Tag Archives food producers

Low-hanging fruits are sometimes the sweetest: how tree-sourced foods can help transform the global food system

The global food system is dominated by a limited number of actors and mainly focusses on the production of only a handful of relatively innutritious foods. The system in its current shape threatens livelihoods of small-scale farmers, does not meet the nutritional needs of the majority of the global population, and is causing severe environmental impacts such as deforestation and biodiversity loss. A recent study shows that the elevation of small-scale tree-sourced food systems can help contribute to a transformation of the global food system that would lead to improved environmental and human well-being.

The global food system in its current form is dysfunctional and destructive. Not only does the production of a select few agricultural products that dominate the global food market require vast swaths of land, it is also leading to environmentally destructive agricultural production practices and the erosion of traditional ways of rural life and small-scale farmers’ livelihoods. Despite an emphasis having been placed on sustainable food systems within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with SDG 2 that aims to ensure food security and adequate nutrition through sustainable food systems, hunger and malnutrition compounded by climate change-related challenges are threatening the wellbeing of populations across the world. Especially the most vulnerable are feeling the effects of this intersection of global challenges that to date have been inadequately addressed. 

To reverse these trends, we need to understand what’s wrong with the current global food system and which foods have the potential to simultaneously provide environmental, nutritional and livelihood benefits at local and global levels that can drive a global food system transformation. Trees may hold the key.

What’s wrong with the global food system?

The global food system is unsustainable in so many ways. First of all, food systems occupy enormous amounts of land. This is likely to increase even further in the future: food production is one of the main drivers of deforestation, especially in the tropics. Consequences of these large-scale changes in the use of land include the loss of biodiversity that is happening more and more rapidly, substantial carbon dioxide emissions, and an increasing risk of droughts and wildfires. 

At the same time, the global food system is not producing enough fruits and vegetables to meet human nutritional requirements, partly because the current system is mainly based on just a few energy-dense and nutrient-poor crops such as wheat, rice, sugar and maize. This extraordinarily low diversity within our global food system is causing long-term health problems affecting especially the poorest populations in the Global South who have limited access to micronutrient-rich diets, education about nutrition and basic health services.

In addition, dominant food and agricultural development approaches focus on industrialisation and international trade, leading to the creation of a few global food corporations that dominate the global food market. These transnational food corporations in many cases exercise their power to undermine the rights of food workers and smallholder farmers in order to produce a limited number of crops at the lowest possible price. Food producers get only a fraction of the total amount paid for food products ranging from tea and coffee to other crops produced in the Global South and North alike. 

These developments have led to the massive transformation of small-scale and multispecies tree-based agrarian production systems (often traditional) into large-scale annual crop production. Yet these tree-based systems are vital: a recent perspective article argues that tree-based foods could play a critical role in the transformation of food systems such that it becomes more sustainable, provides more nutritious foods, and provides better livelihood opportunities for smallholder farmers.

Making space for trees…

There are many clear opportunities to incorporate food-producing trees into landscapes. The majority of global cropland does not contain trees, but has a high potential for doing so. Especially in the tropics, where large-scale forest areas are still being cleared for agriculture and then abandoned once soils are exhausted, restoration efforts could include the establishment of sustainable, locally-managed agroforestry systems. Such agroforestry systems have been shown to provide multiple environmental benefits, including carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation and the provision of several other ecosystem services, especially when they are based on diverse, multi-species systems. 

This could also mean that the hundreds of millions of smallholder farmers across the world could have a more prominent role in improving local diets through the production of tree-sourced foods. With the right incentives, investments and involvement, smallholder farmers could scale up agroforestry systems to produce more and healthier food, while simultaneously diversifying their income sources and consumption. 

Yet doing so would be challenging in several ways. To make increased tree-based food production a more integral part of food systems, several challenges have to be addressed. An increased demand for certain tree-sourced products like cacao and palm oil have led to large-scale deforestation for the establishment of industrial monoculture plantations, which provide very few environmental benefits, harming biodiversity and increasing carbon dioxide emissions in the process. Thus, monoculture plantations are not the way forward – we need to combine different types of trees in one area to ensure multiple ecosystem services.

In addition, severe negative social impacts are associated with such large-scale commodity production, such as people working under abusive labour conditions. Land grabbing has also become a serious problem as the profitability of certain tree species is becoming recognized and the sector commercialised. Furthermore, for smallholders, dependency on a single commodity for their income increases their vulnerability due to risks of crop failure caused by plant diseases and sudden prices crashes. Diversified production systems play therefore an important role in securing income sources, but also in diversifying diets, especially local diets.

