Agri-food system

Famine and Feast
Life on the margins: the inequality of food and nutrition security
PowerPoint presentation by
Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders
Schools Team: Mary Doherty and Severa von Wentzel
March 2014
“Goals other than improved nutrition are pursued by strong economic and
political interests in both the agricultural sector and the postharvest value
chain. Farmers and other economic agents in food systems aim to make
money subject to reasonable levels of risk, and governments pursue policies that
are compatible with the interests of politically powerful stakeholder
groups. Malnourished populations are rarely among these interests.”
(Per Pinstrup-Andersen “Nutrition-sensitive food systems: from rhetoric to action”
Food system
“Food systems encompass all the people, institutions and processes by
which agricultural products are produced, processed and brought to
consumers. They also include the public officials, civil society organizations,
researchers and development practitioners who design the policies, regulations,
programmes and projects that shape food and agriculture” (FAO “The State of
Food and Agriculture 2013
The industrial food system started with the factory system of fast food,
which changed how food was produced.
The food system is complex and involves many steps.
Further info: CAFOD Food system posters[]=secondary&_tag[]=food&_tag[]=
British Library interactive Food Stories
Food-secure livelihoods ultimately depend on sustainable
production of food.
Action for students:
Watch the clip on
agriculture and the green
economy. AND Read
the report on
Sustainability. Discuss:
What is the difference
between food security for
‘us’ and sustainable food
systems for all and note
the key points of the
discussion in your
What is green economy?
What was Rio+20
Sustainability or business
as usual? (1)
Image on sustainability; Source: Edexcel Student Guide Unit
4, Option 3;
Sustainability or
business as usual? (2)
The sustainability discourse does not accept the externalisation of
costs - the negative environmental, social and economic impacts - of
food provision. In a well-functioning system, criteria need to overlap
and work with all stages of food production to consumption.
A well-functioning system:
• Improves human health and social well-being
• Maintains environment and economy long-term
• Builds resilience at times of shocks from natural and man-made
disasters. Resilience is the ability to withstand shock.
Image on sustainability; Source: Edexcel Student Guide Unit
4, Option 3;
Food system
Nutrition and sustainability
The food system is currently not ensuring basic food and nutrition security
and sustainability around the world. It is interrelated with rural poverty,
gender inequality and environmental degradation. If we judge food security
on the basis of production alone, it is already failing given hunger.
The food system considered as a whole needs to be reconceived with more
emphasis on health and consumption if it is to secure positive nutritional
outcomes for all and if sustainable practices are to be implemented
throughout supply chains. The links from the food system to nutritional
outcomes are often indirect and food system policies and interventions
rarely have nutrition as their primary objective.
While sustainable strategies are the ideal, there is also a need for nonsustainable strategies such as food aid in emergencies.
Agronomic practices
In agri-business there has been relatively little emphasis on how to grow food
without as much fossil fuel - sustainable food production goes hand in hand with
sustainable energy resources.
More sustainable agricultural production systems that are proven to reduce the
dependence on fossil fuels, entail combinations of:
Integrated pest management
Strategic application of fertilisers and irrigation water
Low-impact pesticides
Precision-farming procedures
No-till or
Minimum tillage
Crop diversification
Crop rotation
Sustainable practices require a change in agricultural practices, lifestyles and
urban and rural development. There is a link between sustainability and equity
(e.g., for girls and women).
Source: Viglizzo 2012 as found in
labour violations
Policies are inadequate or not sufficiently enforced to
improve labour standards and ensure access to social
safety nets. Routine violation of internationally regulated
labour standards include:
Long hours
Low wages
Poor working conditions
170,000 deaths / year of agricultural workers, 40,000 of whom
killed by pesticide poisoning (ILO)
• Wide-spread child labour: 130 – 150 million
child labourers in agriculture (ILO 2010)
Source: Fairfood Internationl; ILO 2010 Accelaerating
action against child labour;
food production
The negative impacts of the Green revolution and then
(genetically modified) GM crops and the global food system
became more topical in the 1990s following food price hikes. International
companies are recognising more and more that it could be in their interest to
shift to more sustainable practices.
Like developed countries, developing countries adopting Green Revolution
Technologies are facing resource constraints and similar changes to natural
ecosystems and loss of biodiversity due to the scale and intensity of food
production on land and in the oceans. “The existence of over 4,000 plant and
animal species is threatened by agricultural intensification” (Fairfood)
Source: Edexcel Student Guide Unit 4, Option 3;; Source: UN Documents, Our Common Future -;
Environmental sustainability
Global Footprint Network
devised an indicator of
environmental sustainability – the
ecological footprint (EF).
The issues centre on land grabs,
deforestation and replacement of
staple food crops by biofuels.
