With the countdown on for the upcoming United Nations climate talks known as COP21, an international movement is demanding an end to what they see as the corporate domination of the conference and that a food sovereignty approach—a "just solution to a global climate crisis"—be prioritized.
La Via Campesina, which unites global organizations that work to defend small-scale farmers, released its call in a statement last week.
The groups write governments at previous COPs "have continuously failed to protect and advance people's most fundamental human rights—including the Right to Food—sending delegation upon delegation to climate talks that prioritize private interests over public welfare."
But those "[c]orporate solutions are false solutions, and will not solve the climate crisis," their statement declares. "Our solutions are real solutions, and should be prioritized by the UN."
Not only does the corporate food system not offer a climate solution, it has helped cause the climate crisis. The statement continues:
the global food system imposed on people by Transnational Corporations (TNCs) is both a total failure and one of the main causes of the human-induced climate crisis – dependent on fossil fuels to produce, transform and transport, it is responsible for an estimated 44 to 57% of all global greenhouse emissions. Instead of nutritious food for the world's people, TNCs have produced hunger and obesity, land grabs and rural displacement, and a climate crisis they now hope to cash in on with false solutions sold at the United Nations." Unlike tncs, "peasant agriculture and local food systems have proven themselves capable of feeding people for centuries," the statement reads.
Ryan Zinn, political director of the Fair World Project, lays out the difference between the two approaches, and their differing climate impacts, thusly:
Industrial agriculture is a key driver in the generation of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, heavy machinery, monocultures, land change, deforestation, refrigeration, waste and transportation are all part of a food system that generates significant emissions and contributes greatly to global climate change. Industrial agricultural practices, from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) to synthetic fertilizer-intensive corn and soy monocultures, genetically modified to tolerate huge amounts of herbicide, not only contribute considerable amounts of GHGs, but also underpin an inequitable and unhealthy global food system. Modern conventional agriculture is a fossil fuel-based, energy-intensive industry that is aligned with biotech, trade and energy interests, versus farmer and consumers priorities.
Compared to large-scale industrial farms, small-scale agroecological farms not only use fewer fossil fuel-based fertilizer inputs and emit less GHGs, including methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide (CO2), but they also have the potential to actually reverse climate change by sequestering CO2 from the air into the soil year after year. According to the Rodale Institute, small-scale farmers and pastoralists could sequester more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available, safe and inexpensive agroecological management practices that emphasize diversity, traditional knowledge, agroforestry, landscape complexity, and water and soil management techniques, including cover cropping, composting and water harvesting.
Importantly, agroecology can not only sequester upwards of 7,000 pounds of CO2 per acre per year, but it can actually boosts crop yields. In fact, recent studies by GRAIN (www.grain.org) demonstrate that small-scale farmers already feed the majority of the world with less than a quarter of all farmland. Addressing climate change on the farm can not only tackle the challenging task of agriculture-generated GHGs, but it can also produce more food with fewer fossil fuels. In other words, as the ETC Group (www.etcgoup.org) has highlighted, industrial agriculture uses 70% of the world’s agricultural resources to produce just 30% of the global food supply, while small-scale farmers provide 70% of the global food supply while using only 30% of agricultural resources.
Small-scale farmers are especially critical to confronting the food and farming crisis at the root of climate change. Small-scale farms are demonstrably more resilient in the face of severe climatic events, weathering major storms much more effectively than large-scale industrial farms. Small-scale, agroecological farmers in particular have faired comparatively better after major hurricanes and storms.
Despite the benefits the approach advocated by La Via Campesina possesses, it faces significant obstacles, the group notes, like the potential TTIP and TPP trade deals that many groups have said will favor corporate interests. Yet this paradigm shift is what is needed to achieve climate justice, they write:
That is why we in La Vía Campesina declare once again that Food Sovereignty—based on peasant agroecology, traditional knowledge, selecting, saving and sharing local adoptive seeds, and control over our lands, biodiversity, waters, and territories—is a true, viable, and just solution to a global climate crisis caused largely by TNCs. To implement Food Sovereignty, however, we need far-reaching change. Among other things, we need comprehensive agrarian reforms, public procurement of peasant production, and an end to destructive free trade agreements (FTA’s) promoted by TNCs. In short, we need justice—social, economic, political, and climate justice.