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Wheat Association: Production and Consumption Methods that Feed Selfish Lifestyles Deepen the Food Issue

We are experiencing the hottest summer in recent years and experts say temperatures are set to rise. The climate crisis is at the center of our lives as an agenda we can no longer escape. While we are living the climate crisis closely and our lives are changing, there is also the issue of food in relation to it. We talked about the climate crisis and food with the Wheat (Buğday) Association for Supporting Ecological Living, which has been working for many years to provide access to healthy and safe food, to popularize nature-friendly production and consumption habits, to strengthen the ties between rural and urban areas and to raise awareness of ecological living in society.

First of all, we would like to ask about the relationship between food and climate. How are these two topics interconnected?

The climate crisis is a result of unchecked consumption frenzy and production methods that cause carbon emissions. This crisis, which now directly affects our lives, is making food production and fair access to food increasingly difficult every day... Soils are becoming impoverished, water is dwindling, heirloom seeds and biological diversity are being irreversibly destroyed.

Wars, pandemics, and the climate crisis have made us realize that the food crisis is only the tip of the iceberg. The poor have been experiencing serious problems in accessing food for a long time, and their numbers are increasing day by day. The problem of production and consumption methods that feed our selfish lifestyles continues to deepen.

Lab-grown meats, soilless agriculture, GMO technologies, vitamin supplements... We must urgently transform our production and consumption methods, as well as the policies applied in many areas such as agriculture, energy, economy, infrastructure, urbanization, and rural life that affect food and its production...

For this, we need to reexamine our relationship with food first; we need to reconsider the cost of our food, including the monetary, social, and ecological costs, and we need to confront the fact that the reasons that make access to food difficult are not just wars and the economy.

Food production is both the cause and victim of the climate crisis

One of the contradictions we face today, with hunger on one side and waste on the other, is that food production is both a cause and a victim of the climate crisis. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report, 21-37% of total greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to the current food system. In other words, the stakeholders in the food system, which is one of the primary causes of the climate crisis, also have to deal with the disasters caused by climate change.

Approaches such as Sustainable Soil Management, Permaculture, Soil Food Web Farming, Holistic Planned Grazing, Regenerative Agriculture, Conservation Agriculture, Conservation Tillage, Crop Rotation, Agroforestry, while having some methodological differences, all fundamentally prioritize sustainability, fairness, ecology, and health criteria.

Agroecological methods such as efficient water use, rainwater harvesting, reduced soil tillage or no-till farming, holistic grazing, and compost applications to improve soil, as well as direct access systems from producer to consumer, can reduce the effects of climate change in the short and long term.

Informing farmers about these remedial methods, encouraging their adoption, and promoting the widespread use of these methods are crucial. The widespread use of these methods, along with the preservation of soil, water resources, and biological diversity, translates into fair access to food, diversification of rural livelihoods, and resilient systems against the climate crisis.

You are advocating for the protection of agricultural lands and the ban on chemicals in the process of growing crops, and you say "ecological agriculture can feed the world." Can you explain this a bit? How is this possible?

Research shows that there is enough food production in the world to feed 8 billion people healthily. So why do more than 800 million people suffer from hunger, and 2.3 billion people experience malnutrition?

There are three main reasons for this problem. First, there is inequality in food distribution. In 2017, the average meat consumption was around 124 kilograms per person in the United States, 80 kilograms for a European, 40 kilograms for a person in Turkey, and about 10 kilograms for a person in Nigeria. According to reports from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the highest number of undernourished people is in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

The second reason is food waste. Here, we're not talking about food wasted in households. Every year, one-third of the food produced, approximately 1.3 billion tons of food, goes to waste from the field to the table. In developing countries, 40% of the loss occurs during harvesting and processing, while in developed countries, the same percentage occurs at the consumption stage.

The third reason is the loss of the nutritive qualities of food products, which are artificial or, in other words, "processed" foods. The synthetic chemicals and additives used in agriculture push the nutritional value of foods into the background, causing health problems due to inadequate nutrition.

Research indicates that the world produces enough agricultural and food products to feed the global population. In Turkey, it is possible to feed our population of 80 million with ecological/chemical-free agricultural products using only half of the existing agricultural lands. The remaining 50% can be used for pastures and animal production (Y. Demir, B. Aslan, Organik Tarım Türkiye’yi Besler).