Deforestation for cash crops- most
severe impact on mountainous
areas, upland watersheds and
dependent ecosystems
Global focus on Eco footprints and
food miles (sustainability), animal
welfare, fair trade and exploitation
of workers
Further info on sustainability
Eco footprints
Action for students: It will become imperative to reduce greenhouse gas
emissions and adapt to a changing climate. Read about and discuss in class if
your family could follow the example of the Hawksworth family. Discuss the trend
and reasons for trend shown.
Per capita footprint can
be used to:
• highlight inequality of
resource use
• educate about
• show how many
lifestyles are not
Food supply chain
Food supply defines what
food is available. Food
availability is influenced by
production and distribution of
food – in a country and
household. The supply chain
charts its course from primary
production to retail and
service. Consumption
is followed by waste
lobal%20Food%20Chain.pdf; Digby et al “A2
Geography for Edexcel”, p 282
Food supply factors
Action for students:
Using Sub-Saharan Africa as an example
1. Read the report on the region
and refer to the World Food Programme Global Security Updates and
country updates
Prepare a slide that explains food supply factors, human and physical, to a
fellow student.
Source: Edexcel Student Guide Unit 4, Option 3;
• Variation in food supply ≠
Variation in food security
• Production of crops for export
can be high, while supply for
local consumption can be low.
Food supply:
human and
physical factors
Set natural limits to production
Can be overcome with technology
Technology is costly
Eventually the law of diminishing
returns apply
Grey area between human
and physical factors
Physical factors
Soil–nutrient store
Land ownership systems: security of
Climate: seasonal changes
Precipitation: amount, frequency, type
Inheritance laws: may be gender biased
Length of thermal growing season
Market and Trade patterns and regulations
skewed in favour of more developed
Relief: steep or waterlogged areas less useful
Aspect-slope angle
Competition often unfair, especially if
subsidies, quotas etc. involved
Government action and support
Big businesses and TNCs now dominate
research into agricultural production and
are governed by profit margins rather
than food security for poor people
Aid agencies are key players in both long
and short term food supplies
Altitude: affecting temperature, water supply
Hazards: tectonic, hydro-meteorological and
Recent climate change and weather ‘shocks’
linked to global warming.
Human factors
Accessibility of markets
Source: Edexcel Student Guide Unit 4, Option 3;
World food
supply chain
Farm equipment
manufacturers e.g.,
Deere & Company
Hedge funds and
other investment firms
Losses in the
food supply chain
Source: ;
Food Miles, losses
and wastage
Do greater and greater distances between
growers and consumers matter? Most people
associate food miles with final delivery transport ,
which actually only accounts for 4% of food
emissions. What you eat and how much you
waste tends to be more important than where
it comes from.
Up to half of the food that is
produced for human
consumption is lost or wasted
annually, around 1.3 billion
tonnes. Up to 40% of food rots
on the way to market in India.
Americans throw away up to 40%
of what they buy. (Gustavsson et al
2011; Economist September 1st 2012 “Clean
In the UK one quarter of the lorries are
carrying food. Source: “Food Security and Sustainability: One
Can’t Make an Omelette Without Cracking Some Eggs”
Further info on food miles:
Source on food emissions:
The UK only grows half its
vegetables and 10% of its
fruit; big rise in imports.
Source: “Food Security and Sustainability: One Can’t Make an Omelette
Without Cracking Some Eggs”
Growing retail and
processing share
Most of the economic value of food is added beyond the farm gate:
food processing and retail make up significant and growing fraction of
world economic activity.
intermediaries (1)
The intermediaries - large
transnational corporations have increased their power and
control over the entire food
system, dominating global food
supply chains.
The trend is toward increased
concentration among
processors, traders,
manufacturers and retailers.
Their size and reach are
increasing as is the pressure
they can exert on their
suppliers. They have also
secured premium land.
intermediaries (2)
The global food economy has been driven by policies favouring agroprocessing, foreign investment and exports, which has weakened the link
between agricultural production and access to food.
Whether it is in India, US or UK, farmers are controlled by the debt they
need to take on to keep up with the technologies and systems imposed by
large transnational corporations (TNCs).
Corporations look out for their brand survival and profit. There can be
issues around accountability and regulation.
International food companies have strengthened their commitment to
Consolidation of the
grain trade
Powerful corporations determine prices and capture the
growth in income and high return on equity rates whilst
farmers experience a decline in their net income due to rising
cost of inputs AND stable prices for their product.
From seed to
Action for students:
In pairs, consider the implications of the growing dominance of a few companies
and countries, where large companies control substantial shares of the
international markets for grains, fertilizers, pesticides and seeds and shape
governments’ policies.
