5 May 2008
Economic and Social Council
ENV/DEV/975

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission on Sustainable Development

Sixteenth Session

2nd & 3rd Meetings* (AM & PM)


Commission on Sustainable Development begins session aimed at tackling issues


at centre of unfolding global crises, seeking way to raise food supply


Under-Secretary-General Leads Other Speakers

In Emphasizing Importance of Reversing Under-Investment in Agriculture


With the soaring global prices of oil and food staples like rice and corn grabbing news headlines and sparking riots across the developing world, the Commission on Sustainable Development today began a two-year cycle aimed at tackling many of the issues at the heart of the crisis and identifying actions to increase the food supply for the world’s poorest people.


“The Commission’s sixteenth session could not be better timed or better focused,” said Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs in his opening remarks.  The Commission’s agenda for the next two years -- to focus chiefly on agriculture, land use, rural development, drought and desertification -- would most certainly influence the global effort, over the next few months, to devise a concrete and comprehensive action plan for food security, covering immediate needs, as well as medium- and long-term solutions.


He went on to say, “The international community has only belatedly recognized this food crisis threatening much of humanity.  Even as we mobilize resources to meet the immediate food needs of the poor, we must think ahead […] and analyse the deeper problems that have undermined food security, and how we can avoid such crises in the future.”  The spike in food and commodities prices threatened to unravel past gains and exacerbate existing poverty and malnutrition, especially for Africa and the small island developing States -- two other key focus areas for the Commission’s 2008-2009 review and implementation cycle.


The Under-Secretary-General said the basic problem was that agricultural productivity had been slowing since the 1970s, even as demand for food had been increasing.  Furthermore, on the supply side of the equation, the public agricultural research and development system -- which had played a vital role in the first “green revolution” -- had been starved of funds as donors had reduced their support for agriculture.  On the other side of the equation, rising prosperity and changing diets were contributing to steadily increasing demand for food.


That led the spotlight to the impact of climate change, he said, which, if left unaddressed, could be expected to do serious damage to tropical agriculture, especially in Africa and South Asia, which would have an additional 1.8 billion people to feed by 2050.  Sound practices in land and water management were crucial to preventing drylands from turning into deserts.  As the situation stood, global warming and skyrocketing energy prices had already exacerbated factors that had transformed more than half the small island developing States into food-deficit or net-food importing countries.


Commission Chairperson Francis Nhema of Zimbabwe said that, over the next two weeks, members would engage in a full discussion of best practices and lessons learned in all its thematic issues, which were intricately linked.  Progress in each area was critical to increasing productivity and sustainable development, and success in achieving sustainable development and the Millennium Development Goals would be impossible without recognition of those linkages.  It was, therefore, necessary to address all issues in an integrated manner and underlying linkages must be identified and addressed in concert as the challenges faced in each area were “serious and multidimensional”.  The major civil society groups -- including women, children and youth, indigenous peoples, non-governmental organizations, business, academia, local authorities, scientists, workers and trade unions -- could play an important role in that effort.


Christopher Flavin, President of Worldwatch Institute, warned that, while it was easy to suggest that current price spikes were temporary, the world might never return to the stable food and commodity prices of the past.  Poverty was increasing, natural ecosystems were under serious threat and populations were growing.  Moreover, several huge emerging economies were about to enter periods of accelerated industrialization and high resource consumption.  “We face a true planetary emergency and we can’t continue acting as if it’s business as usual out there,” he said, pointing to the market instabilities, under-investment in agriculture and worrying effects of global warming, most evident in poor countries.


“This may be our last chance to address one of the greatest challenges humankind has ever faced,” he warned, calling for increased investment in agriculture and the development of a new “energy economy”, among other things.  “We must embark in profound new directions if we are to avoid twin ecological and human catastrophes.”  All stakeholders should work to harness the global cooperation for which the United Nations was so well known, with the aim of minimizing differences and maximizing cooperation to move towards a sustainable global economy that would meet the needs of the world’s poorest people.


After wrapping up its work in the morning with a general debate that featured interventions by some 20 Government delegations and representatives of the nine major civil society groups, the Commission held two parallel panel discussions in the afternoon, respectively on agriculture, and sustainable development in Africa and Western Asia.


Chairperson Nehma ( Zimbabwe) led the discussion on Africa and Vice-Chair Tri Tharyat ( Indonesia), chaired the discussion on Western Asia during the first panel discussion.  The panellists in the Africa discussion were:  Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD); Alioune Badiane, Director of the Regional Office for African and Arab States, United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat); and Sally Bunning, Technical Officer in the Land and Water Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).


Panellists for the West Asia discussion were:  Djamel Echirk, General Inspector for the Environment, Ministry of Land Habilitation, Environment and Tourism of Algeria; Khaled Abdul Aziz Al Charea, Director of Land Safety at the General Authority for Environmental Affairs in the Ministry of Local Administration and Environment of Syria; and Carol Chouchani Cherfane, Acting Team Leader of the Technology and Enterprise Development Team in the Sustainable Development and Productivity Division of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).


The panel on agriculture was chaired by Vice-Chair Melanie Santizo-Sandoval (Guatemala) and featured panellists Per Pinstrup-Anderson, former Director-General of the International Food Policy Research Institute and Professor of Food, Nutrition and Public Policy at Cornell University; Gregory A. Ruark, Director of the United States Department of Agriculture National Agroforestry Center; Tianzhi Ren of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences; and Erick Fernandez, Land Management Adviser for the World Bank’s Agriculture and Rural Development Department.


In other business, the Commission approved its agenda and programme of work (document E/CN.17/2008/1) and filled the remaining seats on its Bureau with the election of Vice-Chairpersons:  Tri Tharyat of Indonesia; Melanie Santizo-Sandoval of Guatemala; and Sasa Odjanic of Serbia.  The other two members of the Bureau, Vice-Chairs Javad Amin Mansour of Iran, and Daniel Carmon of Israel were elected earlier.


The Commission also approved the request of three intergovernmental organizations to participate as observes in the work of its sixteenth session.  Those organizations were:  Baltic 21; CAB International; and the Centre on Integrated Rural Development for Asia and the Pacific.  (For more information, see document E/CN.17.2008/L.1).


Before beginning its work, the Commission heard reports on the various intersessional activities and events that had taken place over the past year.  The representative of Israel reported on the international conference on water technologies and environmental control (WATEC), held in Tel Aviv last October.  The Director of International Environmental Affairs and Water Management of Austria, reported on the outcome of the seventh Global Forum on Sustainable Energy, held last November in Vienna.


