2016-11-01 |

World food systems key to tackling global biodiversity loss, report

Abholzung Deforestation for agriculture - a key driver of biodiversity loss (Photo: CC0)

Global biodiversity is continuing to decline at an alarming rate, warns a new report released on October 24 by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Zoological Society of London. The Living Planet Report 2016, which monitors trends in wildlife abundance of over 14,000 vertebrate populations, shows that animal populations plummeted by 58% between 1970 and 2012. “Wildlife is disappearing within our lifetimes at an unprecedented rate,” said Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International. “This is not just about the wonderful species we all love; biodiversity forms the foundation of healthy forests, rivers and oceans. Take away species, and these ecosystems will collapse along with the clean air, water, food and climate services that they provide us.”

The report predicts that by 2020, the world could have lost 67% of all vertebrate wildlife compared to 1970 unless decisive action is taken now. Human activities, such as the conversion of natural habitat to agriculture, overexploitation of fisheries, pollution of freshwater by industries, urbanization and unsustainable farming and fishing practices, are diminishing natural capital at a faster rate than it can be replenished. According to the authors, the consequences of this natural capital depletion are already being felt and are expected to grow over time. The results will be increasing food and water insecurity, raising prices for many commodities, and increasing competition for land and water. The authors stress that food production is one of the main causes of biodiversity loss through habitat degradation, overexploitation of species, pollution and soil loss. Agriculture is also a primary force behind the transgression of the Planetary Boundaries for nitrogen, phosphorus, climate change, biosphere integrity, land-system change and freshwater use. As the report points out, “transitioning toward an adaptive and resilient food system that provides nutritious food for all within the boundaries of a single planet is a daunting but essential goal.” However, the status quo is reinforced by current structures within the industrialized global food system, including agricultural subsidies, governmental research programmes, and metrics that do not consider the environmental, social, ethical and cultural impacts in the costs of production. But according to the authors, these same structures also represent leverage points for change to make food and farming systems more sustainble.

The report says “optimizing productivity by diversifying farms and farming landscapes, increasing biodiversity and stimulating interactions between different species can be part of holistic strategies to build healthy agro-ecosystems, secure livelihoods, protect natural systems and preserve biodiversity.” According to the authors, diversified farming is applicable to all types of agriculture, including highly specialized industrial agriculture and subsistence farming. Lambertini is confident that it is still not too late to stop the global biodiversity loss. “We have the tools to fix this problem and we need to start using them now if we are serious about preserving a living planet for our own survival and prosperity,” said Lambertini. “We are at a decisive moment in time when we can seize the solutions to steer our food, energy and finance systems in a more sustainable direction.” (ab)

2016-10-28 |

Keeping seeds in the hands of peasant farmers instead of corporations

Seeds Keeping Seeds in Peoples’ Hands (Photo: Benedikt Haerlin)

