14 May 2008
Economic and Social Council
ENV/DEV/984

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

Commission on Sustainable Development

Sixteenth Session

16th & 17th Meetings (AM & PM)


AT HIGH-LEVEL SEGMENT OF COMMISSION ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT, SECRETARY-GENERAL


CALLS FOR ‘SECOND GREEN REVOLUTION’ TO FEED BURGEONING WORLD POPULATION


With senior ministers gathered in New York for high-level talks on sustainable development, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called today for a “second green revolution” that would embrace innovative agricultural methods, produce enough food to feed the burgeoning global population, and promote eco-friendly urban and rural development, especially in Africa.


“The onset of the current food crisis has highlighted the fragility of our success in feeding the world's growing population with the technologies of the first green revolution and subsequent agricultural improvements,” Mr. Ban said as he opened the three-day high-level segment of the annual meeting of the Commission on Sustainable Development, which included a ministerial debate and parallel round table discussions on, respectively, investing in Africa’s development, and links connecting the Commission’s thematic issues, including adaptation to climate change.


“After a quarter century of relative neglect, agriculture is back on the international agenda, sadly with a vengeance,” the Secretary-General said, noting that the current surge in food and commodity prices had been spotlighted during the Commission’s review, which has focused on “extremely relevant and timely” topics -– agriculture, rural development, land, drought, desertification and Africa -– including the specific challenges facing small island developing States.


He pointed out that productivity growth had fallen, once-fertile soils were now overworked, water shortages were commonplace and farmland was being used for other purposes or was degraded.  “Agriculture needs reinvigorating,” he said, adding:  “We need to work together to develop a new generation of technologies and farming methods which make possible a second green revolution, one which permits sustainable yield improvements with minimal environmental damage and contributes to sustainable development goals.” 


The challenge of boosting agricultural productivity was nowhere more pressing than in Africa, which had been largely by-passed by the first green revolution, he said.  “Now, the time has come to work for an African green revolution.  It is urgently needed to feed a rapidly growing population, to improve nutrition and health, and, in the process, to accelerate progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.”


Among the more than 30 high-level Government representatives taking part in the debate, Gerda Verburg, Minister for Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality of the Netherlands, said the global food crisis, climate change and surging energy needs required a renewed focus on sustainable agriculture, especially in Africa.  That should include sharing knowledge, developing production chains, supporting local and regional markets and providing more market access for products from developing countries.  Criteria for sustainable production must be developed, and initiatives such as the round tables on sustainable soy and palm oil cultivation supported.


Governments should take a leading role in fostering innovative sustainable technologies in all areas, she said.  Public-private partnerships, sustainable production chains, suitable trade relations, corporate responsibility and improved consumption and production patterns were also crucial.  There must be greater efforts to ensure that the Doha Round of trade negotiations was successful and focused on development.  Biomass must be used for energy purposes, but only if produced in a sustainable manner and at the same time as other types of renewable energy were pursued.  With the world facing such enormous challenges, political guidance, commitment and action were crucial, she added.


Taking those ideas even further, Grenada’s representative, who spoke on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, said that dispatching workers and shifting grain for humanitarian aid to address current challenges in the short term was merely applying a “band aid” to an underlying disease -- unsustainable production and consumption patterns.  Unbridled consumption and overexploitation, coupled with wasteful habits, had fuelled global warming, leading to droughts, floods and extreme weather that had destabilized water supplies and food production. 


“Sometime during the past century, we stopped being citizens and became consumers,” he said.  “We must address the patterns of production and consumption that are appropriate for a world that is heading towards a population of some nine billion people.”  In a time of interrelated crises, the international community needed to turn obstacles into opportunities, by, among others, negotiating fairly on a post-Kyoto Protocol climate change agreement; ramping up investment in renewable energy and research; and halting agricultural subsidies so more food and clean fuel production could take place in Africa, the small island States and the least developed countries.


Opening the roundtable on investing in Africa’s development, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro said investment meant much more than money in the bank or property that could be sold at a profit.  The best investment in a society’s future was not a line on a balance sheet; it was a child in a classroom.  Education was closely correlated with economic growth, smaller family size, greater health and wealth.  African families, like families everywhere, wanted badly to educate their children, but could not always afford to do so.


Investing in people by providing them with proper education, health care and other basic social services was critical to the continent’s advancement, she stressed.  “The first investment is in the next generation; ensuring that children have all the protections that they deserve […] this is especially true in countries ravaged by HIV/AIDS -- and there are far too many in Africa.”


Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, who opened the panel discussion on the Commission’s thematic issues, looked at sustainable development challenges through the lens of food security, emphasizing that a comprehensive, long-term response to the current food crisis must be supported by an in-depth consideration of the links among agriculture, rural development, land, drought and desertification.


It was clear that the global neglect of agriculture in past decades had carried a high cost, leaving the agriculture sector in disrepair around the world, as a result of which productivity had dwindled, he said.  Moreover, given the current high prices of production, agriculture might not be able to respond quickly enough to the growing demand for higher levels of production.  The development of biofuels on the demand side was another reason for those high prices, and there was a need to develop frameworks for biofuel production.  The key to long-term food security was a coherent, integrated and multipronged strategy.


In a sombre refrain throughout the day, delegates and other speakers expressed their sympathy to the respective Governments and people of Myanmar and China in the wake of two natural disasters which had caused widespread damage and massive suffering in both countries.  Secretary-General Ban said the events were “a call to our common humanity, and [underscored] our challenge to work for improved lives for all people”.


In other business today, the representative of Antigua and Barbuda, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, presented that bloc’s comments on Part I of the Chairman’s Summary of the Commission’s work during its sixteenth session, which had been introduced and remarked upon by other delegations yesterday.


Ministers from Slovenia (on behalf of the European Union), Thailand, Finland, Hungary, Lithuania, Austria, Costa Rica, Saudi Arabia, Barbados, Montenegro, South Africa, Mauritius, Ghana, Germany, Israel, Congo, Croatia, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Namibia also spoke.


Other speakers were deputy ministers from China, Republic of Korea, Viet Nam, Portugal and Egypt.


A senator from Kazakhstan also addressed the Commission.


Also making statements were representatives of Tonga (on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States), Bangladesh (on behalf of the least developed countries), Ireland, Côte d’Ivoire and Norway.


Willem-Alexander Clause George Ferdinand, Prince of Orange ( Netherlands), participated in the panel on Africa’s development in his capacity as Chairman of the Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation.


The Commission on Sustainable Development will reconvene at 10 a.m. Thursday, 15 May, for a high-level plenary meeting and an interactive discussion with United Nations agencies.


Background


As the Commission on Sustainable Development opened the high-level segment of its sixteenth session this morning, it was expected to here ministerial statements on the way forward regarding its thematic cluster of issues:  agriculture, rural development, land, drought, desertification and Africa.  In the afternoon, it was expected to hold parallel panel discussions on, respectively, Africa’s efforts to meet the targets set forth in the Millennium Declaration, and the links connecting all the issues on the current agenda.


Secretary-General’s Opening Remarks


BAN KI-MOON, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said the Commission was meeting at a time of profound concern and painful loss.  Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar and the earthquake in south-west China had caused massive suffering.  “It is a call to our common humanity, and underscores our challenge to work for improved lives for all people.”


He said the Commission’s current review focused on extremely relevant and timely topics in the collective quest for sustainable development, including the specific challenges facing the small island developing States, and progress towards implementing the global water and sanitation agenda.  While it was now time for the Commission to reflect on its deliberations and the implications for its policy discussion in the coming year, in the meantime, the international community was facing some pressing problems which would need to be addressed right away.


After a quarter century of relative neglect, agriculture was back on the international agenda, sadly, with a vengeance, he said, noting that the onset of the current food crisis highlighted the fragility of the world’s success in feeding growing populations with the technologies of the first “green revolution” and subsequent agricultural improvements.  “Agriculture needs reinvigorating.  Productivity growth has been slowing for some time.  Soils are becoming depleted and less fertile, water is growing scarcer in many places, and good agricultural land is being lost to other uses and to degradation,” he said.  Public investment in agriculture, including donor support, had been on a downward trend; yet public investment had proven crucial to launching and sustaining the first green revolution.


He recalled that, just two weeks ago, he had created the Task Force on the Global Food Crisis to spearhead urgent, concerted and sustained action by the United Nations system, in cooperation with other key actors, to address immediate food needs and the medium- and long-term challenge of boosting agricultural production to feed the world's growing population.  “We need to work together to develop a new generation of technologies and farming methods which make possible a second green revolution, one which permits sustainable yield improvements with minimal environmental damage and contributes to sustainable development goals.”


