By Stephen Leahy
JOHANNESBURG, Apr 6 (IPS) – As food prices soar and hundreds of millions go hungry, experts from around the world will this week present a new approach for ensuring food security, at the intergovernmental plenary for the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). The Apr. 7-12 conference is taking place in South Africa’s commercial hub, Johannesburg, and will be attended by representatives of an estimated 60 governments.
In the past year the price of corn has risen by 31 percent, soybeans by 87 percent and wheat by 130 percent. Global grain stores are currently at their lowest levels ever, with reserves of just 40 days left in the silos. Meanwhile, food production must double in the next 25 to 50 years to feed the additional three billion people expected on the planet by 2050.
“The question of how to feed the world could hardly be more urgent,” said Robert Watson, director of the IAASTD and chief scientist at the British environment and agriculture department.
The findings of the three-year IAASTD indicate that modern agriculture will have to change radically from the dominant corporate model if the world is to avoid social breakdown and environmental collapse, he explained. “Agriculture has a footprint on all of the big environmental issues…climate change, biodiversity, land degradation, water quality, etc.”
The IAASTD brought together more than 400 scientists who examined all current knowledge about agricultural practices and science to find ways to double food production in the next 25 to 50 years and do so sustainably, while helping to lift the poor out of poverty. They concluded that the way to meet these challenges is through combining local and traditional know-how with formal knowledge.
The effort produced five regional assessments and a synthesis report, as well as an executive summary for decision makers.
Representatives from 30 governments of developed and developing countries, the biotechnology and pesticide industry and a wide range of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including Greenpeace and Oxfam, were involved. Public sessions were also held to gather input from producer and consumer groups, as well as others within the private sector.
However, last year the two biggest biotech and pesticide companies, Syngenta and BASF, along with their industry association — Crop Life International — abandoned the assessment process. This was on the grounds that the final draft of the synthesis report was overly cautious about the potential risks of genetically modified crops, and sceptical of the benefits.
“It’s unfortunate that they backed out…I don’t think they are used to working with a wide variety of participants as equals,” said Josh Brandon, an agriculture campaigner with the Canadian branch of Greenpeace. He had high praise for the scientists involved in IAASTD — and for the attention given to problems presented by biotechnology and the Green Revolution, such as the patenting of seeds, genetic contamination, and air and water pollution by pesticides.
For full article please click on Towards a New and Improved Green Revolution