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COMMENT: The plant-based solution to hunger

For many people, the competition for land is a fight for survival.

Land access, which is more unevenly distributed than incomes, is a deciding factor in whether someone suffers from malnutrition: 20% of households that experience hunger do not own land, and 50% of people who experience hunger are small-scale farmers.

The industrial agriculture system’s production chains must be replaced with local, decentralised, and sustainable production chains. It is incumbent upon governments to prioritise people’s right to food and nutrition above private economic interests. People should not lose their livelihoods and food security for the benefit of agribusiness profits.

To move toward an ecologically sustainable and socially equitable agricultural model, we can leverage existing political frameworks, such as the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy. As it stands now, large-scale industrial meat producers are profiting extensively from EU subsidies; but these subsidies could be redirected as investments in decentralised meat and grain production chains that adhere to a more sustainable model.

Doing so requires recognising that realistic alternatives to industrial agriculture do exist. For example, “agroecology” – a system based on traditional and indigenous knowledge that is passed down through the generations – is easily adaptable to all geographic circumstances. In fact, in 2006 Jules Pretty of the University of Essex found that this mode of production can increase harvest yields by 79%.

But, to implement this shift, governments must ensure that all people have guaranteed access to land and potable water, and they need to create political frameworks to promote ecologically and socially just agricultural models – which, by definition, excludes industrial agriculture.

The challenge of feeding every human being should not be viewed in opposition to – or as somehow ruling out – questions of social justice and the future of the planet. Poverty, malnutrition, and hunger are a result of politics, not scarcity.


Barbara Unmüßig is President of the Heinrich Böll Foundation.


Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2016.

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