…and making space for smallholders

So how can we address these challenges? Strategic actions and interventions for local market development can create a context that incorporates biodiversity in food systems as examples show in Brazil. Besides, focussing on diversifying local consumption provides opportunities for production directly linked to regional skills, preferences and needs and could increase the resilience of local food systems, which has been proved important in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, production for consumption in high-income countries could in some cases provide additional income streams as in many of those countries, the willingness to pay for sustainably-produced food is higher.

Other steps to be taken to facilitate the incorporation of sustainable tree-sourced food systems into the global food system are:

  1. Securing the tenure rights of rural populations. This will allow them to make long-term investments which are particularly important since tree-crops can involve high initial costs and return on investment can take years. 
  2. Developing inclusive supply chains for potentially popular products. This is essential for rural communities to adopt diversified agroforestry systems and access markets in which realistic business opportunities to smallholders should be key.
  3. Creating diversified income opportunities by engaging in different markets through a combination of production of commodities and non-commodities, intercropping multiple tree species with annual crops, payment for ecosystem services, but also by redirecting annual crop subsidies and providing micro-credits. These will create incentives for farmers to adopt tree species in their production systems, can help alleviate high investment costs and long pay-back times, and avoids the risks of price shocks, crop diseases, and other pitfalls associated with monoculture systems. 
  4. Investing in the conservation of genetic resources that underpin diversity so that crop tree systems to flourish. Additionally, reliable seed sources and seedlings need to be available for the establishment of tree crop farms. 
  5. Guaranteeing sustainable production, which will require a combination of interventions by states, markets, and civil society across the supply chain in which consumers can play an important role in demanding and consuming sustainably produced and deforestation-free products. Sustainable food systems require radical social action to alter conventional trading and production systems.

The time is ripe

Although the scale of these mentioned challenges seems to be too complex, in the face of increased shocks from events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, transforming global food systems is not just a desirable outcome, it is urgently required to ensure greater resilience both locally and globally.

Opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the ISS or members of the Bliss team.

About the authors:

Julia Quaedvlieg is a PhD candidate at the International Institute of Social Studies, where she researches tropical deforestation policies and the impact of interventions on smallholders’ livelihoods. Her research interests lie in natural resource management, rural development policies, and rural communities, with special focus on Latin American countries.

Merel Jansen is a post-doctoral research fellow at the Institute for Environmental Sciences at the University of Koblenz-Landau. Her research focusses on the sustainable use and restoration of tropical forest resources, in particular non-timber forest products. Currently, she is working on a project in which she aims to evaluate the potential of agroforests to mitigate deforestation related drought in southwest Amazonia.

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Right-Wing Populism and Counter-Movements in Rural Europe by Natalia Mamonova

Right-wing populism has gained high levels of support among rural population in Europe. How could this happen and what are the solutions? Natalia Mamonova, of the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative, explains the causes of populism in the European countryside and shares some ideas on potential resistance and the building of alternatives to the regressive nationalist politics.

Right-wing populism can be found right across Europe. Today, every third European government consists of or depends on a populist party. Not for the first time, populist movements have been spreading across this continent, but the current wave is, perhaps, the most significant one since the end of World War II. The contemporary right-wing populists have a strong rural constituency, as was evident by recent elections and referenda, where 53% of British farmers voted in favour of Brexit, for example. The ‘Law and Justice’ party enjoys substantial support from Polish countrymen for its aggressive nationalism and strict Catholicism. French far-right presidential contender Marine Le Pen gained the support of many French food producers with her ‘buy French act’ campaign, in which she called for more food to be produced and consumed in the country.

Does this imply that contemporary European populism is a rural phenomenon? Certainly not, but Europe’s populists are rising by tapping into discontent in the countryside and exploiting rural resentments against elites, migrants and ethnic minorities. Despite the significant rural support for populist parties, the European countryside has remained largely overlooked in the contemporary debates on the political crisis and the ways out of it. Meanwhile, it was in the countryside that both Mussolini and Hitler won their first mass following, and it was angry farmers who provided their first mass constituency. The countryside, however, provides not only a breeding ground for populist parties, it also may for other progressive solutions in form of emancipatory rural politics. The latter is the focus of the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (ERPI), a scholar-activist community that aims at understanding the rise of right-wing populism in rural Europe, as well as the forms of resistance occurring and the alternatives being built.