Explain how they control important functions of agricultural production and the food
chain through vertical and horizontal integration*, global expansion and
regional, national and global trade deals among other things.
– Zoom the Seed Industry structure
– Read The Economist article “The parable of the Sower” and
– Read the Organic Consumer Association “Consolidation in Food and
Vertical integration defines an arrangement “from seedling to supermarket” where the same
corporation owns the producing, selling and distribution of a product or service.
Horizontal integration increases a corporations scale by buying a firm at the same production of
development, which leads to fewer players or monopolies
“The agricultural systems that have been built up over the past few decades have
contributed greatly to the alleviation of hunger and the raising of living standards.
They have served their purposes up to a point....New realities reveal their inherent
contradictions. These realities require agricultural systems that focus as much
attention on people as they do on technology, as much on resources as on
production, as much on the long term as on the short term. Only such systems can
meet the challenge of the future.” (UN Documents, Our Common Future -
Ecosystem (1)
Agriculture needs to be
thought of as part of a larger
ecosystem linked to society
and human well-being and
ecosystem function. In order
to preserve ecosystem
service, the expansion of
land area for agriculture
needs to be restricted.
Ecosystem (2)
Agricultural terms
“Commercial Farming - the growing of crops /
rearing of livestock to make a profit. Common in
most countries
Subsistence Farming - where there is just
sufficient food produced to provide for the
farmer's own family
Arable Farming - involves the growing of crops
Pastoral Farming - involves the rearing of
Mixed Farming - involves a combination of
arable and pastoral farming
Intensive Farming - where the farm size is
small in comparison with the large amount of
labour, and inputs of capital, fertilisers etc. which
are required.
Extensive Farming - where the size of a farm is
very large in comparison to the inputs of money,
labour etc.. Needed
Industrial agriculture – entails intensifcation,
concentration and specialisation.
High Yielding Variety (HYV): plant has higher
yield, matures more quickly, shorter stems,
narrower leaves, standard length/height and
insensitive to day length. Higher yield is dependent
on a combination of inputs.
Agro-processing = process whereby primary
agricultural products are turned into commodities for
market, peanuts to peanut butter.
Agribusiness - involves the large corporate
organisation of farming- often farms are run for profit
maximisation and economy of scale. Agribusiness
often takes over two more stages of the system, e.g.
inputs and processes”
(Source: text taken verbatim
Source: Adapted from Witherick M. And S. Warn Farming, Food and
Famine; Edexcel Student Guide Unit 4, Option 3;
Food and agriculture are the world’s largest industry. Growth in agriculture has a
key role in reducing hunger, malnutrition and ultra poverty, although the impact of
growth is slow. Agriculture underpins the economic and social development of
people in developing countries in particular.
Image: :
“The traditional role of agriculture in producing food and generating income is
fundamental, but agriculture and the entire food system – from inputs and production,
through processing, storage, transport and retailing, to consumption – can contribute
much more to the eradication of malnutrition.” (FAO “The State of Food and Agriculture 2013)
Feeding the world population and protecting land depend in large part on increasing
yields, but high-yield varieties and resource-intensive techniques are not the only
answer or a magic bullet. This emphasis comes at the cost of multiple social,
political, cultural and environmental impacts and benefits.
The choices we make in agriculture and consumption and the policies
enacted by our representatives directly affect:
• Our livelihoods;
• Nutrition and development of our children;
• Community health and well-being; and
• Our cultural heritages and ecosystem function and services such as pollination.
Source: IAASTD Factsheet
Food and agriculture
Inputs and transport costs
Agrarian structure
Climate change
Trade and markets
Information and standards
Income growth
Poverty and inequality
Consumer behaviour
Bioenergy (oil etc)
Biomass (CO2)
Sources of growth in
crop production
“There are places
where too little is
grown; there are
places where large
numbers cannot
afford to buy food.
And there are broad
areas of the Earth, in
both industrial and
developing nations,
where increases in
food production are
undermining the
base for future
production.” (UN
Documents, Our Common Future
Source: FAO;
Agricultural curve
Action for students: The industrialisation of agriculture can weaken the
position of smallholders and increase pressure on them to commercialise or
leave the sector. Discuss in pairs how this can lead to growing inequality.
farming can
have higher
capacity and
hence, output of
land and labour.
Source: Adapted from Witherick M. And S. Warn Farming, Food and Famine
The role of innovation,
science and technology
The role of innovation,
science and technology (2)
• Technology can help overcome physical factors, e.g. temperature, water and
nutrient deficiencies.
• Health innovations, more affordable transportation and communication in one
part of the world can positively impact other parts.
