agricultureWe’ve posted a couple of debates looking at food security recently (here and here), and we’ve been busy collecting your comments and taking them to policy-makers and experts for their responses. Recently, we spoke to Kevin Cleaver from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and we asked him to respond to one or two of your points on this topic.

Firstly, we had the following comment sent in from Tooba: “A huge problem that is contributing to lack of food in the world is that in many a Third World countries, vast [tracts of] fertile and cultivable lands lie barren and not put to use, if only the UN could ensure the cultivation of these lands it would help reduce food shortage greatly.”

As IFAD is a UN agency, we thought it would be very interesting to hear Mr Cleaver’s response to this suggestion. How would he respond?

Tooba’s general point is, I think, not true (although it is true in specific places). If you look at the data on Asia, stretching from Indonesia all the way to Pakistan, including India, Bangladesh and China, what you see is that the available land for cultivation is minuscule; it’s practically zero. The farm size for small-holders is very small: below two hectares per family. So, it’s simply not true in most of Asia.

You can quibble with this, because there are areas, for example in Indonesia, under tropical forest. You could cut the forest down and plant. And, in fact, the Indonesians for many years were doing this; they had a resettlement program that was doing this. There is a big debate, for example, about palm oil, because a lot of the palm oil estates were created in these forest areas. But anybody who reads any of the environmental literature will recognise that cutting down all of these forests, many of which are protected, in order to settle farmers has very negative consequences on the environment, on water supply, on climate, and so it shouldn’t be done.

So, where is this land available? Well, what we find is that a lot of it turns out to be in semi-arid areas. In Africa, a little bit in Latin America, in Brazil. These are areas that are not particularly propitious for farming, but they can support some farming. So, there is a bit of land that can be opened up, it’s not usually the best land. Just think about it: the best land is pretty much occupied already. But there is some land in parts of Africa, in parts of Latin America, particularly in parts of Brazil, that can be opened up in this way. And investing in that land might be important.

But let me give an alternative to Tooba. What we’re finding in the statistics is that there’s a lot of farmland that has become degraded. It’s been poorly used. A lot of the nutrients have been taken out of the soil by inappropriate cropping, and a lot of this land can be rehabilitated  So, rather than opening up virgin land, land under forests and under parks, or land that really shouldn’t be opened up for farming for environmental reasons, what I think that we could try to focus country investments on is the rehabilitation of degraded agricultural land. But this is going to cost some money. And most developing countries don’t have that money themselves, so they’re going to rely on aid to do this.

Next, we had a comment sent in from Tom, who thought we should: “Stop promoting harmful agricultural practices that benefit chemical manufacturers and create dependence on pesticides and fertilisers; instead use locally sustainable methods that improve soil.

Well, I agree with the second part of Tom’s comment entirely, and that is part of the response to the previous comment: the rehabilitation of degraded farmlands using, to the extent possible, local resources, local land labour and better cultivation practices, so I agree with that.

I think that the debate about the use of chemical inputs has become a little bit emotional, particularly in Europe. The fact of the matter is that chemical fertilisers and pesticides are part of the modern agricultural system and without these things, the world would not be able to feed itself. It’s unfortunate, because particularly pesticides have very negative effects.

So, my personal view is this: what we need to do is to reduce the use of these chemicals, particularly the pesticides and the herbicides, by improved cultivation methods, and very often those improved cultivation methods mean multiple cropping, rotations, introduction of natural predators who can attack pests; there’s a whole variety of techniques that can reduce the dependence on chemical inputs.

We at IFAD are big supporters of organic, not because we think that agricultural production in the future can be solely based on organic production, but simply because there’s a big market for it and it puts money in farmers’ pockets, and it’s also good for the environment. But it’s not a solution to the hunger problem. No study that I have seen suggests that the world can be fed with organic methods alone.

What do YOU think? Should Europe be supporting organic food production in the developing world? Or are chemical fertilisers and pesticides simply part of the modern agricultural system? Should European development aid be focusing more on rehabilitating degraded farmland? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Jams_123

31 comments Post a commentcomment

  1. avatar
    Christiane Vermoortel

    While Europeans are discussing the item, Chinese companies are buying up all fertile soil in Africa.

    • avatar

      I agree with you. If the west doesn’t react on time, it will give Chinese companies time to create a monopoly in the region and make the agrarian sector in the region inefficient, not only for Africans themselves, but for the rest of the world at a time when resources are limited!

  2. avatar
    Michael Tsikalakis

    Organic farming is the best way to solve a lot of health, social and yes financial problems in the world. This is applicable though to a much smaller human population. Nevertheless Europe being the brain and the heart of the planet should promote Organic Farming not only in the developing world but everywhere mainly for the good of the future generations.

