Prince Charles Advocates for Food Sustainability
May 4, 2011 – The Prince of Wales told an audience of students and faculty May 4 that the model of food production prevalent in the 21st century world just doesn’t work.
“We will have to develop much more sustainable, or durable forms of food production because the way we have done things up to now are no longer as viable as they once appeared to be,” the prince said during “The Future of Food” conference, hosted by Washington Post Live.
Prince Charles last visited Georgetown in 2005, when he attended a seminar on faith and social responsibility. Watch video of the prince's address.
“The Prince of Wales has been a visionary leader in this space for nearly 30 years,” said Georgetown President John J. DeGioia, who introduced the prince. “He has been one of the world’s most innovative and admired advocates of sustainable agriculture, ecosystem resilience and green energy sources.”
The British royal explained that the decrease in yields for staple crops, growing demand for food, the dependent use of fossil fuels and fertilizers, rising costs, erosion of land and exponential demand for water have led to a “vicious cycle” and a broken system in terms of food sustainability.
The stress on the food production cycle “is not keeping everything going continuously and it is, therefore, not sustainable,” he said.
A sustainable food production system “has to be a form of agriculture that does not exceed the carrying capacity of its local ecosystem and which recognizes that the soil is the planet’s most vital renewable resource,” the prince explained.
“Genuinely sustainable farming maintains the resilience of the entire ecosystem by encouraging a rich level of biodiversity in the soil, in its water supply and in the wildlife.”
His Royal Highness, who set up exclusively sustainable farming at Highgrove Gardens and Duchy Home Farm in the United Kingdom, added that “the use of chemical pesticides, fungicides and insecticides … artificial fertilizers and growth promoters” do not contribute to sustainable agriculture or biodiversity.
Despite United Nations reports that small-scale, family-based farming systems are productive, he said the world’s dependence on fossil fuels to transport food and chemical treatments complicates the situation.
Food farmed with fertilizers and transported by fossil fuels is cheaper than that which is sustainably grown because the expense in the former method is not passed on to consumers, he explained.
“There are many producers and consumers who want to do the right thing, but, as things stand, doing the right thing is penalized,” the prince said.
He also suggested that recalibrating subsidies so they reward sustainable farmers instead those using traditional methods would help prevent what could be a market failure that harms future generations.
“The point surely is to achieve a situation where the production of healthier food is rewarded and becomes more affordable and that the Earth’s capital is not so eroded,” he said. “It would simply be a more honest form of accounting that may make it more desirable for producers to operate more sustainably.”