Also, the Director-General of the National Bureau to Combat Desertification, State Forestry Administration of China, reported on the outcome of the Beijing Conference on Combating Desertification, held in January 2008.  The Senior Adviser in Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs highlighted the conclusion of a recent Oslo policy forum on “Changing the Way we Develop: Dealing with Disasters and Climate Change”, and Iceland’s representative reported on the outcome of the High-Level Round Table on International Cooperation for Sustainable Development in Caribbean Small-Island Developing States, held in Barbados last March.


Also addressing the Commission were the Chief of the Division of Sustainable Development and Multilateral Affairs, Office of Environmental Policy, Bureau of Oceans in the Division of Environment and Science of the United States Department of State; and the Special Adviser on Technology and Sustainable Development in the Ministry of Environment of Indonesia.


Other speakers today were the representatives of Antigua and Barbuda (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Slovenia (on behalf of the European Union), Iraq (on behalf of the Arab Group), Tonga (on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum), Grenada (on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island Developing States), China, South Africa, India, Canada, Malaysia, Russian Federation, New Zealand, Argentina, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Switzerland.


The observer for Palestine also spoke.


Others speaking during the opening session were representatives of workers and trade unions, women’s groups, the youth caucus, indigenous peoples, non-governmental organizations, cities and local authorities, business and industry, scientific and technological community, and farmers.


The Commission will reconvene to hold parallel panel discussions on rural development and Asia and the Pacific, and on Latin America and the Caribbean at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 6 May.


Background


The United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development met to begin its sixteenth session, which opened a two year-cycle aimed at tackling issues critical to increasing the global food supply.  Thematic issues to be addressed during the session include:  agriculture; rural development; land; drought; desertification; and Africa.  For more information, see Press Release ENV/DEV/974.


Opening Statement


Commission Chairperson FRANCIS NHEMA (Zimbabwe), opening the sixteenth session, said a full agenda had been set for the review over the next two weeks and the Commission would engage in a full discussion of best practices and lessons learned in all its thematic issues, which were intricately linked.  Progress in each area was critical to increasing productivity and sustainable development, and success in achieving sustainable development and the Millennium Development Goals would be impossible without recognition of those linkages.


Without a fair trade system, no long-term progress was possible in providing developing countries with access to markets, he said.  It was, therefore, necessary to address all issues in an integrated manner and underlying linkages must be identified and addressed in concert as the challenges faced in each area were “serious and multidimensional”.  Major groups could play an important role in that effort.


Estimates that the world’s population would reach 9 billion by 2050 meant that the pressure on agricultural production would only increase, he said.  Climate change, which was already affecting agricultural production, particularly in Africa, would only add to the challenges.  The results of the sixteenth session would provide the basis for the 2009 policy session.  It was a measure of Commission members’ foresight that in 2003 they had chosen food, agriculture and rural issues as the focus for the present session.


The Commission then elected, by acclamation, three Vice-Chairpersons:  Tri Tharyat ( Indonesia); Melanie Santizo-Sandoval ( Guatemala); and Sasa Ojdanic ( Serbia).


The Chairperson then introduced the agenda and organization of work for the session, noting that a detailed description of both was available on the Commission’s website, and invited comments by members.


The representative of Grenada, speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), said it was regrettable that the sixteenth session was running parallel with the water and sanitation review.


The Commission then adopted the agenda by consensus.


The Chairperson then introduced the organization of work and invited comments from the floor.


The representative of Antigua and Barbuda, referring to the comments made by the Grenada delegate on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, said parallel scheduling should be avoided in the future and this year’s organization of work should not be regarded as a precedent.


The representative of India also expressed support for that position.


The Commission then approved the organization of work by consensus, before approving also requests for accreditation by three intergovernmental organizations seeking to participate in the session as observers:  Baltic 21; CAB International; and the Centre on Integrated Rural Development for Asia and the Pacific.


Statements


SHA ZUKANG, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said the Commission’s agenda for the year brought together some of the most urgent and important international issues affecting the quality of life of millions of people and the prospects of all countries for sustainable development.  Despite global progress in cutting poverty since 1990, especially in parts of Asia, it remained concentrated in rural areas, and growth in agricultural productivity was of key importance to further poverty reduction.  “A prosperous agriculture sector can support a dynamic rural economy, with growing opportunities for off-farm employment.”


At the same time, however, the world was confronting a major food and commodities pricing crisis which threatened to unravel past gains and exacerbate existing poverty and malnutrition, he said, pointing out the sharp rise in food over the past few years, especially in the past few weeks.  Indeed, the price of rice on the world market had doubled in little more than a month, worsening malnutrition, sparking social unrest and depleting Government coffers.  “The international community has only belatedly recognized this food crisis threatening much of humanity.  Even as we mobilize resources to meet the immediate food needs of the poor, we must think ahead […] and analyse the deeper problems that have undermined food security, and how we can avoid such crises in the future.”


Stepping back, the larger picture revealed answers both simple and complex, he said.  The basic problem was that growth in agricultural productivity had been slowing since the 1970s, even as demand for food had been increasing.  But the realities on both sides of that equation involved a host of interrelated factors.


On the supply side, the public agricultural research and development system -- which had played a vital role in the first “green revolution” -- had been starved of funds, as donors had reduced their support for agriculture.  Public spending to raise agricultural productivity must be increased and more must be done to address land degradation, including by scaling up investments.  Secure access to land could help stimulate investment, including by unlocking credit to farmers.  Such an initiative might prove vital for Africa, where only 4 per cent of agricultural land was irrigated.  There must be urgent investment in water storage and regulation.


Noting the meagre production of fertilizer in Africa and the high cost of importing it, he said greater investment in that area could make fertilizer more accessible and boost food production.  On the other side of the equation, rising prosperity and changing diets were contributing to steadily increasing food demands.  Another factor pushing up food prices was the growth in non-food agriculture, particularly the production of biofuels in countries seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the use of fossil fuels.


That led him to spotlight the impact of climate change, which, if left unaddressed, was expected to do serious damage to tropical agriculture, especially in Africa and South Asia, which would have an additional 1.8 billion people to feed by 2050.  Sound practices in land and water management were crucial to preventing drylands from becoming deserts.  Further, more than half the small island developing States were food-deficit or net-food importing countries, a situation further exacerbated by global warming and skyrocketing energy prices.  By examining agriculture, rural development, land, drought, desertification and Africa, with a special focus on small island developing States, the Commission could contribute significantly to understanding the platform upon which to build a global response to the food crisis and to climate change.


