You guys. This is one of these speeches where I just want to yell “hear, hear!” after every single sentence – and it is all the more remarkable where Dr. M Jahi Chappell, the director of agroecology and agricultural policy for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, made this speech: at the World Food Prize reception, the prize that recognized the scientists behind Monsanto and Co. for their advances in biotechnology.
Here are some of my favorite extracts, but you can find the entire speech – including links to the science Dr. Chappell cites – on IATP’s website here. (Also, note how sparse the applause was at the end of his speech. So sad it’s almost funny.)
Science […] has been narrowed too often in discussions of food to mean technology. Technology is but one way to use science; it is only the tip of one particular tool that can be found in the powerful toolbox that is science. What do I mean? Well, the World Food Prize is well-named, as it is about food for the world, not just agriculture for the world. Scientifically, these are two different things. We know that what is produced is not the same as how much actually goes to become food for people, but too often we forget this. Luckily, this is a place where the toolbox of science can help us, but only if we open it wider to use all of the tools— including social sciences like sociology, anthropology, ecological economics and political ecology.
They talk in economics—and in the previous panel—about “getting the prices right.” That is, paying the true costs and for the true benefits of items in our society. Well, estimates put the value of unmarketed ecosystem services at three times the size of the nominal world economic size. We act as if being a small farmer is hard only because the work is hard. And of course it is. But it’s also hard because farmers are too often forced to be our world’s volunteers in keeping agrobiodiversity. The ecosystem services, and the cultural services, provided by small farmers are not socioeconomically valued, and so while they’re paid part of the price of making food, we’re making many of the world’s smallholder farmers work as our unpaid volunteers in maintaining, fighting for, and struggling to stay keepers of huge amounts of the world’s biodiversity.
We need to realize that proper pricing might lead to smaller farms and that decreasing the amount of large farms dramatically would be simply following the science towards appropriately sized farms. We need to keep realizing that science does not simply mean production, and that production does not at all mean food security.
And lastly, we need to remember that, scientifically, our biggest opportunity to fight hunger is pushing hard for equality, particularly equality for smallholder women. Over 50 percent of the decrease in hunger between 1970 and 1995 is likely to have come from increases in gender equality. Yet we don’t see 50 percent of research effort going towards this. Estimates say that increasing women’s education and status to simple equity has 3 to 4 times the potential to reduce hunger than just producing more food alone—but I’m quite sure that this does not get 3 to 4 times the attention.
Can I also just say that the fact that it wasn’t a woman talking that brought up that last point makes it even more powerful (though in an ideal world this should be the norm, not the exception). Refer to a couple of posts ago if you want to know more about the struggles smallholder women face in farming. Ok, enough swooning here. I’m off to see whether the IATP is currently hiring soon-to-be graduate agricultural economists 😉
[edited to add: the only hiring position open right now is the President of the organization. Hm. Think I’m qualified? ;)]