Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 14 May 2019
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Food Democracy: Trócaire
Before we begin, I remind members, witnesses and those in the Visitors Gallery to ensure their mobile phones are completely turned off as they interfere with the broadcasting system. We are here to discuss the Trócaire policy paper, Food Democracy: Feeding The World Sustainably. From Trócaire, I welcome Mr. Michael O'Brien, policy adviser; Ms Olive Moore, head of programmes; Mr. Joshua Aijuka, programme manager, sustainable farming systems, PELUM Uganda. I thank the witnesses for attending today to discuss Trócaire's policy paper, which has been received by the committee.
Witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I invite Mr. O'Brien to make his opening statement.
Ms Olive Moore:
I thank the committee for inviting Trócaire and PELUM, one of our partners from Uganda, to address it today. This invite follows on from the publication of Trócaire’s policy report, Food Democracy: Feeding the World Sustainably. This report was published to coincide with last October’s conference, Transformation Pathways for Developing Country Agriculture, which was organised by the Irish Forum for International Agricultural Development, IFIAD. Trócaire is an IFIAD steering committee member and we were very pleased that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine opened the conference.
I will introduce Trócaire’s strategic plan and outline the context that informs our approach to work on agriculture and food. Mr. Joshua Aijuka from PELUM Uganda will then speak about its work on agroecology and evidence of its social equity and the resilience-building properties of agroecology. However, despite the huge potential of agroecological approaches, the policy enabling environment to support agroecology is still weak, and Mr. O'Brien from Trócaire will close with recommendations for the committee to consider.
Trócaire's aim is to encourage Ireland, through its engagement with the Rome-based food agencies - FAO, IFAD and the WFP - and through its overseas development assistance programme, to increase and deepen its engagement and support for agroecology. Trócaire’s vision is for a just and peaceful world where people's dignity is ensured and rights are respected, where basic needs are met and resources are shared equitably, where people have control over their own lives and where those in power act for the common good. Trócaire’s current strategic plan pursues this vision by prioritising three key areas of work - women's empowerment; humanitarian preparedness and response; and resource rights.
Under resource rights, we address the sustainable use and management of natural resources. In 2018, we had programmes in ten countries - Democratic Republic of Congo, Guatemala, Kenya, Malawi, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Zimbabwe. These programmes supported poor rural households to become more nutrition secure and have better economic, social and environmental futures through maintaining and enhancing the natural resource base on which they depend. In the macro environment in which we live today, the number of people living in hunger is again rising and, globally, a disproportionate number of those affected are small-scale family farmers.
These small-scale farmers continue to deliver up to three quarters of food consumed in a large part of the developing world but they are doing so on a declining share of farmland. The rapid urbanisation that is happening is accompanied by insufficient non-agricultural work. The degradation of the resource base is undermining the resilience of farmers who are trying to deal with climate change and related extreme weather patterns. Trócaire’s agricultural and food interventions are concerned with identifying the agriculture and food approaches that are best placed to reconcile responses to the multiple and interconnected challenges of food security, nutritional adequacy, environmental protection and social equity. At a time of increasing hunger and malnutrition, land degradation, rapid urbanisation, climate crisis and unprecedented levels of biodiversity loss, there is an urgent need to reframe agricultural and food policies to ensure they are adequate for tackling poverty and hunger, increasing small-scale farmers' resilience to climate change and promoting biodiversity.
Based on Trócaire’s country programme experience and the growing compendium of research that examines these and related issues, our interventions are increasingly based on agroecological approaches. We are here today to talk about such approaches. In essence, agroecology is about agroecosystems mimicking the biodiversity and functioning of natural ecosystems. Such agricultural systems can be productive, pest-resistant, nutrient-conserving and resilient to shocks and stresses. Agroecological practices include integrating trees with livestock and crops, producing food from forests, growing several crops together in one plot and using locally adapted and genetically diverse crops and livestock. These practices combine local indigenous knowledge with modern ecological science to generate good yields and multifunctional benefits. The adoption of agroecological practice is growing across Trócaire's programme countries. It is being documented that a wider diversity of food types is being grown by households. We are particularly pleased to be joined today by Mr. Joshua Aijuka from our Ugandan partner, PELUM Uganda. Last year, 17 new communities in Uganda mapped their wild food resources and made plans for their protection. Thousands of additional households in Uganda are accessing water for food production through rainwater harvesting and solar systems. All of this is part of our agroecological approaches. I ask Mr. Aijuka to explain a little more about this.
