade Foundation

'We are sleep walking towards a new age of crisis', warned Barbara Stocking, Director of Oxfam GB this week as she launched their new global food justice campaign - GROW. A crisis in which food price rises, land grabbing and commodity speculation together with climate change and worsening land, energy and water stresses point to a future of increasing hunger, and a world living beyond its ecological means. In the midst of this, the world’s 450 million small-scale farmers – including those in the Fairtrade system – are both some of the worst affected, but perhaps also hold one of the keys to a solution.

Oxfam’s timely launch report – Growing a Better Future neatly captures a range of interconnected food-related challenges under three headings of sustainable production, equity and resilience – neatly summarised in Duncan Green’s From Poverty to Power blog this week.

These are all issues close to the heart of our Fairtrade producer partners – how can we deliver the increases in productivity required to feed a growing global population, without depleting the earth’s resources to disastrous effect? The UN’s Special Rapporteur on Food, Olivier de Schuetter, speaking at a 2009 FAO conference on the Right to Food, sees it this way, ‘We need to address the question of global hunger not as one of production only, but also as one of marginalization, deepening inequalities, and social injustice. We live in a world in which we produce more food than ever before, and in which the hungry have never been as many.’

Fairtrade producer partners would be the first to agree that the challenge is not just one of productivity, but power, not just yield but sustainability and equity.

Back in 2009, in our report Small Farmers, Big Solutions, we also pointed to the disastrous decline in agricultural investment, especially in small-scale farming, and the concentration of power in commodity supply chains. Also to the role Fairtrade could play in supporting smallholder producer organisations to become more resilient to price shocks and climate change. Speaking with FairTrade USA  at the recent Speciality Coffee Association of the Americas, for example, Raymond Gitau from Ndumberi Coffee Growers Association in Kenya explained how technical assistance funding from Fairtrade Africa (in partnership with Comic Relief), has employed an agronomist who has worked with small farmers to increase  productivity from an average of 1kg coffee per tree to as much as 12kg per tree. ‘Fairtrade to us, is life to our farmers,’ says Raymond, who says Fairtrade sales have also provided resources to implement water reduction and tree planting programmes. 

Meanwhile, through Fairtrade producer networks, farmers are increasingly sharing best practice on issues such as energy efficiency – in Kenya, Iriaini is now a wood-free tea factory, saving up to 25,000 trees per year by using briquettes made of recyclable materials, whilst Tambuzi flower farm has subsidised solar power for workers, with eight hours of solar charging providing six hours of energy, enough to power four lights, a radio and the charging of a mobile phone.

We in Fairtrade look forward to collaborating with Oxfam over coming years on these issues – whether it is championing smallholder agriculture, exploring ways to bring about more transparency and stability in food commodity prices, building new and innovative business partnerships that champion fair and sustainable trade, or supporting producer communities in developing countries to adapt to climate change.

We can start now – by signing up to the GROW campaign here, and supporting the petition to the G20 taking place in Paris from 20-23 June.

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