Peasant seeds systems and agricultural biodiversity are under threat as a result of increasing corporate pressure, according to the Right to Food and Nutrition Watch 2016 published by Bread for the World, FIAN International and ICCO Cooperation on October 13 in Rome. The report, which is supported by 24 civil society organizations, draws attention to the threats around access to seeds for smallholder farmers worldwide. “A staggering 70% of the food we consume worldwide is produced by smallholders. Peasant and indigenous communities, who produce a great deal of this food, have been developing and saving seed for millennia - from Guatemala through Senegal to Nepal,” the editors write in the foreword to the report. “However, today seeds are under threat everywhere. Laws are increasingly limiting what peasants can do with their seeds and criminalizing them, thereby impeding their role as food producers and threatening our food sovereignty.”
The authors warn that peasants’ rights to save, use, exchange and sell seeds are under growing corporate pressure and have been neglected by states. Seed and agrochemical transnational corporations seek to privatize, monopolize and control seeds, patenting and commodifying the very source of life. The report says the new wave of giant mergers – Bayer with Monsanto, Dow Chemicals with DuPont and Syngenta with ChemChina, to name but a few – shows that corporations are aiming for a tighter grip on genetic resources, leading to even more market concentration. The economic, ecological, and socio-political risks of a monopolized seed system are innumerable, warns the report. The corporate food regime is leading to the disintegration of small-scale farming and small-scale fisheries as sustainable livelihoods, and to the destruction of collective ways of managing seeds, land and natural resources as commons. According to Marijke de Graaf, expert food and nutrition security at ICCO Cooperation, “Without access to seeds, smallholder famers will not be able to meet the growing demand to enough and qualitative food.”
The report also shows how peasant movements, indigenous peoples, and other local communities around the world are resisting the privatization and commoditization of nature and presenting alternatives. In addition, it turns the spotlight on the fact that access to and control over seeds and natural resources are also directly related to the rising levels of criminalization and killings of human rights defenders. “The criminalization of those who defend the commons, currently on the rise, needs to stop,” said Sofia Monsalve, FIAN International’s Secretary General. Thus, one recommendation of the report is that states must step up and fulfill their human rights obligations by adopting stronger policies and laws to protect peasants’ rights to save, use, exchange and sell seed. “Peasant seed systems, which underpin agricultural biodiversity, should be recognized, protected, and promoted by states,” Monsalve added. What also needs to be changed is the current value system that prioritizes seed and food for profit over seed and food rights for those who produce it and their heirs. (ab)

2016-10-24 |

Trade agreements block agroecology and food sovereignty, report finds

Trade Trade deals favour agribusiness - not agroecology (Photo: CC0)

The current trade and investment framework blocks the development of agroecology and food sovereignty by promoting and cementing the agribusiness model, says a new report released by Friends of the Earth International. The report finds that also the agreements currently under negotiation, such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), as well as some major aid programmes, undermine the sovereignty of states and hinder their ability to develop their own agricultural economies and food sovereignty. According to the authors, the main reason is profit: The objective of trade and investment agreements is to attract agribusiness investments and to generate profits by opening up new markets for agribusiness. This means that trade and investment deals include clauses to protect agribusiness’ profits, even when this comes at the cost of states and peoples welfare. “Agribusinesses are using the smokescreen of investment to rip apart domestic food security strategies as well as social and environmental regulations. In their obscene pursuit of profit, agribusinesses could even claim millions in compensation when States try to stop land grabbing or keep seeds free for farmers,” said Kirtana Chandrasekaran, Programme Coordinator for Food Sovereignty at Friends of the Earth International. In an article for The Ecologist, Chandrasekaran names public health as another example: Mexico, for instance, tried to tax high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a sweetener linked with obesity, that was being dumped on the Mexican market by US agribusiness giant Cargill. She said the tax helped safeguard the Mexican cane sugar industry and thousands of jobs but Cargill challenged the measure under an Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) for violating several provisions of the NAFTA trade agreement and won US$90.7 million. The report warns that under the TTIP agreement, which is currently being negotiated between the US and the EU, laws that make sure food is safe or that minimise the risk to people or the planet could be compromised if the deal goes ahead. Friend of the Earth points out that EU food production and many of the laws in Europe are stricter than in the US. However, “big business wants food products currently banned in the EU, but on sale in America, to automatically be allowed in Europe through TTIP”, warns the report. Martin Drago, Programme Coordinator for Food Sovereignty at Friends of the Earth International, highlights that trade and investment agreements are limiting the ability of states to promote and introduce sovereign domestic policies targeted at improving food security. “Its flies in the face of logic that trade and investment agreements prevent States from implementing policies intended to feed their people such as public stockholding or minimum prices.” An example cited in the report is that TPP would open up public procurement to foreign investors and forbid local food sourcing although the industrial food system is responsible for a huge share of greenhouse gas emissions largely due to intensive farming and emissions from transporting food around the globe. According to Drago, courageous state interventions are needed if we want to stop global warming and eradicate hunger. “We need to stand up to agribusiness control over our food and farming.” (ab)