Mr. Joshua Aijuka:
PELUM Uganda has been working since 1995 to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and the sustainability of rural communities through ecological land use management. We work collaboratively with like-minded organisations to share skills and knowledge about good practices and techniques, to undertake research and demonstration projects and to advocate for policies that better support small-scale farmers. PELUM Uganda is part of an association of civil society organisations from 12 countries across eastern, central and southern Africa. Our current strategic plan focuses on three major areas: sustainable farming systems, with a specific focus on the wide promotion of climate-resilient agroecological systems, farmer-managed seed systems, traditional indigenous and wild foods and local innovations in agriculture; agricultural market development; and advocacy towards policy makers at national level and links to regional and continental processes for an enabling policy environment which supports the rights of smallholder farmers and the advancement of agroecology.
PELUM Uganda is one of five partners that are implementing a five-year project aimed at securing resource rights for smallholder farmers in eastern and northern Uganda. PELUM Uganda is providing technical capacity support on agroecology to four local implementing partners, which are working with 48,000 smallholder farmers. The project applies participatory approaches, such as an climate-resilient agroecosystems model and a gender action learning systems methodology to facilitate gender-responsive, inclusive and sustainable management of natural and agricultural ecosystems in the context of climate change. PELUM Uganda is the new country lead organisation for the ecological organic agriculture initiative and the co-host of the eastern Africa knowledge hub on organic farming.
Agriculture is critical for Uganda's economy and for its population, which is growing quickly. The majority of the population live in rural areas and are directly dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods. Agriculture employs approximately 69% of the labour force, 77% of whom are women and most of whom reside in rural areas. Specific challenges are having a negative impact on the performance of the sector in terms of production and productivity. Soil and land degradation is the key challenge in this context. According to a study by the International Fertiliser Development Centre, Uganda is one of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa with the highest rates of soil degradation, leading to a loss of approximately 12% of our GDP.
The ambitions to transform the agriculture sector from a largely subsistence to a more commercially oriented agriculture largely fail to recognise the shortcomings of this approach in terms of delivering inclusive socioeconomic development, especially for poor smallholder farmers, or strengthening resilience to the growing challenges related to climate change. Other negative linkages relate to the practice of commercial agriculture on large aggregated land holdings. In a context where diverse tenurial systems exist, the potential for unlawful land evictions of vulnerable smallholder farmers and encroachment onto communally held lands and natural ecosystems that offer key ecosystem services for current and future generations represent significant threats in terms of poverty and conflict. We have provided some cases in the submission.
There exists an ever-growing evidence base, both globally and nationally, that agroecological production systems deliver a more inclusive and sustainable path to rural agricultural transformation. A long-term comparative assessment, which was conducted by Misereor in Uganda, revealed that locally adapted means of sustainable farm management offer more viable alternatives for smallholder farmers than conventional industrial farming, which in this case would be the contract outgrower schemes that link with conventional farms to sell produce, and conventional farming. Farmers who were practising agroecological farming exhibited more resilience to market fluctuations, pest and disease outbreaks and harsh climatic conditions compared with their conventional counterparts. As a result, smallholder agroecological farmers were more food and nutrition secure through their dietary diversity. They also had higher incomes because they had to spend less on food since they were growing it, they used family labour and used locally sourced inputs. They were also spending less on medical care for basic ailments.
I will hand over to Michael O'Brien to present the conclusions and recommendations.
Mr. Michael O'Brien:
In the context of the multidimensional social, economic and environmental challenges faced by small-scale farmers in Uganda and across Trócaire programme countries and the potential of agroecological approaches to significantly respond to these challenges, realising this potential requires supportive public policies and investments. Trócaire’s report, "Food Democracy: Feeding the World Sustainably", outlines factors that currently impede the widespread adoption of agroecological approaches, while also noting initiatives that could enable the scaling up of agroecological systems. Support for agroecology is highly compatible with progressing the transformative and sustainable ambition of Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and the sustainable development goals. Sustainable development goal 2.4 specifically seeks to "ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other [natural] disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality".
There is growing importance in policy discourses from the Food and Agriculture Organization attached to Ireland's new international development policy, A Better World, and to the role agroecology can play in effectively responding to diverse social, economic and environmental challenges, including delivering on the right to adequate food for all, promoting biodiversity, resilience to climate and fiscal shocks and greater social equity. Just as Ireland took a lead role in ensuring agreement of the sustainable development goals, Trócaire believes Ireland is well placed to take similar leadership on sustainable agricultural systems, particularly agroecologically based agricultural and food systems, and welcomes this opportunity to invite the committee to consider the following six recommendations.
The first is to engage the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with responsibility for the diaspora and international development on the relevance of agroecology in tackling the multiple challenges outlined in sustainable development goal 2.4 and its wider potential to contribute to Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development.
The second is to inquire from the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade how Ireland is advancing the European Union consensus on development commitment to supporting agroecological practices and actions to reduce post-harvest losses and food waste, as well as to protect soils, conserve water resources, halt, prevent and reverse deforestation and maintain biodiversity and healthy ecosystems.
