The garden is almost on automatic in November. I am still harvesting lettuce from pots in the greenhouse along with basil. This goes well in sandwiches with tomatoes grown by Matt Foley in nearby Rush. Outside, parsley, sage, rosemary, kale, leaf beet and cabbage are going strong. Brussel sprouts are coming right while the chives and mint are dying back for the winter.

However, my job as Food Minister took me away for a couple of days recently to represent Ireland at the UN Food andAgriculture Organisation ‘World Summit on Food Security 2009’ in floodless, crisp and sunny Rome. I met with farmers from Africa, South America and Asia aswell as Europe, New Zealand, Australia and the USA, not to mention representatives from 65 governments.

Minister Sargent addresses the FAO Conference in Rome

I discussed farming and food with fellowministers from Cuba, Finland, Mozambique, Syria, France, Germany, Italy, Hungary, New Zealand, USA, Norway, Japan, Canada, UK, Switzerland and my EU Green Party colleague, the Deputy Agriculture Minister in the ‘Ceské Republiky’, Jirí Urban, (he says ‘just call me George’!).  Colonel Gadaffi, Robert Mugabe, Silvio Berlisconi and the Pope were about but our paths did not cross except in news reports!

There was not much to be proud of  for world leaders at this summit. In 1996 the world agreed to halve the number of hungry people to 400 million by 2015. Clearly the  strategy is not working. The number of people going to bed with hunger pains each night is now over one billion, one in every six people worldwide.

Many of the poorer farmers I spoke with are saying that their food security is getting worse because corporations and wealthier countries are buying up the land they have traditionally farmed. Essentially agricultural colonies are being acquired by the ‘Mother Country’ so the rich at home can be kept food secure at the expense of the poor abroad.  This land is often used to grow genetically modified soya or palm oil to make biofuel. Those smallholder farmers generally become wage slaves on these corporate farms paid low wages to buy whatever food is affordable and available on the open market.

What these farmers want is to have their right to food sovereignty upheld. Sovereignty is about having not just enough food, but having the means to provide for one’s food needs. For them food security is not an adequate objective. Looking for food sovereignty is too radical for most of the countries who pay for the upkeep of the United Nations. Radical or not, it is obvious that the current strategy is not radical enough. The progress to even halve the number of malnourished people is going backwards at present. Log on to the websites or for more information.

Meanwhile the dynamic approach I called for at the World Food Summit was to assist directly smallholder farmers, especially the many overlooked woman farmers,  so they can be viable food producers for their communities. Unless we can reverse the flight from the land to large urban centres and get more people growing and producing food, then all this talk will do very little other than make climate change worse!

I spoke at the workshops in Rome too. One about ‘Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation‘ heard the Indian Government spell out the effect of a 2 degree temperature rise. This would mean a loss of 12 million tonnes from the Indian wheat harvest. The polar ice-caps (what is left of them) are showing 3-5 degree rises in temperature there.

In other words we need the food, but we need to minimise our emissions of greenhouse gases to produce it. This is why helping smallholders is also important. Ecological and organic farming emits less greenhouse gases and is also more drought and flood tolerant. Local food systems which reduce food miles are badly needed too. Put simply, the world needs more people growing more food for themselves, their families and their communities.

Mikhail Gorbachev writing in The Examiner recently told us to forget the Berlin Wall. The ‘wall’ all of us must now tear down is CLIMATE CHANGE. He wrote ‘we need a circuit-breaker to escape from the busines-as-usual approach. We live in hope with the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen around the corner. Meanwhile, let us resolve to encourage EVERY  activity which brings our world closer to global food security and local food sovereignty. No farm, smallholding, window box is too small, no person is too busy, no weather is too bad to make a contribution to feeding the world – starting with yourself!


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