The IAASTD report published in 2008 offers a credible solution for combatting hunger and poverty and enabling a fair and socially, economically and ecologically sustainable development of our world. But the decision-makers are finding it difficult to implement the findings – not least because the discussion threatens to deteriorate into an ideological battle.
The report’s proponents are partly to blame with their insistence to limit the findings of hundreds of scientists over six years to the principles of organic farming. These limitations would significantly narrow the scope of options to meet the large regional differences of the challenges we face. That is why the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) favours an agro-ecological approach that provides a much wider framework than organic farming and even sees cases in which Integrated Pest Management (IPM) methods can be deployed. On the other hand, the IAASTD states clearly that industrial farming methods with monocultures of genetically modified plants still can’t deliver the results that were hoped for. And this is still the case today, almost five years after publication of the report.
The agri-business on the other hand regards any ecological approach as outdated and, for obvious reasons, opposes any solutions that might involve giving more autonomy to smallholders. Such solutions would not fit with the business model of agri-business: to sell those farmers genetically modified or hybrid seeds year after year, along with the corresponding fertilisers and pesticides.
In the battle between these two camps, we should not lose sight of the main goal of the IAASTD: To nourish all people of this world; today, but also after the world’s population has risen to 9 billion by 2050.
The pragmatic, agro-ecological approach of the IAASTD is very promising, if we are to eliminate hunger on our planet. Due to its relative openness, many solutions adapted to special local circumstances can be adopted. It includes many agricultural methods based on traditional practices. But agro-forestry, no-till methods and various organic farming methods are also part of the options available.
But the approach of the IAASTD is very knowledge-intensive. Only with substantiated knowledge can we avoid that pragmatic solutions do not deteriorate into random and opportunistic loopholes. And this knowledge has to be passed on to the grass-root level in order to be effectively implemented and then developed further in a participatory process. And that is a crucial problem: Who is willing to invest in research that cannot be patented and therefore will not yield massive monetary returns? Instead, further investment is required in order to disseminate the findings to a target group that is poor. But global food security can only be achieved if smallholders are closely involved in the process and are given their rightful position in society.
The scientific approach is key for the global acceptance of the proposed way forward. If the direction proposed by the IAASTD is reduced to ideology, then the report’s numerous opponents will find it much easier to stop it in its tracks. That’s why any proposed solution should not be rejected out of hand for ideological reasons, but only if a rigorous investigation shows it not meeting the requirements. Of course science is not completely free of ideology and society’s preference for technological solutions stands in stark contrast to many of the IAASTD’s recommendations for a return to simple sustainable methods derived from processes seen in nature. This inherent conflict can only be overcome, if our search for solutions remains focused on the main goal: Healthy food for all, naturally!