The Commission’s sixteenth session could not be better timed or better focused, he continued, adding that its discussions would certainly influence the international effort, over the next few months, to devise a concrete and comprehensive action plan for food security, covering immediate needs, as well as medium- and long-term solutions.  The deliberations would also contribute to a sequence of upcoming efforts to secure political will, relevant policy measures and the financial resources needed to rise to the challenge, including the 20 May special session of the Economic and Social Council to consider the origins of and policy responses to the food crisis.  That would be followed in June by the emergency summit to be convened in Rome by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).


ILAN FLUSS (Israel), reporting on intersessional events organized by his country, said it had hosted an international conference on water technologies and environmental control in October 2007, which had attracted leading scientists and researchers from across the globe, many of whom were dedicating themselves to developing water-efficiency in order to launch a new green revolution in Africa.  The conference had been organized as a result of Israel’s awareness that more than 2 billion people around the world today either lacked access to sufficient quantities of water or their supplies were unfit to drink.  To meet the water-supply challenge, the public and private sectors needed to work in partnership to develop new water-supply technologies and invest in water infrastructure.  The outcomes from the conference would be shared in the next week, during the review of the Commission’s water and sanitation decisions.


He said his country had also organized, in partnership with the United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs, an international capacity-building workshop entitled “Combating Desertification and Promoting Sustainable Development in Dry Land Areas”, in December 2007.  Designed to collaborate with other countries in support of their national anti-desertification goals and to share experiences, know-how and technologies in preventing the impact of desertification, the conference had also focused on the sustainable development of drylands.  The countries represented had identified possible actions and different solutions, including the establishment of desertification-monitoring mechanisms; the uses of technologies like “GIS” (geographic information system) and “remote-sensing”; technologies for efficient water use; watershed management; afforestation; and capacity-building in policy and natural-resource management.  The conference had concluded that no one country could fight the onslaught of desertification on its own.


ELFRIEDE-ANNA MORE, Director of International Environmental Affairs and Water Management of Austria, reported on the outcome of the seventh Global Forum on Sustainable Energy, held last November in Vienna, saying the meeting had been convened under the theme “Energy efficiency for developing countries:  strong policies and new technologies”.  Among the salient points discussed in the various panels and round tables was the need for stepped-up efforts to share best practices in areas involving energy efficiency, especially the use of new technologies or renewable energy sources.  Participants had also discussed, among other things, the need to mainstream energy efficiency into development initiatives at all levels.  The best means to that end would be to place the matter within the purview of a specific United Nations agency.  Participants had also expressed support for increased South-South cooperation in the area of energy efficiency.


LIU TUO, Director-General of the National Bureau to Combat Desertification, State Forestry Administration of China, then reported on the outcome of the Beijing Conference on Combating Desertification, held in January and attended by nearly 300 representatives, including some 30 ministers.  Engaging in many interactive discussions, they had approved the “Beijing Statement” which stressed, among other things, that combating desertification and land degradation were key to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  Recommending the promulgation and implementation of policies and laws to help developing countries strengthen their capacities to deal with desertification and land degradation, it also underscored the importance of forests in preventing desertification and rehabilitating ecologically devastated lands, and highlighted the need to mobilize resources to further the anti-desertification cause.


JON HEIKKI AAS ( Norway), highlighting the conclusion of a recent Oslo policy conference that efforts to combat climate change must be based on people-centred activities, said his delegation would be sharing the results from that meeting.  Climate change had significantly raised the expected exposure of the world’s peoples to natural disasters, and there was a need to bring disaster risk reduction and climate change policies together.


Effective agreement on global climate change policies would be impossible to achieve in Copenhagen without the participation of developing countries, he said, stressing that it was particularly important that Africa, as the most vulnerable continent, be on board.  It was necessary for information on climate change to be addressed to the global South.  An integrated approach to climate change and disaster risk reduction must be mainstreamed into natural-resource and urban policy planning, with a focus on the situation of women and children.  It was also important to build on existing collaborative networks.  Governments and other actors at all levels should explore creative financing for those efforts, including drawing on the private sector.  It was imperative to act swiftly on climate change, disaster risk reduction and development.


KATHLEEN ABDALLA, Division for Sustainable Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, introduced the Secretary-General’s Overview on progress towards sustainable development (document E/CN.17/2008/2), noting that while under-nourishment rates had declined, poverty remained high.  A largely rural problem, efforts to reduce it should focus on rural-focused strategies while also implementing more urban strategies.  Increasing energy access for the poor remained a critical strategy for Africa and Asia, as climate change concerns had made the pursuit of cleaner and renewable energy ever more crucial in poverty-reduction measures.


She said countries were working through the Marrakech process to improve consumption and production patterns, noting also that there was mounting concern over the environmental and social impacts of the tourism industry.  While many countries had benefited from trade development, there had been growing pains which needed to be addressed.  International finance for health in the developing world had also increased, with 82 countries having reported that they were implementing national strategies -- an increase of 19 per cent in the last year.


CHRISTOPHER FLAVIN, President of Worldwatch Institute, an independent research organization known for its fact-based analysis of critical sustainable development issues, said that, according to some of the findings contained in the group’s “State of the World 2008” report on innovation for sustainable economies, the events of the past few months highlighted the need for bodies like the Commission to step up their efforts to ensure the international community met economic development goals and avoided a disastrous reversal.  The world faced the twin crises of spiralling food prices and deepening poverty in many regions.  At the same time, energy prices were at historic levels, with oil approaching $120 a barrel.


While it was easy to say that the current price spikes were temporary, it was clear that the world would perhaps never return to the stable food and commodity prices of the past, he warned.  Poverty was increasing, natural ecosystems were under serious threat and populations were growing.  Several huge emerging economies were about to enter periods of accelerated industrialization and high resource consumption.  “We face a true planetary emergency and we cannot continue acting as if it’s business as usual out there.”  It was clear that the world was failing to meet the sustainable development objectives set forth at the Commission’s inception and in the Millennium Development Goals.


Indeed, the real question was whether the international community could generate the political will to create sustainable economies, he said, noting the current market instabilities, under-investment in agriculture and rapidly worsening effects of climate change.  “This may be our last chance to address one of the greatest challenges humankind has ever faced.”  Worldwatch called for, among other things, increased investment in agriculture and the development of a new “energy economy”.  The real danger for the least developed countries lay not in coming up with the money to implement new technologies but in falling behind because they lacked human resources and skill capacities.


