Down to earth?

Climate & Natural resources,Food Security01 Nov 2010Teresa Fogelberg
This blog is part of the blog series about the ‘It’s Down 2 Earth’ conference on agriculture, food security and climate change held in The Hague between 31 October and 5 November 2010. The participants discuss the future of agriculture; how it can contribute to food security and be placed at the heart of sustainable development and poverty eradication – and still be an instrument to challenge climate change?

‘Our world hungers for action’, states former Minister of Agriculture Gerda Verburg on the website of the Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change. Her message is that agriculture can help mitigate climate change. The key slogan of the conference is: Now is the time to get down to earth. Agriculture is seen as a tool for solving the hunger problem and, in particular, climate change. The conference website says it wants to develop a roadmap containing clear measures that will use agriculture-related investments, policies and measures to generate growth that emits less carbon and is more climate resilient.

By coincidence, a new Dutch government has just taken power during this conference. A reshuffling of ministries has caused agriculture, the environment and climate change to be positioned in a new institutional setup. Several ministerial mergers have taken place. The first ministry to emerge from this reshuffling is the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation. The second one is the Ministry of Infrastructure (i.e. transport and water) and the Environment. Both ministries are so new that they do not have a website yet. Maxime Verhagen, who is chairing the conference, is the new Minister of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation.

The new policy of the Dutch government announced these new mega-ministries with the following words: ‘Agriculture is a key sector of the Dutch economy and must play a key role in Dutch economic policy. The Dutch agro-food sector is part of the solution to international challenges in food security, poverty alleviation, energy, water, climate, and peace and stability”. Investments in sustainabile innovation in the agro-sector are necessary for the Netherlands to retain its leading position in the market.’

A comparison with international counterparts shows that this new development is unique in the world. In the United Kingdom and Austria, environment and agriculture are both part of one ministry. And in Belgium, agriculture is subsumed in the government’s science , and small- and medium-sized enterprise policies. There is not a single other country in the European Union where economic affairs and agriculture fall under a single ministry.

This conference will give a boost to the Dutch agro-food sector by generating subsidies and investments for low-carbon and agricultural technologies. A study released last week indicated that there has been a radical decrease in the numbers of farmers in the Netherlands and a simultaneous decline in the importance of agriculture for the Dutch economy. Therefore, it is perhaps apt to call this new government’s conference ‘down to earth’.

The new Dutch minister of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation hungers for action. It is good for the Dutch farmers.

Will the conference lead to action against hunger? It remains to be seen whether this conference will benefit farmers elsewhere, in particular the 600 million family famers in developing countries.