Distributing industrial-ag commodities vs. reviving local-food economies
Across the globe in various ways, people are observing the U.N.’s "World Food Day." (Over on the Washington Post, Kim O’Donnel has a pointed "by the numbers" take on the event.)
I’d like to compare two World Food day ceremonies, one in Des Moines, the other in Mozambique.
In Des Moines, former U.S. Senators Bob Dole and George McGovern are being honored with the annual World Food Prize. Started by Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug — the world’s most distinguished champion of industrial agriculture — the prize recognizes "the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world."
Past winners include Philip Nelson, recognized for innovations in "large-scale storage and transportation of fresh fruit and vegetables using bulk aseptic food processing," and the researchers who figured out the right set of soil inputs to make large-scale soy farming viable in Brazil’s environmentally sensitive savanna region.
In other words, the World Food Prize rewards big, industrial solutions to the globe’s food problems: long-haul distribution, vast-scale production. In rewarding Dole and McGovern, the World Food Prize reveals its approach the global hunger crisis: send out mass quantities of U.S.-grown ag commodities.The organization notes approvingly:
Thousands of tons of wheat, soybeans, corn, wheat flour, cornmeal, corn-soy blend, rice, lentils, dry beans and vegetable oil have been shipped to participant countries through the auspices of the McGovern-Dole Program. These resources are used by local officials to provide school meals and snacks to children.
That’s one vision of food security.
Over in Mozambique, the global peasant-rights group La Via Campesina is demonstrating another vision. The group is holding its Fifth International Conference in Maputo with an emphasis on rural youth. The conference "stresses the urgent need of new generations of farmers to have to access to farm land and means of production."
For Via Campesina, industrial agriculture represents not the solution to global hunger but rather the cause:
The crisis is a direct result of the industrial and export-based agricultural model, at the expense of millions of rural workers and the population as a whole, in every region of the world.
As a solution, they propose what might be called a global revival of local- and regional-directed agriculture. They champion what they call "food sovereignty," which they define as systems that "allow peoples to develop their own agricultural and food policies, which favor local and sustainable rural production, and equitable distribution of healthy food to support their own people."
In an era of global financial turmoil and hyper-volatile energy markets, the Via Campesina model is looking increasingly more robust than the World Food Prize model.