“We must embark in profound new directions if we are to avoid twin ecological and human catastrophes,” he stressed, calling on all stakeholders to harness the international cooperation and forum for dialogue for which the United Nations was so well known.  Everyone must work to minimize differences and maximize cooperation in order to move towards a sustainable global economy that would meet the needs of the world’s poorest people.


JOHN W. ASHE (Antigua and Barbuda), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the thematic cluster of issues on the session’s agenda were of paramount importance for developing countries, and called on the Commission seriously to consider and highlight the existing implementation gaps and constraints by setting appropriate policy options and practical measures in the next year.  Economic development, social development and environmental protection were mutually reinforcing and interrelated and while encouraging further development of the Commission’s sixteenth session matrix, care should be taken to keep it relevant and useful, particularly to developing countries.


He said the international community was facing new challenges including an international food crisis, a looming international financial and monetary crisis, the recent report of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, a stalled round of negotiations in the World Trade Organization, in addition to declining official development assistance in 2006 and 2007, and lagging momentum at the midpoint to the target date for achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  That confluence of “foreboding global circumstances” warranted a thorough review, as well as renewed and greatly strengthened efforts to enhance the implementation of Agenda 21, the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation and the Monterrey Consensus on Financing for Development.


Developing countries faced a situation whereby progress on implementation was lacking when the challenges to sustainable development, both old and new, were at their highest, he pointed out.  Developing countries’ adoption of the Johannesburg Plan had been stymied by their lack of means to implement it.  The Secretary-General’s report, while providing a picture of progress, was incomplete as it left out a review of the implementation gap and did not address the current and future impact of the global financial crisis, which was having the hardest impact on rural populations and the poor.  Greater progress on Millennium Goal 8 was necessary in order to make sufficient progress on implementing the Johannesburg Plan.  Next year’s policy session should address, among other things, new and old constraints to implementation issues with action-oriented policy recommendations addressing the shortfall in financial assistance and technology transfer.


SANJA ŠTIGLIC (Slovenia), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the Commission played a unique role within the United Nations system and needed the capacity to deliver ambitious results.  One of its added values was its integrated review of and decisions on different aspects of sustainable development.  As for its current agenda, agriculture and rural development were important issues in the 2003 Johannesburg Plan of Implementation.


She said the European Union had been stepping up its efforts to achieve internationally agreed development goals and, to that end, was tackling two major challenges in the agriculture and rural development areas:  looking more closely at the objectives of poverty eradication, food security and sustainable resource management; and taking into account the social, cultural and environmental impacts throughout the lifecycle of sustainable agricultural production.  With regard to sustainable development in Africa, the European Union considered several issues to be of key importance:  aid effectiveness, policy coherence, infrastructure development and the mainstreaming of gender issues, among others.


HAMED AL BAYATI (Iraq), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, emphasized the importance of implementing the international commitments contained in Agenda 21 and the Johannesburg Plan by relying on the Rio Principles, particularly the principle of equal but differentiated responsibilities.  In late October and early November 2007 the Arab countries had held a regional meeting in Cairo on issues of land deterioration in their region.  They had highlighted progress made in introducing important modifications of agricultural policies, aimed at activating the role of the private sector, reducing subsidies, increasing institutional development, modernizing privation policies and reinforcing investment in agricultural products and services.  Overall, improved use of technology had led to progressive increases in agricultural productivity and raised public awareness about the importance of food security.


Progress had also been made in providing potable water, although rural areas still needed improved services in sewerage, access to electricity, roads and transportation, he said.  Although the scarcity of water resources represented the main factor limiting agricultural expansion in the Arab region, there had been some progress in addressing the conditions resulting from drought, though they still needed to move beyond disaster-management methods.  The region had also achieved much in land development and improvement through integrated land and forest management, and was making huge efforts to confront desertification.  The Arab Group called on the international community to implement commitments made by Governments, with respect to Africa in particular, and to provide the support and investments needed to enable the continent to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.


MAHE TUPOUNIUA ( Tonga), speaking on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum, said agriculture and fisheries contributed to the livelihoods of many in the Pacific region and were central to sustainable rural development.  At the same time, however, the Pacific Islands were prone to natural disasters like cyclones, flash floods and droughts.  Furthermore, sea-level rise and temperature fluctuations caused by climate change had reduced the arable land and caused the loss of livelihoods, impacting food security and economic stability.  The limited arable land restricted the capacity to develop economies of scale in agriculture.


He said that, in order to address those and other challenges, including deforestation and drought, the Pacific Islands Forum would renew its call on development partners to further advance their efforts to implement the commitments made at the Monterrey International Conference on Financing for Development to dedicate 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product to official development assistance.  In addition, there was a need to scale up and improve the quality of aid and to facilitate improved and timely access to funding mechanisms.


ANGUS FRIDAY (Grenada), speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island Developing States, expressed support for the statement of the Group of 77 and China, saying the issues before the Commission were quite timely.  Pressures on land uses had increased because of climate change and desertification, while rising world food prices had exacerbated food insecurity.  Since “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste”, the current situation should galvanize the Commission’s work and lead it to consider profound transformative approaches to the issues confronting it.  Implementation, financing, technology transfer and national strategies should be the focus, as should past progress and past deficiencies.


The prognosis for a fragile environment had worsened, he continued, pointing out that economic prospects had deteriorated with the loss of local markets and the pressures exerted by global markets.  Those trends were exacerbated by the precipitous drop in official development assistance.  International financial institutions should go much further in recognizing the challenges facing small island developing States, which required more formal and practical arrangements to address their particular challenges.


HJALMAR W. HANNESSON (Iceland), reporting on the outcome of the High-level Round Table on International Cooperation for Sustainable Development in Caribbean Small Island Developing States, held in Barbados in late March, said participants had supported the need to strengthen the regional coordinating mechanism for implementing the Barbados Programme of Action and the Mauritius Strategy for small island developing States.  They had also welcomed the Island Growth Initiative presented by the Government of Iceland as a framework mechanism to advance its commitment to development cooperation with Caribbean small island partners.  Finally, the participants had identified such key areas of mutual interest as investment and the development of renewable energy resources, including geothermal sources; the sustainable and responsible use of marine resources; and the advancement of women in addition to, more broadly, greater attention to all gender issues.