2016-10-20 |

Smallholders need support in adapting to climate change, FAO report

Drought Agriculture will be affected by drought (Photo: CC0)

A rapid transformations of food and farming systems is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change, according to a new report released on Monday. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warns that up to 122 million more people worldwide, most of them small-scale farmers, could be pushed into extreme poverty by 2030 as a result of climate change. The UN agency’s flagship report “The State of Food and Agriculture 2016” underscores that agriculture faces the challenge of producing more food while cutting greenhouse gas emissions caused by food production. The authors highlight that the impacts of climate change on agriculture and the consquences for food security are already alarming. However, a “business as usual” approach could put millions more people at risk of hunger. By 2030, the number of people living in poverty could increase by 35 to 122 million relative to a future without climate change, largely due to its negative impact on incomes in the farming sector. “There is no doubt climate change affects food security,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva, “What climate change does is to bring back uncertainties from the time we were all hunter gatherers. We cannot assure any more that we will have the harvest we have planted.” Negative effects of climate change are already being felt in some cereal crop yields. The regions that will be most affected are sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia, those people who rely on agriculture for their livelihoods will be hit hardest. Climate change will expose both urban and rural poor to higher and more volatile food prices. “Everybody is paying for that, not only those suffering from droughts,” said Graziano da Silva. The report points out that helping the world’s more than 500 million smallholder farmers adapt to climate change is critical for global poverty reduction and food security. Smallholder agricultural systems can adapt by adopting climate-smart practices, diversifying on-farm agricultural production and diversifying into off-farm income and employment. Agroecology and sustainable intensification, says the FAO report, are examples of approaches that improve yields and build resilience through practices such as green manuring, nitrogen-fixing cover crops and sustainable soil management, and integration with agroforestry and animal production. Widespread adoption of nitrogen-efficient practices alone would reduce the number of people at risk of undernourishment by more than 100 million, the report estimates. In addition, water-conserving alternatives to the flooding of rice fields, for example, could cut methane emissions by 45%. FAO says that economically viable and sustainable farming practices are available but barriers to their adoption must be overcome. Obstacles can include input subsidies that promote unsustainable farming practices, poorly aligned incentives as well as inadequate access to markets, credit, extension services and social protection programmes, which often disadvantage women. Action has to be taken now, emphasized Graziano da Silva, since the adverse impacts of climate change will only worsen with time. Slow Food International welcomed the report and the backing given to agroecology, but critized that the authors do not give enough attention to industrial meat production and that there is no identifiable stance on genetically modfied crops in the report. (ab)

2016-10-18 |

Interview: Hans Herren calls for a radical transformation of agriculture

HerrenEnglisch IAASTD Co-chair Hans Herren (Photo: Peter Lüthi/Biovision)

