The establishment of the Sustainable Development Goals and the International Year of Soils in 2015 give cause to focus on the foundations of sustainable development. How well are we managing the water and soils we depend on to produce the food we eat? And, perhaps more fundamentally, who is responsible for the world’s soil, and who should be funding its wellbeing? These questions about sharing risk and reward from natural resources are fundamental to the conceptualisation of sustainability.
The global food trade is worth in excess of five trillion dollars a year so there is a strong argument for ensuring farmers are sufficiently funded to manage land and water well. Or is this wishful thinking, given the market’s insatiable appetite for lower food prices?
Where supply chains are short, there are times when the consumer is enthusiastic about funding farming in this way: think local organic farmers’ markets. But where supply chains are long, complex, costly or just too mundane (think canned beans), then the competition for lower prices may drive the environmental costs out of the equation.
There is an issue of relationships here. What is our relationship as consumers (those who eat food!) with producers – a.k.a. farmers? It would be fair to say that in a diverse urbanised economy we are not as well connected as we were and that there is something regrettable about this given the critical importance of food, and of the natural environment, to our wellbeing.
If this is important at home, how about the global perspective? Africa is increasingly engaging in the global trade of food. And as it scales up its agricultural production, how can we ensure that the global competition for cheap food doesn’t come at the expense of Africa’s soil and water?
Given the role of land in conflict in Africa, this becomes an important question of security as well as of land, trade and livelihoods.
It is these converging dynamics that will be discussed in the Caux Dialogue on Land and Security this summer. The issues all have considerable relational significance – trade, good governance and conflict are all functions of relationships. Dr Michael Schluter of Relational Research will be opening the event alongside Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti, the UK’s former Climate and Energy Security Envoy. One day will be given over to focussing on the interface between land, trade, food and water. Scale-up of land restoration and building trust to enable collective action are themes for the other two days.
Conferences at Caux have a long history of building trust in the context of international affairs and in business. The discussions began as a reconciliation process, high in the Alps, in the aftermath of the Second World War. The stunning views from the restored Belle Époque hotel provide a fine context for reflection and thoughtful dialogue, then as now.
For more information, and to register to attend the Dialogue, which is held in Caux between 10 and 14 July, see http://landlivespeace.org/
Brendan Bromwich is on the Steering Group of the Caux Dialogue on Land and Security. He will be speaking at the Relational Thinking International Conference in Cambridge in September on reviewing the UN’s Work on Environmental Governance and Peace building in Sudan.