Reaping the harvest, taking action, thinking ahead: how can we feed the world?

Atrium of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (F.A.Z.), Berlin
Federal minister Christian Schmidt

Speech by Christian Schmidt, Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture, at the F.A.Z. Forum on the Global Food Situation

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Perhaps you are aware of my previous political experience: I was the longest-serving Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Defence. I was the shortest-serving Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. Now, as Federal Minister, I am at the head of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture: you could be forgiven for thinking that these policy areas could scarcely be more different!

And yet there are core issues, topics that are, in the truest sense of the term, of global relevance which have occupied me as a politician for security policy, for development policy, and now for agricultural policy. These include the issue posed by the title of this conference: "How can we feed the world?"

Ladies and Gentlemen, we all know the facts. But I still think they bear repeating:

  • 840 million people are suffering from hunger.
  • Two billion people are suffering from malnutrition.
  • By 2050, the global population will have grown by a third. There will then be around nine billion people to feed.
  • Climate change and natural disasters hit the poorest the hardest.

Although I am a Protestant, I would like at this juncture to quote Pope Francis, who stated very clearly in his speech before the FAO that

"A way has to be found to enable everyone to benefit from the fruits of the earth, and not simply to close the gap between the affluent and those who must be satisfied with the crumbs falling from the table, but above all to satisfy the demands of justice, fairness and respect for every human being."

Ladies and Gentlemen, this federal government is bearing its collective responsibility because it has committed itself to the human right to food. We stand by this view that it is the inalienable right of all people to produce their food themselves or to earn their daily bread themselves. That is part of the human dignity granted to us by God.

And we are bearing our collective responsibility because hunger and malnutrition threaten our fundamental interest in security and stability in the world. We must not underestimate the destabilising influence that poverty can have on entire regions!

I would like to emphasise that food policy is security policy. It is not for nothing that I regard the Ministry of Agriculture as a "Ministry of Life". Our concern is to secure the basic resources that people need to live their lives. At home and abroad. The important thing to remember is that mankind must be the focus of successful policies against hunger. Mankind must be able to feed itself. It is only then that we will be able to create long-term stability and security!

A key factor: Agriculture

It is necessary, says Pope Francis, that everyone, as God's creatures, should be able to benefit from the fruits of the earth. The Pope speaks in this regard of justice, fairness and respect. But another aspect is also implicit in these words: namely the obligation to actually take these fruits from the earth. "Subdue [the Earth]," says God to mankind. I interpret this as implying a duty to use the earth in a manner that will enable it to serve us all as a basis for our livelihoods.

And I believe this also touches on another Christian duty: Man is viewed as a gardener, he is to care for God's creation. This entails humility. The idea of sustainability is also implicit in this view. Sustainable agriculture, geared towards long-term use of our Earth's potential, is therefore an essential instrument for eliminating hunger.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I will put in plainly: agriculture has been treated like a poor relation in development cooperation for far too long. I am convinced that:

  • without strengthening small-scale local farming structures sustainably;
  • without securing land-tenure rights for those who must live off the land; and
  • without adapting production to specific climatic and geographic challenges, we will not be able to achieve any long-term, fundamental successes in the fight against hunger!

That is my political mission and that is the political mission of my ministry: agriculture must be anchored in the stakeholders' minds - whether they are dealing with international economic cooperation, regulatory and security policy, or the fight against hunger.

I am glad that, within the federal government, there is a greater focus on the role of agriculture than there was previously. My cabinet colleague and friend Dr. Gerd Müller has taken up the cause of rural development and food security.

Investment is to focus on sustainable agriculture and the development of rural areas. The BMEL will work intensively to contribute its know-how and its experience in supporting sustainable agricultural structures.

National processes: The example of our strategy for Africa

This also applies to the new government's guiding principles regarding its African policy. The public still mainly associate Africa with hunger and poverty and perceive it as a political hotspot. That is one side of the coin.

The other is that we are becoming increasingly aware of the continent's immense potential - not just its natural resources but also the growing young and creative population and the large expanses of agricultural land. Which side of the coin lands face-up in the end will decide over the local population's weal and woe but is also of significance for our stability and prosperity.

It is particularly true in the case of Africa that without resilient agricultural structures and well-trained people, we will not be able to tap the continent's potential!

This is borne out by the facts and figures:

  • two-thirds of the population work in the agricultural sector;
  • one-third of the gross domestic product is contributed by the agricultural sector;
  • eighty percent of all people suffering from hunger in Africa live in rural areas; and
  • seventy percent of income is spent on staple foods.

I therefore advocate and support making the agricultural sector a focal point of Germany's Africa policy.

Progressing international processes

My ministry is working intensively on firmly anchoring the key role that agriculture plays for the future of the world food situation at international level as well.

One of the most important instruments in this regard is the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture, or GFFA. Since it was launched by Ilse Aigner six years ago, the GFFA has developed into one of the most important international discussion and networking platforms on central issues confronting the global agri-food sector.

It takes place every year at the beginning of the International Green Week and brings together high-level representatives from politics, industry, science and civil society. This year, more than 1,500 participants, including 65 ministers of agriculture from across the globe, five international organisations and the European Commission, discussed the nature of the vital contribution that agriculture can make a towards global food security. The Final Communiqué has two central messages:

Firstly: an efficient, adaptable and resilient agricultural sector must be based on three fundamental pillars in order to make a contribution towards food security: diversity, sustainability and productivity.

Secondly: the international community must anchor food security and food as central elements of the current discussion about the post-2015 agenda. With this communiqué, to which I also feel duty-bound, we as ministers of agriculture are expressly taking on responsibility for eliminating hunger and malnutrition. And we clearly say that agriculture has a key function to play in global food security.