We need a radical transformation of agriculture and industrial food systems to deal with future challenges, says Hans Herren, winner of the World Food Prize and Co-chair of the “International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development” (IAASTD). In an interview published in the Foundation on Future Farming’s new brochure “Agriculture at a Crossroads, he takes stock of the IAASTD’s impact and looks at the current debate on food and farming systems. Herren says “the key option for action that came from the IAASTD report is that agriculture, on a global scale, needs to transition to agroecology as the way ahead to deal with the challenges of sustainable and equitable development.” According to Herren, who today is president of the Millennium Institute in Washington and the Swiss Biovision Foundation, the recognition that present agriculture and food systems are not in line with the need for a sustainable world have made it to the mainstream of international discussions. “It is very satisfying to see that the debate and action around agroecology has picked up momentum. The need for a radical reset towards sustainability in all three dimension, environmental, social and economic – these messages have been heard and made their way into the debate around food and farming systems. They are now slowly moving into mainstream, despite a very strong pushback by vested interest, agro-industry and large foundations.” However, Herren also points out that one of the IAASTD’s most ignored messages is the need to also radically transform industrial food systems. “It is still assumed that developed countries, with their unsustainable industrial agriculture and food systems have to ‘feed the world’. The message that countries need to maximize their own capacity to produce food and protect their own farmers, also addressed as food sovereignty, has yet to be taken into account in the agriculture and food policies of developed countries.” He added that also developing countries still need to make more efforts to implement the options for action outlined in the IAASTD. According to Herren, one of the main excuses for not introducing more radical changes is that this is too expensive. “The truth is that it is irresponsible not to spend money to transform the system now to agroecological and regenerative practices and science.” Herren refers to the Green Economy Report, published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2011, which clearly demonstrated that IAASTD’s recommendations can be implemented by 2050 with spending only about a third of the total agricultural subsidies paid today. “We would still produce enough food in the quantity and quality needed to nourish well nine to ten billion people, while using less land and water,” he adds. But Herren remains optimistic: “I think that there is light at the end of the tunnel but we have to keep watching the politics that undermine the urgently needed transformation of agriculture. Positive developments can be seen in many places, more good science is being produced in support of sustainable agriculture as defined by the IAASTD but governments are still not ready to pay the bill for R&D in the area of agrocecology, organic, regenerative agriculture, leaving the work to NGOs.” Herren is also positive about the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted last year. “The targets relating to agriculture and food are many and very relevant to support the needed transformation as was recommended in the IAASTD." He thinks "there is a tremendous opportunity to create synergies, given that agriculture and food are so closely linked to all sectors and sustainable development dimensions. It is now imperative that they are implemented without delays focusing on the food system, sustainable agriculture and agroecology.”

2016-10-17 |

Paradigm shift in global agriculture needed to achieve sustainability goals

Cover Brochure Cover of the IAASTD brochure

“Business as usual is not an option” – this was the wake-up call of the “International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development” (IAASTD) when first published in 2009. Seven years later, this message is still valid. Meanwhile, the global discussion on the future of food and farming has come a long way. Some of the key messages of the IAASTD seem to be taking root at last and have been reflected in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Foundation on Future Farming’s new brochure “Agriculture at a Crossroads: IAASTD findings and recommendations for future farming” summarizes these messages and links them to present challenges and goals ahead. On behalf of the United Nations and the World Bank, more than 400 scientists from all continents and disciplines had worked together in a four-year-process to assess the state of global agricultural knowledge, science and technology. Looking back some 50 years and trying to anticipate the challenges of the coming decades, the authors arrived at a clear-cut conclusion: A radical change in global agriculture is needed in order to cope with a growing population and climate change while avoiding social breakdown and environmental collapse. The IAASTD clearly debunked the myth that industrial agriculture was superior to small-scale farming in economic, social and ecological terms and argued for a paradigm change that recognizes the pivotal role small-scale farmers around the world play in feeding the world, while also maintaining natural resources and being the backbone of rural development. The 52-page-brochure, released by the Foundation on Future Farming on the occasion of World Food Day, presents and revisits the IAASTD’s main messages enriched with updated facts and figures, charts and maps as well as new insights from subsequent scientific publications. It covers a broad range of topics such as hunger and health, meat and animal feed, industrial and small-scale farming, agroecology, climate and energy, soil fertility and land grabbing. Interspersed throughout the text are key quotes from the original report and a collection of flagship projects and promising approaches of emerging sustainable agriculture and food systems. The brochure also connects the IAASTD’s findings to the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by world leaders in 2015. “The IAASTD has kicked off a paradigm shift away from productivism towards sufficiency,” says Benedikt Haerlin, director at the Foundation on Future Farming in Berlin and former NGO representative on the IAASTD Bureau. IAASTD co-chair and world food prize winner Hans Herren says in the brochure: “Agriculture must change from being a contributor to a solver of problems such as climate change, public health, environmental degradation, loss of farmers and rural to urban migration. The key option for action that came from the IAASTD report is that agriculture, on a global scale, needs to transition to agroecology as the way ahead to deal with the challenges of sustainable and equitable development.” Herren added: “It is now imperative that the SDGs are implemented without delays focusing on the food system, sustainable agriculture and agroecology.”

