By Joern Fischer
I’m currently in Berlin, at the international conference “Agriculture in transition”. This conference takes a critical look at developments in agriculture, which still continue to be driven by a belief that productionist approaches can solve global food security challenges.
Jochen Flasbarth (one of Germany’s most important bureaucrats in the environmental sector) started with a keynote that summarized some key points: the green revolution has produced a lot more food; but still, a billion people are hungry and environmental degradation continues unhalted. Flasbarth highlighted that a lack of technology was not the primary constraint to food security; rather, lack of access to food needed to be dealt with. This, in turn, should be seen as a major responsibility of societies around the world, and was a major prerequisite for reaching sustainability.
Flasbarth continued to highlight that one of the major problems of modern agriculture was that it was simply incredibly inefficient (in terms of energy going in, and energy coming out of the system): without fossil fuels, nitrogen and phosphorus inputs, and irrigation, modern agriculture would simply fall over. Taking us through a series of examples, Flasbarth left no doubt that something has to change, if we are to maintain our soils and biodiversity, and halt climate warming. Key challenges for the future, according to Flasbarth were for agriculture to become truly sustainable, and provide jobs and ecosystem services on a secure and ongoing basis. Increasing demand for agricultural goods, and especially meat, was a major problem in this context – and Flasbarth highlighted that civil society was going to have to play a major role in this debate; government alone simply doesn’t have a mandate to change people’s consumption habits.
He concluded: “Agriculture is galaxies away from sustainability”. According to Flasbarth, Rio +20 hadn’t changed anything about that – a major waste of resources given that virtually nothing came from it. Such a statement from a leading bureaucrat…? Bloody hell, we’re in trouble.