JOHN M. MATUSZAK, Chief, Division of Sustainable Development and Multilateral Affairs, Office of Environmental Policy, Bureau of Oceans in the Division of Environment and Science of the United States Department of State, said there were many causes of the rising food crisis, including growing demand, devastating droughts and record-high fuel costs.  The current crisis was an emergency with long-term global challenges and the United States was responding accordingly.  It had provided more than half of all food aid worldwide in past years and the President had recently pledged to provide an additional $200 million to meet unanticipated needs.


Yet, the Commission and the international community must address ways to meet the long-term challenges in a sustainable way, he said.  Real-world solutions must be found to increase the food supply while protecting the environment and strengthening communities.  Solutions that would improve rural livelihoods and facilitate the most efficient use of land possible should be identified, shared, duplicated and adapted.  Mechanisms were needed for the exchange of information and ideas between scientists and decision-makers, and an enabling environment was necessary for the sustainable development of markets.


The United States was committed to finding scientific solutions that could be adapted to local conditions, he said.  In fact, American universities awarded more than 15,000 graduate degrees in agriculture, rural development and natural resource management every year.  Because scientific solutions were critical to increasing the productivity of agricultural lands, advantages from technological development should be used to stretch national and global resources.  However, the Commission should not duplicate the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change framework.


XHU LIEKE ( China) said that all countries were faced with the common challenges of achieving sustainable agricultural development, food security and economic growth.  The international community must, therefore, scale up investment in agriculture and strengthen their protection of existing forest resources to reduce land degradation and desertification.


It was incumbent upon all nations to step up their efforts to ensure “eco-security” around the globe, he said, noting that China’s most recent sustainable development plan placed emphasis on coordinated agricultural and rural development.  It also focused on tree planting and “green growth” as a means to secure sustainable growth and combat desertification and ecological degradation.


THOZI GWANYA ( South Africa), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said the review session should lay a firm basis for next year’s policy session.  It should be a constructive and action-oriented cycle aimed at producing positive outcomes, particularly for Africa.  It had been agreed in Johannesburg that the greatest challenge was the eradication of poverty, and while many developing countries had made significant progress in that regard, their actions were not equally matched by actions in the developed world to address unsustainable consumption and growth with their resulting impacts on natural resources.  Finance, technology transfer and capacity-building remained fundamental to the means of implementation in developing countries.  A comprehensive global science and technology agenda for development was also needed.


The link between peace and security on the one hand and sustainable development on the other made it clear that the challenges facing Africa were multidimensional and could not be addressed in isolation, he stressed.  The African Union had shown its sincere commitment to resolving African conflicts.  At the same time, the challenges to ending Africa’s economic marginalization stood at the heart of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the African renaissance to which the international community had made substantial commitments, including expanded and substantial debt relief, more foreign direct investment, improved terms of trade and greater access to markets in industrialized countries.


SADIR MITAL ( India) said the international community must focus on the special needs of Africa and the small island developing States.  India welcomed the Commission’s decision this year to consider the critical sustainable development challenges facing those regions, especially in areas such as combating land degradation and desertification.  The topics to be discussed this year were at the core of sustainable development for many countries including India, which welcomed the focus on agriculture.  For years the sector had been under-funded in many countries, even though it played such an important role in achieving sustainable development for all in line with the Millennium Declaration and other globally agreed development objectives.


RACHEL McCORMICK ( Canada) said a key strength of the Commission lay in its power as an “inclusive convening forum”.  Stakeholders had a crucial role to play in implementing Agenda 21 and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation.  Thematic profiles provided important opportunities to highlight policy and programme contributions, as well as relevant trends and emerging challenges.  Case studies allowed the sharing of specific information on concrete actions taken and progress made in implementation.  In fact, the case study database and the matrix provided a breadth of practical lessons learned to inform all future activities.  They also demonstrated the important roles played by Governments, intergovernmental organizations, civil society and major groups.  The Canadian delegation hoped the Commission, as the only global forum on sustainable development, would continue to play a vital role in convening practitioners, experts, decision-makers and major groups to advance sustainable development around the world.


AZIYAH MOHAMED ( Malaysia) said that since the 1990s, her country had prioritized sustainable development by emphasizing balanced growth while paying equal attention to economic development, a healthy environment and resource conservation.  While Malaysia had enjoyed substantial success in developing its rural agriculture sector and reducing both rural and urban poverty, much remained to be done to further reduce disparities that could have a negative impact on overall growth.  To that end, Governments should consider specific programmes in such areas as affordable housing, access to health care and improving public transportation, among others.  Finally, on climate change, Malaysia called for equal attention to challenges such as deforestation and biodiversity conservation.  Developing countries also needed help to strengthen their capacities to implement adaptation measures.


DANA A. KARTAKUSUMA, Special Adviser on Technology and Sustainable Development in the Ministry of Environment of Indonesia, aligned himself with the Group of 77 and China statement, saying that as the session began, attention should be drawn to the plight of the world’s “bottom billions”.  Poverty gripped the developing world, climate change was at hand and food and energy prices had been soaring for the past few years.  Those challenges highlighted the sustainable development imperative and suggested the session’s significance.


It was a fortuitous time to consider the central role of agriculture and rural development in reducing poverty and hunger, he said.  That role was more tangible than ever given the global food crisis.  Evidence showed that agriculture and rural development encouraged more effective land management, which in turn helped prevent the further spread of drought and desertification.  Yet, there were still notable gaps and challenges, and the session should endeavour to provide concrete recommendations for next year’s policy session.  The United Nations should examine ways to lead an integrated response to the global food crisis, which should be seen as a signal of the need to promote and implement a global resource-saving movement.  The response should include a new global “Green Revolution”.  In addition, there was a need to promote and strengthen the protection of marine and ocean recourse, which were also considered food sources.  Exploring alternative energy was also an urgent priority.


NIKOLAY CHULKOV ( Russian Federation) said the Commission was embarking on the consideration of important and complex issues during this current cycle.  A good underpinning to the discussions was provided by the report of the Secretary-General, especially regarding desertification and agricultural development.  In its deliberations, the Commission should always be mindful of the outcomes of the 2005 World Summit and the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development.


For its part, Russia was working hard to ensure that the Johannesburg goals were central to its sustainable and rural development policies, he said.  During the Commission’s current session, the Russian Federation would stand ready to share its experience in key areas, including agricultural development, land use and drought and desertification.


PENNY RACE ( New Zealand), emphasizing that every country faced the challenge of implementing sustainable polices, called for an increased pace towards implementation of the Johannesburg Plan and other sustainable development strategies, especially for the small island developing States.  New Zealand welcomed the opportunity for stakeholders to share their experiences, both those that had been successful and those that had run up against challenges.  For its own part, New Zealand had instigated an international research effort in certain climate change issues and was committed to translating its commitments into sustainable policies.