  3. avatar
    Heather H.

    I feel like the only problem is that this “obsession” with organic food is too western. Whereas in Africa they only want to survive, and I don´t think they are as selective as us with the food. Their tradition of life is too strong and too different. However, when I think about it, I believe you raised some very strong points. If they can raise the food production and reduce the use of pesticides, I too want to believe that changing their system into the organic food system can help the cause. The fresh city farms have become very popular in EU and North America in past year. Easy to say it´s quite a popular trend now. Myself, I got really interested in it a few years ago and I like to raise the public awareness by at least promoting fresh city farms systems in a bigger cities. However, even if the whole transformation of their farms into organic food farms is every intriguing idea, it still will be very hard and long process.

    • avatar
      Cláudio Oliveira

      I totally agree with you, and when your said in you text: “…it still will be very hard and long process.”, I think that we should start now doing it, because you are right saying something like that.
      Here (Portugal), we have some cities that rent empty lands for who wants make his own home gardens, planting vegetables, fruit trees, and so on.
      Besides, I don’t agree with that politics that impose to European countries how much they can produce, that is unacceptable for the development of a country.
      You discussed very well, the problematic of the poor zones of the planet like Africa and Asia, so somebody can explain me why is investing a lot of money in bio-diesel production using the corn and other cereals as major raw materials when you have alternatives for this kind of production?
      Those cereals could be used to provide Africans, Asians, whatever, that pass by food necessities.

  4. avatar
    eusebio manuel vestias pecurto

    Os estados membros da UE tem que tomar decisões e encontrar politicas de agricultura sustentáveis hoje as poliicas de agricultora em alguns estados da UE são insustentavel encontrar politicas de união para que os estados possam criar uma agricultura sustentável da do espaço da UE

  5. avatar
    Christos Mouzeviris

    organic food could be developed in developed countries for the moment.. what is the point in going to regions that need urgently to cover their food shortage and telling them to develop something that we even have to pay a higher price. If you want to make changes, start from the developed world!!! stop pointing the finger to the poor ones…!! they need to reach our standards firstly, cover their needs and then they can follow us in everything else..!!

  6. avatar
    Pedro Morais

    The increase of organic productions is a fundamental step to reach a more sustainable world. In developing countries organic farming will permit a better soil and biodiversity conservation and more healthy food. All of us will gain from this political decision.

  7. avatar
    catherine benning

    Europe should not only be promoting organic farming in order to produce organic food, it should be taking steps to deny those both inside and outside Europe from selling their produce here. And, food flown in or shipped here should be constantly scrutinised in order to make sure it is not contaminated by any chemicals, changes to its natural system or any other poison whatsoever.

    If the EU did that, you would see change so fast your head would come off. These producers want to make the money this lark spins and they will adhere to the requirements if they are unable to off load their rubbish on us all with consent of our rulers. Change what the rulers allow and you change the situation without any further ado.

  8. avatar
    Peter Schellinck

    There is a large growing consensus among professionals and scientists that believe that a large-scale shift to organic farming would not only increase the world’s food supply, but might be the only way to eradicate hunger. So far no one had ever systematically analyzed whether in fact a widespread shift to organic farming would run up against a shortage of nutrients and a lack of yields-until recently. Isn’t organic farming actually going back to farming like our grandfathers did or that most of Africa already farms organically and it can’t do the job? Today organic farming is a sophisticated combination of old wisdom and modern ecological innovations that help harness the yield-boosting effects of nutrient cycles, beneficial insects, and crop synergies. It’s heavily dependent on technology-just not the technology that comes out of a chemical plant. Europe should be seen a front runner as organic farming will yield other benefits that are too numerous to name here. The EU should be encouraged to set up private partnerships to enhance the benefits, through the subsidy of exchanges. In doing so there are social benefits as well because organic farming doesn’t depend on expensive inputs, it might help shift the balance towards smaller farmers in hungry nations. This can help contribute to social feeding and rural stability. In this scenario, both poor farmers and the environment come out way ahead.