To feed the world's population, transitioning to ecological production on just 60% of the existing agricultural lands is sufficient

The data presented suggest that the problem is multifaceted and includes erroneous policies, planning, and practices, along with overconsumption, improper nutrition, logistical and storage issues caused by centralized systems, farmers abandoning production due to increasing costs, monoculture farming on extensive areas leading to reduced biodiversity, soil and water pollution, and challenges in food production and access resulting from conflicts and disasters caused by the climate crisis.

In light of all the problems associated with the existing industrial agricultural production model, agroecology not only offers a sustainable agricultural model based on the preservation of natural resources and social balances but also provides solutions as a comprehensive model that ensures fair access to healthy products and enhances the economic, social, and cultural well-being of rural communities.

Agroecology, aimed at balancing food systems from an ecological, economic, and social perspective, strengthens rural life by promoting social justice and nurturing cultural identities. While preserving and enhancing natural assets, agroecology addresses the diversification of farms and agricultural lands, replacing chemical inputs with natural biodegradable inputs, optimizing biological diversity, and stimulating interactions among different agricultural ecosystem types.

The Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) examined this issue and revealed what would happen if organic farming were adopted worldwide in all agricultural areas by 2050. According to the study, with complementary factors, organic agriculture can indeed feed the world. In fact, to feed the world's population, transitioning to ecological production on just 60% of the existing agricultural lands is sufficient.

According to FiBL, to achieve this, there needs to be a decrease in animal product consumption, a reduction in the number of animals raised, and consequently, a decrease in feed production and waste. Given the scale of food waste worldwide, the rapid increase in meat production and consumption relative to the population, and the excessive consumption of meat in developed countries, we can say that the "reduction in animal production" requires not only planning but fundamentally a transformation based on ethical and justice principles.

According to the report of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food to the United Nations General Assembly Human Rights Council's Thirty-Fourth Session, "Commonly used and forecast to continue to be used worldwide, pesticides are harmful to human health and the environment. Alternatives that reduce the use of these pesticides are available and can be further developed. Increasing organic farming practices in many places show that it is possible to farm with fewer or no pesticides. Research indicates that agroecology can feed the global population and provide adequate nutritional value."

In the context of food, issues such as obesity, food waste, and access to healthy food are interconnected problems. From here, we would like to discuss food security as well. First of all, what is food security, and how is it ensured?

The fundamental elements that make up food security are listed as availability, accessibility, reliability-quality, and stability. Availability refers to the presence of a sufficient quantity of appropriate-quality food, either through local production or imports. Accessibility means that individuals have the purchasing power and resources to access nutritious food. Reliability-quality encompasses adequate nutrition, clean water, hygiene, and health services to meet all physiological needs for healthy nutrition. Finally, stability describes the ability of a population, household, or individual to access enough food at all times. The absence of any one of these elements means a lack of food security. Food security encompasses various areas and dimensions, from clean seeds, clean soil and water, clean energy, fair trade, and cooperative partnerships to consumers and communities taking responsibility for their food. Growing healthy food is impossible without clean soil and water, and reducing the impact of the food system on the climate crisis is not possible without establishing local production-local consumption mechanisms.

According to the Global Food Security Index, Turkey ranks above the global average. However, high food inflation in Turkey, the depreciation of the Turkish lira, the import of products produced in Turkey from abroad, especially small farmers giving up production because they cannot cover input costs, rural populations migrating to cities, and problems such as drought, water stress, erosion, and extreme weather events that seriously affect agricultural production constitute the most important food security risks in Turkey. In addition to these effects, the increase of Turkey's population by 20 million in the last 20 years has led to an increase in food demand, while the non-purposeful use and gradual shrinkage of agricultural land negatively affect the supply-demand balance.

Even in countries with a large rural population, urban dwellers consume 70% of the food supply. Unplanned urbanization and increasingly consumption-focused lifestyles can be the source of a range of problems, including challenges in accessing healthy food, increased carbon emissions, restricted mobility, and the support of obesity and excessive overweight. More people are now driving to go shopping, turning to processed foods instead of cooking at home, or eating from restaurants and cafeterias without questioning the food they consume, while children are developing unhealthy eating habits without knowing where and how their food is produced. The number of consumers who rely solely on the information on packaging is not insignificant!