The third recommendation is to inquire of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which leads Ireland’s relationship with the UN Rome-based food agencies, how Ireland is actively supporting the Food and Agriculture Organization-led scaling up of the agroecology initiative.
The fourth is to ask the same Department how Ireland is contributing to an effective policy convergence process and timely conclusion to the Committee on World Food Security high-level panel of experts report on agroecological approaches and other innovations for sustainable agriculture and food systems that enhance food security and nutrition.
The fifth is to promote the integration of agroecology into research and development strategies with particular reference to the roll-out of the food intervention priority in Ireland’s new international development policy, A Better World.
The sixth is to encourage budget support for agroecological innovations, research and practices in Uganda and other priority partner countries.
We thank members for their attention and welcome their questions.
I thank the representatives of Trócaire and PELUM for appearing before the committee and giving us a very useful insight into the work that is going on and the importance of the input we can have. They have contributed to a realisation that we are a significantly wealthy country in terms of what we contribute and highlighted the importance of the international policy development objectives set out in A Better World.
What share of the population of Uganda is involved in agriculture? Is it subsistence agriculture? What is the average size of a holding? I have no doubt that they are small. Agroecology is something with which members are very familiar. It involves going back to the old system of working with nature as well ensuring that certain challenges are overcome, such as pests or diseases that are resistant to various products. On the help that can be given to achieve the acro-ecological practices set out and the actions to reduce various things, where can Ireland take a lead? What role has Ireland played to date in the wider world structure in that regard? What can it do to ensure that adequate food mechanisation policy is pursued in those areas? What level of monetary, physical and technical resource is being given globally to assist in that regard?
Obviously, all present are aware of the natural disasters that have taken place. What can be done to try to prevent further disasters such as drought or flooding? How can our mechanical, technical and other expertise be utilised in that regard? Where can we fit into any programme that the organisations may be designing to achieve very worthy and important objectives?
I thank the representatives for their presentations. Similar to Deputy Penrose, I would like more information on the kind of agriculture in Uganda. There were frequent references in the presentation by the three delegates to small-scale family farmers. Is there commercial farming in Uganda or are all farmers there on a small-scale family farm structure? According to the written statement provided, "the numbers of people living in hunger are again rising, a disproportionate number of whom are small scale family farmers". Is that because farmers are selling what they produce in order to pay bills? Unless there is a famine in a country, farmers can usually feed their families at the very least. Why would family farmers be descending into the hunger trap?
How much food is produced in Uganda? How much food does Uganda import? Has Uganda the economic facility to import food?
Bóthar is an Irish charitable organisation that regularly delivers heifers to these countries and the animals are greatly prized by the families who receive them. Has the initiative been expanded to help develop a dairy industry in Uganda that would, in turn, help people to feed themselves? Are heifers delivered to families on a once-off basis just to enable families to feed themselves? Has the initiative of donating heifers been expanded to grow the dairy industry?
I have a serious lack of knowledge about the agricultural structure in Uganda. Obviously poverty in the region is extremely worrying. The objectives are welcome but I would like to hear more background information. Earlier it was mentioned that 48,000 people are working on various projects. How many smallholder farmers are there in Uganda? Is there any commercial farming activity in the country? If so, what quantity and type of product are produced? What is the food shortfall in food production that necessitates imports if the country had the wherewithal to purchase food?
I thank the witnesses for coming here this afternoon and making presentations.
Why do women account for 77% of agricultural employees? Have many men migrated or are they in other roles in the area? Why has Uganda the highest rate of soil degradation in sub-Saharan Africa? Has climate change led to desertification or are other factors at play?
I read the description of agroecology given by the witnesses and, to me, it sounds quite like permaculture. Is that the style of production being considered? I am not an expert but please confirm whether my assessment of agroecology is right or wrong. Please give a specific example of a model that has worked in Uganda, and outline what it was like at the start and where it is now.
Ireland may be a small island nation but it is a very well developed and rich country that has climate responsibilities. This meeting is timely as witnesses have told us that Uganda, as a developing country, has been negatively impacted by the success of the developed world through the production of greenhouse gas emissions and all of the rest. We must become more aware of our climate responsibilities and it is part of the national conversation at this stage. That is my observation. It would be helpful if the witnesses answered my few questions.
I thank all of the witnesses for their interesting presentations. I was struck by a couple of comments, particularly the document entitled Transformation Pathways for Developing Country Agriculture, which seem to call for countries to step away from the conventional drive towards a more industrialised-type of agriculture and return to a low-intensity but higher nature type of farming. That is probably what the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, and other things are trying to make us do in this country as well. It is ironic that for the last 40 or more years Ireland and many other countries in the developed world have pushed for intensive farming practices and increased production.