• Technological advances can lead to greater food supply, but some areas are
also more suited to food production such as the great plains of America and
Action for students:
1.Read the FAO article on the role of technology (biotechnology, sustainable
agriculture, future research) and print and annotate the graph alongside.
Discuss your annotations with a partner. Retain the graph for revision
2.“The Future of Food and Farming”:
profit motive
• The world agriculture, food and nutrition situation for the poor is not
sustainable on the production and consumption side.
• Dominant players in agri-business have harnessed ‘modern’
technology to drive high-profit, large-scale, resource-intensive
agriculture – from subsistence to surplus farming.
• Agri-business aims to increase profit by removing pest weeds,
reducing weeds and increasing production per area.
• Agri-busines seeks to increase profit by using machinery,
chemicals, antibiotics and animal / fish feed
• The main beneficiaries of the technological advances such as highyielding crop varieties, agro-chemicals and mechanisation have
been TNCs and the wealthy, not the hungry or poor.
Food supply and
technological advances
Technological advances can lead to
greater food supply, but there is a law
of diminishing returns. Advances can
have a negative impact on the
environment problems and social equity.
The undesired consequences include
pollution, eutrophication, deforestation,
degradation, desertification, soil erosion
and salinsation, antibiotic resistance
Monoculture depletes the land of its
Source: Edexcel Student Guide Unit 4, Option 3;
Green Revolution –
Technology-package approach
Subsistence farming
Small, extensive farms
Increasing dominance of
large agri-chemical TNCs
Damage to rural economy,
environment and ecosystem
Rural to Urban migration
Loss of subsistence farming
Issues with debt, control,
land ownership
Green Revolution
Pesticides / Biocides
Animal feeds
Miracle crops
The Green revolution, the
move from subsistence to
large-scale farming, was
indeed a revolution.
Larger, intensive farms
Greater yields, greater profit
Expensive schemes
Irrigation and Fertilisers
Poorer farmers
cannot compete
Source: Adapted from
high-intensity food production
revolution - background
Dr. Norman E. Borlaug
Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images
“These and other developments in agriculture contain the makings of a new
revolution. It is not a violent red Revolution like that of the Soviets nor is it a White Revolution
like that of the Shah of Iran. I call it the Green revolution” – William Goud, Director USAID 1968
Green Revolution consisted of research transfer initiatives, technology and developments
between 1940s and 1970 that markedly increased agricultural production starting in the
1960s in LEDC.
Global development people and power considered it essential, given population growth, to
increase yields and living standards in LEDC to stave off famine and communism
Growing single crops for cash, mechanisation of farming, development and concentration of
Largely funded by Rockefeller and Ford Foundations, which also founded the International
Rice Research Institute in the Philippines in 1960.
Substantial improvements in crop production in Asia and South America, India and China.
India most successful experiment; Large parts of Africa have not benefitted because crops
not suited to crop conditions there and other impediments to the implementation of the
technology package such as transport
Further info:
BBC Video clip on Norman Borlaug and selective breeding of wheat
On the success and failures of the Green Revolution
On degraded soil and food shortages:
Quote taken from
World Bank
The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR),
including the World Bank, FAO, IFAD and UNDP was one of the key actors in the
Green Revolution. A worldwide network of agricultural research centres, it “was
established in 1971 as part of the international response to widespread concern in
the 1950s, ’60s and early ’70s that many developing countries would succumb to
hunger.”( It continues to support agricultural
research and monitor agricultural trade to identify potential food shortages.
The Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) was established in 2010
by the World Bank at the request of the G20 as an innovative, multi-donor and multistakeholder approach with public and private actors, large and small scale farmers, civil
society and such to address food security
Further info:
Green Revolution
Agricultural modernisation programme: large-scale, investment-heavy,
industrial farming techniques; move from subsistence to commercial farming.
Action for students: Use this table and relevant slides in this section to
write a report: “The green revolution is not without controversy.” Discuss.
Graph: The Green Revolution; Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Energy and
food production
Energy-related expenses vary between crops and also affect livestock producers.
With the Green revolution, agriculture has become increasingly dependent on
fossil fuel inputs (global oil consumption doubles every 10 years) as machines
replaced farm workers, whilst world oil reserves have been dwindling and
mismanagement of natural resources is common.
Intensive agriculture consumes large amounts of energy especially in the
production of field crops and meat.
It is sensitive to energy prices for refined petroleum, electricity, natural gas and
coal, which it requires for:
- Direct energy consumption through combustion of fossil fuels for farm machinery
and electricity for irrigation and other equipment.
- Energy-related inputs, especially to manufacture fertiliser and pesticides
and prepare seeds
Retail food prices are less affected by increased agricultural commodity prices
than energy costs in food processing, distribution and marketing from the farmgate
through wholesale and retail levels.
