World must transform food production, scientists say

The study says the reforms can free up 1.2 billion hectares of agricultural land for restoration. (Reuters)
Updated 17 September 2019

World must transform food production, scientists say

  • Global over-dependence on a relatively small number of staple foods leaves populations vulnerable to crop failures

LONDON: The world must diversify its food production and consumption, or face damaging supply disruptions that could lead to suffering and social unrest, scientists warned on Monday.

A new global study found the health and environmental benefits of transforming the way we farm would heavily outweigh the cost of doing so, with the authors urging governments to do more to support sustainable agriculture.

“A small disruption in supply really can do a lot of damage and leads to huge price increases,” said Per Pharo of the Food and Land Use Coalition, the global alliance of economists and scientists behind the study.

“That creates suffering and social unrest. And it will highly likely also lead to hunger and instability,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Global over-dependence on a relatively small number of staple foods leaves populations vulnerable to crop failures, with climate change adding to the strain, the report said.

“Four different crops provide 60 percent of our calories — wheat, rice, maize and potatoes. That increases our vulnerability,” said Pharo. The panel said the report was the first of its kind to assess the benefits of transforming global food systems as well as the cost of inaction.

The damage the modern food industry does to human health, development and the environment costs the world $12 trillion a year — equivalent to China’s GDP — the study found.

It proposes a series of solutions, from encouraging more diverse diets to improve health and reduce dependency on specific crops, to giving more support to the types of farming that can restore forests, a key tool in fighting climate change.

In Costa Rica, for example, the government has reversed deforestation by eliminating cattle subsidies and introducing payments to farmers who manage their land sustainably.

As a result, the amount of forest cover has risen from a quarter of the country’s land in 1983 to more than half today, the report said.

And it will highly likely also lead to hunger and instability

The study said the reforms could also free up 1.2 billion hectares of agricultural land for restoration.

That is more than twice the size of the Amazon rainforest, which spans seven nations.

“What we’re saying is realistic if the reform agenda is implemented,” said Pharo, adding that under the proposed changes, consumers would actually get “slightly more affordable food.”

“The excuse that we cannot prioritize environment at the same time because we’ve got to focus on development, on human welfare, is simply false. We can deliver both.”


India probes Flipkart, Amazon discounts after retailers complain

Updated 15 October 2019

India probes Flipkart, Amazon discounts after retailers complain

  • Products on Amazon, Flipkart listed at steep discounts in sale
  • Trader groups allege firms violating foreign investment rules

NEW DELHI: The Indian government is looking into whether hefty discounts offered on Walmart-owned Flipkart and Amazon.com during their online festive sales violate foreign investment rules, a commerce ministry official told Reuters.
India introduced new rules in February aimed at protecting the 130 million people dependent on small-scale retail by deterring big online discounts. The rules forced e-commerce firms to tweak their business structures and drew criticism from the United States, straining trade ties between New Delhi and Washington.
While Amazon and Flipkart say they’ve complied with the federal rules, local trader groups say the two companies are violating them by burning money to offer discounts — of more than 50 percent in some cases — during the ongoing festive sales.
Reuters reviewed emails and internal training material from Flipkart showing the company is in some cases offering to reduce, or forfeit, its sales commission from sellers that offer discounts.
The commerce ministry official said the government was reviewing complaints and evidence filed by the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), a group representing some 70 million brick-and-mortar retailers, alleging Amazon and Flipkart were violating the foreign investment rules.
The official declined to comment on possible action, but executives from Amazon and Flipkart were summoned to meet commerce ministry officials last week to discuss the matter.
Flipkart in a statement said it had a “good meeting” with government officials and it was “deeply committed to doing business the right way in India.”
Amazon said it had an “open & transparent discussion” with officials and has a high bar for compliance.
Seeking to attract shoppers around the key Hindu festival of Diwali, both retailers have placed full-page advertisements in top national daily the Times of India to showcase discount offerings stretching from Samsung and Apple phones to clothing and diapers.
“Customers are going online because of the unbelievable discounts. Because of this sales at offline businesses are down 30 percent to 40 percent this month,” CAIT’s secretary general Praveen Khandelwal said.
Two emails received by Flipkart sellers in September, just days ahead of the inaugural phase of the festive sales, showed it offering to partly fund discounts.
The company would “burn” 3 percent of the discount if a seller lowered a product price by 15 percent, or 9 percent if the seller discounted by 30 percent, said one of the emails.
In training material posted on Flipkart’s restricted website for its sellers, seen by Reuters, the company asks them to prepare for the festive season by saying “nothing is bigger than this” and explaining how they can benefit by discounting products for Flipkart’s premium customers.
“We want to ensure that you fetch as much profit from it as possible ... whatever the discount you are offering, half of that will be reimbursed to you by Flipkart,” a post said.
A Flipkart source said the incentives were compliant with Indian regulations and were aimed at promoting sellers’ earnings by effectively reducing the commission they pay.
All India Online Vendors Association, whose 3,500 members sell products on various online platforms including Flipkart, in a statement said fewer than 100 of its members benefitted from Flipkart’s partial discount funding, giving some sellers an unfair advantage.