2016-10-13 |

Africa remains the main target for land grabs by foreign investors

Africa Most of the area targeted was formerly owned by local communities (Photo: CC0)

Since the year 2000, foreign investors have acquired 26.7 million hectares of land around the globe for agriculture, with Africa being the most affected continent. This means that around 2 per cent of the arable land worldwide, or roughly the equivalent to an area the size of the United Kingdom and Slovenia together, has been transferred into the hands of foreign investors. That is the message of a new report released by the Land Matrix, an independent initiative that collects and evaluates data on land acquisitions in low- and middle-income countries. The report shows that these concluded international land deals for agriculture are only the tip of the iceberg. Overall, the Land Matrix captures 1,204 concluded deals (for all intentions), which cover over 42.2 million hectares of land. In addition, intended deals target 20 million hectares and failed deals 7.2 million hectares. The 26.7 million hectares under contract for agricultural purposes consist of 1,004 different agreements. In the case of almost 70 per cent of these land deals, agricultural activities have already started. “We are observing not only that more and more agricultural lands have changed hands, but also that they are increasingly being actively cultivated and used – for example, to grow grain, oil palms, and sugar cane,” said GIGA research fellow Dr. Kerstin Nolte, one of the report’s authors. The cultivation of food crops is the main intention of agricultural investment with 9.2 million hectares, followed by unspecified agricultural intentions (5.6 million hectares). This can largely be attributed to so-called flex crops which can have multiple end uses, for example as food, animal feed, fuels or industrial materials. Oil palm is the largest of these crops, with multiple usages including food, fuel and cosmetics. On 5.1 million hectares of land, investors intended to produce agrofuels. The report says Africa is the continent most impacted by land deals, with 422 deals covering a total area of 10 million hectares. Eastern Europe is the second most important region, mostly due to the large average size of land per deal: 96 concluded deals are covering 5.1 million hectares. Southeast Asia is another heavily impacted region. Most of the investors are from Malaysia, the United States, Great Britain, Singapore, and Saudi Arabia. Western European investors are involved in 315 land deals covering nearly 7.3 million hectares. Land deals often target areas that have previously been used for agriculture by local farmers and communities. This creates increased competition for land and the potential for conflicts with the local population, frequently leading to forced displacements. “A lack of transparency and the marginalisation of local stakeholders weaken the bargaining position of smallholder farmers and pastoralists, including indigenous peoples” , warns co-author Markus Giger from the University of Bern. The report says that during the start-up phase, when farms are being established, there is high labour demand for construction work and infrastructure development, but this lasts for a short period of time only. “We find very low intensities of labour, suggesting the prevalence of capitalintensive production methods and therefore limited capacity to create rural employment.” Large-scale land acquisitions can also have negative consequences for the environment due to agro-industrial production methods. One key concern is an increase in water scarcity. According to the authors, more research is needed to determine the economic, social and political impacts of land grabs. “The more we know about these deals, the better we can understand how they will affect local people,” the authors conclude. They also highlight the need to assess the impact of large-scale land acquisitions in the context of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the international community in 2015. (ab)

2016-10-10 |

Report debunks myth that US agribusiness is feeding the world’s hungry

Harvest US farmers are not feeding the hungry (Photo: CC0)

