Battling hunger requires a global agricultural revolution

Germany must push for a radical overhaul of the world’s agricultural policies in order to combat starvation and instability caused by hunger, writes Greens MP Ulrike Höfken.

Battling hunger requires a global agricultural revolution
Photo: DPA

The dramatic increase in food prices in recent months has led to hunger riots worldwide. To blame the increased interest in biofuels as the sole reason for this severe rise in food costs distracts from many other causes. At the moment, fuel crops cover only 2 percent of cultivated fields, while 30 percent are used to produce animal feed for intensive livestock farming. And this is a rising trend, as the growing middle classes in emerging economies such as China and India demand more livestock products.

Hunger has many causes

Further causes include increasing financial market speculation for grain, a neglect of small farms in developing countries, unequal landownership, and farm subsides which have favoured the agricultural industry at the expense of sustainable farming. Natural disasters and crop failures caused by climate change have compounded the problem.

In the midst of this worsening food crisis, the World Bank’s International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development presented its global agricultural report on April 15. It showed the way toward a solution and it reaffirmed our Green policies.

The committee is calling for fundamental changes to global agriculture. Industrial agriculture with monocultures, intensive livestock farming and the use of pesticides and genetic engineering has undoubtedly increased yields considerably in recent decades, “but ordinary farmers, workers, rural communities and the environment are paying the price for it worldwide.” Therefore, especially in the case of developing countries, experts are urging that land use be adapted to local conditions, such as rural structures, traditional crops and production methods. Only sustainable agricultural practices should receive government subsidies, and agricultural research should be oriented toward serving farming in developing countries.

The Greens wholeheartedly support this sort of approach. The Common Agricultural Policy is due to be overhauled and we call on the European Union to push forward the movement toward sustainable agriculture. In the future, subsidies must be connected to improving the lot of society. We must support farming that is sound for both the environment and climate by strengthening rural development, by linking subsidies to job creation and creating incentives for especially climate-friendly forms of cultivation. In order to establish fair trade relations we want export subsidies, which distort trade, to be abolished by 2013 at the latest, independent from the progress of the WTO negotiations. We also call for subsidy payments on pork exports in developing countries to be discontinued immediately.

The German government needs to stop resisting reform when discussing EU agricultural subsidies and Berlin must take part in constructively recasting the CAP for a sustainable future. German Agriculture Minister Horst Seehofer can not concern himself only with subsidies for large farm companies while forgetting the world’s hungry.

Strengthening small farms

The Greens also call for development aid focus more on strengthening small-scale rural agriculture. Supporting self-sufficiency in rural areas is one of the most important starting points for getting the problem of hunger under control. The land rights of small farmers in developing nations must be protected and there must be further land reform as well. We need to strengthen the exchange of knowledge between local producers and support access to knowledge about new and expensive forms of cultivation.

In order to establish fair agricultural trade, we need to develop sustainability and human rights criteria not only for biofuels but for the entire farm sector globally. These criteria must also become a component of WTO agreements. This is a Herculean task, and it won’t be accomplished overnight. However, sustainability and human rights criteria for agricultural trade can already be anchored in bilateral treaties between the European Union and partner countries or groups of countries overseas.

Guidelines for biofuels production

The cultivation of plants for energy sources is increasing worldwide. We urgently need policies to be revised in order to counteract increasing competition for land with food production.

Policymakers must create strong guidelines which ensure that the use of biomass for energy neither aggravates the problem of hunger nor is detrimental to biodiversity.

We need to create a certification system that defines binding ecological and social standards for the cultivation and production of biofuels. However, this alone isn’t sufficient to ensure regulations aren’t flouted. The international community must carefully examine the policies of each and every country wanting to export biofuels or biofuel crops and evaluate them for their sustainability.

Ulrike Höfken is the chairwoman for the German parliament’s committee on Nutrition, Agriculture and Consumer Protection.

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KEY POINTS: Why is Sweden planning to cull half its wolf population?

Sweden's government has announced that it will allow a major wolf cull this year, with hunters licensed to kill as many as half of the estimated 400 animals in the country. What is going on?

KEY POINTS: Why is Sweden planning to cull half its wolf population?

How many wolves are there in Sweden? 

Wolves were extinct in Sweden by the mid-1880s, but a few wolves came over the Finnish border in the 1980s, reestablishing a population.  

There are currently 480 wolves living in an estimated 40 packs between Sweden and Norway, with the vast majority — about 400 — in central Sweden. 

How many wolves should there be? 

The Swedish parliament voted in 2013, however, for the population to be kept at between 170 to 270 individuals, with the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency then reporting to the EU that Sweden would aim to keep the population at about 270 individuals to meet the EU’s Habitats Directive. 

In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency was commissioned by the government to update the analysis,  and make a new assessment of the reference value for the wolf’s population size. It then ruled in a report the population should be maintained at about 300 individuals in order to ensure a “favourable conservation status and to be viable in the long term”. 

What’s changed now? 

Sweden’s right-wing opposition last week voted that the target number should be reduced to 170 individuals, right at the bottom of the range agreed under EU laws. With the Moderate, Christian Democrat, Centre, and Sweden Democrats all voting in favour, the statement won a majority of MPs.

“Based on the premise that the Scandinavian wolf population should not consist of more than 230 individuals, Sweden should take responsibility for its part and thus be in the lower range of the reference value,” the Environment and Agriculture Committee wrote in a statement.

Why is it a political issue? 

Wolf culling is an almost totemic issue for many people who live in the Swedish countryside, with farmers often complaining about wolves killing livestock, and hunters wanting higher numbers of licenses to be issued to kill wolves. 

Opponents of high wolf culls complain of an irrational varghat, or “wolf hate” among country people, and point to the fact that farmers in countries such as Spain manage to coexist with a much higher wolf population. 

So what has the government done? 

Even though the ruling Social Democrats voted against the opposition’s proposal, Rural Affairs Minister Anna-Caren Sätherberg agreed that the wolf population needed to be culled more heavily than in recent years. As a result, the government has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to once again reassess how many wolves there should be in the country. 

“We see that the wolf population is growing every year and with this cull, we want to ensure that we can get down to the goal set by parliament,” Sätherberg told the public broadcaster SVT.

Sweden would still meet its EU obligations on protecting endangered species, she added, although she said she understood country people “who live where wolves are, who feel social anxiety, and those who have livestock and have been affected”.