Towards an integral approach to sustainable agriculture and healthy nutrition
Vision of the Scientific Council for Integral Sustainable Agriculture and Nutrition
15-03-2012 | Sustainable agriculture and healthy nutrition are high on the social agenda. Work is now being done to face both challenges, often with measurable success. However, huge changes are still needed and some problems have even been exacerbated. Although agriculture and nutrition are closely linked, both issues are often dealt with in isolation. One example is how the recent proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in livestock farming has claimed victims in hospitals.
Removed from its ecological and social context
The problems facing agriculture and nutrition have a range of different causes. According to the Council for Integral Sustainable Agriculture and Nutrition there is one important but
underexposed cause: to a large extent, food production has been removed from its ecological and social context. As a consequence, vital relationships and interactions have been lost.
The ecological context of agriculture has been reduced to systems with disrupted cycles and low biodiversity, in which little self-regulation takes place. Such agricultural systems are highly dependent on external inputs of fertilisers, pesticides and veterinary medicines.
In the social context of agriculture, the relationships between consumer and producer have for the most part been lost. The geographical distance between the two has increased, as has the number of links in the food production chain. Much of our food is processed, with the consequence of it becoming anonymous to the consumer. As a result, consumers feel little responsibility for the production methods and the agro-ecosystem. The same also applies to the intermediate links: each is specialised in its own part of the chain, without having a view of the chain as a whole. A system of ‘organised irresponsibility’ has been created. Although each link is attempting to make its own contribution more sustainable, the result will not necessarily be a sustainable chain.
Urgent need for an integral approach
According to the Council, there is an urgent need for an integral approach in three respects: a) social and ecological sustainability, b) all links of the chain and c) agriculture and nutrition. The central element is that food must once again be reconnected with visible ties to its ecological and social context, so that relationships and contexts can be re-established. A related consequence is that food production must be removed from its situation of anonymity, and once again acquire a face and an identity. Such a development is often simpler if food originates from your own region. The linear food chain must give way to a circular food cycle , whereby consumer and producer re-establish some form of communication with one another, and feel responsible for one another. This could result in increased ecological resilience and social support, risk reduction and spread, the recovery of nutrient cycles and an improved food quality as well as food culture. Both at local level and in a number of chains, steps are already being taken in this direction.
The Council wishes to encourage these developments. Because any such change will require new insight and knowledge, as its first step, the Council has drawn up a research agenda in respect of the recovery of agro-ecological, social and societal relationships.
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