American farmers and agribusiness are not feeding the world’s poor and hungry, most agricultural exports from the U.S. rather go to the wealthiest nations. This is the finding of a new report released by Environmental Working Group (EWG), that clearly debunks the myth cultivated by the agribusiness lobby that the world depends on U.S. farmers to double their production to feed a global population of 9 billion people by 2050. “We wanted to dig into the fictitious notion that America’s farmers are feeding people in undernourished countries, and the assertion that so-called ‘modern’ farming techniques are our only option if we ever hope to do so,” said Anne Weir Schechinger, EWG’s senior analyst for economics and author of the report. “This is simply a myth adopted and deployed by U.S. agribusiness to distract the public from reality. The indisputable facts are that we are sending mostly meat products and animal feed to wealthy countries, and we are not sending much food at all to those nations struggling to feed their people.” In 2015, the top 20 importers of U.S. agricultural products – 19 individual countries and the European Union – accounted for 86 percent ($114.4 billion) of the total value of U.S. agricultural exports. EWG’s analysis determined that most of the top importers of U.S. exports had very high or high human development scores, and low levels of hunger. Canada, China, Mexico and the EU are the top four export destinations. According to the data compiled by EWG, meat and dairy products, along with animal feed, accounted for 50 percent of all U.S. agriculture exports to the top 20 destinations in 2015. This means that agricultural exports from the U.S. chiefly meet the demand for more meat and more diverse diets from already affluent countries, or those with growing personal wealth. Only less than 1 percent of U.S. agricultural exports last year went to the 19 countries with the highest levels of undernourishment, including Haiti, Yemen and Ethiopia. Even though the U.S. provides almost half of all food aid to those countries, between 2004 and 2013, U.S. exports and food aid combined contributed between only 2 to 4.4 percent of the food supply of those 19 undernourished countries. “To claim that U.S. farmers and agribusinesses must go all-out to feed the world - regardless of the consequences to human health and the environment - amounts to wrapping a business opportunity in the cloak of moral necessity,” says the report. EWG reminds that modern farming systems that depend heavily on fertilizers and chemicals cause considerable damage to air, water and land resources, as well as public health. For example, farm runoff is often responsible for toxic algal blooms and polluted drinking water. Pesticides from farm fields and antibiotic-resistant bacteria from confined animal enclosures are just another problem. According to the report, experts on world hunger agree that the root cause of hunger is poverty. What U.S. agribusiness really needs to do to help end world hunger while protecting the environment is to help small farmers in the developing world increase their productivity and income, and to promote “agro-ecology” everywhere, including in the U.S., the report concludes. “Reducing poverty, increasing income for women, providing nutrition education, improving infrastructure like roads and markets to increase access to food, and ceasing wars and conflict could all help undernourished populations better feed themselves.” (ab)

2016-10-05 |

Stunting and poverty prevent 250m children from reaching their full potential

Child 250m children are unable to reach their full potential (Photo: CC0)

Almost 250 million children worldwide are exposed to stunting or extreme poverty, being at risk of not reaching their full developmental potential, new research shows. According to a series of papers published in the medical journal The Lancet, 43% of children younger than 5 years of age in low-income and middle-income countries are falling short of their potential because of adversities they face in early life. The period between conception and a child’s second birthday, the first 1,000 days of life, are crucial to development. If children suffer from chronic undernutrition during early life, they are likely to end up to short for their age and brain development may be seriously affected. “Some catch-up is possible in height-for-age after 24 months, with uncertain cognitive gains,” warns one paper. According to the authors, extreme poverty increases children’s likelihood of exposure to “an accumulation of adversities”, including family stress, child abuse or neglect, food insecurity, and exposure to violence, which are often compounded by living in communities with limited resources. The series of papers “introduces evidence that successful policies for early childhood development focus on equipping families with the time, resources, knowledge, and skills they need to provide nurturing care,” writes Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organisation, in a comment article. She said that the research “emphasises the importance of well coordinated efforts across sectors, including health, nutrition, education, welfare, social protection, environmental safety and conservation, agriculture, and water and sanitation.” If no action is taken now, societies around the world will have to pay a high price. The scientists warn that “for the 43% of children estimated to be at risk of poor development due to extreme poverty and stunting, their average percentage loss of adult income per year is likely to be 26%.” This is exerting a strong downward economic pull and trapping families in poverty. The scientists estimate that the cost of not acting immediately to some countries can be twice their spending on healthcare. That studies found that progress to reduce the number of children under 5 years exposed to stunting or extreme poverty has been distributed unevenly across regions. In sub-Saharan Africa, 66% of children are estimated to be at risk of poor development because of stunting and poverty. In South Asia, the figure is 53%. “The science shows us that biology is not destiny – and that what children experience in the earliest days and years of life shapes and defines their futures,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “We need to turn that science into an alarm bell because the development of millions of children is at urgent risk.” World Bank president Jim Yong Kim told the Guardian that he would use the World Economic Forum in Davos each year to name and shame countries that fail to tackle their high stunting rates. Decisive action will be needed if the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are to be met. In September 2015, the international community pledged to end all forms of malnutrition by 2030, including achieving, by 2025, the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under 5 years of age. (ab)