With renewed support for agriculture and rural development, he continued, the international community would need to prepare agricultural systems for the effects of climate change, which was predicted to have negative impacts on agricultural and land productivity in many parts of the tropics, especially Africa and South Asia.  Furthermore, small island developing States faced special challenges with respect to climate change.  Freshwater resources and land suitable for agriculture were already scarce in many small islands, and sea-level rise, coastal erosion and saltwater intrusion would worsen those scarcities.


With all that in mind, research was needed on a variety of adaptation technologies, including better adapted crop varieties and agricultural techniques, especially for the most affected regions of the world, he said.  In coming decades, water stress was likely to become more severe in many places already facing scarcity, which meant that improved methods of water conservation and use would be needed.  Drought and desertification were likely to worsen, and investments would be needed to slow and even reverse the latter where possible.


Noting the recent re-emergence of biofuels as a response to climate change and concerns over energy security, he cautioned:  “We need to study carefully both the potentials and the risks of biofuels.  Most would agree, I think, that we need to ensure that policies promoting biofuels are consistent with maintaining food security and achieving sustainable development goals.”  The challenge of boosting agricultural productivity was nowhere more pressing than in Africa, which had been largely by-passed by the first green revolution.  Now the time had come to work for an African green revolution, which was urgently needed to feed a rapidly growing population, improve nutrition and health, and, in the process, accelerate progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.


Recalling his recent convening of the MDG Africa Steering Group as an initiative to mobilize international financial and development organizations in support of achieving the targets in Africa, he said one of its key recommendations was to support the launching of an African green revolution within the framework of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).  The private sector, foundations and civil society need to be mobilized behind that effort, and some major philanthropic foundations -– notably the Gates and Rockefeller foundations -– had already taken the lead in supporting the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.


The international community would need to support Africa's sustainable development in the spirit of the global partnership agreed upon at the 2002 Monterrey International Conference on Financing for Development.  Not only must official development assistance be increased in line with donor commitments and made more effective, but conditions must be created for substantially increased private investment flows to the continent.


With regard to the water and sanitation agenda, he noted that the Commission had devoted considerable attention to reviewing the decisions it had taken at its thirteenth session.  It was clear that progress was still too slow to meet Millennium Goal 7 on environmental sustainability targets, which would hold back progress towards achieving the other Goals involving poverty, nutrition and health.  It was therefore important that the Commission find ways to accelerate the implementation of the decisions taken at the thirteenth session.  In that regard, delegates had rightly stressed the need for greater public awareness; increased funding, not least to guarantee affordable water and sanitation for the poor; and the incorporation of a gender perspective into the water and sanitation agenda.


In closing, he stressed that the stakes of this cycle of the Commission's work were high.  Solutions could not wait.  The world was looking for concrete action and new ideas on how to tackle the formidable challenges of the months and years ahead.  “This Commission can and should offer both,” he said, adding that the present session could serve as a key step in the sequence of international efforts to create a comprehensive action plan for food security, in addition to next week’s Economic and Social Council special session on the origins of the current crisis and policy responses, and next month’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) high-level conference on world food security in Rome.


Statements


JOHN ASHE (Antigua and Barbuda), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, reaffirmed the Group’s support for implementation of the outcomes of various United Nations conferences on economic and social development, including Agenda 21 and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation.  Yet, addressing the gaps and constraints in implementing those frameworks was critical to identifying the way forward.  The themes for this year’s review session -– agriculture, rural development, land, drought, desertification and Africa –- assumed great relevance that had perhaps been unforeseen when they had been decided in 2003.  Today, the world faced a global food crisis, an international financial and monetary crisis, unprecedented climate change, deadlocked negotiations in the World Trade Organization, and declining official development assistance.  Those factors were challenging national Governments as they sought to implement sustainable development plans.


Without means of implementation, sustainable development plans and strategies would remain words on a page, he said.  In order to move forward, the implementation gap in trade, finance, technology transfer, capacity-building, education and scientific research must be closed.  Through appropriate mechanisms such as the Convention to Combat Desertification and the Global Environment Facility, the international community should intensify its support to developing countries in the fields of rural development, sustainable land management, agricultural development, adaptation to drought, and combating desertification and land degradation.


