Wave T. Westengen
Associate Professor, Norwegian University of Life Sciences
Food is as much about power as it is about science.
This is a discussion post. Opinions in the text are the responsibility of the writer.
Is Thursday food summit in the UN building in New York. The purpose? Develop an international agenda for sustainable food systems.
- One in ten in the world is undernourished.
- More than a third of the world’s population cannot afford a healthy diet.
In addition, they say that the food sector is responsible for 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, loss of biological diversity and pollution from lost nutrients.
So there is something rotten in the global food system.
The great Norwegian power
For several months, this summit on food has mobilized authorities, companies and organizations to propose solutions and cooperation.
From the Norwegian side, and also internationally, there are many of us who have come together around a proposal for strengthen farmers’ seed security.
Norway is home to Svalbard Global Seed Vault and a major contributor to other international work. Therefore, we are considered a great power in the conservation of the diversity of food plants. This diversity is the raw material for further development and adaptation of agriculture.
Those at the forefront of climate adaptation in agriculture are farmers. It is important that they are at the center of the seed policy formulation, something that we recorded for the summit.
Diversity is crucial
Seeds and other plant materials are not like vaccines. For example, you cannot find a grain that always gives the best performance in all growing environments. Adaptation to local conditions is carried out through plant breeding. From country to country, there is great variation in the way this occurs.
In some countries, multinational companies dominate both the development and sale of seeds. In others, such as Norway, farmer cooperatives play a key role. In many southern countries, most of the selection is done on farms and raw materials are exchanged in the informal economy.
There are many examples of professional breeders and farmers working together on the successful development of new varieties. But there are also conflicts of interest. There may be disagreement around non-material property rights (for example, patents) and alignment of regulations for the sale of seeds.
The design of the regulations and the division of roles between public and private institutions has important consequences for the diversity of both actors and seeds. In an unstable world, diversity is essential.
Food is power
All proposals for solutions to the crisis in the food system have a political dimension. And it has become clear in the run-up to the UN food summit.
Many organizations have gone hard towards the meeting because the World Economic Forum and the main actors of the private sector were invited to participate in the preparations. Those who organize the meeting, for their part, ensure that they have configured a process as inclusive and open as possible. They call the meeting a village summit.
Now many of us are excited. What are listed as solutions? What goals do you set? And where is the responsibility to follow up on them?
The scientific group at the summit has proposed the creation of a new international scientific panel, a kind of international climate panel for food. In that case, a proxy investigation must be conducted at the same time. Because food has as much to do with power as it does with science.