Saturday, 10 June 2017 00:00

Feeding the World 101

What does it take to "feed the world"?

Title: "Feeding the World 101" over animated image of a green ribbon over an outline of one kernel of corn. USC Canada logo below the kernel with the tag line "How we grow our food matters" - The background has a map of the world, solid green with no state lines and slightly more jagged lines than is normal.

"How will we feed the world?" is a question you've probably heard. Our population is growing and we need to double our food production to keep up – right?

What if that's not the case?

Today's industrial food system produces a lot of food – about a third of which is wasted. Hunger is not about food scarcity and expanding industrial agriculture won't address its root causes. But it will concentrate power and profits into the hands of agri-businesses, release more greenhouse gases, pesticides and fertilizers in the environment, and lessen seed diversity.

The "feeding the world" narrative ironically doesn't take into account the people who already feed the world – small-scale farmers.

So how do we create resilient, sustainable and just food systems in a changing world? We can achieve this through agroecology, fostering seed diversity, and working with small-scale farmers toward food sovereignty.

We need a system change – and you can be a part of it. The ideas here are just the start.

Feeding the World by Numbers one-pager

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  • Agroecology is the science and know-how behind sustainable agriculture.
  • A whole system approach, it considers ecosystems, environmental impacts, animal welfare and social aspects.
  • It combines scientific inquiry with the knowledge and ingenuity of farming communities to expand local methods for sustainable food production.
  • Agroecology seeks to reduce farmers' dependency on external inputs. It emphasizes low-cost techniques and methods that foster natural crop resistance and soil fertility, like inter-cropping and fertilizers produced on the farm using organic materials. As a result it uses fewer synthetic inputs than conventional farming.
  • By preserving, sharing and planting a wide variety of ?seeds and by expanding this variety through careful selective breeding, agroecological methods promote seed diversity.

Feeding the World 101-did you know box

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Seed Di·ver·si·ty

  • Agricultural biodiversity depends on the seed diversity available to farmers. It is the heart of a resilient food system.
  • Small-scale farmers and peasants worldwide have developed thousands of crop varieties by selecting, saving and sharing their best seeds. For maize alone, they have produced 20,000 varieties, each with unique strengths and adaptations to the conditions under which it was bred.
  • Seed diversity builds resilience in two ways:
    1. Different varieties of crops perform well under different conditions, so planting many varieties helps to withstand environmental variations from one year to the next.
    2. Conserving and replanting a wide diversity of crop varieties in-situ (in the field) increases the chances that the seed stock will have the traits needed to adapt to long-term changes in growing conditions. The more diverse the seed stock is, the more likely it can produce offspring that do well in new conditions.
  • The FAO estimates 75 per cent of our global crop diversity was lost last century because of a shift to agriculture that relies on a diminishing number of crop varieties, and increasing consolidation of the seed industry.
  • Access and control over diverse, locally-adapted ecological seeds is a key prerequisite to food sovereignty.

Food Sov·er·eign·ty

  • Coined by La Via Campesina, food sovereignty is "the right of Peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems."
  • The six pillars of food sovereignty, developed at the International Forum for Food Sovereignty in Nyéléni, Mali, in 2007, are:
    1. Focus on food for people by putting them at the centre of food, agriculture, livestock and fishery policies
    2. Value food providers who cultivate, grow, harvest and process food; and reject policies that threaten their livelihoods
    3. Localize food systems to put consumers and providers at the centre of decision-making on food issues
    4. Put control over territory, land, grazing, water, seeds, livestock and fish populations, in the hands of local food providers 
    5. Build on knowledge and skills of local food providers and their local organizations
    6. Work with nature to produce food using agroecological production and harvesting methods
  • A seventh pillar - that food is sacred - was added by members of the Indigenous Circle during Food Secure Canada's People's Food Policy process. This pillar recognizes that food is a gift of life, not to be squandered, and asserts that food cannot be commodified.

Food security vs. food sovereignty at a glance

Food security

  • Focuses on peoples' ability to access adequate food
  • Understands food as a traded commodity and hunger as the result of insufficient production and lack of access
  • Is less focused on production and procurement methods
  • Based on four pillars: food availability, food access, food use, and stability of the first three

Food sovereignty

  • Focuses on food producers' right to determine local food systems
  • Recognizes food as a right and understands hunger as a problem of food governance, unequal distribution and injustice
  • Puts small-scale farmers and other food providers at the centre of the food system and highlights relationships between communities and nature

What can you do?

  • Grow diversity. If you grow food, challenge yourself to plant a variety of interesting seeds from local seed producers, then save and share them with others.
  • Encourage seed diversity through the food you eat. Learn to love unusual varieties of fruits and veggies, and buy from local farmers who use diverse ecological seeds whenever you can.
  • Spread the seeds of awareness. Tell your friends, family and grocer why you care about agroecology and seed diversity, and point them to USC Canada's website for more information.
  • Build connections. Encourage your campus or community networks to learn more about seeds, and connect them with other groups passionate about agroecology, seed security and improving local food systems.
  • Contribute to the movement! Many organizations and projects work towards food sovereignty and resilient food systems around the world, including USC Canada. Connect with us, help us spread the word, contribute your time and talents and donate if you can.
  • Call upon decision-makers to support a shift in the way we grow our food. One way of doing this is to sign this pledge.

About USC Canada

USC Canada seeks to make positive change in the food system by working with small-scale farmers in 12 countries around the world, including Canada. With partners in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Canada, we support programs, training and policies that strengthen biodiversity, food sovereignty and the rights of those at the heart of resilient food systems – women, Indigenous peoples and small-scale farmers.


1. Less than five hectares is considered small-scale. HLPE. 2013. Investing in smallholder agriculture for food security. A report by the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition of the Committee on World Food Security, Rome. Available at:

2. IFAD. 2011. Viewpoint: Smallholders Can Feed the World. Available at:

3. GRAIN. 2014. Hungry for Land: Small farmers feed the world with less than a quarter of the world's farmland. Available at:

4. Pretty, J.N., Nobles, A.D. et al. 2006. Resource-conserving agriculture increases yields in developing countries. Environ Sci Technol. 40(4): 1114-1119.

5. ETC Group. 2016. Year-end Status of the Ag. Mega-Mergers: Software vs. Hardware vs. Nowhere. Available at:

6. FAO. 2010. Crop Biodiversity: Use it or Lose it. 26 October. Available at:

Read 2222 times Last modified on Thursday, 15 June 2017 17:09

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We’re called USC Canada because we started out way back in 1945 as the Unitarian Service Committee, founded by the energetic Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova. We’re still planting the seeds that Lotta sowed. Find out more about our founder, Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova.



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