Go Organic Initiative

IS FOOD INDUSTRIALIZATION A PATHWAY TO AGRIBUSINESS TRANSFORMATION & ERADICATION OF HUNGER IN THE WORLD?

“We are the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe. And reclaiming the democratic control over our food and water and our ecological survival is the necessary project for our freedom.” -Vandana Shiva, physicist and activist. While the international community has been trying to eradicate hunger for a long time, interventions to address malnutrition are quite recent. Hunger is simply the body’s response to lack of food. Malnutrition requires a more comprehensive reaction: you have to grant access to adequate quantities of healthy and quality food, and make sure that people have a balanced diet, rich in essential vitamins and nutrients. At the moment in the world there are some 795 million people who have not enough to eat: their number is down from over one billion in 1990. That’s about one in nine people on earth. Most of these people live in developing countries, where 12.9 percent of the population is undernourished.

Asia is the continent with the hungriest people, two thirds of the total. The percentage in southern Asia has fallen in recent years but in western Asia it has increased slightly. Sub-Saharan Africa is, on the contrary, the region with the highest prevalence (percentage of population) of hunger. In some areas the number of heavily undernourished people has even raised in the last years, from 10 to 13 million. In the past 20 years severe undernourishment diminished only by 11 percent, while chronic undernourishment dropped by 36% while the objective of much of our industrial food system is to provide a profit to shareholders and CEOs. Many policymakers and supporters, historically as today, have been driven by the conviction that industrial agriculture is the best way to produce massive amounts of affordable food. And in some ways it has accomplished this. People in the U.S. spend relatively little on food, about 7 percent of their total spending, as compared to 13 percent in France, 23 percent in Mexico, and 38 percent in Vietnam. Most individuals in the U.S. devote less time, energy, and money to feeding than they ever have historically.

On the buying end, it seems an irresistibly good deal but in the real sense these prices represent just a fraction of the true costs of getting that food. We pay for the hidden costs of the corporate food supply chain in multiple ways, not all of them financially. We subsidize food corporations through our taxes, which pay for public works like transportation infrastructure for long-distance shipping (highways, airports, and railroads), communication infrastructure (satellites, television, radio and internet), energy infrastructure (coal plants and power stations), and research and development (like government-funded crop research).The thousands of chemical additives the world consume every day is yet one more reason we have a critical food safety problem. Thanks to industry influence over the approval process, the long-term safety risks for most of these substances are unknown. For example, science has pointed to chemical food dyes as a significant contributor to child behavioral problems for years. And yet the federal government still fails to recognize this connection. In addition, we’ve seen a huge increase in food allergies in children in recent years, but without much explanation of the causes.

Clearly, more research is needed into how the industrialized food supply may be impacting our health in ways that are less obvious than the immediate, dramatic effects of food borne illness. Small- and medium-sized farmers pay extremely high hidden costs. Their farms have been steadily disappearing as land is further consolidated into the hands of fewer people. The U.S. has lost 800,000 farmers and ranchers in the last 40 years and this is nothing compared to what local farmers are experiencing in Nigeria today, black farmers and land owners suffer. Farm workers and other laborers all along the food supply chain also pay by receiving inadequate wages; they are twice as likely to live below the poverty line. As consumers, we all pay with our health and well-being. Our country’s most popular cuisine is affectionately called ‘junk,’ after all. Eating the highly processed food made readily available to us has led to epidemic levels of diabetes and heart disease. Individuals get chastised for their own diet-related problems while ‘junk’ food is much easier and cheaper to access than healthy food.

Recent outbreaks of Listeria and stomach acid-resistant E. coli are other manifestations of the costs to our health and Food-safety experts blame the industrialized production of grain-fed cattle and poultry for the emergence of these dangerous bacteria strains. Our planet pays profound hidden costs: polluted water, air, and soil; deforestation; acid rain; species extinction; and climate change. The corporate food system wreaks countless ecological harm.Spraying toxic pesticides on our food has become the norm, so much so that we have come to view it as part of ‘conventional’ agriculture, though there’s nothing conventional about it. These chemicals move throughout our ecosystem, making their way into groundwater and our drinking supply, traveling down streams and rivers, and eventually reaching the ocean. In just one example, fertilizer running off fields and down the Mississippi River has created such an imbalance that there is a ‘dead zone’, where nothing can survive, in the Gulf of Mexico the size of New Jersey. Pesticides also wind up on our plates and in our bloodstreams. In 2005, the Environmental Working Group tested the umbilical cords of 10 babies from different U.S. hospitals and found an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants in their blood, including a number of pesticides.

Monocropping, a farming system where the same crop is grown on a piece of land year after year, is foundational to industrial-scale agriculture. Yet it depletes the soil, upends the ecological balance, and creates conditions highly susceptible to pests and disease, requiring more pesticides and fertilizers. If all of these costs showed up in the prices we pay at the store, things would be very different. If prices reflected the oil that powers the jet to bring a banana thousands of miles, together with the air pollution that results, the workers’ healthcare costs after handling pesticides, and the future loss of soil health due to monocropping, this fruit would certainly be a luxury item in the world rather than part of an average America breakfast. Has agribusiness won such control that a turnaround is impossible? No. Small farmers, grassroots groups, and advocacy organizations are demanding food sovereignty, meaning the right of every people to produce adequate, healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food for all. They are everywhere creating and supporting community-controlled, scaled-down, local food networks. Dismantling the governmental policies and global trade rules that have taken agriculture out of the hands of small farmers the world over is the prerequisite for claiming a just and healthy food system.

On January 20, 2014 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, we launched the Do Agric, It Pays campaign. The campaign called on African governments to keep their promises to invest in agriculture and support smallholder farmers when they meet at the AU Heads Of state summit in June in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.In Malabo, African leaders re-affirmed their intention to devote 10% of their national budgets to drive agricultural transformation in your country. Better still, they committed to achieving targets such as doubling agricultural productivity, halving post-harvest loss, increasing youth participation in the agri-business by 30% and reducing stunting to 10% across Africa.This is a massive victory for millions of Africa’s smallholder farmers and those whose lives depend on these commitments.

We all know Nigeria needs development in Agribusiness and food industrialization but my question still remains, will FOOD INDUSTRIALIZATION do more harm than good in Africa and The Milk Basket in alliance with BIODEC Odi can help teach poor farmers how they can improve their livelihood by working hard to practice useful and improved organic agricultural practices.

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