Principles for a Sustainable Food Supply

In the previous blog posting (see below), Organizers of the first Faith, Food and Environment Symposium identified a number of “big picture” factors that have a significant impact on agriculture and food production around the world.

The four factors we believe are most noteworthy are (1) economic globalization; (2) financialization (finance markets manipulating agricultural commodities); (3) research & new technology; and (4) structural changes. These last two deal with the fact that large industrial processes are favored over smaller agro-ecological operations.

These factors – plus several others, if we had the time to consider them all in our project – emerged from formal Presentations during the symposium. But the reason we found these factors most compelling was due to the earnest and heart-felt discussions on the final morning of the symposium.

Participants were invited to express their reactions, comments and concerns during a two-hour “open mic” period. Their remarks were wide ranging, but certain themes or “areas of common concern” could be identified and highlighted:

  • Sustainability in its many facets: economic, social, ecological, spiritual
  • Market structure & corporate power: returning fair competition to a highly concentrated marketplace
  • Virtues of fairness & justice: correcting abuses to workers and producers along the “food chain” and to consumers (low-income or dietary/health concerns)
  • Sense of creation & the Creator: as opposed to economic rationalization of “property” / “resources” / “labor”/ “valuation”
  • Support for small farmers: through public policies and consumer awareness; ensuring that family farms remain the preferred type of food producers
  • Next generation of producers: assisting those who can and want to farm; overcoming obstacles that limit access to land, capital, extension support
  • Developing farmers overseas: technical assistance to improve food production in developing nations
  • Inclusiveness of all voices: farmers, campesinos, farmworkers, food workers, consumer advocates and other stakeholders along the food chain

These areas of concern as identified by farmers, faith-based advocates, academic researchers and farmer union members at the symposium lead us to articulate a set of principles for a sustainable food supply. The project Organizers are still sorting these out in preparation of the next symposium – set for the end of June in Milan, Italy, when farmers and food advocates will gather at Expo 2015. But here is a start to what those principles will encompass:

  1. Integral Ecology

The call to be protectors of the land and the earth is integral and all-embracing. As Christians, we are called to protect and care for both the human person and all of creation and the human person. These concepts are reciprocal and together they make for authentic and sustainable human development.

The web of life is finely balanced: small changes in one part of the planet’s rhythms and systems can have significant, if not dramatic consequences, for the whole of the earth and its creatures. For the natural environment to be respected, the human environment and its objective moral structure must also be respected. When we ignore or neglect one, it has a destructive impact on the other.

  1. Food Security

Food security exists when all members – nation, city, community and every family household – have access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. World summits and global declarations on food security regularly commit to the fight against hunger wherever food insecurity persists.

Increasing food production in itself does not solve the problem: hunger is due to poverty. The real question is how to increase income and secure market access. Whereas some argue for the expansion of free and open global markets to reduce food insecurities, others call for the development of local agriculture appropriate to a region or area.

  1. Proprietary Family Farms

When economic and sociological values are taken into account, is it better to have a farming sector of proprietary farmers who provide most of their own labor as well as capital and management? Or is there nothing to fear from a system of tenancy as farmers work the land held by absentee landlords, or one of industrial corporation control through contract in which “farmers” are essentially wage-hands?

These questions imply that a widespread system of family farms is the preferred one, for reasons beyond strictly economic ones. The crux is not to resolve these questions within the confines of agricultural communities and agribusiness boardrooms, but to engage the wider public interest.

One principle more: Global Solidarity

These principles above will require a new global solidarity, one in which everyone has a part to play. Every action, no matter how small, can make a difference. Pope Francis has called upon public authorities and all people of good will, including “those in possession of greater resources,” to work for social justice.

“Never tire of working for a more just world, marked by greater solidarity,” he said. “The culture of selfishness and individualism that often prevails in our society is not what builds up and leads to a more habitable world: it is the culture of solidarity that does so, seeing others not as rivals or statistics, but brothers and sisters.”