EDUARDO PORRETTI (Argentina), associating himself with the Group of 77 statement, except the paragraph on occupied territories, said the Secretary-General’s report and others had made scarce reference to the desertification issues facing Latin America, although it was a problem in that region and deserved more attention.  In addition, there had been no reference to the agricultural subsidies and commercial practices that distorted international trade -- an omission that should also be remedied.  If there was no reference to subsidies, it was difficult to talk about the issue of eradicating poverty.  Argentina noted the call made earlier in the morning advocating sustainable production and consumption and patterns, an issue that it would be interested in examining.


MARGARET SANGARWE ( Zimbabwe) said many African countries and peoples were trapped in poverty and depended on fragile natural resources for their survival.  Indeed, for many of them, the prospects for achieving the Millennium Development Goals remained dim, especially in light of the continuing ravages of HIV/AIDS and other diseases.  Further, lack of access to modern energy sources, clean water and proper sanitation also hindered economic growth.  The spiralling food and commodity prices would only make matters worse, particularly for those African countries struggling with the effects of global warming.  With all that in mind, Zimbabwe called for concerted global action to address climate change with the urgency it deserved, and for developed countries to assist their developing and least developed partners in areas such as technology and capacity-building.


MOHAMMED ABDUL ALIM ( Bangladesh) said the Commission’s session was taking place during “troubling and ominous” times, when people in some parts of the world rushed to fill their gas tanks while others participated in riots to fill their stomachs.  That situation was further exacerbated by spiralling fuel prices and violent fluctuations in weather sparked by global warming.  Experts were predicting that the situation would only worsen unless the international community acted quickly.  The food crisis provided an opportunity to address the global agricultural architecture and the Commission’s current session was a key forum in which to discuss a comprehensive response.


FRANÇOIS PYTHOUD (Switzerland) said that, while much progress had been made towards attaining the Millennium Development Goals -- notably in Latin America and Asia -- there were still possibilities of backsliding against which the international community must remain on guard even while securing future success.


“Business as usual is over,” he said, citing the words of World Bank President Robert Zoellick and stressing that global agriculture must respond to growing demands.  Developing countries must be given priority in that effort and strategies should focus on more productive and durable systems of agriculture.  Land and water policies were essential in that context.  The topics at hand affected a growing number of developing countries, notably in Africa.  While the continent was the most vulnerable to climate change, it also had the greatest potential for agricultural growth.  In light of the world food crisis, it was important to ensure concrete multilateral action and enhance the Commission’s weight in the United Nations system.


Mr. FLUSS ( Israel) said the large attendance at today’s meeting in particular, and wide participation in the session generally, indicated the urgent need for action on sustainable development.  Sitting and waiting was not an option.  To that end, Israel was interested in creating partnerships on information exchange.  Israel urged delegations not to politicize the Commission’s during the session.


AMMAR M.B. HIJAZI, observer for Palestine, noted that the Palestinian people faced the unenviable challenge of trying to ensure sustainable development while living under occupation.  Having no control over their own land, natural resources or even movement, it was exceedingly difficult if not impossible for them to make advances in the areas of agriculture or rural development.


Calling on the Commission to ensure that the needs of the Palestinian people and others living under occupation were not forgotten, he said their situation was being exacerbated by the imposition of roadblocks and other punitive measures which had severely impacted food security in the occupied territory.  Development could not coexist with hegemony and occupation, and Palestine called on the Commission to ensure that the voices of people under occupation were heard.


A representative of workers and trade unions said an effective session required taking the situation of farmers into account and paying attention to the International Labour Organization (ILO) agenda on decent work.  Farmers were subjected to low salaries and terrible working conditions which threatened their health.  The fate of agricultural workers, 116,000 of whom died every year, should be respected.


A representative of women’s groups said a majority of agricultural work was carried out by women, but they were often not recognized as farmers.  They were invisible and their voices were not heard.  The focus on climate change issues should not ignore the special vulnerabilities of women farmers, who should be at the centre of investment, not only because of their high levels of knowledge, but also because, without that investment, success in achieving the Millennium Goals would be unlikely.


A representative of the Youth Caucus said intergenerational forums were powerful examples of integrated morals.  If armed with education and technology, today’s youth would be ready to contribute to the success of sustainable development strategies.  If the very people most affected by the decisions of policymakers were ignored, the Commission’s work would be for naught.


A representative of indigenous peoples noted that the indigenous lifestyles, having proven highly resilient and sustainable over time, should serve as examples of how to pursue policies that did not harm the earth.  Agro-fuels, chemicals and pesticides compounded local environmental degradation while enriching corporations.  Indigenous peoples should participate fully and actively in discussions on sustainable development and all Member States had the responsibility to implement the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.


A representative of non-governmental organizations urged the Commission to address the current food and commodity crises not as a short-term phenomenon but as a chronic condition affecting the sustainable development of billions of people worldwide.  The Commission must examine the root causes of the crises and promote the international community’s “deep reflection” on ways to reverse their negative impacts, now and in the future.


A representative of cities and local authorities stressed the importance of focusing on urban development, water and sanitation.  The Commission must consider urgent actions and policy options in such areas as land and water management and meeting agricultural demand in the rapidly urbanizing global environment.


A representative of business and industry, noting that agricultural demand was growing faster than agricultural production, said sustainable and environmentally responsible agriculture must be the international community’s overriding goal.  In addition, diversity was necessary to address the needs of groups remaining on the fringes of the global market and help farmers adjust quickly to rapid price fluctuations or changes in consumption patterns.  The Commission must help the world move closer to sustainable agricultural development.


A representative of the scientific and technological community called for increased efforts to provide good science and sound technologies to farmers in “very diverse economic and ecological situations”, voicing concern that small farm holders were often forgotten in discussions about knowledge sharing and technological advances.  That issue must be addressed urgently, especially in light of the increasingly devastating impact of global warming on small farmers in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world.


A representative of the farmers’ major group said that, as the current food and commodities pricing crisis captivated news headlines, it appeared that agriculture was at the top of the international development agenda after years of neglect.  Farmers were part of the solution.  “We need a new long-term plan, based on farmer-centred development,” she said, stressing that farmers were ready and willing to work with Governments and other stakeholders to address pressing food security, rural/urban development and environmental protection issues.


