At Hesperian, we take great care to ensure that our approach to health is at once comprehensive and rooted in common sense. Health is not merely about the provision of healthcare, but about community self-sufficiency, the ability of all people to live up to their full health potential, and the capacity to provide the conditions for good health to future generations. Our forthcoming Community Guide to Environmental Health, for example, will offer material that makes direct links between sanitation, toxic exposures, food sovereignty, environmental stewardship, and people’s health.
Further, we believe that in order for governments and international development agencies to protect and defend health as a human right they (and we) need to follow the lead of social movements. One such social movement that we admire, and whose principles we seek to further with our own work, is Via Campesina, an international movement of peasants, small- and medium-sized producers, landless, rural women, indigenous people, rural youth and agricultural workers.
Following is a paper Via Campesina has just released drawing the links between food production and global warming, and whose call to action we wholly endorse.
Small scale sustainable farmers are cooling down the earth: A Via Campesina background paper on global warming.
Current global modes of production, consumption and trade have caused massive environmental destruction including global warming that is putting at risk our planet’s ecosystems and pushing human communities into disasters. Global warming shows the failure of a development model based on high fossil energy consumption, overproduction and trade liberalization.
Farmers – men and women – around the world are joining hands with other social movements, organizations, people and communities to ask for and to develop radical social, economic and political transformations to reverse the current trend.
Farmers – and especially small farmers – are among the first to suffer from climate change. Changing weather patterns bring unusual droughts, floods and storms, destroying farmlands, stock and farmers houses. Moreover, plants and animal species are disappearing at an unprecedented pace. Farmers have to adjust to these changes by adapting their seeds and usual production systems to an unpredictable situation. Moreover, droughts and floods are leading to harvest failures, increasing the number of people going hungry in the world.
Studies predict a decline in global farm output of 3 to 16% by 2080. In tropical regions, global warming is likely to lead to a serious decline in agriculture (up to 50% in Senegal and 40% in India) and to the acceleration of farmland turning into desert. On the other hand, huge areas in Russia and Canada will turn into arable land for the first time in human history, yet it is still unknown how these regions will be able to grow crops.
Corporate food production and consumption are significantly contributing to global warming and to the destruction of rural communities. Intercontinental food transport, intensive monoculture production, land and forest destruction and the use of chemical inputs in agriculture are transforming agriculture into an energy consumer and are contributing to climate change.
Under neo-liberal policies imposed by the World Trade Organisation, the regional and bilateral Free Trade Agreements, as well as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, food is produced with oil-based pesticides and fertilizers and transported all around the world for transformation and consumption.
Via Campesina, a movement bringing together millions of small farmers and producers around the world, asserts that it is time to radically change our way to produce, transform, trade and consume food and agricultural products.
We believe that sustainable small-scale farming and local food consumption will reverse the actual devastation and support millions of farming families. Agriculture can also contribute to cool down the earth by using farm practices that store CO² and reduce considerably the use of energy on farms.
Moreover, farms can also contribute to the production of renewable energy, especially through solar and biogas energy.
Globalized agriculture and corporate food production create global warming:
• by transporting food all around the world
• by imposing industrial forms of production (mechanization, intensification, use of agrochemicals, monoculture…)
• by destroying biodiversity (and carbon sinks)
• by converting land and forests into non-agricultural areas*
• by transforming agriculture from an energy producer into an energy consumer
The false solutions:
• Agrofuels (fuels produced from plants, agriculture and forestry) are often presented as one of the solutions to the current energy crisis.
However, leaving aside the insanity of producing food to feed cars while so many people are starving, industrial agrofuel production will actually increase global warming instead of reducing it.
• Carbon trading is a privatization of carbon after the privatization of land, air, seeds, water and other resources. It allows governments to allocate permits to big industrial polluters so they can trade “rights to pollute” amongst themselves.
• Genetically modified crops and trees will not solve any environmental crisis as they themselves pose a risk to the environment as well as to health and safety.
Food sovereignty provides livelihoods to millions and protects life on earth. Via Campesina believes that solutions to the current crisis have to emerge from organized social actors that are developing modes of production, trade and consumption based on justice, solidarity and healthy communities. No technological fix will solve the current global environmental and social disaster.
Sustainable small-scale farming is labor-intensive and requires little energy use; it can and does contribute to cooling down the earth.
All around the world, we practice and defend small-scale sustainable family farming and we demand* *food sovereignty. Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally-appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations. Food sovereignty prioritizes local and national economies and markets and empowers peasant and family farmer-driven agriculture, artisan-style fishing, pastoralist-led grazing, and food production, distribution and consumption based on environmental, social and economic sustainability.
We urgently demand of local, national and international decision makers:
1: The complete dismantling of agribusiness companies: they are stealing the land of small producers, producing junk food and creating environmental disasters.
2: The replacement of industrialized agriculture and animal production by small-scale sustainable agriculture supported by genuine agrarian reform programs.
3: The promotion of sane and sustainable energy policies. That includes consuming less energy and producing solar and biogas energy on the farms instead of heavily promoting agrofuel production as is currently the case.
4: The implementation of agricultural and trade policies at local, national and international levels supporting sustainable agriculture and local food consumption. This includes the ban on the kinds of subsidies that lead to the dumping of cheap food on markets.
For the livelihoods of billions of small producers around the world, and for people’s health and the planet’s survival: We demand food sovereignty and we are committed to struggle to achieve it collectively.