Sinnikästä tuotantoa

Väikkäriä permakulttuurista, ruoantuotannosta ja energiasta

Learning diary: Hurni et al. 2009. Context, conceptual framework and sustainability indicators. In: B. D. MacIntyre et al. (ed.) International assessment of agricultural knowledge, science and technology for development (IAASTD): Global report.

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The Key messages chapter promised some interesting topics to be covered. These included the focus on small farms, inter-linkages between provision function, ecology and culture, discussion on different ways agriculture can be used to solve some of the problems it has been accused of creating, incorporation of different knowledge systems and the complex issues around equity and gender especially. The AKST-concept was introduced vaguely without offering much content.

Setting the scene – chapter offered a background information and reasoning for the global assessment which tries to answer the key question: “how can we reduce hunger and poverty, improve livelihoods, and facilitate equitable, environmentally, socially and economically sustainable development through the generation of, access to, and use of AKTS?”. The IAASTD has especially focused on reducing poverty, indicated by income level. The global context of agriculture was covered briefly with information on productivity growth, areas covered and the multi-functionality of agriculture. It was interesting to note that the trend to globalise agricultural sector has hit small farmers especially hard due to commersialisation, subsidised and capital intensive competition, the growing power of supermarkets and wholesalers (retailers), standards and export orientated horticulture. Small farms need external subsidies to thrive in the new environment. The globalisation and industrialisation is driven by national policies that seek export revenue and fulfillment of international trade agreements. Due to these policies the market power has centralised, small farmers have been left to compete with subsidised food imports and natural resources have become overexploited, and energy use and GHG emissions have increased. The policies affect nearly half of the world’s population as 90% of world farming households, that consist of 40% of world population, are small farmers. I could not grasp why it is insisted that subsistence farmers, who often use diverse risk minimising strategies, are more vulnerable than the employed relying on external employment opportunities. It was interesting to consider, whether the exact reasons why small farmers find it hard to compete with industrial agriculture; lack of subsidies, lack of fossil energy dependent technology, volatile market prices and lack of external inputs, might tip the scale in favor of small farmers in the near future, as small-scale farms are often the most productive systems in terms of output per area and energy. Food sovereignty was not included in the lectures. It would have been interesting to learn more about the concept and how it relates to current policies.

It was refreshing to note that IAASTD was aiming for, or at least calling after, a wholistic interdisciplinary approach with a transparent and wide stakeholder participation on all levels and stages of the process. Science should not be done for the sake of science, but for the use of practitioners who need to be included in the process. For this, natural resource management needs to incorporate norms, values and rules into its focus. The most used indicator for development and poverty reduction, the income level, seemed schitzophrenic after the earlier description of the effects of globalisation and commersialisation. The income level is best increased by commersialising goods and service production. The indicator can therefore be seen as a key driver for the worsening situation of small scale farmers who are already the most marginalised and poor. AKTS as a concept seemed to offer very little new except the transdisciplinary approach that focuses on the most urgent real life problems and the wider stakeholder involvement. It seemed more of a new spin to increase R&D funding for the sector.

The depiction of agricultural services focused, in my opinion, still too much on the provisional functions at the expense of a more multi-functional perspective that takes services and ecosystem functions into account. The green revolution’s positive achievements were staggering but so was the challenge of stagnation and decrease of agricultural output and the need to increase the outputs further to meet the growing demand in times of increasing scarcity. The explanation why forestry is included in the report seemed vague in forester’s eyes. Livestock production is growing fast, driven by the increased incomes. The development indicator for higher income seems to drive also the growth of excess animal production that has numerous negative effects on environment, climate and equity. It would have been interesting to know whether this growth happens in industrial production or in small farms that dominate the sector. Standards were mentioned as one of the key issues benefiting large producers, and certification of organic production as the key cost in transition to agroecological production. Is the official organic farming actually marginalising small farmers even further? I was left wondering if the required cropland increase of 50% by 2050 is based on needs (health, equity..) or on wants (increased income) as well. In my opinion the forecast should be made based solely on needs to avoid self-fulfilling scenarios that might have disastrous consequences.

The driver and indirect driver analysis was familiar from my work on land-use change issues. I was left wondering if one of the key goals should actually be redefinition of what is considered as a decent livelihood in the North. Could the exclusion of excess wants from peoples’ values make small scale farming socially acceptable ie profitable enough in the North? The poor nature of income as an indicator was highlighted when comparing the decrease in the proportion of people living under 1 dollar per day (-9%) and the decrease in proportion of people who are undernourished (-4%). Still, the increase in household GDP was depicted as a the goal in the livelihoods chapter. It was even said that the less agricultural production contributes to the national GDP the better. Should we stop farming all together to reach the development goals? How obscure!

The chapter on hunger, nutrition and health was interesting as it consisted of a lot of new information to me. Even though there has been huge development in peoples’ health, the difference between geographical areas is becoming more clear and even widening, with sub-Saharan Africa lacking far behind other areas. Livestock and meat production was pinpointed as one of the causes for hunger. If the direct farming output was used to feed people, instead of animals, in equitable way, hunger would not exist. Also the high expenditure on food in developing countries suggests that it might not be too wise to aim for higher incomes but higher self-reliance with multiple livelihood strategies, farming included. The point made about how nutritional guidelines should emphasise local culture (defined as?) and local food was interesting.

The chapter on natural resources was mainly repetition of previous chapters. The role of farmers in natural resources management was made clear by handing them the responsibility to make choices between practices. This seems as an unrealistic burden when the international agreements and national policies that unable them to make better choices are taken into account. Natural resources, agriculture included, was depicted in a more wholistic manner as system elements that are significant to humans and that are rapidly degrading due to growing demand (due to population growth (need) and economic development (wants)). The use of water in agriculture and the means to use it more efficiently, as well as the degradation of soils, was especially interesting issues in this chapter. The conflict between the role of biodiversity for higher scale systems as the element that is essential for food production and the fact that current practices destroy this diversity was striking. I liked the fact that the importance of traditional knowledge was mentioned, and the fact that natural resources management is more than solving technical issues, and has to take cultural, sociological, behavioral issues and values into account.

Small scale rural farmers are not only negatively impacted by policies that drive commercialisation and globalisation, but also by the migration of labor to the cities in search of this much longed after income. The solutions that have been suggested to overcome this race to the bottom would require political will that is not present, as the power has been centralised to men in urban areas. The increasingly female small farmers are left out of the system.

The chapter on indicators was the most interesting one as it relates strongly to my doctoral thesis. The many requirements for useful indicators was described. I was pleased that the authors mentioned the importance of the type of indicator used as it may hiddenly drive the process as with the case of income level. The chapter was a good warming up for the questions I need to start thinking about in the near future.

International assessment of agricultural knowledge, science and technology for development (IAASTD): Global report


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Teen Helsingin Yliopistolla väikkäriä ruoantuotannon resilenttiydestä öljyn hinnan nousuun ja pohdin josko permakulttuuri auttaisi asiassa. Blogi toimii opintopäiväkirjana.


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