My aim is to establish this message, and the results, as elements in international work and to anchor them in international processes. We do this within the GFFA and also via many other channels.

Germany plays an active role in the international community's bodies and institutions - in particular in the Committee on World Food Security at the FAO. And we use the high-level "Policies Against Hunger" conference, which my ministry has been hosting since 2001, in order to continue to develop global concepts on food security.

Last year, the conference focused on a pivotal subject: the recognition and protection of land tenure rights.

Only those who have long-term access to land will invest and be able to harvest its fruit. Secure rights of access to productive resources are of existential importance to people in rural areas. An increasing number of foreign investors are buying land in developing and emerging countries. According to current figures, since the year 2000 more than 83 million hectares of agricultural land have been sold or leased as part of investments in developing countries. That is more than twice the area of Germany!

There have been alarming reports in connection with these land transfers about forced evictions and expulsions of smallholders who do not have formal titles to the land. These developments run counter to the efforts to strengthen small-scale farming structures and in this way to offer people better prospects in rural areas. The uprooting and displacement of the rural population poses a considerable risk for the stability of entire regions.

Please do not misunderstand me: investments, including large-scale investments, are necessary for development. It is on this very basis that the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests build. They outline how land transfer processes need to be structured, giving due respect to the human right to food and to the respective local population's rights of ownership and tenure. The "Policies against Hunger" conference has discussed and debated these UN Guidelines at length and fleshed them out with very specific recommendations for action.

Strengthening Good Governance

Ladies and Gentlemen, some of you will perhaps be thinking that it will take more than just guidelines and recommendations to improve the situation. So how do we make what has been drawn up in international bodies and conferences really bear fruit for the rural population?

Allow me to give you a specific example in connection with land tenure rights: in Sierra Leone, conflict about the local population's ancestral land tenure rights is growing more acute due to greater agricultural investment. We have initiated a groundbreaking project in order to strengthen the local population in this conflict. It is helping to establish complaint and conciliation mechanisms to solve land disputes and to support the integration of the civilian population into the reform processes.

Another example I could give relates to intergovernmental dialogues which my ministry is conducting with partner countries. We offer our experience to reform agricultural policy structures via dialogue - naturally always taking into account international guidelines and sustainability aspects.

A lot of work goes into this, work which is carried out continuously in the background. And it is in such instable regions that the progress and outcome of such dialogues are often uncertain.

With Ukraine, for example, we can look back on many years of intensive co-operation. We cooperate closely in the fields of agricultural economics and science as well as at political level. We remain engaged in developing this cooperation.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the political instability following recent events mean that no one can say at the moment what will come of our efforts. But I do know that it is in times such as these that it is extremely important to have reliable partnerships. Particularly after this violation of the principles of international law in Europe!

Ukraine is not without reason often described as the "granary of Europe". With its particularly fertile black earth, the country has the best soil in Europe, if not the world. About 60 million tonnes of grain have been produced there annually in recent years. But the country's potential has not been fully exploited by any means. The population often cite excessive administrative costs and corruption as obstacles. The beneficial natural conditions for growing grain are also being threatened by high levels of soil erosion: the FAZ recently wrote that 500 million tonnes of Ukrainian arable soil eroded each year.

We want to continue our dialogue to develop solutions to these problems. Because stability in Ukraine also has an impact on global markets: the FAO was right to draw attention recently to the fact that consumers in countries dependent on food imports, such as Egypt, will be affected by such instability.

And then, not least, there are also the people in Ukraine. A well-positioned agricultural sector can be a key factor in stabilising the country. That is exactly what we are concerned with: we want to offer the people in their rural homeland good prospects for the future and in this way make an important contribution to stability and security.

Cooperation and investment

What else do we do in order to implement our ideas on the sustainable reinforcement of agriculture as a contribution towards global food supplies?

We invest in training and technology transfer. And we bring in those who are best at it: practitioners from industry.

Let me remain with Ukraine as my example. In Ukraine we launched the German Agricultural Centre, or DAZ, with great success. Agricultural enterprises and training institutions in Ukraine use the DAZ intensively to gain access to information.

The centre imparts knowledge about methods and technologies for efficient and organic farming. It is also an excellent channel for providing information on the consequences of excessive soil stresses and for combating ongoing erosion.

Industry is very actively involved in this project. Because both sides profit from this commitment. The need for high-quality production machines is, for instance, immense - that is an interesting market for our leading German manufacturers of agricultural machinery.

We also have demonstration farms and training centres run in cooperation with industry in other countries, for instance in China and Kazakhstan. We also want to continue to intensify our commitment in Africa. In addition to the existing training initiatives in Ethiopia, Morocco and South Africa, we are preparing a project in Zambia.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the work we carry out to train farmers is a very specific contribution towards eliminating hunger and avoiding resource conflicts!

I hope that such commitment by the BMEL in the course of the cooperation projects will be a source of encouragement and will open doors for the agricultural industry to increase its commitment on the African continent. I regard my ministry as having a very clear role in this regard as a contact point and a service provider for the private sector!


Ladies and Gentlemen, it is our common duty to find ways and means for everyone to benefit from the fruits of the earth! Agriculture plays a key role in this regard. I would like to play my part in making agriculture diverse, sustainable and productive - throughout the world. This is the path my policies will follow.

This is how I want to realise the Right to Food. This is how I want to contribute towards stability and security in the world. And this is how I want to support Germany's interests in the world. Because food policy is security policy!

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