Rio+20 - food and agriculture
Rio+20 has an historical opportunity to agree on public actions that actually will eradicate hunger and poverty while also saving the environment.
It’s time to act! But who will act and how? The tried and tested food systems of small-scale food producers currently provide food for more than 70% of the world’s population. These producers could step up to the global challenge, if they are protected and supported.
Twenty years after the Rio Earth Summit, the planet is in ever deeper food, environmental, energy and financial crises than in 1992. Then, we hosted the landmark conference “The Gene Traders” at which the eminent seed scientist Erna Bennett (1925 - 2012) said sagely “The self interest of the North .... has converted cultivators into clients and consumers .. It has monetized the entire existence of the human race. Its very success has eroded the genetic diversity from which it took its own origins. It has eaten its own mother”
Ten years later at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, we renewed calls for action, summarised in our briefing in which we reminded decision makers of their commitments to take effective actions to prevent “the fast-disappearance of varieties of crops, livestock breeds and aquatic organisms threatens the planet’s web of life , essential to food security and ecosystem integrity….[ noting that a] considerable contribution to sustaining agricultural biodiversity can be made through continued support for work through civil society and small-scale food producer organisations.”
Now, 20 years after the original Earth Summit, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) in Rio de Janeiro in 2012 might be yet another high-level conference stating the need to eradicate hunger and poverty, stop the loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, water contamination, desertification, climate change and other serious environmental problems – and then, after the conference, human life on Earth will continue to be threatened as before.
But it could be different. Rio+20 has an historical opportunity to agree on public actions that actually will eradicate hunger and poverty while also saving the environment. The evidence of how to do this is available in the report of the World Bank and UN sponsored International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) for which we were one of six NGOs in the governing bureau.
It’s time to act! But who will act and how?
The competing tendencies will be paraded in Rio.
On the one hand there are the tried and tested food systems of small-scale food producers currently provide food for more than 70% of the world’s population. These producers could step up to the global challenge, if they are protected and supported. Their production systems are not dependent on agrochemicals and compliant seeds. Rather, they use a wide range of agricultural biodiversity to sustain a resilient production system. A fuller description is in our Food and Agriculture policy narrative. These proposals are embedded in the food sovereignty framework with its six principles.
On the other hand, there are those who defend the existing power structures that are at the root of the current crisis now calling for a “doubling of production” in the same mould. Their proposals to fix the system while retaining power are summarised in the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, launched by the G8, to be endorsed by the G20 and promoted in Rio, supported by a clutch of agribusiness TNCs. This Alliance won’t deliver for people and the planet. It is a re-run of the attempts by G8 in 2008 to develop a Global Partnership on Agriculture for Food Security and Nutrition, which was rejected by most other countries and CSOs at a conference in Madrid in January 2009. The majority favoured the renewal of the democratic UN Committee on World Food Security, the world’s global governance body for food, agriculture and nutrition.
Agriculture – the main solution…
Viable food systems exist. They have evolved and adapted over millennia in traditional forms of agriculture and are now more relevant than ever. They can be combined, if appropriate, with latest knowledge on agroecology and other forms of sustainable production. Small-scale food producers provide the food for about 70 per cent of the population today, and small-scale agroecological and other forms of sustainable agriculture and food production, developed in the framework of food sovereignty, can
- eliminate most of the hunger and poverty,
- drastically reduce climate change and its impact,
- restore biodiversity, regenerate soils and renew water resources,
- improve livelihoods and provide rewarding employment for billions of people,
- produce enough, high quality, diverse and nutritious food for 9 billion people or more.
… while being a core problem
Industrial food systems and other unsustainable practices are continuing to cause dramatic environmental damage, including reduction of agricultural biodiversity and soil fertility, overuse and pollution of water, and are substantially contributing to climate change. These kinds of food systems and food production undermine the possibilities for producing enough and healthy food for actual and future generations. At the same time these industrial food systems impoverish millions of small-scale food producers, are creating increasingly bigger waves of poverty, hunger and migration, and are causing health problems at a large scale. One billion people are food insecure but at the same time a surfeit of unhealthy foods and diets are affecting at least 2 billion people, causing obesity, heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and other diseases, and serious pandemics are likely to occur in the near future.
“The scaling up of agroecology: spreading the hope for food sovereignty and resiliency”: paper by Clara Nicholls and Miguel Altieri
Putting citizens at the heart of food system governance. Michel Pimbert, IIED
Just say “know” in Rio+20 paper by etcGroup to highlight the imperative for Technology Assessment in the context of the Precautionary Principle
Agricultural Transition: a different logic by Angela Hilmi, the More and Better network
1992 Rio Earth Summit. London conference “The Gene Traders”
A report on the “Gene Traders: Security or profit in food production?” International Conference. 14-15 April 1992. London, organized by Intermediate Technology, and the New Economics Foundation, in association with GRAIN (Genetic Resources Action International), the Henry Doubleday Research Association, Oxfam and the School of Oriental and African Studies.
2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development “Preserving the Web of Life”
“We are called to help preserve the diversity handed down to us. The manner in which we meet this challenge will largely determine how – or whether – future generations will live on this planet.” Cary Fowler and Pat Mooney (The Threatened Gene, Lutterworth Press)
2012 The refreshing film Seeds of Freedom, narrated by Jeremy Irons, presents the way forward based on biodiverse seeds.
AGRICULTURAL TRANSITION - to a viable food future
Sunday June 17, 1.30 - 3.00 pm, Riocentro Convention Center, Room T-4
This Side event is being organised by the More and Better network, for which the UK Food Group is a focal point.
People’s Forum for social and environmental justice:
International Workshop: Time to Act for a Radical Change. Peasant Farming and Agroecology as an Alternative to the Crisis of the Industrial Food System
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 15 / 16 June 2012
This workshop is to demonstrate the importance of peasant farming and agroecology for overcoming the socio-environmental crisis and denounce the severe impacts of industrial food system on the environment and society.