by AGRA Watch intern Sarah Muniz
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently issued a report that supports the damaging myth that small-scale producers are not viable nor capable of feeding the global population; this further perpetuates the belief that the industrial food system is best. In response, eight organizations wrote a letter to the FAO, demanding that they reexamine their claims that small, peasant farmers do not provide the primary sources of food for 80% of the world’s population. The FAO relied on a study that redefined who is considered a small farmer, limiting this definition to someone who cultivates crops on less than two hectares of land and excluding pastoralists, urban farmers/gardeners, and small-scale fisherfolk, as well as other generally accepted categories.
Numerous studies suggest that small food producers feed the vast majority of the world’s population. The estimates from these studies are not solely limited to crop production, but also include fisherfolk, livestock raisers, hunters, gatherers and urban gardeners. Some of them also measure calorie consumption, not just production (as some maize, soybeans, or other crops may be diverted toward other uses). Definitional and methodological issues have an impact on how we should aim to protect food security globally, promote food system resilience and understand the realities of how we nourish the global population. Focusing solely on calorie production and not on calorie consumption or nutritional value misses the absolute importance of the peasant food web.
The letter to the FAO and the accompanying backgrounder stress that what is most important is to determine which food system is ultimately more resilient, more viable, and more capable of feeding a growing global population being impacted by climate change and its increasing challenges year after year. Policymakers must question how the industrial food system produces so little nutrition, as we see today in the supply chain with high calorie and sugary processed foods, which are lacking in nutrients like vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytonutrients, healthy fats and lean proteins. The industrial food system occupies huge amounts of land and other natural resources, receives huge subsidies, and wields a lot of power, ultimately at the expense of our own health. One must question how this has been allowed to continue and when it will stop.