The green food economy doesn't need to cost the earth
It is time the Green Economy debate focuses on food and agriculture
The country submissions to the UN Rio+20 compilation document make for interesting reading. Many countries express welcome statements on the need to put sustainable agriculture and sustainable production and consumption issues at the heart of Rio+20 outcomes.
There’s lots of rhetoric about the green economy and about ensuring food security. Yet, when it comes to solutions there are slim pickings. A number of countries and NGOs suggest we need to reform subsidy and public support regimes. There is a fair bit of comment about the need for investment in agriculture to enhance yields etc.
Brazil, happily, even go as far as to point out some good farm systems which should be supported by the Rio outcomes. But overall the level of detail on what policy outcomes are needed is pretty disappointing.
The Green Economy debate too makes rare reference to food and agriculture. All too often the introduction to an agency or multi-stakeholder report includes a phrase like ‘we need to tackle food security and promote sustainable agriculture.’
Yet the rest of the report itself is devoid of detailed solutions on what to do about it. And almost without fail, livestock systems are neglected even though they are central to the issue – both in terms of economic importance but also how they affect environment, poverty and public health. On climate alone UNEP states that livestock are responsible for 18-25% of global green house gas emissions based on current evidence. For the poor, increased consumption of livestock products reduces mortality and improves cognitive development of children. There is considerable potential to increase incomes of smallholders from the sale of livestock products.
As suggested in a recent Nature research paper - where they use new data and models to examine the food system - there are serious gains to be made if we approach the issue differently and with the complexity it needs. They suggest halting agricultural expansion, closing ‘yield gaps’ on underperforming lands, increasing cropping efficiency, shifting diets and reducing waste. This can mean new investment, alternative jobs, enhanced livelihoods where needed.
So I have a few policy suggestions and I’ve attempted to group them according to their financial implications. This is neither by no means exhaustive list nor specific enough. And there will be losers as well as winners. But if we want a genuinely green food economy we need to start now – acknowledging that farming is central, and using the public finance we already have to the best advantage:
Probably cost neutral - or involve reallocation of public finance:
- Shift 100% of subsidies and public support, aid and investment in farming away from unsustainable, industrial systems toward more humane, sustainable systems of agriculture that promote livelihoods, animal welfare and the environment;
- Ensure all technology transfer is based on sustainable, climate smart, higher welfare systems, including through the promotion and sharing of best agricultural practices and ensuring market access for good producers;
- Use public procurement of goods and services in food (e.g. for schools, hospitals) where applicable to support rural jobs and source humane and sustainable food including meat and dairy meals;
- Encourage businesses to innovate and also adopt and implement and publicly report on social responsibility policies across the board, based on ISO26000.
Could cost a bit though may involve reallocation of finance:
- Invest in more and better publicly funded research into agriculture – such as crops and breeds and production systems that help farmers adapt and which deliver better animal welfare and environmental and economic outcomes. There are many examples of good practice to draw on;
- Provide far greater farmer advice, education and assistance, and promotion of good agricultural practice, especially for small farmers – aim to reach all farmers;
- Encourage sustainable and humane diets through education and other measures which affect behaviour change including labelling and marketing schemes to promote green and welfare friendly food;
- Commit to strengthen legislation, e.g. environmental and animal welfare legislation, and effective monitoring and enforcement of existing welfare legislation;
- Promote and implement investment policies that support good animal welfare.
May even raise funds:
- Fiscal measures need to start to actually internalize environmental and social costs of production and not just from a carbon perspective – so that green and humane systems start to get a fair share of the market.
The focus on Green Economy should help draw out the necessary elements of a green and equitable food economy – ideally we should get onto thorny issues such as finances, subsidies, investment, taxation and trading green and humane products. Jobs or livelihoods lost in one area of unsustainable production can and should be found in other parts of the chain – though that will not always be possible.
But we will not get any effective solutions to tackle climate though a new green economy - if we keep failing to include livestock in the debate.
Come on a journey around the world to where our green economy hubs are mapping out the transition.
Glimpses of a green economy
The green economy coalition is a global network of organisations committed to accelerating a transition to a new green inclusive economy. This site was made possible with the help of expert collaborators. For regular updates, grab our RSS feed, sign up for the monthly newsletter, or follow us on Twitter or Facebook. Read on for more about who we are...