As the economy of a country develops, agriculture becomes less important, fewer people work it, it becomes more mechanised and has fewer people involved, and it becomes more specialised. Scientists now tell us all of that is to the detriment of nature and ultimately to the farmer as well. It is about catching that in time.
I seek clarity on the impact of climate change on Uganda, and Africa in general. Has there been much of an effect in recent decades? We are told that most of the impact of climate change is on developing countries and especially Africa. This is an opportunity to share with us on how significant an impact climate change is having.
I am also interested to hear about the multinational industries involved such as Bayer, Monsanto and other large companies that work on the basis of selling more of their seeds, fertilisers, sprays and products to farmers. Some consider it to be an opportunity but others call it a trap. The farmers become large providers of cash crops, which are susceptible to crashes, and they might have a good income for a number of years and then have nothing for a period. I am interested in hearing about the inherent instability because the witnesses appear to say they are trying to get away from that and to go in a different direction. I am interested in the role of multinational companies because we have been told that some of the products that have been banned in the west are still being pushed and are used, especially in Africa and in other countries, and I would like to hear about that.
When I think of Africa I am struck by its size, which is something very few realise. Europe, China, and most of America could fit in Africa. It is enormous and the scale and size of it is something of which most people in other parts of the world are unaware. I firmly believe that Africa has more than the capacity to feed itself. It is just poorly organised. Perhaps there are reasons for that which are not always internal and make sure that is the case. I would welcome some comment in that regard.
Reference was made to the sustainable development goals, SDGs, especially 2.4, and I am interested in discussing the issue. The SDGs are about making sure that everything is done in a sustainable manner, which will look after the humans on the Earth, as well as everything else that is on it. I often hear the term used - and Bono was criticised for using it - to tell them it is about trade not aid. Trade is the answer to all of the problems rather than giving aid. I am interested in the views of the witnesses on that because it may sound like a lovely little cliché but when one gets down to it, is that the issue? Is trade the answer, in particular for a continent the size of Africa?
I welcome the representatives from Trócaire and PELUM Uganda. I seek clarification on agriculture in Uganda. Is there a transition at the moment from previous agricultural methods to agroecology or is the agriculture sector in Uganda only beginning to grow now on the back of the stimulus from the new approach?
In order to get a better picture of the land ownership situation in Uganda, are the smallholdings owned by farmers or are they tenants of larger landlords?
Ms Olive Moore:
I thank members for their open engagement and their considered and thoughtful questions.
I will try to respond to a few of them, and then I will hand over to my colleague, Mr. Aijuka, to talk about the Ugandan experience and to Mr. O'Brien to look at trade and other issues around that.
Deputy Penrose asked about what we can do, which is a very important question, and first and foremost the Deputy mentioned resources. One of the commitments made in A Better World was that the Irish Government will meet its commitments to 0.7% around resourcing. A very practical thing this committee can do is reinforce and support that commitment, and monitor it so that we do reach that 0.7% for our overseas development assistance.
Second, many of the recommendations that we have for the committee today are around engaging with the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine and its role within this, and the importance of understanding the policy coherence, that these international development issues are not just issues for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade or other external-facing Departments, but reach across all of our Government and all our Departments.
Third is the area of climate, which the Deputy mentioned. One of the most pertinent and topical issues is understanding the impact of climate change but also understanding that biodiversity meltdown and soil degradation is happening and that the impact is happening in developing countries and here in Ireland today. One thing that is very current at the moment and which we very much welcome is the recent report from the Joint Committee on Climate Action, as well as the climate action plan that is being discussed and debated by the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment. Engaging with that plan is a practical thing we could see this committee doing.
Deputy Cahill asked why we still have hunger today. One of the most important points to put home is that there is enough food in the world today to feed the population. It is not a question of scarcity of food. There is enough food in the world today to feed the population of Africa, or even a growing population. The issues around hunger are related to adequacy, accessibility, availability, and sustainability. What that comes down to, essentially, is politics and power. It is not necessarily about the food itself but about who has access to that food, who controls decisions around that food and, critically and more importantly today, sustainability in relation to the impact on climate change, biodiversity, and soil degradation. The issues are far more complex than simply the amount of food, but are to do with who has it and availability around resources.
Deputy Corcoran Kennedy had a question around 77% of farmers actually being women. One issue we have seen over the last decade is the increasing feminisation of agriculture and farmers. Part of that, as the Deputy mentioned, is due to some of these communities coming under immense pressure and a resulting urbanisation trend of people migrating towards cities. Very often it is the men who migrate and the women who are left alone on the farm. Regardless of that, a lot of the burden of work on farms does generally fall to women and has always traditionally fallen to women, who are responsible for farming and feeding families. There are very strong gendered aspects to this, and when we look at vulnerability and the impacts of climate change, it is first and foremost women and children who are feeling this and who we are most concerned about. We have to keep them in the back of our mind constantly in any approaches we have around this.
