New cultures or cultivation methods can provide higher yields, better income prospects and more sustainable production. However, it is not always easy to convince farmers of the advantages and find first movers.
Multi-stakeholders for better food systems
The more globalisation moves forward, the more complex the interplay between different stakeholders becomes. But what does this mean for the agricultural and food sector in rural areas in particular? A food system comprises not only traditional value chains, but also consumption and the environment. This calls for concerted action among governments, the private sector and civil society to achieve a sustainable and healthy food system, including its value chains, while considering the different conflicts of interest among the parties involved. In order to understand each other, a common language should be created. This can be achieved through standards and certifications, but also through clearly formulated agreements such as in contract farming. Over the last decades, products produced under labour and social standards or certified by sustainability standards such as Fairtrade or organic standards have come into play and are more popular with the consumer side. But who benefits from this? Is it the small-scale farmers, who have to adapt their production, increase their income and yields, reduce health and environmental risks caused by inappropriate farming practices and enhance nutrition diversity on their own plate while creating traceability and transparency at the same time?
Specialists from international agricultural research centres give accounts of their activities in plant breeding. This had been prompted by the ruling of the European Court of Justice in late July 2018 stipulating that new plant breeding technologies such as genome editing receive the same legal treatment as conventional genetic engineering methods do. While this does not ban their application (in Europe), they are now subject to stringent regulatory conditions. In response to this development, leading scientists from more than 85 European plant and life science research centres issued a position paper warning that the ruling was “irresponsible in the face of the world’s current far-reaching agricultural challenges”.
It is by no means intended to once again spark the old debate on the pros and cons of genetic engineering – the arguments here are by and large well familiar, and positions are more or less firmly established. Rather, what we want to show is which developments plant breeding has seen over the last few decades and what challenges it faces today given climate change and more and more global crises.
Over the last few decades, notions of agricultural development and hence agricultural policies have changed, depending on the circumstances and ideas happening to determine global politics. Much has proven to be wrong if not even disastrous for rural regions and has caused precisely the opposite of what was originally intended. Our authors give accounts of the lessons learnt and of what nowadays appears to be the right approach – from the angle of development co-operation and the partner countries, research and civil society.