With the planet’s growing population predicted to reach 9 billion by 2050, there is concern that global food production will not be able to feed all of us in the future. Rice is a key crop, providing 75% of daily calories for half the world’s inhabitants. It is grown by approximately 1 billion people across the world, mostly on small-scale family farms for food and income.
In 2017, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) stated that 925 million people suffer from chronic hunger. And according to the UK’s Guardian newspaper, “the most recent hunger statistics suggest that 14% of the world do not have sufficient access to food”. In its 2014 progress report, the UN said that immediate action is needed to reduce hunger since an additional billion people ‘lack adequate nutrition‘. ‘Almost 75% of smallholding households, who manage 85 percent of the total number of agricultural farms, are suffering from chronic hunger.‘ The majority are rice-dependent households.
In order to grow enough food, agricultural production needs to be intensified, especially rice. Many think this intensification requires large-scale farming with new seed varieties and the use of chemical inputs to drive away pests and weeds and encourage crop growth. In recent years, there has been an increase in land appropriation, sometimes called land grabs, across Africa and Asia to accommodate large-scale commercial operations, affecting families’ access to land.
There are concerns that such large-scale, capital-intensive solutions to a projected food-supply problem will dispossess millions of smallholder and subsistence farmers who are already being evicted from their land to make way for new corporate farming ventures. This has enormous potential for social strife. In another Guardian article, Hilal Elver, the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food, says: “Transnational corporations can be part of the problem, tending to undermine the livelihood of locals, displacing them from their home and land, interfering with their access to natural resources, and causing environmental destruction.”
The Green Revolution in India and across Asia resulted in vast swathes of land being treated with agrochemicals and planted with introduced new varieties of wheat, maize and rice, and irrigated with more water. While it did result in increases in food production, it has left in its wake agricultural land and people that are resource poor and paying a long-term price in human and environmental health. The Punjab in India, for example, “is now experiencing agricultural crisis manifested in the form of stagnation in productivity, destruction of natural resources, especially soil and water, rising cost of production, deceleration in income and employment opportunities, indebtedness, etc.” (1)
“The task is huge, but the tools are there. The challenge is mainly a matter of fashioning political will strong enough to overcome entrenched interests in maintaining food insecurity.” - Hilal Elver https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/feb/19/feed-the-world-small-farmers-big-agriculture-mdgs
Intensification of agriculture does not have to involve modern varieties or chemical-dependent production. SRI, the System of Crop Intensification (SRI principles applied to other crops, and Conservation Agriculture (which reduces the tillage of soil) are intensification methodologies that can produce higher yields and yet do not require any great financial outlay to agribusinesses, while favouring indigenous seed varieties kept safe by generations of farmers. SRI and other agroecological methodologies are means by which millions of farmers are already securing their own food supplies and supplying their local markets, also generating surpluses to sell. With an increased uptake of SRI and similar systems, there is real locally-driven potential for assuring local food availability and food security across the Global South.
Examples of this currently exist. The state of Tripura in India is already self-sufficient in rice, thanks to the adoption of SRI. There are trailblazers in a world hungry for a new, more sustainable Green Revolution that is really green in its environmental outlook and revolutionary in how it benefits the poor majority rather than just corporate interests.