There were questions on some successes we have had. Increasingly, there is growing evidence around the value of agroecological approaches. Trócaire recently carried out research in Guatemala, for example, where we showed how farmers using agroecological practices realised significantly higher incomes in comparison with their counterparts using semi-conventional systems. We found that the outcome related to a number of factors, including the attainment of comparable yields in crops such as maize, but without a reliance on expensive artificial inputs. I was talking recently to some of my colleagues in Zimbabwe about Cyclone Idai, and one of the things we are starting to see and gathering evidence to show is that communities of farmers using agroecological approaches were more resilient to onset floods, cyclones, and so on. Their crops were stronger, more resilient, and more able to withstand some of these changing weather patterns. Something we ourselves are working hard on is collecting more evidence and research to show this. It is not only us. Other big organisations, such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, FAO, are far more interested and engaged in this, and indeed my colleague from PELUM can talk a bit more about it.
On the whole question of climate change and its impact, we are seeing this across the board. Trócaire's concern is mainly with small-scale farmers on the front line of this and are experiencing climate biodiversity meltdown and soil degradation. These farmers are on the front lines of experiencing the detrimental effects of climate change while at the same time are least responsible for causing it. It is playing out in many different ways across communities.
Livelihoods are being eroded, economic migration is being forced on communities, food security is at risk, crops are failing, and weather patterns on which people traditionally relied are now entirely unpredictable. I have sat with farmers who have told me that the rains have not come and then, when the rains eventually come, they come so heavily that they cause floods and wipe out entire crops. This leads to families going hungry but also has an impact on families' excess money for healthcare, education for their children, and so on. It not only affects families and individuals, the whole social fabric of communities is being decimated because these people do not have the resilience to withstand the huge stresses being put on them. My colleague, Mr. Aijuka, can speak further on the impact of that. I will hand over to him to address the questions about Uganda, of which there were quite a few. Mr. O'Brien might also have some further comments to add.
Mr. Joshua Aijuka:
I thank the committee for this opportunity. I will start with the part of Uganda that practises agriculture. This was broadly highlighted. Uganda is predominantly an agricultural nation. All of us are born farmers, or most of us at least. Everyone is linked to farming. One's parent is a farmer. Approximately 66% of Ugandans derive their livelihood directly from agriculture, the majority of these being women. Most of the agriculture in Uganda is family agriculture; it is largely practised by members of the family. There are also cases of commercial agriculture, which has existed in some regions for quite a long time. For example, there have been plantations of sugar cane in the eastern part of the country for quite a long time. It is interesting that the poverty levels in regions in which we have had plantation agriculture are among the highest. There has also been a lot of pressure on natural ecosystems; wetlands have been destroyed and forests are being cut down and given away. There are several cases of that right now. In transforming agriculture and moving it forward, a question arises as to whether this is the approach we need to take. There is commercial agriculture in Uganda. The food that is produced is largely consumed at home but some is sold. That is how the people are able to sustain themselves.
One of the challenges we face is the fact that market prices are not that conducive. Market prices for, for example, hybrid maize fall when the yield is really good so farmers may not be able to afford to buy seed for the next season. There are also programmes under which the Government gives out inputs. For example, right now it is giving out a lot of hybrid maize. Last year there was an outbreak of fall armyworm which almost ate up the bigger part of the yield. Farmers who had gone fully into that area of farming could not even get seed to plant for the next season because they had been used to being given seed by the Government for quite a while and had lost the ability to produce their own inputs.
I will also comment on the issue of women and the situation on the ground. Why are there more women involved? The role given to women has always been to provide the food but agriculture is becoming more unpredictable. Men move out and look for other opportunities but women do not have the opportunity to do so in most cases. They have to stick around to feed their families. Climate change is causing an increase in this trend. As the men go they tend to move into practices that are not environmentally friendly, for example, charcoal burning. I do not know if this is something with which the committee will be familiar; it is fuel produced using biomass. The men move into such enterprises, which feed into land degradation trends, because they can no longer rely on agriculture in such uncertain times.
My colleague has spoken about why degradation is so high. It is partly because of that. As a result of the change in patterns, we have missed a couple of seasons. Traditionally, farmers were used to growing crops in a certain season, but now things have changed considerably. Rains now intensify all of a sudden. Heavy downpours cause erosion and destroy crops and sometimes property. The rate at which the natural cover is being destroyed means there is nothing holding the soil together. When the rains come, intensive erosion takes its course.
Deputy Corcoran Kennedy asked whether agroecology is like permaculture. I would say that permaculture is assisting within agroecology. It is basically a way of designing a system that mimics nature, in a way. While there is a very strong relationship between agroecology and permaculture, agroecology is much broader. It looks not only at the science but also at the social aspects which cause things to be the way they are. It is about being able to organise farmers into a strong movement that is able to change and influence things and take up its rightful position in the food system.
