Reflections and positions of VECO on aspects of sustainability

Reflections and positions of VECO on aspects of sustainability

01/09/2016

Sustainability is well on its way to become the most stuffed buzzword of our timeframe. Everything these days is sustainable (if not resilient). But while the meaning may have eroded in public discourse, sustainability is still at the heart of what we do as an organization. That's why we find it important to define more clearly what sustainability means to Vredeseilanden/VECO and have a consistent understanding of the concept.

Agriculture can only meet the challenge to feed 9 billion people by 2050, when it is economically viable, socially just and ecologically balanced. In terms of agricultural sustainability, we refer to our earlier publication “Hot spots of sustainability”, in which we specify the tools and criteria we use today for measuring sustainability in the agri-cultural chains we’re working on. Generally speaking, we consider an intervention sustainable if its outcomes fit these criteria:

  • An economically viable chain intervention is a chain intervention that generates profitability for all actors of the chain; it increases their income, generates more income stability and creates job opportunities; in short, it contributes to their financial and economic sustainability.
  • A chain intervention is environmentally sound when it results in chains that minimize damage to natural resources, mitigate climate change, and recover and preserve ecosystems.
  • A socially fair chain intervention generates more equity in the distribution of wealth, more social equity and gender equity; in this process, it recognises that family farmers’ participation and empowerment in decision making affecting the development of the chain is essential.
  • A culturally acceptable chain intervention respects and supports the cultural identity of different human groups that operate and interact in the chain.

However, as an organization working in the field, we have to make decisions day by day to respond to changes in our environment. Each time new questions arise on what the "true sustainable choice" would be. As one might expect, there are no easy answers.

In the following articles, we formulate our position on some specific questions and issues that our colleagues encounter in their efforts to build sustainable agricultural chains.

VECO and agro-biodiversity

"It is a policy imperative to ensure the conservation of genetic diversity of (important) crops. And to assure its accessibility for small scale farmers. In other words, farmers should not become dependent on expensive seeds or planting material from private companies. For small-scale farmers this is important to secure their working and living conditions. Policy could enhance this by stimulating research and breeding by institu- tions that guarantee free access to genetic material for farmers. Also regulations may be needed to guarantee such access."

VECO and Biodiversity

VECO is convinced that it is very important that valuable ecosystems are strongly protected. Valuable natural ecosystems should be maintained as such and not be converted in other types of land use, e.g. production of food, feed or biomass, housing,…Agricultural land around the world should be used in an optimal/efficient way in order to limit the pressure on valuable natural ecosystems to be converted in areas for production of food, feed or biofuels. Organized sustainable small scale farming is an excellent option to realize this, meanwhile allowing to improve the living conditions of hundreds of millions of farmers.

VECO and agro-ecology

VECO supports the agro-ecological approach and is convinced that the approach and principles are an important inspiration for the necessary systemic changes of our agricultural and food system. In general we support each of the principles – see list in annex, being aware that it will take time to put them into practice. Agro-ecology focuses mainly on farming systems within their ecological and social environment and less within the economic sphere of relationships with other economic actors upstream and downstream the food chain. The commitment for agro-ecological practices should not only be taken up by farmers. Sustainable food and farming is a responsibility for society as a whole. All actors in the food chain, consumers, public authorities contribute with different roles.

VECO and GMO's

We should avoid to narrow down the debate to the simplistic position “GMO’s are good” or “GMO’s are bad”. VECO tries to look for the best possible solution for a given problem, avoiding negative consequences, including negative side effects and negative consequences for future generations. Since the application of GMO’s is irreversible in time and space, it is our conviction that we have to be extremely careful and cautious. Yet we do not position ourselves as “against GMO’s” in all circumstances. For the moment being, we have not yet encountered a single GMO that offers the best answer to the complex challenges food production faces.

VECO and climate change

VECO supports the idea of contraction and convergence. The Contraction and Convergence strategy consists of reducing overall emissions of greenhouse gases to a safe level (contraction), resulting from every country bringing its emissions per capita to a level which is equal for all countries (convergence). Priorities for climate change should be differentiated: in developed economies ( 20% of people who are responsible for 80% of life cycle impacts of consumptions), the priority should be on doing more with less (drastic cut of emissions). In fast growing economies the priority is to leapfrog. For the least developed countries the priority is to eradicate poverty and lay a basis for sustainable and equitable growth.

VECO and Natural Resources Management

VECO emphasizes the need to shift away from heavy dependence on non-renewable inputs toward sustainable agricultural practices based on fostering ecological processes and conserving local natural resources including soil and water and on enhancing nutrient recycling mechanisms.
VECO promotes farming systems that are sustaining nutrient supplies to crop plants through recycling, through the management of biologically-related processes such as nitrogen (N) fixation by clover and other legumes, and through the limited use of off-farm materials. The aim is to achieve as far as possible a closed nutrient cycle on the farm and to minimize adverse environmental impact.