Recent developments had altered the geography of trade as the south’s contribution had increased, but globalization and the evolution of technology had made asymmetries more pronounced, he said.  That trend had particularly marginalized rural communities in Africa and other parts of the developing world that were heavily dependent on agriculture, raising tensions over scarce resources and increasing land use stresses.  Such systemic external factors must be addressed in a fundamental way.  Access to developed world markets must be accompanied by capacity-building and technology transfer aimed at increasing productivity and competitiveness.  National reforms aimed at improving governance should be matched by a series of vital changes in the international system.  Implementation had been the Achilles heel of the global development agenda.  The Commission remained the only intergovernmental forum regularly to review Agenda 21 and advance progress at a high political level.  Its future work should be dynamic and remain seized of areas where progress was lacking.


ISTOK JARC, Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Food of Slovenia, speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said it was important to take social, economic, cultural and environmental aspects into account throughout the cycle of agricultural and food production, including the use of sustainable agricultural standards and technologies.  The preservation of biodiversity and the sustainable use of natural resources were also crucial.  As the largest importer of agricultural products from developing countries, the European Union supported improved market access for them.  Its support activities included “Aid for Trade” programmes, sharing best practices and training.  The Union also aimed to adapt production capacities to market demands and set high environmental standards.  Through reforms, it had largely decoupled income support from production, and significantly shifted direct payments to rural development.


Addressing the challenges of preserving natural resources, sustainable land use and soil protection, he also pointed out the need to strengthen knowledge about climate change, desertification and drought, and enhance the role of specialized institutions.  The 10-year strategy of the Convention to Combat Desertification provided a framework for implementation in that regard.  The European Union advocated enhancing the competitiveness of African agriculture and food production as part of national, regional and global development efforts.  The new Africa-European Union Joint Strategy was the political framework for future cooperation.  Moreover, European Union Aid for Trade initiatives would reach €2 billion per year from 2010 onwards.


Regarding the review of decisions on water and sanitation, he said that, despite some progress, additional efforts were needed, especially in the field of sanitation.  Existing monitoring and follow-up processes should be strengthened, and it was crucial to integrate climate change adaptation into policies and international water resources management plans.  As for the world food crisis, its background was manifold, but, unfortunately, it was exacerbated in many countries by poor Government policies.  Millions of people were now relying on food aid and there was a constant flow of refugees into surrounding countries.  Hopefully, Zimbabwe would become once again a country in which good governance, including respect for human rights, and therefore greater food security, could effectively be guaranteed.


ANGUS FRIDAY (Grenada), speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, said that in those countries pressures on land resources had been exacerbated by competing uses, increased demands, land degradation, and, most importantly, climate change.  In the agricultural sector, furthermore, small islands faced unique challenges in their efforts to diversify their economies and markets in order to increase food security and self-reliance.


He said that, during the previous week, the Commission had devoted much time to lively discussion of its thematic cluster, particularly as those issues related to the troubling triad of skyrocketing fuel prices, increasing food insecurity and water shortages.  The world’s growing population had a role in all that as there was a growing sense that future demand would outstrip supply.  Speculators and the emergence of biofuels were also being blamed, and while the international community may dispatch workers and shift grain for humanitarian aid in the short term, that was no more than a “band aid” for an underlying disease -- unsustainable patterns of production and consumption.


Indeed, rampant consumption and overexploitation, coupled with wasteful habits, had fuelled global warming, leading to droughts, floods and extreme weather that had destabilized water supplies and food production, he said.  “We must address the patterns of production and consumption that are appropriate for a world that is heading towards a population of some nine billion people.  Sometime during the past century, we stopped being citizens and became consumers.”  The culture of consumerism, which promoted the needs of the individual over those of the community, ignored the fact that all societies were connected, depending on the same oceans, forests and atmosphere for subsistence.  “This is a culture that is strangling the principles of citizenship, which bestows certain rights and certain responsibilities.”


In a time of interrelated crises, a precipitous drop in official development assistance, and a reticence fully to acknowledge and take responsibility for global warming, he stressed the need to turn the time of crises into a time of opportunity.  It was time to negotiate positively on a post-Kyoto Protocol climate change agreement; ramp up investment in renewable energy and research; re-engineer financing mechanisms to meet the real costs of adapting to climate change; and halt agricultural subsidies so that more food and clean fuel production could take place in Africa, in small island States and in the least developed countries.  “Are we in the international community going to bunker down in silos as we consume our way through the world’s dwindling resources, or are we going to reassert our rights as global citizens?” he asked.


MAHE TUPOUNIUA (Tonga), speaking on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States, said those countries were now exploring innovative methods to diversify and intensify agricultural production and marine farming, including the development of biofuels, agro-tourism and niche markets in organic produce.  However, such initiatives would not be sufficient to overcome the impact of the current food crisis.  Soaring commodity prices, deteriorating terms of trade, increasing external debt and inflation would place Pacific small island States in a more vulnerable position.  The effects of climate change had exacerbated the challenges they were already facing and it was therefore imperative that they promote more efficient land use and water management.