I am not sure if I have left out anything. I will be glad to respond to any further questions.
Mr. Michael O'Brien:
I will make a few comments in response to questions that have been raised. Deputies Penrose and Corcoran Kennedy both referred to agroecology as something that works with nature. They sounded somewhat familiar with the concept. Such familiarity can sometimes generate the idea that agroecology involves going backwards. We would like to impress on the members of the committee the idea that agroecology, which may sound familiar, is a modern fusion of the best traditional approaches, the best traditional knowledge and the best practitioner knowledge with the best and most advanced ecological science. That is what agroecology represents.
Ms Moore has spoken about what Ireland can do to support the scaling up and scaling out of agroecology. In that regard, I draw attention to the recommendations we are making to the committee today. Some of the international processes which are afoot are being led by the UN food agencies, particularly the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO. The success of initiatives aimed at scaling up agroecology depends on the demonstration by member countries across the international community of support for such initiatives. I encourage the committee to ask the relevant Departments how Ireland is supporting the scaling up of agroecology initiatives and the process afoot at the Committee on World Food Security, which is examining agroecological approaches and seeking to make recommendations later this year on the best innovations for sustainable agriculture and food systems.
Deputy Cahill's question about why farm families continue to fall into a hunger trap has been addressed in part by my colleagues. Developments over several decades can be cited as another part of the reason. The structural adjustment policies of the 1980s and 1990s, which were led by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, had a particularly negative impact on African agriculture, about which we are talking this afternoon.
Its negative impact was to reorient the focus towards large-scale monocultural export-driven produce, rather than looking at the basis of the livelihoods of the 500 million plus small-scale farming producers. By small scale, we mean farmers with less than 2 ha. The majority of those would now have less than 1 ha. There has been relative neglect as evidenced by the direction taken since the 1990s in response to those structural adjustment policies. The fiscal commitments that many governments have given have privileged that monocultural export-driven production rather than considering domestic and local markets. That requires revisiting trade policies and investment policies and looking to trade policies that support access to local markets, competitiveness of small scale farmers in those local, national and regional markets without the same emphasis on international markets.
In answer to Deputy Corcoran Kennedy's question about the feminisation of agriculture, another related dimension which raises the importance of agroecology is that although there is very significant migration to urban environments, those urban environments are failing to create the employment opportunities for many of those who go there. The Food and Agricultural Organization is highlighting that there is not commensurate employment generation and because of that there is a need to consider what forms of agriculture in these societies can really sustain decent livelihoods. There is opportunity in agroecology, which is more labour intensive than capital intensive, to create quality jobs, on and off-farm, in the rural economy.
There was a question about differences or similarities between permaculture and agroecology and, as Mr. Aijuka said, there are significant similarities in respect of specific practices in permaculture, organic farming and agroecology. There are three distinguishing features of agroecology, the first of which is the co-creation of knowledge, that is, the emphasis on the best of indigenous farmer knowledge fused with the best of ecological scientific knowledge. The second is the linkages made with local markets, which puts the focus on local markets and circular economies, rather than long-distance value chains focused on meeting the needs of international markets. The third feature concerns meeting the food and nutritional needs of the households and the local communities.
Deputy Martin Kenny asked about the sustainable development goals and the relevance of agroecology to those. I draw the Deputy's attention to the Food and Agricultural Organization's scaling up agroecology initiative, transforming food and agricultural systems in support of the sustainable development goals. The Food and Agricultural Organization is joining Trócaire and PELUM tomorrow in a policy roundtable, to which committee members will have received invitations, that will deal with this specific topic. It shows that agroecology is relevant to virtually all of the sustainable development goals. It is also highly relevant to the report that was published last week on biodiversity. The global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services by the UN Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, whose status is equivalent to that of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, work on climate change and action, the 1.5o report, has underlined the urgency of the biodiversity loss and the threat that represents.
In terms of the SDGs, it tells us that progress towards achieving 80% of the goals, that is, 35 out of the 44 assessed targets of the goals relating to poverty, hunger, health, water, cities, climate, oceans and land, will not be met if we do not address the biodiversity challenge. Agroecology is all about diversity, moving away from monoculture and towards a system that builds nutritious, sustainable food systems.
I thank the Chairman.