USDA “Impacts of Higher Energy Prices on Agriculture and Rural Economies”,; UNEP “The end of cheap
oil: a threat to food security and an incentive to reduce fossil fuels in agriculture”,
Food production generally requires massive amounts of water. Examples:
1 kg of wheat needs 1000l of water; 1 kg of rice needs 3,000l.
Producing one litre of biofuel requires 2,500 litres of water (UNESCO)
Irrigation can ensure an adequate and reliable supply of water which increases
yields of most crops by up to 400%.
Although only 17% of global cropland is irrigated, it produces 40% of the world's
Ongoing food availability depends on increasing irrigation efficiency and limiting
environment damage through salinisation, damaged aquifers or reduced soil
Source: Edexcel Student Guide Unit 4, Option 3;; Graph:; Map:;; Teacher
resource slide: Agricultural production and trade
Source: Edexcel Student Guide Unit 4, Option 3;; Graph:; Map:;; Teacher
resource slide: Agricultural production and trade
Improving water
productivity is key
Water productivity can be improved through increasing yields and
drip irrigation.
Global Water Gap
Water is critical and
agriculture’s main
limiting factor.
World fertiliser
World fertiliser use has grown fivefold since 1960. The FAO predicts
global fertiliser use to grow to 188 million tonnes by 2030 (IAASTD 2009)
Further info:
Financial Times
article on
pollution: Inputs
that place huge
pressure on
the land”
Negative impact of
intensive farming
Many systems of food production are unsustainable with environmental
issues brought on in large part by the high-impact modern food production
started in the developed world after WWII. These lead to:
– Overuse of chemicals and technology inherent in the high use of fossil
fuel-derived energy for synthesis of nitrogen fertilisers and pesticides
– Environmental pollution and human health issues
– Excess use of fertilisers with their run-off of nitrogen and phosphates
damages water resources
– Substantial quantities of greenhouse gases and other pollutants
contributing to climate change
– Soil degradation of intensive farming eroding the overall base of
agriculture – history of earth abuse and soil erosion.
– Cropped areas increasingly advancing into marginal lands prone to erosion.
– Poorly designed and implemented irrigation systems that cause waterlogging, salinisation and alkalisation of soils.
– Depleted commercial fisheries, endangered bird species and extinct insects
that preyed on pests; and an increase in insect-resistant pest species.
The Green
revolution in India
The “unprecedented growth in food production has been achieved partly by an
extension of the production base: larger cropped areas, more livestock, more
fishing vessels, and so on. But most of it is due to a phenomenal rise in
productivity.” Source: UN Documents, Our Common Future -
Action for students:
What are the impacts and problems with the rise in productivity – use the resources
below and the subsequent slide to note a list the pros and cons of the Green
Revolution in India.
• IFPRI Green Revolution – Cure or Blessing?
• NPR On ‘Green Revolution – Trapping Indian Farmers in Debt’
• BBC On the end of India’s Green Revolution:
India’s Green
Revolution in crisis? (1)
In the 1960s and 1970s farmers in Punjab abandoned traditional farming
methods for intensive Green Revolution methods backed by U.S. Foundations
and subsidised by Indian policies. A deliberate attempt to become self-sufficient in provision
of basic food crops – national food security – and to lift large numbers of people out of
Hailed a success at first, now population growth is outstripping agricultural growth and
lowest levels of rural employment are driving migration to cities.
To survive, farmers choose more profitable cash crops such as cotton and coffee rather than
as stable food crops such wheat.
India’s Green
Revolution in crisis? (2)
Dramatic drop in water tables as the seeds require a lot more water than
provided by rain, so that farmers pump ground water.
As they have to pump deeper, buying more powerful pumps drives them into
When they tap into brackish underground pools, they bring up salt residue
that poisons the fields.
High-yield crops also deplete the soil of nutrients, rendering it anaemic.
The Director of the Punjab State Farmers Commission has warned that
farmers are committing economic and ecological suicide and says that they
need a new sustainable revolution.
Further info: On Second Green Revolution:
Diminishing water
Research and
Development (R & D)
Support for
publicly funded
research and
have been
reduced in favour
of private research
such that R & D is
decided and
driven more and
more by the
private sector.
What are the
possible risks of
business taking on
a bigger research
role in marginal
food supply
Global agricultural R & D spending stalled in high-income countries and has been driven by
middle-income countries – notably China and India.
Reduced funding “in numerous smaller, poorer, and more technologically challenged
countries. Countries in this last group are often highly vulnerable to severe volatility in funding,
and hence in spending, which impedes the continuity and ultimately the viability of their
research programs.” (
There was divestment from agriculture since 1970s largely as a result of structural adjustment
programmes (SAPs) and neo-liberal policies of the 1980s. Implemented by the IMF and World
Bank, aid or loans were given if a country followed SAPs. SAPs were aimed at boosting
development 2000s marked by greater emphasis on trade justice and sustainability.
