Organic Consumers Association

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Wake up and Smell the Soil! Groundbreaking UN Report on the Paradigm Shift Needed to Feed the Future

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page, Millions Against Monsanto page and our Organic Transitions page.

A doorstop of a report arrived in inboxes this morning. Not so subtly called: "Wake up Before It Is Too Late," the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development new report is a rallying cry for action to move toward greater sustainability in food and farming-to ensure food security in a changing climate.

When Monsanto and other chemical companies are pushing hard on the claim that we need their products to feed the world, when The New York Times is publishing multi-page articles on the benefits of genetic engineering, the report comes at a particularly important moment. Its authors include some of the world's leading experts on food, sustainability, and agroecology, including Miguel Altieri, UC Berkeley professor, and Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.

Three key findings: First, the dominant message most of us hear about hunger reduction continues to be "Grow more food!" There is not nearly enough emphasis, the report argues, on the economic and social context of hunger. "Hunger and malnutrition," the authors write, "are mainly related to lack of purchasing power and/or inability of rural poor to be self-sufficient."

In other words, to address the roots of hunger we must be occupied with how to empower farmers and promote what is known as food sovereignty. As my mother, Frances Moore Lappe, has been saying since her seminal 1977 book, Food First, "hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food, but by a scarcity of democracy."

Secondly, the report calls for nothing less than a "paradigm shift" in growing our food, away from input-intensive, monoculture agriculture, toward what they call "ecological intensification." This means not only rethinking on-farm practices, but also rethinking the farmer herself: seeing farmers as not just producers of agricultural goods, but as stewards of the land, providing us all a valuable service in protecting soil, water, biodiversity, even climate stability.    

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