Last week Dr. Sinead McCarthy from Teagasc appeared before the committee on Europe Day. We discussed food in the context of climate action, carbon emissions and the contention that we need to get more of our protein from plants. I observed that when one goes into the supermarket and looks for beans, lentils, and pulses, all these products are imported. Dr. McCarthy acknowledged that growing beans and different plant proteins for human consumption is not ideally suited to our climate or soil. This would, therefore, necessitate importing such produce, unless there is some other solution. My understanding is that agricultural land in the tropics and in developing countries is probably more suited to growing this produce. Is there not a conflict in policy that needs to be addressed? How is it being teased out? Some of my colleagues gave the example of the avocado, but what are the number of air miles to bring an avocado to Ireland? Will the witnesses comment on the interplay between people at subsistence level who are producing food and those in first world countries thinking they are doing well by eating more plant-based protein and how that looks in the round?
Second, the witnesses from Trócaire outlined the work they are doing to improve the situation for many people, but what engagement do they have with African governments? Do those governments allow Trócaire to proceed with its work or do they implement the programme that it suggests or co-fund it? Do they have national reach and irrigation programmes, and do they make moves to stop deforestation in the manner it is happening in some countries? To what extent are these governments engaging and accepting Trócaire's principles? It seems that in many African countries, especially in east Africa, the gulf between the wealthy and the poor is widening and even though the continent has more wealth, the poor are poorer than they ever were.
Ms Olive Moore:
I will respond to Senator Mulherin's second question and my colleague will then respond to her first question.
Trócaire works through a partnership model. What that means is that Trócaire does not directly implement policy on the ground. We work through partners such as PELUM Uganda or civil society organisations but also many different and diverse types of organisations, including the church. Part of that partnership is certainly working with government. In every country that we work in, we engage with the government. We are in dialogue with government, both at national level and increasingly at local level in the communities where we work. In some countries that may include working directly supporting government and delivering services but in many cases it means working alongside government, understanding the work it is doing and seeing where we can fit and how we can complement what it is doing. Our experience has been mixed from country to country and it can also be mixed within a country from local authority to local authority. Most recently I travelled to Tigre in northern Ethiopia, met government officials and saw some of the reforestation programmes.
I saw many of the projects that have been put in place, which were complementary to agroecology and embracing the approaches around it. Our role is working through our partners and complementing the work of governments in those countries. It can be mixed because in many of those countries, there are strong vested interests who may be working against some of these programmes and policies inside and outside government and trying to influence government. A core part of our approach is advocating for the government to influence the role it has and many of our partners, such as PELUM are active in that regard. I invite Mr. Joshua Aijuka to comment on engaging with the Ugandan government
Mr. Joshua Aijuka:
We have a memorandum of understanding with the line Ministries, including for agriculture and land, and this gives us a good platform for us to engage with government. We also try to engage with government at local level, trying to ensure that they share the benefit of our experience. We target the extension services providers on agroecology where we work and we can see a way of mainstreaming agroecology in what we do. Towards the end of this month, we are organising the national agroecology actors symposium, and together with the Minister for agriculture, the FAO and the Uganda programme, so that we can look for mechanism of how to work together on a large scale in terms of mainstreaming agroecology and the way of work, especially for the government.
This collaboration is always about dialogue and dissent. In some cases we support government to deliver these services to the people. In cases where we feel some of the interventions are not that favourable, we are there to sit at the round table and have a discussion on the proposed alternatives. We always choose dialogue. We look for solutions together and look at the alternatives and over time we earn the mutual respect to be able to sit around the table and discuss alternatives but in some case, one does not get the change that one wants and then one has to keep pushing.
A question was asked about land holdings and I forgot to respond to it. In Uganda, approximately 80% of the land is owned communally so that the land is passed on from one generation to the next. We have some land that is freehold, with title, and that can be sold. We live in a patriarchal society so men have greater powers in deciding on land use and issues of ownership. Women have access to the land and can use the land to grow crops, but they cannot transact or do anything of that nature. That is the system in which we work. It always poses a challenge where there a majority of smaller farmers move to industrial agriculture as this requires that them to be displaced through unfair land acquisition schemes because a lot of land is needed for industrial agriculture. These are some of the dynamics we need to look into, in terms of which model to promote, if we are to put the last first.
Mr. Michael O'Brien:
I thank the Chairman. I will deal with Senator Mulherin's second question on the importance of more diversified diets, including more plants and vegetables which was discussed at the committee recently. That rhymes with the international scientific evidence and advice, which is increasingly coming to the fore. The Senator is probably familiar with the significant debate that has surround the EAT-Lancet commission's report on healthy diets, which calls for more balanced diets.
Trócaire would certainly endorse the importance of more balanced diets for achieving health, nutrition security and food security, as well as social equity and environmental sustainability.