The adoption of local and self-sustaining circular production systems is necessary

At this point, centralization and the long-distance transportation of food to urban consumers, which escalates with the increase in urban population, is one of the complex factors that exacerbates food insecurity issues. The procurement of food and agricultural inputs from miles away, or even from abroad with foreign currency, leads to an increasing gap between producers and consumers and results in higher product prices due to intermediary costs. Instead of centralization that causes these problems, the adoption of local and self-sustaining circular production systems, as much as possible, brings solutions such as reducing carbon emissions, providing price advantages by eliminating many intermediaries, and better functioning control mechanisms.

To address all these complex issues, a multi-faceted change in mindset is needed, from radical transformations in food production systems to lifestyle changes that guide our consumption. Even simply reducing the distance between producers and consumers by establishing local production-local consumption systems can provide many benefits, such as improved access to food, reduced carbon emissions, better operation of consumer control mechanisms, production planning based on consumer needs, and waste reduction.

For quite some time, you have been involved in a campaign against pesticides used in agricultural production in collaboration with the "Zehirsiz Sofralar Platformu" (Toxin-Free Tables Platform). During the early stages of this campaign, called the "Zehirsiz Kampanya" (Toxin-Free Campaign), 27 pesticide active ingredients were banned. What is the current situation, and could you tell us a bit about this platform and your recent activities?

The "Zehirsiz Sofralar Platformu" (Toxin-Free Tables Platform) has two major campaigns: "Toxin-Free Tables for All Creatures" and "Take Action for Toxin-Free Cities." The "Toxin-Free Tables" project, which is funded under the European Union's Civil Society Dialogue V Program and carried out in partnership with the European Pesticide Action Network, started in 2019.

During Turkey's EU accession process, 223 pesticide active ingredients were banned, which was in parallel with bans in the EU. Out of these, 37 bans occurred during the period when the "Zehirsiz Sofralar Projesi" (Toxin-Free Tables Project), led by the Buğday Ekolojik Yaşamı Destekleme Derneği (Buğday Association for Supporting Ecological Living), was carried out under the "Zehirsiz Sofralar Platformu" (Toxin-Free Tables Platform) campaign. We demand an immediate but gradual ban on all 13 active ingredients identified by the World Health Organization as "extremely hazardous", "highly hazardous" and "probably carcinogenic". Unfortunately, we were only able to ban 5 of these 13 substances during the campaign. but the processes are lagging behind the EU in terms of its own conditions or products that are not exported to the EU and the relevant pesticide actives.

With the "Towards Poison-Free Cities" project, which started on April 1, 2021, in partnership with the European Pesticide Action Network (PAN Europe) and in cooperation with the Poison-Free Tables Platform, and supported by the EU Civil Society Dialogue Programme VI, we demanded that the use of pesticides and biocidal products containing the same active ingredients as pesticides and licensed by the Ministry of Health be restricted and that alternative environmentally friendly methods be gradually adopted. In this context, our pioneering municipalities have made certain commitments by signing goodwill documents. The platform's activities also include providing consultancy to various CSOs working in the field of public health and supporting public health congresses.

Finally, with the knowledge that large-scale steps need to be taken to tackle the food and climate crises and emphasizing the duties of states, what can individuals or small communities do to combat these crises? What can we do to create sustainable agriculture and food systems?

Agroecological methods such as conservation water use, rain harvesting, reduced tillage or no-till agriculture, holistic grazing, soil improvement through composting practices, and unmediated access systems from producers to consumers can mitigate the impacts of climate change in the short and long term.

Transitioning to sustainable food systems will not only reduce environmental, social and health costs, but also ensure that all people have access to materially healthy food. Our choices determine our future. Systemic transformations are directly related to consumer demands. With our choices and demands, we can accelerate change in production methods and support an ecological and just transformation.

Changes in our lifestyles, from diets to shopping habits, can also be an important tool for food systems to take into account the limits of the planet. It is possible to eat organic and agroecologically grown foods, reduce meat consumption, prefer foods produced from local seeds in the region where we live, and avoid ready-made foods that contain many chemicals that we do not know what they mean.
Avoiding as much as possible, shopping from local producers, switching to waste-free kitchen practices, organizing for solidarity (cooperatives, food communities, etc.), supporting NGOs working on the issue will make a significant difference for transformation.

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