G20 Agriculture Ministers Discuss Hunger, Poverty, Climate
and Intensive Agriculture
Brittaney Warren, Researcher, G7 Research Group
June 7, 2016 (revised June 8, 2016)
On June 3, 2016, G20 agriculture ministers met in Xi'an, China, to discuss how to relieve the chronic hunger suffered by 795 million people and the malnutrition afflicting 2 billion people worldwide. The institutions most frequently mentioned by the ministers to meet this challenge were the United Nations and its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, followed by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization. The ministers also expressed support for the World Health Organization's global action plan on antimicrobial resistance, a topic of concern at the recently concluded G7 Ise-Shima Summit in Japan and one having a significant impact on the global food system, the environment and global population.
Human interaction with the global food system also featured prominently in regards to growth and employment. On June 2, 2016, investors were given a platform to share ideas and voice their opinions at the newly created Agricultural Entrepreneurs Forum. Youth and women were promised support for skills training and development in the final declaration released by the ministers. They also supported a more inclusive and "gender-equal" food system, including improving access to loans and credit for women and smallholders.
To promote inclusion of the vulnerable segments of the population, the ministers intend to promote "sustainable agriculture intensification." It is somewhat of an oxymoron, however, to expect a sustainable result from intensive agriculture as this practice requires heavy use of fertilizers and chemicals in an effort to increase the productivity of a given piece of land. Intensive agriculture leads to monoculture and heavy tilling, which contribute to environmental degradation. It also requires a lot of capital, especially heavily industrialized machinery. Such practices thus favour the large corporations that will profit from producing farm equipment and chemicals. They do not favour small-scale producers, which dominate farming and will be forced into unsustainable debt, and are typically the first to feel the effects of environmental degradation. Moreover, intensive agriculture is particularly unfavourable for women, who make up the largest proportion of smallholders. According to Oxfam, capital-intensive industrial agriculture tends to ignore inequalities rather than address them.
This neglect, says Oxfam, extends to the environment. Many of the costs of water pollution, soil depletion, biodiversity loss and carbon emissions are not considered in the promotion of intensive agriculture. The agriculture ministers' goal of intensive farming may therefore undermine their declared "strong support" for the Paris Agreement on climate change. Indeed, the commitment to climate is not that strong. Of the 47 commitments made in the ministers' declaration only one was on climate change, and it was limited to addressing the need for farmers to adapt to the impacts of global warming. At the 2015 meeting of agriculture ministers meeting in Istanbul, only one of the total 16 commitments featured climate change, in the context of food security. The G20 has yet to recognize the mitigating gifts and economic benefits of soil preservation, and that the benefits of intensive production are overestimated.
The Green Revolution of the 1960s and '70s, which was based on the same intensive principle, has been criticized for causing long-lasting environmental damage. Moreover, it did not solve the hunger problem. Given the implications of intensive agriculture in contributing to the problems the global community is trying to solve today, what impact will the G20 actually have on how green the second green revolution will be?
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Brittaney Warren is a researcher with the G7 and G8 Research Group, the G20 Research Group and the BRICS Research Group, based at the Munk School of Global Affairs in Trinity College at the University of Toronto. She has worked in Spain and in Peru where she conducted field research on a sustainable development project with women living in extreme poverty. She has conducted research on the compliance of CARICOM members with their summit commitments on non-communicable diseases. Brittaney leads the social media strategy and marketing program for the G7 and G20 Research Groups' books and works on climate change, and was the lead researcher on an e-book project on "Delivering Sustainable Energy Access." Follow her at @brittaneywarren.
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