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Producing more food in the large-scale and exhausting way that is happening almost everywhere in the world today is not the solution.
We see more and more empty shelves that were filled with sunflower oil until three months ago, and we notice in our wallets that bread and other grain products are getting more and more expensive. Beyond our borders, scarcity and inflation are becoming much more serious: food prices in countries such as Kenya, Cameroon or Senegal are skyrocketing, and food is becoming literally unaffordable for large sections of the population. The world’s food system is breaking down.
The solutions are within reach, but so far have hardly had the chance to flourish. The Netherlands can exert great influence internationally and should use this economic and trade power to stimulate and promote sustainable, resilient and future-proof ways of producing food. There are plenty of opportunities for this: On Tuesday 10 May, the House of Representatives will discuss global food security in wartime and the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food are developing their new policy for the coming years.
The question that the whole world is struggling with is how to solve the global food crisis, which has been accelerated by the war in Ukraine. ‘Produce more food’ says many agricultural organizations, companies and governments. But producing more food in the large-scale and exhausting way in which it is done almost everywhere in the world today is not the solution. The current intensive agricultural model causes loss of biodiversity and a third of total greenhouse gas emissions. Eventually, 40 percent of all soil on Earth is so depleted and degraded that growing food will become increasingly difficult and expensive if the soil is not restored quickly, according to a recent report by the United Nations Organization against Desertification (UNCCD). The conventional agricultural model can therefore be thrown in the trash, it is a dead end.
Instead, the world should focus on future-proof ways of producing food and chains that put ecological principles at the center, are supported by communities and, above all, serve the local and regional market. There are countless examples of this: food forests in Costa Rica, ‘natural regeneration’ in the Sahel combined with food production or agro-organic farming and local food markets in Kenya. All by farmers, ranchers and communities themselves.
But what does it take to apply such future-proof, nature-inclusive systems globally? Money in the first place. Research shows that in the last ten years, only 9 percent of Dutch development money for agricultural and food projects has been spent on agro-ecologically sustainable food production as defined by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). This percentage will not be much higher for other government funds. If all the money that the Netherlands spends annually through various channels on agricultural and food projects around the world is fully committed to nature-inclusive agricultural production from local farmers, this will give this sector a huge boost. The Netherlands is not a small country when it comes to money. We have an important voice in development banks such as the FMO and international financial institutions such as the World Bank, which manages and invests large sums in, among other things, the global agricultural sector. If these public funds were to roll in the direction of a future-proof agriculture, it would certainly lead to success.
Another condition for robust and future-proof food production to flourish is that international trade rules change drastically. The current trade rules stimulate intensive, destructive agriculture and the global food chains that have proved so vulnerable. Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, for example, would no longer be allowed to impose export duties on soy, according to the current text of the EU-Mercosur trade agreement with the EU (EU-Mercosur). While these export tariffs would actually make unsustainable soy more expensive, in favor of products grown in a future-proof manner. Through their investment agreements and trade agreements, the Netherlands and the EU can ensure that governments in African, Latin American and Asian countries have more room for their own regulation, which is an urgent need to make room for nature-inclusive agriculture worldwide and in all countries. to have their own local and regional food market.
With the development of new policies, MPs, administrators in ministries and policy makers have an excellent opportunity to let public money and our foreign trade policy contribute to the transition to a truly future-proof food system. An opportunity to grab with both hands!