9-10 November
The 4th Mont Blanc Meetings: Feeding the planet: What role can the social economy play?
Chamonix, France

More than 950 million people around the world suffer from hunger. In Haiti, Mexico, Egypt, Indonesia and other countries, 2008 was a year marked by food riots. The shocking images were followed by explanations, too many to form a clear picture: soaring grain prices, food commodities traded on markets, competition for land by non-food crops, the first consequences of climate change.

In addition, other factors less talked about are just as decisive. The dramatic shift from subsistence crops to cash crops (soybeans for European livestock, palm oil, etc.) in developing countries has threatened their food security and made them dependent on expensive imports paid for in foreign currency. The high-yield seeds of the big agri-food companies are expensive, protected by patents and accompanied by a chain of chemical inputs, fertilizers and pesticides that have to be purchased. In the countries that have benefited from the spectacular yields of industrial agriculture, productivity has stagnated and in some cases fallen, while soil degradation has spread at an alarming rate. Water has become so scarce in the United States that some farmers are earning more by selling their water rights to nearby towns than by growing crops. It is also cheaper to buy foreign wheat than pay for the water needed to grow it.

We could go on listing the problems that have been arising, intertwining and building a barrier that is ever harder to surmount.

World agriculture has reached an impasse, and we no longer know today if we will be able to feed the 9 billion humans of tomorrow.

Paradoxically, hunger first affects those who produce the world’s food (2.5 billion people earn a living, often meager, from farming). It is also paradoxical that the dominant food models everywhere today are the cause of serious malnutrition in developing countries (where land is devoted to feeding pigs, poultry and cattle consumed in wealthy countries) and serious health conditions in developed countries (obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes are now considered epidemic). A further paradox is that these fears appear even though we (still) produce more than enough to feed the entire world population. The problem today lies not with resources, nor with land, but with the way they are distributed.

In many countries, cooperatives, mutuals, nonprofits and foundations are already playing an important role in compensating for inequalities and helping to establish fairer practices and other ways of producing and consuming.

All the studies show that the social economy has a key role to play in the near future (agricultural, fishing, consumer and retailing cooperatives, fair-trade networks, cooperative and mutual banks, mutual life and health insurers, social nonprofits, foundations, service cooperatives, etc.) if it stays true to the values that it promotes. Supporting research and development of agricultural practices that do not harm the environment and society, setting up genuine fair-trade networks, empowering local farming organizations, transforming consumption and retailing, finding a balance between producing food and biofuels—these are some of the challenges for the social economy.

The 3rd Mont Blanc Meetings helped social economy organizations better understand the problems and issues connected with climate change and the new energy order. This enabled them to develop policy positions, define their own role and set up nearly thirty projects around the whole world that reflect their values and the originality of their methods. There are many connections between the energy crisis and the food crisis.

The 4th Mont Blanc Meetings in November 2009 will provide an opportunity to examine the world situation, present experiences and achievements and launch new shared projects aimed at better feeding the planet.

Leaders of cooperatives, mutuals, nonprofits and foundations will be attending as well as representatives from social movements, labor unions, guest international organizations (UNDP, WFP, FAO, UNCTAD, ILO, UNITAR, ICA, etc.), researchers and academics.

The projects that come out of these Meetings, run by companies and organizations that will be present, will be monitored afterwards to assess their concrete outcomes.

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