In the contemporary political and academic debates, the right-wing populism is commonly portrayed as a result of economic and cultural crises that hit Europe during the last decade. Indeed, the economic distress, created by the Global Financial Crisis, followed up by the Eurozone Crisis, has exacerbated economic inequality and social deprivation in rural Europe, which influenced the villagers’ support for populist parties. Likewise, the fears of losing the cultural identity due to globalisation, multiculturalism and the refugee crisis are especially profound in the countryside and make rural dwellers more receptive to the populist message that they are the true protectors of their nation’s culture and heritage.

However, these arguments do not explain why in Spain and Portugal, two of the countries hit hardest by the economic crisis, the far right remains only marginal. Meanwhile, Poland – which has one of the fastest growing economies in Europe – has become paralysed by right-wing populism. Likewise, if we consider the migrant crisis as the reason for right-wing populism, we would not be able to explain why the vote for the Front National in France was particularly high in certain rural areas that have never seen a single immigrant, or why the strongest support for banning minarets in Switzerland was expressed in rural cantons where the number of Muslims and immigrants in general was low.

We argue that the true cause of right-wing populism in Europe (and the world) is the fundamental crisis in globalised neoliberal capitalism. This crisis is the most pronounced in rural areas, where the neoliberal agricultural model of development has failed to provide benefits to the majority, instead facilitating accumulation by the ‘one percent’. For example, according to the European Commission report on the EU Farm Structures, during the last ten years, 100 000 small-scale farms have disappeared in Germany, 300 000 in Bulgaria, 600 000 in Poland and 900 000 in Romania. In total, the number of full-time farmers across the EU fell by over a third during the past decade, representing almost five million jobs. The European Common Agricultural Policy primarily supports larger companies that are oriented to boosting yields and industrial production, while small-scale farmers have become marginalized and forced to close.

The crisis of neoliberal capitalism is directly related to the crisis of advanced representative democracies, which is especially profound in the European context, where the EU is responsible for Eurozone decision-making. In the countryside, the peoples’ feeling of being politically ‘overlooked’ and ‘forgotten’ is not completely groundless. Europe’s political mainstream used to ignore the interests of the rural population because of the following reasons. First, rural votes are not decisive as villagers constitute just 28% of the EU-28 population. Second, the division between the urban and the rural is usually less pronounced in Europe and, therefore, politicians appeal to the working class, not to rural dwellers. And finally, villagers are commonly perceived as apolitical and, thus, not a reliable electoral group. These factors may explain why at the recent UN Human Rights Assembly in Geneva, nearly all European countries voted against or abstained the Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas.

The political underrepresentation of rural Europeans is also their own responsibility. Although the last years bear witness to what Michael Woods calls the ‘rural reawakening’ – an increase in rural mobilisation and activism in Europe – rural protest groups remain mostly fragmented and only informally linked. Moreover, rural activists are unable to build coalitions with consumer movements and urban-based food activists who are often more advanced in sustainable food politics. Despite the tremendous efforts of the European Coordination Via Campesina and other EU-focused rural movements, European farmers groups lack an ideological and organisational coherence and, until now, failed to develop strong transnational networks of solidarity and coordinated action. The lack of powerful social movements and political parties that could represent the interests of rural dwellers has contributed to an electoral success of right-wing populist parties in rural Europe.

We believe that top-down initiatives are unable to defeat the right-wing populism in Europe and elsewhere, the resistance should come from below. The first step towards this is to generate a common identity among various groups of food producers and consumers connecting them across class, gender, racial, generational, ideological, and urban-rural divides. Food sovereignty can be the tool to enhance solidarity, collective identity and political participation in rural Europe. It advocates for people’s rights for healthy and culturally appropriate food and offers a sustainable alternative to the neoliberal agricultural model and the way of life.

Furthermore, since the cause of right-wing populism is the failure of globalised neoliberal capitalism, cosmetic changes will not have a long-lasting effect, we need to change the entire system. We need to put food producers – not multinational corporations and supermarket chains (!) – at the centre of the European food system and decision making. This requires a radical transformation of power relations, which is impossible without a large-scale mobilisation of food producers and consumers. The first seed of the transformation has already sprouted. In January 2019, 35 000 of farmers and food activists from around Europe took to the streets of Berlin calling for ‘Agricultural Revolution’. They were ‘fed up’ with industrial agriculture and demanded a reorganization of EU farming policy towards a more sustainable model which supports the welfare of the environment, animals and small-scale farmers, and restores democratic and accountable governance in the food system.