He said leaders in the region had committed to dealing with the issue of land management by basing reform on the “governance pillar” of the Pacific Plan.  Such changes must, however, take customary and local norms into account in preserving social and cultural cohesion.  Several Pacific small islands, including Tonga, had adopted an integrated approach to rural development in order to ensure better coordination among various sectors of the economy.  Better roads, airports and wharves were essential to improving access and addressing high transportation costs.  It was also important to increase investment in basic utilities and develop renewable energy sources.  In view of sharply declining official development assistance for investment in rural development, development partners should give priority to that issue.  Pacific leaders had agreed to mainstream climate change into national development planning to facilitate the achievement of international development targets.


ISMAT JAHAN (Bangladesh), speaking on behalf of the least developed countries, said the current review session was taking place at a critical juncture when the world economy was facing significant uncertainties owing to unprecedented oil prices, soaring food prices and climate change, among other challenges.  The persistence of large global imbalances coupled with those emerging challenges threatened to unravel the progress of the past decade and, without urgent action, gains in poverty reduction and human development would be reversed in many least developed countries.  Global food prices, particularly that of rice, which had trebled from April 2007 to April 2008, disproportionately affected the least developed countries.  According to a recent World Bank report, the escalating prices could lead to an increase in global poverty by 105 million people, which would likely have a negative spill-over effect on education and human development.


Yet, just when increased global support from development partners was most expected, the food market was increasingly distorted instead, she said.  Many food exporting countries had adopted restrictive measures, while global food aid had sunk to the lowest level since 1973.  In light of that, it was vital to take a coherent, multipronged approach, targeting short- medium- and long-term needs, in addressing the root causes of the food crisis.  Supply side constraints should be removed and targeted cash transfers and other direct support measures for vulnerable groups provided.  Development partners must help the least developed countries meet their rising food import bills.  Meanwhile, systemic long-term issues must be investigated and a global food bank or international food fund established.


Immediate action to develop efficient agricultural production across the developing world was also needed, she said.  Agriculture in the least developed countries, which was primarily rain-fed, was highly vulnerable to climate change, and it was therefore important significantly to scale up investment in agriculture and rural infrastructure.  Developed countries should fulfil their official development assistance commitment to devote 0.2 per cent of gross national income to least developed countries by 2010, and cancel all their external debts.  Additionally, developed countries and those developing ones in a position to do so should provide free market access to all products from all least developed countries.  Also, the current intellectual property regime should be changed to provide least developed countries with access to appropriate technologies, including climate resistant crops.  Those countries also needed support in developing disaster preparedness.  In addition, access to financing, particularly through microcredit, should be extended to the rural poor and gender should be mainstreamed into agriculture, land use and environmental management strategies. 


SAHAS BUNDITKUL, Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand, said that, for his country, sustainable agricultural development was not only the key to assuring food security and eradicating poverty, but also a tool to preserve the environment.  Although Thailand was the world’s top rice exporter, poverty was still evident in the lives of its farmers.  In order to strike a balance between cultivation for food and for energy, while assuring future food security, the Government had set up an agricultural strategy encompassing the philosophy of a “Sufficiency Economy” and a “New Theory”.  Those concepts introduced new ways for farmers to manage their land and water resources so they could stand on their own feet.


He said it had been suggested, among other things, that the land of a farm household should be divided into different parts for paddy fields, cash crops or fruit trees, water reservoirs and residential areas respectively.  Ninety-eight per cent of the farmers adopting that model had drawn higher incomes.  The current national economic and social development plan for the years 2007-2011 included innovative policies such as village funds, People’s Bank microcredit programmes, debt suspension for low income farmers and risk insurance mechanisms to maintain price stability for agricultural products.  In order to tackle water shortages, the Government had introduced a combination of measures, including the provision of farm ponds and improved irrigation systems.  However, increasing population, climate change and rising oil prices continued to pose serious threats to the agricultural sector.


GERDA VERBURG, Minister for Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality of the Netherlands, said the global food crisis, climate change and growing energy needs required, first and foremost, a renewed focus on sustainable agriculture, especially in Africa.  That should include sharing knowledge, developing production chains, supporting local and regional markets and providing more market access for products from developing countries.  Criteria for sustainable production must be developed, and initiatives such as the round tables on sustainable soy and palm oil cultivation supported.  The Netherlands had announced last week that it would invest an additional €50 million for such efforts, and called on other donor countries to increase their investments as well.