International aid to agriculture collapsed from 17% of aid in 1980 to 3.4% in 2006.
Further info:
MDG, Food and Agriculture:
Declining development
assistance to agriculture
Levels of investment in developing-country agriculture and particularly in smallscale agriculture have been low. More investment in agricultural growth
promoting economic growth, environmental sustainability and long-term poverty
reduction is needed from both the public and the private sectors.
Alliance for a Green
Revolution in Africa (AGRA)
Historically, Sub-Saharan African governments have placed low priority
on improving agricultural performance. In response, a New Green
Revolution for Africa , the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa
(AGRA), is intended as a holistic effort funded by the Bill and Melinda
Gates and Rockefeller Foundations to:
• Build the capacity of the smallholder (women, subsistence farmers);
• Better access to markets and market information;
• Develop locally adapted varieties of seeds;
• Enhance soil health.
Source: Madelyn Swift “Double Standard in Approaches to Food Aid”, -approaches-to-food-aid/
AGRA - a Trojan horse?
“Unsurprisingly, the push for a New Green Revolution in Africa is being
led by the same players that pioneered the original concept in Asia,
with new allies adding strength to the effort. The Rockefeller
Foundation leads the pack, with the full support of the African arms of
...CGIAR, an institution created by the Rockefeller Foundation to
provide the scientific and technical backbone for the Green Revolution
in Asia. Duplicating the example set in Asia, the Rockefeller
Foundation’s admission into Africa is akin to that of a “Trojan horse”
paving the way for entry by transnational agrochemical, fertilizer and
agricultural biotechnology companies to peddle their wares.”
Action for students:
1. Watch the clip Agra’s strategy on
2. Watch “Winner National History Day 2012 – The Green Revolution: Against All Odds”
3. Read “Countering Africa’s green revolution”, IRIN
4. Discuss with a partner and note in your folder what is AGRA and what are arguments
for and against AGRA.
5. Does AGRA ( promise to rebalance the power toward farmers in
LEDC – herders, women farmers, pastoralists, in particular?
6. Does it promote more sustainable and affordable approaches? What are examples
of more sustainable and affordable approaches? Are expansion of industrial
agriculture and multinational corporations and trading and affordable and sustainable
approaches mutually exclusive?
High-yield,disease-resistant seeds have enabled farmers with the
means to do so to expand their land and has increased monoculture
(single high-yielding cash crop). On average, agricultural productivity
growth has been relatively low in developing countries. The focus has
been on yield rather than to what purpose the food is allocated (e.g., to
feed meat habit and automobiles).
Action for students:
1. What is meant by high-yield?
2. What is the difference between modern GM crops and cross
breeding high-yield animal breeds from the 19th Century onwards?
3. How has the culture changed to that of a technician rather than a
4. How can organic production lead to an increase in yields?
Terms for
genetically modified food
• Following the “seed monopolies” that gained increasing impact
as the Green revolution progressed, the 1990s introduced more
complex layers of genetically engineered seed breeding and
control with genetically modified food.
• Transgenic technologies are used to overcome the limitations of
conventional breeding approaches. They can lead to specific
crop improvements.
• Genetically modified food (biotech, transgenic or genetically
engineered): crop plants modified in laboratory to enhance
desired traits such as resistance to herbicides and previously
unknown combinations of genetic traits across species to
achieve previously specified objectives, for example:
– “Miracle” rice and wheat. Golden Rice which seem to be a
solution to the common Vitamin A micro-nutrient deficiency.
Source:; WebMD
Improved and patented seed with “Technology Use Agreement.” The seed must be
purchased every year.
TNCs control the entire life system - profits beyond the seed, e.g. tying farmers to use
of specific pesticides.
US and Europe – different stance on GM.
Issues around intellectual property rights*: property rights created by law over
inventions of the mind; an official license for applicant to the exclusion of others from the
government over economic rights over their creation for a fixed period.
Multinational organisations, biotechnology companies are set to benefit at the loss of
biodiversity, threatened, for example, by the pesticides.
Litigation: agro-biotech companies exert unprecedented control over farmers to use
patented seeds (see Monsanto Canada Inc vs Schmeiser, for example:
Development largely through private sector with profit incentive, impeding the kind of
accessibility for LEDC farmers that public sector or public-private partnership could open
Profit focus on industrialised world and designed for industrialised planting situations
Greater variety and number of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) opposing GM or
aspects of GM are more prominent than during Green Revolution.