Panel Discussions


In one of two parallel panel discussions in the afternoon, the Commission considered the regional dimensions of the work of its sixteenth session, focusing on Africa and Western Asia.  The discussion featured presentations of the outcomes of regional implementation meetings and interactive dialogue focusing, in particular, on region-specific barriers and constraints, as well as lessons learned and best practices, based on regional experiences and next steps.


Commission Chairman Francis Nehma of Zimbabwe headed up the Africa discussion, and Vice-Chair Tri Tharyat of Indonesia chaired the discussion on Western Asia.


The panellists leading off the Africa discussion were:  Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD); Alioune Badiane, Director of the Regional Office for Africa and Arab States, United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat); and Sally Bunning, Technical Officer, Land and Water Division, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).


Opening the discussion on Africa, Mr. GNACADJA said that the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) had estimated that desertification was costing Africa some $9 billion a year.  It was time for the international community to help out by, among other ways, assisting Africa’s effort to improve the productivity of its drylands.  Africa was home to about one fifth of the Earth’s drylands, so small investments could yield big rewards.  The current food and commodity pricing crisis could provide an opportunity to start turning the challenge of drylands into positive action.


Drylands were not about desperation, as many people thought -- they were about opportunity.  Rehabilitating Africa’s drylands and arid areas could offset the impacts of desertification caused by climate change and could actually curb the overall effects of global warming.  Programmes to improve soil productivity must be included in sustainable development initiatives, he said.


Mr. BADIANE said that the issues being discussed at the current Commission session were critical concerns for Africa.  Every day, as the food pricing crisis worsened, global media brought news of riots in African cities and political instability across the continent.  With this in mind, UN-Habitat believed that there was no sustainable development without sustainable urban development.  While the continent was certainly largely agriculture-based, agriculture was linked to markets, and those markets were in large towns and cities, he said.  There was also a need to help African countries build their capacities to promulgate and implement land management policies.


The next speaker, Ms. BUNNING, spotlighted the unprecedented challenges developing countries faced in light of escalating food prices, dwindling agricultural investment and degradation of arable lands.  There was, therefore, a need to place greater attention on sustainable land management and on finding ways to provide incentives for farmers and other land users to protect and restore soil, reduce deforestation, and protect fragile water sources.  All this called for scaled up investment and capacity-building to help farmers and others overcome institutional barriers.  Balanced land policies focused on rural-urban linkages were also needed.


During the interactive discussion, representatives of United Nations agencies and other intergovernmental organizations, as well as representatives of Government delegations, civil society and other major groups shared their experiences.  They stressed that sustainable development remained elusive for many African countries and that poverty was still a major challenge, especially for the sub-Saharan region.  The continent was also challenged by serious environmental threats, including desertification, deforestation and climate change, key issues being considered by the Commission this year.


With all this in mind, the speakers generally agreed that Africa needed to be urgently -- and equitably -- integrated into markets for goods and services.  They also called for more attention to be paid to gender mainstreaming, especially in increasing women’s participation in areas concerning rural/urban growth, water and sanitation.  There were also calls for increasing Africa’s agricultural crop diversity, as well as enhanced intra-African information-sharing and trade.  In addition, managing shared water and other natural resources, tackling and addressing climate change, including through adaptation, were also highlighted.


The panellists for the West Asia discussion were:  Djamel Echirk, General Inspector for the Environment, Ministry of Land Habilitation, Environment and Tourism, Algeria; Khaled Abdul Aziz Al Charea, Director, Land Safety, General Authority for Environmental Affairs, Ministry of Local Administration and Environment, Syria; and Carol Chouchani Cherfane, Acting Team Leader, Technology and Enterprise Development Team in the Sustainable Development and Productivity Division of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).


Mr. ECHIRK said that, despite the significant development progress that had been made in Western Asia over the past two decades, the region still faced hurdles brought on by its booming population, scarce water resources and, in some cases, overlapping or ill-planned agriculture programmes and initiatives.  He stressed that desertification was affecting all countries in the region and was compounding poverty.


At the same time, a number of regional and subregional projects were being set up to boost early warning systems and mechanisms in that area.  He also noted that war and political instability in the region were leading to the pollution of coastal areas and destruction of arable lands.  Such instability was also a major hindrance for investing, he added.


The next speaker, Mr. AL CHAREA said that dry areas covered some 23 per cent of the entire region, and the Eastern Mediterranean areas had experienced extended droughts during the 1990s that had cut production of both crops and animal resources there by some 40 per cent.  Aridity, rainfall variability and drought would definitely have an adverse impact on land productivity, enhancing the process of erosion, degrading plant cover and other desertification features.


Ms. CHERFANE stressed the importance of identifying ways to support rural development.  To that end, ESCWA had learned that organic agriculture had potential, but that improving the avenues for indigenous and traditional populations to get their goods into global markets was a sure way to boost economic growth from the micro-level up.  Facilitating technology transfer and capacity-building in the use of appropriate and affordable technologies, through pilot projects, for example, was also important.  Policies, programmes and projects must also target women and children, she added.


When the floor was opened, several speakers stressed that, despite the multitude of research institutions working on desertification throughout he region, there was nevertheless a real need for demand-driven research endeavours to address the urgent and pending constraints of management of available resources and its sustainable development.  The need for bridging the gap between research findings and actual and efficient implementation was also emphasized.  Some speakers highlighted the persistence of conflict and lack of security in the region, which forced the diversion of resources that could be used to address drought, desertification and even global warming concerns.  In that regard, a few speakers called for more focus on the degradation of occupied lands.


The second panel, in which Commission members considered agriculture, chaired by Melanie Santizo-Sandoval of Guatemala, featured presentations by invited panellists and an interactive discussion.


The panellists were Per Pinstrup-Anderson, former Director-General of the International Food Policy Research Institute and Professor of Food, Nutrition and Public Policy at Cornell University; Gregory A. Ruark, Director of the United States Department of Agriculture National Agroforestry Center; Tianzhi Ren of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences; and Erick Fernandez, Land Management Adviser for the World Bank’s Agriculture and Rural Development Department.


KATHLEEN ABDALLA, Division for Sustainable Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on agriculture (document E/CN.17/2008/3), noting that news reports of skyrocketing food prices, which had spurred riots even as countries suspended wheat and rice exports, echoed the report’s major theme -- that agriculture was ever more important for sustainable development.  Covering hunger, poverty and food security issues, as well as agriculture and rural development, the report concluded by identifying continuing challenges, foremost among which was the pressure that future population growth, particularly in the developing world, would exert on agriculture.  In that light, the renewed focus on agriculture by Governments and non-governmental organizations was encouraging.  Yet not all countries faced equal challenges, and many risked being left behind.  Those facing the most difficult challenges, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, often had the fewest resources with which to respond.  The report should provide a solid foundation for the session’s work.


