Friday, 22 October 2010

Hunger: The Future is Obvious

Whoever heard of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food? Well me neither, but he exists, he's called Olivier de Schutter and he has the website to prove it.

Yesterday M. de Schutter was at the United Nations in New York delivering his latest report "Access to Land and the Right to Food" (PDF).

There's some stuff in there that ought to worry us, for example he says that: "... up to 30 million hectares of farmland is lost annually due to environmental degradation, conversion to industrial use or urbanization. A trend exacerbated by the expansion of agrofuels and the speculation on farmland."

But there's also some interesting and useful data in the report that further supports all those of us who believe that small proprietorships, small farmers and growers, are the best and most effective way forward for everyone to have that most basic human requirement: Food.

The Rapporteur points to the necessity for reform of the currrent land-ownership systems: 
"Agrarian reform leading to owner-operated family farms is desirable for a number of reasons. As land is transferred to family farms, idle lands of large estates are brought into production, thus increasing productivity levels. A 2003 World Bank analysis of land policies in 73 countries between 1960 and 2000 shows that countries in which the distribution of land was initially more equitable achieved growth rates two to three times higher than those in which land distribution was initially less equitable."

"The poverty-reducing potential of more equitable land distribution is further illustrated by statistical analyses showing that “a decrease of one third in the land distribution inequality index results in a reduction in the poverty level of one half in about 12-14 years. The same level of poverty reduction may be obtained in 60 years by agricultural growth sustained at an annual average of 3 per cent and without changing land distribution inequality”. Land reforms in Asia following the Second World War resulted in a 30 per cent increase in the incomes of the bottom 80 per cent of households, while leading to an 80 per cent decline in the incomes of the top 4 per cent."

"In addition to its economic functions of stimulating growth and reducing rural poverty, more equitable access to land for the rural poor contributes to social inclusion and economic empowerment. Access to land also improves food security, since it makes food more easily and cheaply available, providing a buffer against external shocks. Evidence resulting from land redistribution in China suggests that “even though access to land insures household income only moderately against shocks, it provides almost complete insurance against malnutrition”. More equitable land distribution and the development of owneroperated family farms are thus desirable on both efficiency and equity grounds. Small family-owned farms can use the land in more sustainable ways, since sustainable farming is often more labour-intensive and requires the linking of
farmers to the land. Moreover, where rural areas face high unemployment and underemployment and relative scarcity of land, it is more sensible, from both an economic perspective and a social justice perspective, to raise land productivity than to try to increase labour productivity."

So what's the hold-up? The same old dog-in-the-manger vested interests that always intervened in Jesse Collings' day is the shameful fact. As George Monbiot put it in his article "Small is Bountiful":

"Though the rich world’s governments won’t hear it, the issue of whether or not the world will be fed is partly a function of ownership. This reflects an unexpected discovery. It was first made in 1962 by the Nobel economist Amartya Sen, and has since been confirmed by dozens of further studies. There is an inverse relationship between the size of farms and the amount of crops they produce per hectare. The smaller they are, the greater the yield."

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