2016-09-28 |

Large-scale agricultural investments cause hunger and poverty in Ethiopia

Farmer Farmer in Ethiopia (Photo: CC0, PeterW1950)

Ethiopia’s development plans focused on large-scale agricultural investments have perpetuated poverty and hunger and led to forced evictions of local communities and the seizure of land and water resources, a new study shows. According to the report released on September 27 by the Oakland Institute, a US-based policy think tank, efforts to tackle food insecurity have failed despite the country’s acclaimed economic miracle and double-digit growth rates. “In 2016, over 18 million people required food assistance in Ethiopia – a crisis attributed to El Niño-induced drought,” said Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute. “This narrative, while convenient for the government and its allies, ignores the chronic food insecurity in the country – 8 to 18 million Ethiopians have depended on food or cash handouts for their survival each year over the last decade.” While some effort was made to support smallholder farmers to increase production, the key government strategy to drive development has been the promotion of large-scale industrial farming. The five-year Ethiopia Growth and Transformation Plan, launched in 2010, mainly focuses on large-scale agricultural investments, in particular for export crops such as sugar or cotton, as well as large dams for both electricity and irrigation. “By 2011, the government had earmarked 3.6 million hectares for large-scale agriculture, and recently announced that over 11.5 million hectares are available to investors,” said Frederic Mousseau, author of the report. The government also put in place the Commune Development Program, also known as “villagization” program, to resettle 1.5 million people in lowland areas which were targeted for large-scale agricultural plantations. “Tens of thousands of farmers and pastoralists have been forcibly resettled through the government’s ‘villagization’ program to free up fertile lands for investors,” says Mousseau. “With their traditional livelihoods destroyed, many people now rely on food aid for their survival.” A key government objective is to make Ethiopia one of the world’s largest sugar producers. According to the report, several sugar expansion plans are underway, including a project in the Lower Omo Valley, which will encompass up to five sugar factories and 150,000 hectares of sugarcane plantations that rely on Gibe III Dam for irrigation. The Oakland Institute warns that Gibe III could reduce the Omo River flow by as much as 70%, threatening the livelihoods of 200,000 Ethiopians and 300,000 Kenyans who depend on the downstream water flow for herding, fishing, and flood-recession agriculture. Between 2010 and 2020, sugar expansion plans will cost an estimated $11.2 billion and much more will be spent for irrigation schemes and dams. The report points out that Gibe III alone cost $1.8 billion. Drawing on lessons from Ethiopia’s past and recent experiences in Brazil, where sugarcane expansion benefited large landowners and agribusinesses at the expense of farm laborers and smallholder farmers, the author questions the logic behind the government plans. Sugar and cotton plantations in the Awash Valley, established in the 1950s, drastically reduced land and water availability for people and cattle, undermined food security, destroyed key drought coping mechanisms, and stirred up violent conflicts between different groups over the remaining resources. “Prevailing disregard of the negative impacts of the past development strategies bounds the Ethiopian government to replicate failed plantation and irrigation schemes and doom itself to repeat mistakes on a much larger scale throughout Ethiopia,” the report warns. The government would do better to reconsider its plans and promote development that will actually benefit all Ethiopians, including pastoralists and small-scale farmers. (ab)

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