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Fulfilling the Human Right to Food and a Healthy Environment: Is it Time for an Agroecological and Aquaecological Revolution?

Fulfilling the Human Right to Food and a Healthy Environment: Is it Time for an Agroecological and Aquaecological Revolution?

Anastasia Telesetsky 

The start of the Green Revolution was a time of optimism. Fueled by chemical fertilizers, new hybrid seeds, and a sense of moral righteousness, the Green Revolution increased field productivity through the magic of science and innovation. Yet this short-term miracle of technology has failed to deliver a long-term solution to malnutrition and food shortages. Concerned with feeding the largely disenfranchised and hungry populations of the Global South, the makers of the Green Revolution failed to contemplate that though their interventions would provide semi-reliable harvests for some of the poorest individuals in the world, they would also transform human agriculture into an industry largely defined by chemical dependency and ultimately diminishing yields Today, 40% of the 437 million farms in developing states that feed approximately two-thirds of the human population are dependent on Green Revolution technologies. In practice, the Green Revolution simultaneously succeeded and failed. It succeeded for the earliest generations or poor communities who benefited from the extra crop yields, but it is failing the current generation that is left with a legacy of contaminated soils and waters.

The continued need to achieve the high yields associated with the Green Revolution becomes increasingly important when contemplating current rising global demographic trends. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) predicts that a 70% increase in food may be needed to feed the increasing population. In response to increasing population projections, States have chosen to invest in known conventional food security strategies rather than explore less-tested strategies that might achieve both food security and environmental security. For example, the market for nitrogen fertilizer, a key input for the Green Revolution, is predicted to reach an all-time global production high of 200.5 million tons in 2018—24% more than the global usage in 2008. Much of this usage is concentrated in states with large populations, such as China, where the rate of fertilizer application has increased four-fold over about three decades. Applying large amounts of agricultural fertilizer to achieve industrial-level crop yields has profound implications for the environment, including substantial contributions to both global greenhouse gas emissions and contaminated water tables.

This Article asks whether states in pursuit of cheap outputs of food to feed burgeoning populations should continue to pursue status quo domestic food security strategies that are likely to threaten long-term environmental security. More production promotes immediate food security, but governments also have human rights obligations, including the duty to respect, promote, and fulfill both the “right to food” and the “right to a clean and healthy environment.” Existing industrial food production strategies pose legitimate threats to achieving long-term food security objectives. Part I of this Article reviews the impact of industrial food production on environmental resources. Part II explores the intersection between the human right to food and the human right to a clean and healthy environment. Part III proposes additional legal interventions in support of strategies for ensuring the full realization of both the right to food and the right to a clean and healthy environment.

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