Q & A with Olivier De Schutter on the Right to Food

Olivier De Schutter (center) with Brother David Andrews (left) and Robert Lawrence.

UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier De Schutter recently spoke at the Bloomberg School, as the Center’s 11th Annual Dodge Lecture. In his presentation, he re-framed hunger by redefining the hungry and by identifying the roots of hunger, which are more often than not political (as opposed to technical). De Schutter insisted that hunger—and famine—is not a crisis of productivity but a crisis of power. “We’ve produced hunger over the years by depriving peasants of their ability to produce,” he said. CLF correspondent Leo Horrigan and I were able to talk with him about his research and recommendations.

What does the “right to food” mean to you, and how does the idea of accountability play into that?

The right to food is primarily about an obligation of governments to explain decisions that they make in light of the impact of these decisions on the most vulnerable segments of the population…. The right to food is, essentially, showing that hunger is not a purely technical question that agronomists or economists should answer to, but a political question that shall only be sustainably addressed if governments are held to account, and if independent bodies, including courts, can step in, to censor decisions that are not going in the right direction. Read More >

Agricultural Biotech and Chemical Industry Put on Greenwash Show at Iowa State University During World Food Prize Week

In mid-October of every year, Iowa State and Central Iowa sees its fair share (or more) of dignitaries, current and former agricultural lobby folks, Farm Bureau top brass and even usually a cabinet officer or two. This is not the presidential primary, but the World Food Prize week. This year, over 1,000 policymakers, researchers and other experts will be involved in the programs, including the keynoter, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, now chair of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. A number of lectures and side events occur during this time. The award ceremony is modeled after the Nobel Prize ceremonies.

The award winners this year are perhaps the most deserving ever. The WFP laureates for 2010 are David Beckman, who is head of the Christian-based Bread for the World, and Jo Luck, CEO of Heifer International. Both organizations have worked with small farmers in alleviating hunger and building incomes. A full description of Beckman’s and Luck’s activities are at the WFP webpage. Their lectures at the Borlaug dialogue were superb.

The World Food Prize has become a going concern. It was started about the time I came to Iowa State as director of the Leopold Center and over time grew from a luncheon in the Marriott Hotel in Des Moines to its present configuration and as the place to be seen if you are in agriculture. Norman Borlaug, the 1970 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, originated the prize and soon it was embraced by Iowa industrial leaders. It has been a good business model.

But beneath the gloss lurks the soul of industrial agriculture. After the glitter has settled one wonders if this is a classic greenwash for the biotechnology and pesticide industries, their associated lobbyists, and the ever-omnipotent Farm Bureau. Indeed, no better setting could be found than mid-Iowa and Iowa State University, the heart of industrial agriculture.

A prime example is the side-event I attended was the Biodiversity World Tour, October 12, on the Iowa State University campus “to bring together farmers around the world to discuss what they are doing on a daily basis to preserve our planet and how they see these practices improving in the future.” It featured U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, and a five-member panel including an vegetable farmer from India (who recently published in The Wall Street Journal on why India needs to participate in the “Gene Revolution”), a corn-soy farmer from Brazil, a corn-soybean farmer (and member of the National Corn Growers and the Iowa Corn Growers Board) from Iowa, a professor of entomology at the Seed Science Center  at ISU, and a staff person for the International Food Policy Research Institute. Read More >

NPR Report Discusses How India’s Farming System is Heading for Ecological and Economic Collapse

“Nobody was surprised when environmental activists said the green revolution is crashing. But people were stunned when governmental officials agreed.”

Part 1: India’s Farming ‘Revolution’ Heading For Collapse

Part 2: ‘Green Revolution’ Trapping India’s Farmers In Debt

This is a very interesting two-part series from NPR discussing how the “green revolution” in India is unsustainable, and heading for ecological and economic collapse. India abandoned their traditional farming techniques in the 1960’s and 70’s with the hopes of producing more food by farming the American way: chemicals, high-yield seeds, and intensive irrigation. What they are discovering, however, is that this system of farming is heading towards complete collapse. Read More >