Friday, December 9, 2011

Is it possible to feed seven billion people?

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia and in Portuguese on his blog. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

We now have 7 billion people. Will there be enough food for everyone? There are several answers. We have chosen one from the group Agrimonde (see Développement et Civilisations, September 2011), based in France, which studied the nutritional status of six critical regions of the planet. The group of scientists is optimistic, even about when we have 9 billion people. It proposes two ways: to deepen the well-known green revolution of the 60's, and the so-called double green revolution.

The green revolution had the merit of refuting Malthus' thesis, according to which an imbalance would occur between population growth in geometric proportions and food growth in arithmetical proportions, producing a collapse of humanity. It found that with new technologies, greater use of arable agricultural areas and a massive application of toxins -- used earlier in war and now in agriculture -- it was possible to produce much more than the population demanded.

This forecast proved accurate, since there was a significant jump in the food supply, although because of the unfairness of the neoliberal and capitalist system, millions and millions of people still are in a situation of chronic hunger and poverty. It's true that this growth in food has had an extremely high environmental cost: the soil has been poisoned, water has been contaminated, biodiversity has been impoverished, and it has also caused erosion and desertification in many regions, especially in Africa.

Everything got worse when food became a commodity like any other rather than being considered a means of life that, by its nature, should never be subject to market speculation. The table is set with enough food for everyone but the poor have no access to it for lack of monetary resources. They continue starving, and their number grows. The prevailing neoliberal system still supports this model, since it doesn't need to change its logic, cynically tolerating living with millions of hungry people, considered irrelevant to unlimited accumulation.

This solution is not only shortsighted, but false, as well as being cruel and merciless. Those who still argue for it don't take seriously that the Earth is undeniably adrift and that global warming is producing high soil erosion, destruction of crops, and millions of climate migrants. For them, the earth is nothing but a mere means of production, not the Common House, Gaia, which must be cared for.

To tell the truth, those who understand food are the farmers. They produce 70% of everything that humanity consumes. Therefore, they should be heard and included in any step that is taken by the government, by business, and society, because it's about the survival of all.

Given human overpopulation, every piece of land should be taken advantage of but within the scope and limits of its ecosystem; all organic waste should be used or recycled as much as possible, energy should be saved as much as possible, alternative energy should be developed, family farms, small and medium cooperatives should be promoted. And finally, we should move towards a food democracy in which producers and consumers will become aware of their respective responsibilities, with knowledge and information about the actual state of sustainability of the planet, consuming differently, compassionately, frugally and without waste.

Taking such data into account, Agrimonde proposes a double green revolution in the following sense: it agrees to extend the first green revolution with its ecological contradictions, but simultaneously offers a second green revolution. This implies that consumers incorporate everyday habits different from today, more aware of environmental impacts and open to international solidarity so that food is in fact a right accessible to all.

Being optimistic, we can say that this latest proposal is reasonably sustainable. It is being organized embryonically in all parts of the world through family organic agriculture, small and medium enterprises, ecological farming, the Ecovillages and other forms that are more respectful of nature. It's viable and perhaps the mandatory road for humanity in the future.

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