The text is prepared based on multiple discussions with Jaume Franquesa and other ERPI scholars from the research project ‘Right-wing populism in rural Europe: causes, consequences and cures’. It was originally published on ARC2020


About the author:

csm_natalia-mamonova1_855f13fd5cNatalia Mamonova is a Research Fellow at the Russia and Eurasia Programme, Swedish Institute of International Affairs (UI) and Affiliated researcher at the Institute for Russian and Eurasian Studies (IRES) of Uppsala University, Sweden. She received her PhD degree from ISS in 2016. Since then, she was a visiting scholar at the University of Oxford, the New Europe College in Bucharest, and the University of Helsinki.  


Symbiosis in Russia’s and Ukraine’s agricutural sectors by Natalia Mamonova

One of the main characteristics of agriculture in the post-socialist countries is its dualistic structure—large- and small-scale farms coexist in countries such as Russia or Ukraine. ISS alumna Natalia Mamonova in this interview explains the relationship between these two forms of farming, examining whether they cooperate or compete against each other.

Why is the structure of agricultural production in most post-socialist countries dualistic, where large- and small-scale food producers coexist

The contemporary bimodal agricultural structure is rooted in the Soviet past, particularly in the failure of collective agriculture to provide enough food for everyone. In order to deal with food shortages and the peasant unrest after the cruel collectivization campaign of the 1930s, the Soviet government allowed rural dwellers to cultivate their household plots for personal consumption. Since then, the so-called ‘personal subsidiary farming’ has been playing an important role in the Soviet and, later, post-Soviet agriculture. Just prior to the USSR’s collapse in 1990, rural households contributed to 27% of the gross agricultural product, while kolkhozes and sovkhozes (collective and state farms) produced the rest.

Today, this bifurcation has become even stronger. For example, the share of personal subsidiary farming in Russia and Ukraine is about 40% of the total output, while large-farm enterprises contribute to nearly 50%. There are many explanations for why the bimodal agricultural structure was preserved and even reinforced in these countries. The main reason is the failure of the post-socialist land reform to create commercially oriented private family farms. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the land of kolkhozes and sovkhozes was distributed among rural dwellers by means of land share certificates. However, rural dwellers were unable to use them. The distributed land was concentrated in the hands of local rural elites, and later, in the early 2000s, domestic and foreign land investors accumulated it.

How do you explain this peaceful coexistence from the economic and governance perspectives?

The rural households are not completely independent food producers. Their phenomenal productivity is partly a result of their symbiosis with large farms. In the Soviet time, kolkhozes and sovkhozes used to help rural dwellers with various farm inputs and outputs (such as seeds, fertilisers, machinery, etc.). Moreover, rural dwellers could take some ‘for free’ without any permission. The contemporary large agribusiness often continues practicing such productive symbiosis under their corporate social responsibility programs. In general, lots of former Soviet structures and networks remain vital in the contemporary post-Soviet countryside, which largely influenced the societal attitudes towards large-scale agricultural development.

Another reason for the peaceful coexistence of large-scale industrial agriculture and smallholder farming in the post-Soviet countryside is a division in agricultural markets. Large-scale agribusinesses are specialised in monocrop export-oriented agriculture (predominantly grain) and have more recently started to invest in industrial style meat (poultry and pork) production. In contrast, rural households engage in labour-intensive and time-consuming production of potatoes, vegetables, milk, and meat for family consumption and sale in local markets. Until these two forms of farming do not compete with each other for land and markets, they are able to coexist side by side.

What about the attitudes of small landholders toward large-scale investors?

Some critical researchers and journalists call the post-Soviet land accumulation process an instance of land grabbing. Indeed, the land redistribution was often accompanied by deprivation of land rights of local population and various frauds. However, I would not necessarily use the term ‘land grabbing’ because of the lack of resistance to land deals among the rural population. I conducted a lot of interviews with Russian and Ukrainian villagers—the majority of them do not oppose large-scale land accumulations. Contrarily, they often welcome land investors in their villages. Why? The answer is in the bimodal agricultural structure.

Land grabbing remains one of the key focus areas at the ISS, with many researchers in the Political Ecology research group devoting their attention to this area of research. Natalia’s ISS PhD dissertation focused on land grabbing and agrarian change in Russia and the Ukraine. Her dissertation can be viewed at https://repub.eur.nl/pub/94152.

View the original article here.

Image Credit: www.volganet.ru

About the author:

csm_natalia-mamonova1_855f13fd5cNatalia Mamonova is a Research Fellow at the Russia and Eurasia Programme, Swedish Institute of International Affairs (UI) and Affiliated researcher at the Institute for Russian and Eurasian Studies (IRES) of Uppsala University, Sweden. She received her PhD degree from ISS in 2016. Since then, she was a visiting scholar at the University of Oxford, the New Europe College in Bucharest, and the University of Helsinki.