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In light of the ongoing discussions around the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the recently presented proposal document of the UN Open Working Group, EPHA joined an advocacy initiative of Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) to call for re-consideration of the proposed Goal 2 on Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture (“Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture”).

Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goal on food security and sustainable agriculture

In 2013, the UN established the Open Working Group (OWG) and asked it to propose post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The OWG has done so in its recent Outcome Document. The organisations signing this letter believe that Goal 2 of the OWG Document does not provide a sufficiently clear basis for the next stage of work in developing the SDGs in the area of food and agriculture. The OWG Goal 2 does not appear to fully appreciate what is entailed in achieving food security and making agriculture ‘sustainable’.

Ending hunger

Olivier De Schutter, who until recently was UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, stresses that increasing food production will not in itself be sufficient to combat hunger. It must be combined with improved livelihoods for the poorest, particularly small scale farmers in the developing world. Smallholder farmers must be helped to increase their productivity in ways which are appropriate for their circumstances. This should not entail the introduction of industrial livestock systems, as these exclude participation of the poorest farmers. They are out-competed by industrial production which provides little employment.

A constructive approach would be to help small scale farmers provide improved healthcare and nutrition for their animals by better disease management, the expansion of veterinary services and the cultivation of fodder crops such as legumes. Better animal health and nutrition result in increased productivity and longevity. This will improve smallholders’ purchasing power, making them better able to buy the food that they do not produce themselves and to have money available for other essentials such as education and medicine.

Increased production is indeed needed in the world’s poorest regions, but this must be achieved in a genuinely sustainable manner. A study in resource conserving agriculture shows that industrialisation is not needed to increase productivity. It examined the impact of 286 projects in 57 poor countries. The projects included integrated pest and nutrient management, conservation tillage, agro-forestry and water harvesting. These projects increased productivity on 12.6 million farms. The average crop yield increase was 79%. All crops showed water use efficiency gains. Of projects with pesticide data, 77% resulted in a decline in pesticide use by 71% while yields grew by 42%.

Food security

Achieving food security is often presented as being about increasing production. However, we already produce more than enough food to feed the anticipated world population of 9.6 billion. The real challenge lies not so much in producing more, but in wasting less. 25% of global calories are lost or wasted post-harvest or at the retail or consumer level. Another 9% are used for biofuels and other uses.

36% of the world’s crop calories are fed to animals but only 17-30% of these calories are returned for human consumption as meat or milk. The effect of this is that around 27% of the world’s crop calories are being wasted by being fed to animals; these calories produce no food for humans.

In summary, over half of the world’s food is wasted. We do not need to produce large amounts of extra food; we just need to use food more sensibly. Increased production is needed in certain regions, but the 70% increase that is often advocated is a substantial overestimate.

Outcome Document – Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals