Systemic risk in food and farming. Abstract.

Feeding the World
Are GM Crops fit for Purpose? If not, then what?

12th November 2008
Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, Westminster, London 

Systemic risk in food & farming: can it be avoided? The IAASTD assessment
Prof. Janice Jiggins, Wageningen University Research, The Netherlands


In the second half of the last century, there were dramatic increases in yields, based on improving productivity per ha; at the turn of the millennium, dietary energy supply was an average 2803 kcals per person per day, comfortably within the range of energy intake considered adequate for healthy living. Food prices had experienced a significant long term decline.

But business as usual is not an option:

  • Unbalanced dietary outcomes; approx. 1bn do not have enough to eat; an additional 1bn are unable to buy an adequate and healthy diet; an additional 1bn are obese. And over a third of the world’s people suffer moderate to severe health because of micronutrient deficiencies
  • Little of the profits from food & farming find their way to small scale producers & labourers
  • Impacts on natural systems are unsustainable; trends are getting worse
  • Commercial food & farming systems are fossil fuel dependent
  • The playing field for trade is not level
  • Legislation for soils and water often are not ecologically literate
  • Climate change heightens uncertainties, increases risks of surprise

 Institutional failures increase systemic risk:

  • Unbalanced markets in Agricultural Knowledge, Science & Technology  (AKST) do not produce optimal solutions
  • Risk estimation takes insufficient account of the context of use & combinatorial effects
  • Unbalanced economic institutions
  • Food security is highly coupled to financial market stability
  • Significant under-investment and lack of balance in public good AKST
  • Current IPR regimes drive innovation along the wrong path
  • The illusion of the ‘global anywhere’ allows consumers to distance themselves from the resource claims and impacts of production in far away places

Some powerful GM enthusiasts claim GM technologies can solve these complex problems.

There are no facts about the future. IAASTD findings are that on past evidence GM technologies so far have not served the inter-dependent goals of sustainability and development. The specific findings are detailed in the presentation. The IAASTD further finds that the systemic risks can be managed but require determined action, on a broad front. The options are further specified in the presentation.


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