World Hunger Best Cured by Small-Scale Agriculture: Report

Small is key ... school nutrition programmes and indigenous livestock preservation are excellent ways to encourage food security. (Photograph: Graeme Robertson)

World Hunger Best Cured by Small-Scale Agriculture: Report

A move from industrial farming towards local food projects is our healthiest, most sustainable choice, says Worldwatch Institute

The key to alleviating world hunger, poverty and combating climate change may lie in fresh, small-scale approaches to agriculture, according to a report from the Worldwatch Institute.

The US-based institute's annual State of the World report, published yesterday, calls for a move away from industrial agriculture and discusses small-scale initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa that work towards poverty and hunger relief in an environmentally sustainable way.

The authors suggest that instead of producing more food to meet the world's growing population needs, a more effective way to address food security issues and climate change would be to encourage self-sufficiency and waste reduction, in wealthier and poorer nations alike.

"If we shift just some of our attention away from production to consumption issues and reducing food waste, we might actually get quite a big bang for our buck, because that ground has been neglected," said Brian Halweil, co-director of the project.

"The majority of incentives that governments give to farmers are still tied to the production mindset. The farmers are rewarded for sheer production quantity, with very little guidance for the quality they produce and the impact of their farming practices on the environment and on human health and nutrition ... It is necessary to change these incentives," he said.

The projects explored in the report include community-based initiatives in urban farming, school gardening and feeding programmes, and indigenous livestock preservation.

In Kenya's largest slum, in Nairobi, local women are growing vertical gardens in sacks, providing them with a source of income but also an element of food security for their families.

"They sell their produce and also consume part of what they grow," said Danielle Nierenberg, Halweil's co-director.

"As we talk about all these innovations, it's important to remember that farmers aren't just farmers: they're businesswomen and -men, they're stewards of their land and they're educators passing on their knowledge to others in their communities," she said.

In another programme in Uganda, Developing Innovations in School Cultivation (Disc), children are being taught about nutrition, food preparation and growing local vegetables. Pilot programmes are also being run in Mali and Sudan to feed children in schools and educate them on food production and consumption.

Anna Lappe, the author of a chapter in the report entitled Coping with Climate Change and Building Resilience, said: "We have really emphasised a set of policies over the past half a century that have prioritised an agricultural system that is incredibly fuel-intensive and emissions-based."

Emma Hockridge, head of policy at the UK Soil Association, said the report supports the case for the expansion of organic farming.

"Organic farming systems benefit biodiversity, are resilient in the face of climate change, and have been shown to improve yields and the ability of poor communities in the global south to feed themselves," she said.

Although Halweil says national governments should lead the way in implementing change, the report suggests that international attitudes towards agricultural development need to shift if the lessons from these case studies are to bring about results on a larger scale.

"I think the African Union is a natural starting point, an organising body for all these initiatives, to share between members the experience in these initiatives, but also in setting themselves goals," said Halweil.

He suggests that international aid policies on food need an overhaul to better serve the long-term interests of those on the ground.

"Food aid is a short-term fix, a Band-Aid rather than an opportunity to infuse money into the local economy and an incentive to process and distribute food locally," he said.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.