People first: green goals should not override ending hunger

Written by Shenggen Fan Global Development Professionals Network’s Farming and Food Security Hub of the Guardian

“With the deadline for achieving the millennium development goals less than two years away, international attention is shifting toward forming sustainable development goals for the post-2015 agenda. As we move forward, we must not pursue environmental sustainability at the expense of poor people’s food security and nutrition; the agenda must be people-focused. We must adopt a win-win strategy that promotes synergies and manages trade-offs between environmental sustainability, food securityand improved nutrition, but this will require concerted efforts.

During the past 20 years, high-profile, environmentally focused events, such as the Rio Earth Summit and its successor the Rio+20 Conference, have generally failed to give adequate attention to food security and nutrition issues within the sustainable development framework. Continuing a silo-based approach to sustainable development will undermine the food security and nutrition of poor people and vulnerable groups.

For example, efforts to curb deforestation and (re)plant forests have the potential to minimise land degradation and mitigate climate change. However, many developing countries are already facing a limited supply of land suitable for agricultural production. As a result, the conversion of agricultural land to forests comes with potentially high costs to the rural poor and marginalised people, at least in the short run, including increased risk of displacement and the loss of a significant source of food and income opportunities.

Eliminating agricultural subsidies in many developed and developing countries can help to reduce the overuse of water and fertiliser and cut down carbon emissions. However, the removal of such subsidies and the incorporation of the environmental costs of agricultural production will cause food prices to increase. This will have negative implications for poor smallholder farmers who are net buyers of food and consumers who already spend a large portion of their income on food.

Rising energy prices in recent years and growing environmental concerns regarding traditional energy sources have resulted in increased demand for biofuels as a source of low-carbon energy (underpinned by government mandates and subsidies). In the coming decade, biofuel production is projected to increase by almost 70%. The expansion of crop-based biofuels has encouraged competition between food and biofuel production as agricultural resources increasingly shift toward crops that serve as biofuel feedstock, contributing to the recent increase in food prices.

Many of these trade-offs between environmental sustainability, food security and nutrition are avoidable. Cross-sectoral benefits must be explored that promote win-win solutions for all.”

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1 Comment on "People first: green goals should not override ending hunger"

  1. Of course the well being of a population is paramount and majority of us would agree that a human life takes precedence over a plants or the environment. However, I would beg to differ that human hunger should be eliminated before environmental issues are tackled. It seems that mostly corruption and unfair wealth dirtribution by governing bodies is the primary cause of poverty and human hunger and not always the availability or accessability to resources. If we improved environmental living standards for the poor and hungry, the potential to produce a sustainable lifestyle for these people could help with eradicating their hunger. If the poor had a healthy, sufficient and productive environment, this could potentially solve their problems of hunger. If the governments that ran the countries these destitute people occupied, DISTRIBUTED wealth better and made the wellbeing of the population paramount instead of capitalising on wealth, perhaps we would begin to see a difference?

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