Globally, alongside the rising number of people in hunger, we see the increasing number who are living with malnutrition, both in developed and developing countries. In order to address this, we need to look at a transformation in some of what we are doing in the agricultural and food system, and biodiversity is a key dimension. Having more diverse production, whereby Ireland would be in the position to grow more fruit and vegetables that are suitable for this climate, means we would not need to import so many carrots or onions as they could be grown here. Similarly, there should be a concentration in developing countries around diverse fruits and vegetables where climatic conditions are conducive in those environments. Through that, we believe we would be supporting the ecosystems and ecosystem services that are at the very base of ensuring agriculture continues in a healthy condition, both here and globally. I am talking about those services around provisioning, food security and regulation, and around addressing health and climate regulation, as well as the cultural and spiritual value that is associated with food. There are also the support services around ensuring that natural habitats are retained and that soils remain healthy. This is why agroecology is very much coming to the fore as something which ticks all of those boxes.
That was not really my question, with respect. What I am saying is that it became obvious during the discussion that we are not so well suited. I am talking about the protein we get from plants such as beans, not about fruits and vegetables or anything like that, because the debate is around where we get our protein. In fact, the doctor from Teagasc outlined that we are well-suited to get protein from dairy and beef with our pasture land and all the rest. We have some challenges in regard to growing plant-based protein and, in fact, what we find on our supermarket shelves is for the most part imported. Both the climate and soil conditions are more suitable in other countries, which is particularly obvious in the tropics, where people already have challenges with regard to getting food and nutrition.
It seems like a contradiction that there are some agendas pushing people and telling them they should not eat any meat at all. I am not saying that is the middle-of-the-road view and I believe everyone would agree on a balanced diet, but there is an inherent contradiction in that regard. My concern in regard to where Trócaire is coming from is that if it is talking about somewhere in east Africa, for example, where mung beans or pinto beans are grown which people are suggesting is what people should be eating but which we cannot grow here, are there not other tensions? For example, do the people in those areas not need to eat those foods themselves? In addition, we are importing something quite a distance and while I am not suggesting everything is going to come from east Africa, obviously, this food will be transported some distance whereas local is better.
Is this not a legitimate part of the conversation, aside from all that Mr. O'Brien has discussed about the realities for people in Africa and other places which do not have the disposable consumer society we have, where we are trying to stop ourselves from eating wrong foods, and where there would be a whole different set of problems? It has to be recognised that we do not grow those crops as well in our country and, therefore, are not as efficient in growing them as these other countries. In the past, when we were looking for biofuels from certain crops, perhaps from east Africa, that had to be stopped because crops were being imported and people were being displaced from their land to meet the demand of the Western economies to feed into biofuels.
Nobody is arguing about biodiversity, ecosystems and doing it right. I am just saying this is an issue that does not get covered or discussed, although it has been raised here by Deputy Corcoran Kennedy and me.
Where the food is to be brought from is not discussed. If it is to be from Third World or developing countries, which are better suited, there are surely challenges already, with which the delegates are very familiar.
It almost relates to a point I was making initially on whether the approach should be trade or aid. How important is trade? Is it an answer? It seems from what is being said here that it is not in many cases. Farmers with only 1 ha or 2 ha of land are not going to be producing a massive amount of product to trade with anyone unless they are operating very collectively and co-operatively. We are always told that if we could get developing countries to trade better, they would trade their way into prosperity. I doubt that. I would like the delegates' view on it. This is related to Senator Mulherin's point.
Mr. Michael O'Brien:
I will respond and leave the final comment to Ms Moore. The questions are related. On the question on trade, the evidence clearly shows that in the 1960s, many African countries were more food secure than today and were net food exporters. Today, more countries in Africa are food insecure and are net food importers. The international trading system, in terms of agricultural livelihoods, has not benefited or worked for the small-scale producer, generally speaking. That is why, along with the environmental concerns, about which we have become much more aware, and in terms of the need for an effective climate response, there is great merit in linking the farmers in question with their local markets and developing local market opportunities so they can derive an additional income in addition to being food secure. Local, national and regional markets should be emphasised rather than international markets.
With regard to protein and sourcing that protein, there is a significant challenge. Diversification of agricultural systems is critical to meeting it. We are not going to comment specifically on the Irish context, but internationally we are examining supporting the more biodiverse systems in light of their being more economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.
Ms Olive Moore:
We recognise that there are many complexities and that there is no single solution or answer. Often, we welcome the fact that many of the solutions being proposed are being debated and discussed. We are examining options and weighing up the implications. Trócaire's concern, first and foremost, is with small-scale farmers in the developing communities and in the countries where we are working and the impact on them. This is what we wanted to speak about here today, but we very much welcome an ongoing debate and discussion on understanding the agro-ecological solutions we need and their impacts in the communities and countries in which we work and here in Ireland.
That completes our questions on the topic. I thank the delegates for their very informative presentation. We will pass on the transcript of this meeting to the relevant Ministers mentioned in the opening presentation and see what response we get. I thank Mr. O'Brien, Ms Moore and Mr. Aijuka for their presentation.