Agro-ecological farming methods, not industrial-scale agriculture will be needed to ensure food security and protect food supplies from the impacts of climate change, argues Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.
He challenges the widely held view that food production needs to be scaled up to feed a growing population, saying that such a strategy overlooks climate change as well as how food is produced, by whom and for whom.
Agro-ecology attracted interest during negotiations at the COP 17 climate change conference in Durban, South Africa, says De Schutter, and provides an opportunity to tie together the food security and climate change agendas. The seriousness of food crises "is needed to re-inject urgency into climate talks", and an awareness of climate change can keep food security discourse on the right track.
Climate change is already affecting the global food supply, creating food shortages and famine. This has increased food prices world-wide, and discussions about a substantial increase in food production are "driving a flood of interest and investment back into agriculture — particularly the 'under-exploited' farmlands of the developing world," he says.
"What is desperately needed is a change of agricultural paradigm," argues De Schutter. Instead of scaling up industrial solutions which can be detrimental to the environment, he recommends that developing countries adopt agro-ecological farming methods already available as a model of land use and food production.
Diverse and local, these methods can increase food yields in areas both in need of food and of resilience to extreme weather. He outlines encouraging practices being rolled out in Durban, a city at the "forefront of a revolution in peri-urban sustainable agriculture," and in Madagascar, where they have tripled rice production.