GM advantages
and risks
• GM crops advantages can
include increased yields;
increased pest and disease
resistance; drought
tolerance; reduced
maturation time; better
nutritional content, taste or
• GM crops being developed
to thrive on less water; cope
with soil heavy in salt or
metals; convert nitrogen
from air; produce vaccines
against diseases (e.g.,
cholera and hepatitis B).
Experts caution that there are
no guarantees and health,
ethical and environmental
impacts. Risks include
introducing allergens and
toxins to food; contamination
between GM and non-GM
foods by accident; antiobiotic
resistance; a crop’s adverse
change of nutritional content;
creation of environmental risks
such as super weeds.
IAASTD report against
transgenic crops
International Assessment of Agricultural knowledge,
Science and Technology for Development Report (2009):
“Little solid evidence exists ...that transgenic crops
contribute to equitable or sustainable development or
will do so in the future...
Substantial questions about their social, health and
environmental impacts remain...
Inconsistent performance in the field
Surging use of chemical weed killers in conjunction
with herbicide-tolerant crops
Genetic contamination of wild and native seed
resources and of organic farms
Lack of transparent communication by
manufacturer of the technology...
Threats to social equity posed by intellectual
property rules and increasing corporate ownership of
genetic resources.
GM revolution countries
The EU position is against
GM crops
• Prefers organic which it
considers healthier.
• Believes that
multinationals will be
alone to benefit and
dominate the world food
supply even more at the
cost of traditional farmers
• Technology stigmatised
because of unease and
uncertainty around risks
and regulation
A ‘revolution’ in USA, Canada, China and
Argentina, Australia, India and Mexico, the general
public and policymakers tend to accept the new
technology. In these countries GM crops such as
soybeans, corn and cotton account for 30 - 80 % of
total plantings of these crops and are likely continue to
make up a substantial portion of total plantings going
The US is the largest producer of GM crops.
According to experts 60% - 70% of processed foods
on US grocery shelves contain genetically modified
‘Regulation’ in the US falls mostly to the
companies creating and reaping profits from the
technology, notably Monsanto (90% of industry share),
Dow Chemical Company and Syngenta AG.
Controversies in US food labelling policy which
generally do not require GM foods to be identified
Source: WebMD “Are Biotech Foods Safe to Eat?
Local Food systems
There has been “a series of counter movements attempting to
simultaneously reassert the value of
local, organic foods, and challenge the
attempt on the part of food
corporations and national and global
institutions to subject the food
question to market solutions....the
power of food lies in its material and
symbolic functions of linking nature,
human survival, health, culture and
livelihood as a focus of resistance to
corporate takeover of life itself.”
Further info: On Fair trade: Farmers get paid more so that they can re-invest and thus produce
more. Farmers must join a certification fee to join the scheme
On Local Food in Burkina Faso:
Image Food Miles and Local Food System Objectives:
Organic farming
Relatively low impact on the environment, whereas industrial farming can
exceed the biophysical limits of the soil.
Usually less profitable than more technologically based types
EU, reforms, though slow, of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) foster more
environmentally friendly agriculture, with a growth in LEAF farms (Linking
Environment with Farming).
The majority of farmers in developing countries use subsistence and small scale
production methods, often organic.
Markets for organic food are expanding as more people consider it worthwhile to
pay more for food about which they know more.
Further info
Source: Edexcel Student Guide Unit 4, Option 3;
Global rise of
organic market
Graph:; image:
Top 10 organic countries
Organic in the UK
Action for students:
Can you account for
the decrease in the
UK share of the
organic market?
Do you believe the
trend will continue
downward or that it is
a short-term impact?
“Governments could pursue two kinds of policy action: they could either change the
behaviour of farmers, consumers, food processors, and other economic agents in the
system through incentives, regulations, and knowledge; or they could accept present
behaviours and introduce health-specific and nutrition-specific interventions to
compensate for any nutritional damage done or improvements forgone. Although
changing of behaviour is likely to be more cost-effective and sustainable, the second
option is the most common.” (
“The too heavily focused on increasing production. While food
production needs to increase, there are many problems with this short-sighted
supply-side approach. It encourages the expansion of industrial agriculture rather
than more sustainable and affordable methods. It treats current demand trends
biofuels, meat-based diets, post-production food waste, etc.—as given rather
than challenging the policies that encourage them. Also unchallenged are the
inequities in the distribution of the food we produce, which is more than enough to
feed everyone.” (Tufts
from CGIAR report
Food system
interventions for better
• Keeping up the momentum
of agricultural growth in
agricultural productivity will
be key to meeting demand.
• Production interventions that
are gender sensitive and
combined with nutrition
education are more effective.
