Documentary Investigates Our Current Food System and the Solutions to World Hunger
Simon Cunich's documentary film Growing Change: A Journey Inside Venezuela's Food Revolution investigates our current food system as he tries to understand why hundreds of millions of people go hungry each day.
Is it true that there's simply not enough to go around? And as the world faces an increasing number of environmental challenges, how will we feed a global population of more than seven billion people?
Can We Grow a Fair and Sustainable Food System?
The film begins by looking at the underlying causes of food shortages, such as what we saw in 2008 when food riots broke out in about 30 countries. The situation actually wasn't bad news for everyone. Major food corporations made record-breaking profits during this difficult time.
Many believe the answer to world hunger is further expansion of large-scale agriculture; others place their bets on genetically engineered (GE) crops. But is large-scale GE farming really going to solve the problem?
Evidence suggests the answer is a resounding NO. In fact, our modern agricultural system is the very heart of the problem...
What we're looking at is "a human-induced land management disaster," according to Walter Jehne, Director of Healthy Soils Australia. Modern monoculture has severely depleted soils of essential nutrients and microorganisms, and poor soil quality is a core problem facing farmers across the globe, Cunich discovered.
The Earth's soil is depleting at more than 13 percent the rate it can be replaced due to our chemical-based agriculture system. Massive monoculture has also led to the extinction of 75 percent of the world's crop varieties over the last century. Additionally, modern agriculture is extremely energy dependent. According to statistics in the film, every consumer in the Western world eats the equivalent of 66 barrels of oil per year. That's how much oil is needed to produce the food on your plate.
Playing "Chicken" with Mother Nature
In the words of Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma and a number of other bestsellers: "Mother Nature destroys monocultures."
Monoculture (or monocropping) is defined as the high-yield agricultural practice of growing a single crop year after year on the same land, in the absence of rotation through other crops. Corn, soybeans, wheat, and to some degree rice, are the most common crops grown with monocropping techniques. In fact, corn, wheat and rice account for about 60 percent of human caloric intake, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Monoculture is detrimental to the environment for a number of reasons, including the following:
- It damages soil ecology by depleting and reducing the diversity of soil nutrients
- It creates an unbuffered niche for parasitic species to take over, making crops more vulnerable to opportunistic pathogens that can quickly wipe out an entire crop
- It increases dependency on chemical pesticides and fertilizers
- It increases reliance on expensive specialized farm equipment and machinery that require heavy use of fossil fuels
- It destroys biodiversity
By contrast, polyculture (the traditional rotation of crops and livestock) better serves both land and people. Polyculture evolved to meet the complete nutritional needs of a local community, and when done mindfully, automatically replenishes what is taken out, making it sustainable with minimal effort.
The Venezuelan Experiment
"After hearing about efforts in Venezuela to develop a more equitable and sustainable food and agriculture system, the filmmaker heads there to see if it's working and find out what we might be able to learn from this giant experiment."1
Venezuela, like so many other nations, is dependent on food imports to feed its citizens as its agricultural sector has fallen into neglect after decades of urbanization. Here, Cunich finds a movement underway to reconstruct a more equitable food system.
"In lush coastal villages we meet cocoa producers who are now protected against being paid below the minimum price and are now involved in the local processing of chocolate rather than just exporting raw beans. We head out to sea with fisherfolk who are benefiting from new regulations that ban industrial trawling. In the chaotic metropolis of Caracas we find urban gardens thriving and supplementing diets with fresh organic produce. We go inside shops where the urban poor have access to affordable food.
It's all part of a country-wide process towards 'food sovereignty,' driven by communities and the government. At the core of the process are principles of social justice and sustainability."2
Agricultural Experts are in Agreement: Organic Farming Can Feed the World
A question often asked about organic agriculture is whether it can be productive enough to meet the world's food needs. While many agree ecological agriculture is desirable from an environmental point of view, fears remain that it will not produce sufficient yields. Time and again, however, agricultural studies have shown that such fears are unfounded.
In fact, according to a report compiled by some 400 of the world's top scientist3, in order to feed the world, we cannot continue relying on the industrial agriculture currently in use. It is, quite simply, unsustainable. We need farming methods that rebuild our ecological systems rather than demolish them. Other studies have come to the identical conclusion. We CAN feed the world, but we must be willing to give up large-scale, chemical-based industrial agriculture in order to do so. For example, one 2008 study4 found that on average:
- In developed countries, organic systems produce 92 percent of the yield produced by conventional agriculture
- In developing countries, organic systems produce 80 percent more than conventional farms
Another review of 286 projects in 57 countries found that farmers who used "resource-conserving" or ecological agriculture increased their agricultural productivity by an average of 79 percent.
In light of this, when I hear someone extolling the virtues of modern agriculture and wondering how organic or ecological farming could possibly be the solution, I argue the real question is how in the world did we come to accept LESS efficient industrial practices (which includes dousing our food with chemical fertilizers and pesticides) as a viable way to grow food! That's the real wonder... There's more to it than just changing the way the food is grown, of course, and the film discusses these factors as well, such as:
- Fair distribution
- Fair trade
- Community power and independence
- Access to land, resources, markets
The film really speaks for itself, so I urge you to take the opportunity to watch it now, free of charge. It offers inspiration and hope, and demonstrates how communities can take back control of the food supply and gain independence, as well as feed those who would otherwise not be able to afford to eat.
Growing a Movement
Farmers and lovers of real food show us that change IS possible. But your help is needed! If each of you purchased only 10 dollars of food each week from your local farmer's market or organic food stand, the market impact would be tremendous. There are actions you can take in order to live a more sustainable lifestyle:
- Buy local products whenever possible. Otherwise, buy organic and fair-trade products.
- Shop at your local farmers market, join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), or buy from local grocers and co-ops committed to selling local foods.
- Support restaurants and food vendors that buy locally produced food.
- Avoid genetically engineered (GMO) foods. Buying certified organic ensures your food is non-GM.
- Cook, can, ferment, dry and freeze. Return to the basics of cooking, and pass these skills on to your children.
- Drink plenty of water, but avoid bottled water whenever possible, and do invest in a high quality water filter to filter the water from your tap.
- Grow your own garden, or volunteer at a community garden. Teach your children how to garden and where their food comes from.
- Volunteer and/or financially support an organization committed to promoting a sustainable food system.
- Get involved in your community. Influence what your child eats by engaging the school board. Effect city policies by learning about zoning and attending city council meetings. Learn about the federal policies that affect your food choice, and let your congressperson know what you think.
- Spread the word! Share this article with your friends, family, and everyone else you know.