Battling hunger requires a global agricultural revolution

Germany must push for a radical overhaul of the world’s agricultural policies in order to combat starvation and instability caused by hunger, writes Greens MP Ulrike Höfken.

Battling hunger requires a global agricultural revolution
Photo: DPA

The dramatic increase in food prices in recent months has led to hunger riots worldwide. To blame the increased interest in biofuels as the sole reason for this severe rise in food costs distracts from many other causes. At the moment, fuel crops cover only 2 percent of cultivated fields, while 30 percent are used to produce animal feed for intensive livestock farming. And this is a rising trend, as the growing middle classes in emerging economies such as China and India demand more livestock products.

Hunger has many causes

Further causes include increasing financial market speculation for grain, a neglect of small farms in developing countries, unequal landownership, and farm subsides which have favoured the agricultural industry at the expense of sustainable farming. Natural disasters and crop failures caused by climate change have compounded the problem.

In the midst of this worsening food crisis, the World Bank’s International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development presented its global agricultural report on April 15. It showed the way toward a solution and it reaffirmed our Green policies.

The committee is calling for fundamental changes to global agriculture. Industrial agriculture with monocultures, intensive livestock farming and the use of pesticides and genetic engineering has undoubtedly increased yields considerably in recent decades, “but ordinary farmers, workers, rural communities and the environment are paying the price for it worldwide.” Therefore, especially in the case of developing countries, experts are urging that land use be adapted to local conditions, such as rural structures, traditional crops and production methods. Only sustainable agricultural practices should receive government subsidies, and agricultural research should be oriented toward serving farming in developing countries.

The Greens wholeheartedly support this sort of approach. The Common Agricultural Policy is due to be overhauled and we call on the European Union to push forward the movement toward sustainable agriculture. In the future, subsidies must be connected to improving the lot of society. We must support farming that is sound for both the environment and climate by strengthening rural development, by linking subsidies to job creation and creating incentives for especially climate-friendly forms of cultivation. In order to establish fair trade relations we want export subsidies, which distort trade, to be abolished by 2013 at the latest, independent from the progress of the WTO negotiations. We also call for subsidy payments on pork exports in developing countries to be discontinued immediately.

The German government needs to stop resisting reform when discussing EU agricultural subsidies and Berlin must take part in constructively recasting the CAP for a sustainable future. German Agriculture Minister Horst Seehofer can not concern himself only with subsidies for large farm companies while forgetting the world’s hungry.

Strengthening small farms

The Greens also call for development aid focus more on strengthening small-scale rural agriculture. Supporting self-sufficiency in rural areas is one of the most important starting points for getting the problem of hunger under control. The land rights of small farmers in developing nations must be protected and there must be further land reform as well. We need to strengthen the exchange of knowledge between local producers and support access to knowledge about new and expensive forms of cultivation.

In order to establish fair agricultural trade, we need to develop sustainability and human rights criteria not only for biofuels but for the entire farm sector globally. These criteria must also become a component of WTO agreements. This is a Herculean task, and it won’t be accomplished overnight. However, sustainability and human rights criteria for agricultural trade can already be anchored in bilateral treaties between the European Union and partner countries or groups of countries overseas.

Guidelines for biofuels production

The cultivation of plants for energy sources is increasing worldwide. We urgently need policies to be revised in order to counteract increasing competition for land with food production.

Policymakers must create strong guidelines which ensure that the use of biomass for energy neither aggravates the problem of hunger nor is detrimental to biodiversity.

We need to create a certification system that defines binding ecological and social standards for the cultivation and production of biofuels. However, this alone isn’t sufficient to ensure regulations aren’t flouted. The international community must carefully examine the policies of each and every country wanting to export biofuels or biofuel crops and evaluate them for their sustainability.

Ulrike Höfken is the chairwoman for the German parliament’s committee on Nutrition, Agriculture and Consumer Protection.


Young activists take German states to court over climate inaction

Campaigners began a legal challenge against five German regions on Monday to force them to take stronger action on climate change, emboldened by a landmark recent court ruling in favour of environmental protection.

Young activists take German states to court over climate inaction
Demonstrators from the Fridays for Future movement protest in Gießen, Hesse, with a sign saying "No wishy-washy, no climate lashing". Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

The plaintiffs are basing their case on a sensational verdict by Germany’s constitutional court in April which found that Germany’s plans to curb CO2 emissions were insufficient to meet the targets of the Paris climate agreement and placed an unfair burden on future generations.

In a major win for activists, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s federal government then brought forward its date for carbon neutrality by five years to 2045, and raised its 2030 target for greenhouse gas reductions.


On Monday, 16 children and young adults began proceedings against the regions of Hesse, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Saarland, with support of environmental NGO Environmental Action Germany (DUH).

They are charging that none of the states targeted by the legal action have passed sufficiently strong climate legislation at the local level, according to DUH.

“The federal government can’t succeed on its own,” lead lawyer Remo Klinger said in a press conference, highlighting state competence in the area of transport.

DUH worked closely together with the youth climate movement Fridays For Future to find activists willing to front the challenges, the group said.

Seventeen-year-old plaintiff Alena Hochstadt said the western state of Hesse, known for its Frankfurt banking hub, had always been her home but she feared having “no future here”.

Concern about the risk of “floods, storms and droughts” led her and other campaigners to seek “a legal basis for binding climate protection”.

READ ALSO: Climate change made German floods ‘more likely and more intense’

Hesse’s ministers for climate and the economy said they were “surprised” by the announcement.

“DUH clearly has not yet understood that we in Hesse are well ahead,” Priska Hinz and Tarek Al-Wazir said in a joint statement, drawing attention to an energy future law from 2012, before the Paris climate agreement.

In July, DUH-supported activists took the states of Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia and Brandenburg to court on similar grounds.