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be grown higher up the mountains than before, but that this leaves them more vul- nerable to sudden, devastating Andean frosts. Lizana said: “Climate change is bringing us freezing days and a high incidence of sun. And these big temperature changes do not allow agriculture on a small scale to flourish. The people who suffer most are those with a precarious personal economy, like the alpaca farmers or the cereal or potato farmers.” When the poor suffer, big business often


benefits – a key concern for many campaign- ers. The world’s largest agricultural commodity trader, Cargill, saw quarterly profits at the end of 2010 treble to US$1.5 billion (£950 million) due to rising food prices and “supply disruptions” (for example, crop failures). Volatility on food-commodities markets can throw thousands into poverty – but can also be very good for shareholders. During my years working on relief pro-


grammes I often saw grain available – at a price – in the same towns in which people were down to one meal a day. Traders earned a good living out of the high prices that were forcing children into emergency food centres. The significance of speculative trading on food markets in relation to “real” food prices is disputed. Do traders artificially inflate prices, or are they simply reflecting underlying demand and supply issues? Either way, as the Foresight report argues, reducing the volatility in food markets, and improving the gover- nance of the system is essential. But how? On international markets, strategic reserves


of key cereals have fallen steadily over recent decades. This means that when the market takes a hit – for example from a crop failure – there is little to deter panic buying. Reserves are clearly useful. The creation of strategic grain reserves in Ethiopia following the 1980s famines, while not always working perfectly, has helped to lessen the impact of poor har- vests on vulnerable sections of the population. And an important response to food short- ages in countries such as Eritrea and Niger has been to support village- or household- level granaries. Better food storage helps families to ride out a lean season without resorting to inflated prices in the local markets. A controversial area of the Foresight report is its approach to the use of technology in food, especially the altering of crops with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), nan- otechnology and animal cloning, where it argues for keeping “policy choices open”. The environmental concerns here are well rehearsed, but Progressio’s recent work on small-scale producers comes at the issue from a different angle.


If you are a subsistence farmer you have the option of growing traditional crop vari- eties, which you can self-seed from last year’s crop. You can also use manure and compost as fertiliser – essentially for free. Yields can be good, and the crops are well adapted to the local climate. Alternatively, you can go for commercial varieties of crops – these may offer benefits such as higher yield and better pest resistance. However, they may not stand up as well to extremes of climate. Crucially, they can be expensive. Great in a good year,


but a gamble for the years when the weather, or the markets, turn against you. My main worry – and indeed that of Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace – is whether the possible benefits of hi-tech seeds justify small producers taking on such addi- tional risks. Speaking to L’Osservatore Romano earlier this month, Cardinal Turkson sug- gested that GMOs could lead to a form of “slavery”. Far more important, he suggested, is the task of enabling farmers to use land that hasn’t been degraded by multinational logging or mining companies. “As a result, you wouldn’t need any genetic engineering,” said the cardinal. “In this way, the farmer wouldn’t have to buy GMOs from abroad. I ask myself, why force an African farmer to buy seeds produced in other lands and with other means? The doubt arises that behind this is the play of maintaining eco- nomic dependence at all cost.”


If the same amount of cash that is given over at present to promoting hi-tech crops was invested in supporting small-scale farmers and producers (who make up around one in three of the people living on the planet) with better land, expert advice from agricultural specialists and assistance in accessing markets, we’d go a long way to tackling future world food needs. We should note, then, that meas- ures such as these were also centre stage in the Foresight report conclusions.


I welcome the fact that the Government


has invested in such a far-reaching study of our global food system. It has also been pre- pared to open up the big political questions that need to be asked if we are to ensure that everyone on the planet can feed themselves. But follow-up on the recommendations, how- ever compelling the case, will be politically challenging, especially those which call for structural change. Governments will need the encouragement of their citizens to make changes to the way our global food system is governed. The benefits of action – and any pain caused by inaction – are most likely beyond the horizon of the next general elec- tion. This issue is receiving attention within the Church at a local and international level – for example the National Justice and Peace Network sees food issues as a high priority. In his book-length interview with the jour-


nalist Peter Seewald, Benedict XVI, I suspect, spoke for many when he said that political action on the environment “is rendered largely impossible by the lack of willingness to do without”. Feeding the world may be an urgent global priority, but unless many of us are pre- pared to consume less the most altruistic of governments will still struggle to take the steps required.


■Tim Aldred is advocacy manager for the development charity Progressio (www.progressio.org.uk).


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