Mr. PINSTRUP-ANDERSON, leading the interactive discussion, said the eradication of poverty and hunger was inextricably linked with natural-resource management and the two should be tackled in tandem.  Given that 75 per cent of the world’s poorest people lived in rural areas and were often farmers, agriculture was of key importance to poverty-eradication strategies.  The big risk associated with the current food crisis was that Governments and the private sector, including farmers, would ignore sustainability.


Certainly that had been true in the past, but the detrimental environmental impacts could get considerably worse if food production became the overriding goal, he said.  In fact, while it might be politically incorrect to say, small farmers often worked in ways that degraded the environment.  Given that and other factors, natural-resource management issues must be dealt with in a sensitive way that also corresponded to agricultural policy.  Unless agriculture was in the forefront of sustainable development discussions, the goals before the Commission would not be achieved.  Furthermore, the current trend towards growing foodstuffs for the creation of biofuels was “a terrible idea”.


Mr. RUARK said agriculture had a widespread effect on society, not only in terms of the food grown, but also because of the “downstream” effects of land-use policies and the use of fertilizers and other chemicals.  Conversely, when an area was developed or urbanized, the environmental effects had a real impact on the rural areas, particularly in terms of the watershed system and streams and rivers that became more prone to flooding.  Thus, agricultural policy should not be limited to rural areas but carried out through integrated techniques.  Given the limits on different agricultural resources, conservation was needed now more than ever.


Mr. REN, noting that China was feeding 21 per cent of the world’s population with only 9 per cent of its farmland, said the country nevertheless faced many challenges, including the disappearance of farmlands and the destruction caused by natural disasters.  In addition, small farmers faced difficulty in squeezing profits from their lands, and the pace of urbanization added to all those pressures.  The Chinese Government had been paying particular attention to agriculture generally, particularly grain production, as a central part of China’s contribution to world food security.


Mr. FERNANDEZ, summarizing the findings of the World Development Report published by the World Bank 2007, stressed that 75 per cent of the world’s poor were farmers.  The study, which focused on transforming, agriculture-based and urbanized countries, concluded that agriculture had three main functions for sustainable development strategies:  it was a sector for growth; it was a source of livelihoods; and it played a key role in natural-resource management.  Agriculture was a clear driver of gross domestic product growth and, although it was rarely discussed, African economies were growing as they improved their agricultural sectors.


In fact, growth from agriculture was especially effective for poverty reduction, he continued, noting that it benefited the income of the poor at rates two to three times higher than general gross domestic product growth.  In the future, agriculture surrounding high-value products -- like “functional foods”, which provided health benefits -- would become increasingly important.  Fortunately, they were quite accessible to small-holding farmers.  In addition, a sharp focus should be directed towards fixing “degraded” lands, which could be rehabilitated to produce higher-value foods and lumber and to support livestock.


In the ensuing discussion, representatives addressed questions of hunger, poverty and food security; trends and prospects in agricultural production and consumption; production and supply challenges and impacts on prices; and climate change, desertification and agriculture.


The representative of Antigua and Barbuda, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, summarized much of what had been said by the more than 30 participants, stressing that agriculture could not be de-linked from the issues of rural development, land, drought, desertification and Africa.  An integrated approach was needed to address them all.  In addition, fundamental changes in the production and consumption patterns were indispensable in achieving global sustainable development, and developed countries should take the lead.


The representative of the Netherlands, hailing the rediscovery of agriculture as a main driver of economic development and poverty alleviation, stressed the need for both short- and long-term solutions.  Safety nets and food aid were important short-term solutions in emergencies, but given the current food crisis, more investment in agricultural productivity and trade liberalization were needed.


Many delegates emphasized the role of limited resources in hampering the ability of the agricultural sector to grow in ways that could help eradicate poverty.  The representative of Djibouti, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said that, while agriculture was the backbone of the continent’s economy, accounting for about 20 per cent of its gross domestic product, the region was nevertheless unable to achieve maximum benefit from the agricultural sector due to limited access to food and basic amenities.


The representative of Iran, noting the crucial importance of water in agriculture policy, said agriculture accounted for 70 to 80 per cent of the use of the global water supply.  Drought and desertification continued to pose serious threats to agricultural lands and economies, while unsustainable agricultural practices expanded desert areas.  Iran was tapping traditional irrigation and water transportation systems to enhance productivity.


Several delegates pointed to ways in which international policies -– particularly the international trade system -– impacted agriculture.  Australia’s representative emphasized, as other delegates had done, that a successful conclusion of the Doha Round was a central part of remedying widespread food insecurity.  Argentina’s representative said access to markets and market liberalization were critical, yet they would only be possible if countries were given increased access to geographically advantageous markets.  Distorted markets currently meant that developing countries faced constraints in harnessing their agricultural sector to drive economic growth.


A number of speakers felt that other market distortions were the result of the increased focus on producing biofuels, and there were widespread calls for the inclusion of a debate on biofuels versus food production as a key part of the Commission’s discussions.


Mr. PINSTRUP-ANDERSON, responding to matters arising from the discussion, emphasized that the reason so many small farmers were currently net-food buyers rather than suppliers was that they lacked sufficient resources to produce food with which to feed themselves and their families while leaving enough surplus to sell.  Farmers needed reasonable food prices for what they were producing in order to become net-food suppliers.


Mr. RUARK noted that, during the 12 days of the session, about a quarter of a million people would be added to the world’s population -- a fact that, in emphasizing the challenge of, and tension between, demand and supply, reinforced the importance of the Commission’s work.


Mr. FERNANDEZ stressed the critical importance of increasing agricultural yields both on a North-South axis and in the South-South relationship.


Ms. SANTIZO-SANDOVAL ( Guatemala) summed up the topics raised, stressing that agriculture should be seen in the context of sustainable development, taking particular note of its role in eradicating poverty.  Agriculture was also being significantly affected by climate change and the challenges posed by that would be critical in shaping agricultural policies.


The panel will conclude its discussion on agriculture and rural development at 3 p.m. Tuesday, 6 May.


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*     The 1st Meeting was covered in Press Release ENV/DEV/938 of 11 May 2007.


For information media • not an official record