Food security is on the agenda as the global scientific community is meeting this week in London at the Planet under Pressure Conference, a runner up event to Rio +20 in June.
For millions of people, that simple question is not a matter of idle speculation at the end of a busy afternoon, but a daily dilemma as they face a constant struggle to buy or grow enough food to feed the family even one meal a day. According to the United Nations, one in seven people worldwide still suffers from chronic hunger. Hunger is no accident. It is an entirely preventable outcome of a combination of bad politics, bad economics and bad agriculture. Greenpeace is seeking to tackle all three root causes.
Bad politics is one of the root causes because hunger is often derived from a failure of governments to protect and respect peoples' right to food. For example, every year thousands of small-scale farming and indigenous communities lose their homes and livelihoods because their rights over land, water and seeds and other natural resources are not being protected from powerful vested interests such as big agribusiness. Poor families displaced by land grabs often quickly slide deeper into poverty, and into the ranks of the world's chronically hungry people.
Food is also used as a weapon by governments to achieve control or dominance over another group of people. To see this in action, look no further then decisions about how, when and where food aid is distributed. Offering food to 'difficult' states in crisis in exchange for political or military concessions is one of the oldest tricks in the politician's book, and has recently been topical in relation to North Korea.
Bad economics is also one of the root causes because global food markets have become badly skewed in recent decades, and because the true costs of socially and ecologically unsustainable farming practices are not accounted for in the price of food. Today, just six companies exert a near-stranglehold over the entire global markets for agricultural inputs such as seeds, fertilisers and pesticides while a handful of companies control the global market for commodities such as grains, food oil, bananas, cocoa and coffee. Meanwhile, at the consumer end of the chain, many countries have witnessed the rise of a few giant supermarket chains that dominate the food retail business.
This degree of concentrated market power across the food chain is deeply unhealthy. For farmers, it means they have little choice over who to buy seeds and farm inputs from, or who to sell their crops to. This has enabled big agribusinesses to raise the prices of seeds and pesticides while reducing what they pay for the crops, squeezing farmers at both ends. Ironically, the majority of the world's people living in chronic hunger are farmers, who struggle to meet the ever-rising costs of seeds and chemicals, while seeing their earnings plummet. As noted by the international non-profit group, GRAIN:
"Twenty years of expanding agribusiness control over the food system has generated more hunger - 200 million more people go hungry than 20 years ago. It has destroyed livelihoods - today 800 million small farmers and farm workers do not have enough food to eat."
Food markets also often fail to reflect the social and environmental damage wrought by exploitative, polluting or otherwise damaging farming practices. Food markets reflect the reverse of how they should be i.e. better quality, ecologically-grown food which allows farmers and farm workers a decent income is more expensive whereas food that damages people and the planet should cost more.
Bad agriculture is also one of the root causes because at a time when humanity is struggling to feed a population of 7 billion people, the planet's natural resources are under pressure like never before from unsustainable farming practices. In many parts of the world, attempts to boost production through 'monoculture' farming, which depends on the intensive application of chemical inputs, have led to degraded soils, declining fertility, and disappearing freshwater supplies.
Farmers are finding themselves on an accelerating treadmill where ever-greater quantities of expensive chemical inputs are needed to maintain yields. For small-scale food producers, this treadmill has in millions of cases led to high levels of indebtedness, deeper poverty and hunger.
In response, Greenpeace is pressuring governments to develop better and healthier food systems to meet everyone's needs. We're exposing and challenging companies that threaten, undermine or propose false solutions to peoples' right to adequate, nutritious and healthy food, and work to promote more equitable and sustainable business and market models. And we're working with farming organisations and other stakeholders around the world to show how more ecological agricultural systems can deliver multiple benefits for food security and the environment.
To learn more about the Greenpeace solution to food security: Ecological Farming