  9. avatar
    Sofia Sylvia Papadopoulou

    organic or not, food needs WATER to grow…so, the private companies who STEAL the water of Africa, have to give them their water back first of all…cjildren in Africa have no clean water, but it is water for the tulip farmers over there from Europe..Give them back their WATER, and then THEY can choose THEMSELFS if they want organic or not…

  10. avatar
    Sofia Sylvia Papadopoulou which excactly area of the devoloping countries, Europe will “promote” this “organic food” investments? …in the destroyed areas of the most organic forrest Amazonas?? …just asking…

  11. avatar
    Sofia Sylvia Papadopoulou

    my opinion to this would be: European development aid should be focusing more on rehabilitating degraded farmland, by putting AWAY all photovoltaics from the ground and moove them ON the top of buildings, so they do not take any cm of farm land anymore…how many thousands of hektars would the planet take back?…bacause if we start to “grow” photovoltaics,biomass plantation ect on the Farmlands, no space will be left for growing enough food e?cept our roofs… and Mossando will “save” us then with the “orgnaic”

  12. avatar
    Dick Siame

    I feel that most farming in Africa is predominantly organic or do we have statistics to prove otherwise? Coupled with population growth, Africa cannot feed itself without use of chemicals/pesticides to increase yields per unit area. For Africa to rely entirely on organic farming will require new technological breakthroughs that increase output per unit area.

    • avatar
      Mwatima Juma

      Yes it is high time now that Europe should help Africa to develop organic agriculture. Most of the past support for conventional agriculture have not been sustainable (e.g FAO Fertilizer Project) as they are based on the use of subsidized chemicals fertilizers which are still too expensive for most smallholder farmers and are not holistic. Most of smallholder farmers in Africa are neither organic nor conventional and it is easy for them to be converted to organic with increase in yield based on their own available local resources and traditional knowledge.
      I am confidence that if we give organic a chance with a little resources compared to that we use in GMO we will be able to development resilient agriculture within the challenges of climate change and dependency of rainfall agriculture. Market opportunity will be an added value to expand export from smallholder farmers beyond traditional cash crops.

    • avatar

      problems are not the primary cause of a child’sa0inattention. An ADHD disnogais confirms that food allergies are not the primary cause of hyperactivity.a0An ADHD disnogais proposes that ADHD problems do not

  13. avatar
    Vicente Silva Tavares

    There is too much hypocrisy in the food market. First, accordingly to a British study, there is no great difference between organic (bio) food and normal crops, when analysed in the lab. Second, there is a trend in the EU to demand conditions to European farmers and then to allow all types of imports without the same standards. Can the EU commission assure the meat, eggs and fish producers of Vietnam, Morocco, Brazil or Argentina comply with the EU standards? There is circulating in Internet an alert about the cat fish (or panga) imported from Asia which represents a danger to public health. Is the EU Commission doing anything? It looks not. There is a market for organic food, biological fruit and vegetable and industrialized crops. Can anybody think, we could survive on organic veggies. How much would cost the simple veggies of everyday life: potatoes, bread, rice, and so on. Can you pay? Can you afford? I can’t.

  14. avatar
    Juan Vázquez García

    No, we should not promote anything. Let people choose what they want to buy. Let them govern themselves. It’s all this unreasonable taxation and protectionism that causes problems. Government should not regulate the market. The market regulates itself. There’s just no way a corporation can become global if the market was allowed to regulate itself. Just let things follow their course. Stop regulating trade.

  15. avatar
    Θοδωρής ζτ

    Of course yes!!! Organic food has many advantages that many people either don’t know, either prefer lower price’s food! We have to inform the best for the people! I would adding that many chemicals have to be banned! We promote sustainable development to have a “healthy” future!

  16. avatar
    Subhashchandra Tanpure

    The soil helth is deteriorating due to the use of chemical developed a natural fertilizer by using water dung and other bio wastes .The raw materials are filtered seven times through sand and coarse aggregate metals.This filtrate is then enriched by a bio-fertilizer that can be used directly through drip irrigation for all fruit crops and sugarcane. This natural mix can help improve soil helth as it use organic liquid fertilizer[cow/buffalo dung urine etc] insted of chemical fertilizer’ which causes harm to soil fertility/human helth.The innovation is user-friendly,cost- effective and has been developed using replicable technology-it has many advantagegs;it doesn’t need electricity to run.Raw materials and skilled manpower are locally available at low cost.

  17. avatar
    Juan Vázquez García

    No, that means more taxes and tariffs for foods that aren’t organic in order to make them less available and less desirable (more expensive). It’s a restrictive measure. The governments of Europe shouldn’t decide what’s best for people to eat. Let the free market or the people decide! It’s their decision and their responsibility what foods they want to eat. Stop the irrational taxing of goods and services to make things that you like prevail over things you don’t like or despise. It’s not about you, it’s about freedom of choice.

  18. avatar

    pls .can someone answer my question I needed. this is my question , is organic food is a good solution to improve in poor countries ?

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