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Event The transition towards sustainable agriculture and food consumption

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Period 03/02/2011
Event location European Parliament Room 1A 002 Altierro Spinelli Building, Brussels
Host Terra Reversa, VODO
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Event URL

Agriculture and food are of great significance to people’s life, not only because food is a basic need, but also because of social and cultural reasons. However, concerns are increasingly being raised about the negative environmental and socio-economic impact of current agricultural and food consumption practices. Current food production and consumption depletes natural resources (soil, water, air) and contributes to global warming and biodiversity loss. Food production is increasingly concentrated in the hands of multinational agri-business corporations and supermarket chains, resulting in a capital intensive but labour scarce agri-system, of which the main concern is cutting production costs. As a result the current model of agriculture and trade in agricultural inputs and produce cannot guarantee a fair income for farmers, both in the global North and South. In this context, one billion people in the world suffer from hunger; more than two thirds of them are farmers. In the global North, on the other hand, overconsumption of food is responsible for numerous health hazards.

Therefore a worldwide transition is needed towards another agro-food system where agro-ecology and local markets play a major role. The proposed agricultural system relies more on ecological services rather than external inputs, does not deplete ecosystems, is able to feed the world population, and strengthens the socio-cultural fabric in rural areas. This system was comprehensively elaborated in the IAASTD report ‘Agriculture at a Crossroads’ (2008). A transition will only be successful if European consumers are convinced to change their consumption patterns and eating habits in favour of local and in-season food, and less meat.

The morning session of the conference will demonstrate the need for an urgent transition in the agricultural and food sector in Europe. This process should be part of a necessary worldwide transition. Also the relations between agro-ecology and the right to food and connections between production and consumption will be explored.

In the afternoon of the conference a positive vision will be presented of what alternative agricultural and consumption practices can look like. Indeed, the transition is already being taken up by lots of enthusiastic farmers and organizations. We will present a number of examples, a.o. new kinds of cooperation between farmers and nature conservationists, cooperative forms of landownership, the use of land varieties, no-tillage, local alternatives to imported feed, farmer controlled marketing, organic supermarkets and vegetarian lifestyle. Strengths and weaknesses of each initiative will be discussed.

The ongoing transition is promising, but needs support. How to assure this support is the central question of the final debate.

The conference is a joint initiative of Terra Reversa (think tank for social and ecological change) and the Working Group Agriculture of VODO (Flemish Platform on Sustainable Development).

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