• Agricultural research and
development priorities need
to have a greater emphasis
on nutrient-dense foods such
as vegetables and fruits.
Source: FAO “The State of Food and
Agriculture 2013
Shift to a more
equitable and sustainable approach
There is Increasing realisation that current production and consumption are
unsustainable. Yet, powerful multinationals keep the government’s and
population’s focus on high-tech ‘solutions’ (how to produce more?) and
away from what’s wrong with the system (why and more of what?).
Relatively little thought about demand side, about how to change
consumerism and markets; for example, food systems skewed toward ‘bad’
A more sustainable food system must be driven by concerns for social
values, quality, environment, health, economy and governance. This entails
a move to:
– How to increase output for current diets to what our bodies need for nutritious
diet and how we can produce it
– How to mine resources for food and lower prices to how to build production on
ecological and sustainable principles
– How to be more efficient and ‘high-yield’ to how to reflect full cost of food
Building resilience:
sustainable land management
Climate resilient techniques and links to nutrition outcomes and
sustainability can be achieved by securing legal, economic and social
security for small-scale farmers “by
• revising laws of ownership,
• supporting the establishment of women’s farmers’, Indigenous and
community-based organizations, and
• investing in local infrastructure, community-based businesses, local
agro-processing and farmers’ markets”(IAASTD Fact sheet)
Action for students:
1. Watch UNCCD’s “Building resilience – people with greener land”
AND Read on resilience in the Sahel and Horn of Africa
2. Write a note for your folder explaining why strengthening the resilience to drought and
disaster through sustainable land management is key for
sustainable development.
What you can do
Understand and share knowledge about environmental cost of
different food groups
Read labels and fight to know what is in your food and better regulation
Reduce your waste: do not waste food and choose packaging carefully
Consume less so others can consume more
Shift to a diet with more vegetables and less protein with smaller
servings of high-cost meat
Buy organic, local, in season and fair trade products
Grow your own food
Further info: Tips from Michael Pollan author of the bestseller “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” on
eating green
Sustainweb; WWF One Planet;
Friends of The Earth
Source: “Food Security and Sustainability: One Can’t Make an Omelette Without Cracking Some Eggs”; book
Your voice
Vote for politicians that put consumption (moderating demand) and
improving food system governance on the policy agenda to help change the
system to one that treats animals, environment and workers with respect,
“to stop policies that hurt poor people. These are our best opportunities to
promote the Great Escape for those who have yet to break free.” (Angus Deaton,
“The Great Escape”)
– Hold your government accountable for their promises.
– Use your voice to stop spending cuts on aid and investments such as agricultural
Ask your school for healthy school meal and talk to the produce manager at
your local stores (see
Do not wait for others to act. Effect change by taking action :
– Support effective and efficient aid programmes and organisations through your
time, donations or raising funds
– Be an advocate and joining and building local food initiatives and movements
supporting eco-nutrition security
– Check the FAO website for events happening around your area for World Food
How you can get involved
• Organise a fundraising or awareness raising event
with your friends or school;
• Tell others about MSF;
• Make a donation to MSF or suggest a donation
instead of a birthday present;
• Organise a visit to your school by an MSF
• Become an MSF volunteer when you’re older.
Pressures on
the agri-food system
The FAO report ‘How to Feed the world in 2050’ projects an unprecedented confluence of
pressures on the global food system over the next 40 years:
• “Global population of 9 billion will mean new and traditional demand for agricultural
produce putting growing pressure on already scarce agricultural resources.
• Global demand for food, feed and fibre will double. Growing numbers of wealthier
people will push up demand for a more varied, high-quality diet requiring additional
resources to produce
• Crops increasingly used for bio-energy and other industrial purposes, not food.
• Agriculture forced to compete for land and water with sprawling urban settlements,
70% population will be urban (50% at present)
• Agriculture will have to adapt to and also contribute to the mitigation of climate change,
helping preserve natural habitats, protecting endangered species and maintain a high
level of biodiversity.
• New technologies will be needed to grow more food with fewer people as rural
depopulation continues in most regions.“ Source: Women in Agriculture: Closing the Gender Gap
for Development, FAO, 2011
Action for students: Discuss how each of these points affects the growing issues around
people, communities and countries left behind on the one hand and increasing consolidation
and concentration of power on the other.
Source: Edexcel Student Guide Unit 4, Option 3;
World agriculture
production and trade
Share of agricultural
Agricultural trade
International trade is relied upon to satisfy
domestic food needs in poor countries.
These struggle as they become more
dependent on imports while their local
production is declining in favour of cash and
non-agricultural crops for export.
China and R & D
The graph shows how
investment in R & D has
driven up cereal yield in
Source: IFPRI
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The MSF movement was awarded the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize.

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