Governments should take a leading role in fostering innovative sustainable technologies in all areas, she said.  Public-private partnerships, sustainable production chains, suitable trade relations, corporate responsibility and improved consumption and production patterns were also crucial.  There must be greater efforts to ensure that the Doha Round of trade negotiations was successful and focused on development.  Biomass must be used for energy purposes only if produced in a sustainable manner and, at the same time, as other types of renewable energy were pursued.  With the world facing such enormous challenges, political guidance, commitment and action were crucial.


PAAVO VÄYRYNEN, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development of Finland, said the Rio Summit had had a view on environment and development in which the environment was seen as a whole.  Since then, both development and environmental policies had been fragmented, but global efforts were under way to reintegrate them.  The Commission should concentrate on ecological sustainability, given its role as the global forum for that particular purpose.  The environment must be seen as an integrated whole and combined with the entire range of development policies in order to promote ecologically sustainable development.


Noting that his country had committed $18.5 million for several World Food Programme (WFP) programmes for 2008, he said it was high time the international community, in addition to taking short-term action, addressed the decades-long underinvestment in agriculture and the rural sector.  It was important to strengthen the competitiveness of the agricultural and rural sectors as well as to support rural innovation systems.  The role of women was of particular concern in that regard.  Land reform was a focal issue and a prerequisite for success.  Equitable access to land, enforceable land rights and transparent land policies were essential to the eradication of poverty.  There was also a need to strengthen good governance as well as justice and recourse mechanisms.  Sustainable development required national ownership and leadership, in addition to a rights-based approach to development, whereby Governments were held accountable.


JOHN GORMLEY, Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government of Ireland, aligned himself with the statement made on behalf of the European Union, saying the human stories behind all the Commission’s discussions should prompt more and strengthened actions towards achieving sustainable development.  The current world food crisis was a stark reminder that the impacts of climate change would be acutely felt by the world’s most vulnerable communities.  An exceptional international response was required and the Secretary-General’s establishment of a special task force to tackle the food crisis was welcome.  Yet, the longer-term issue of food security could only be addressed by a comprehensive series of local, national and global actions designed to increase productivity and enhance rural livelihoods.  Efforts to tackle climate change should not threaten work to ensure food security.


Turning to the “food or fuel” debate, he said the discussions should add momentum for investment in the development of second generation biofuels that did not use food sources.  Addressing those challenges would particularly benefit the world’s rural populations.  Rural development should be integrated into national plans and programmes.  Integration was an essential feature of good governance for sustainable development and should include sound economic management that fostered growth rather than recession and secured stability rather than soaring inflation.  It should also include protection of basic human rights and freedoms as well as the rule of law and meaningful democracy.  In addition, the global community must engage fully with the needs of African countries and small island States, which had rightly been highlighted in the Commission’s discussions.  They should be kept in mind.


JOZSEF GRAF, Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development of Hungary, said the future of humankind and agriculture would be influenced significantly by the responses and solutions that the international community applied in addressing comprehensively the myriad effects of climate change.  In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the rate of their absorption into the atmosphere, adaptation to new or wildly fluctuating weather and climate conditions such as drought would also need to be addressed.  Hungary intended to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 15 per cent by 2015.  The replacement of fossil fuels with renewable energy sources was not only a priority, it also provided an excellent opportunity for rural areas.


He went on to say that the future also depended on finding ways to better harmonize local and international agricultural development policies, alleviating structural differences among the various regions, and providing an opportunity for the least developed countries to grow and prosper.  To enhance food production, there was a need to balance efforts to increase production with steps to protect already dwindling arable lands.  “We must also keep in mind that agriculture and rural life are strongly interlinked […] they formed a lifestyle made of social, cultural and economic elements that play a crucial role in making global development sustainable.”


To that end, therefore, the environment must be preserved, and rural life must be made attractive to everyone, he stressed.  Indeed, rural life must not be a synonym with poverty, low education and hopelessness.  That was extremely important for developing countries, and especially for Africa, where most of the population lived in rural areas.  Enhancing rural infrastructure was important, as was providing financing for rural health-care and education services, and other challenges beyond the scope of traditional agriculture and rural development initiatives.


ARTURAS PAULAUSKAS, Minister for Environment of Lithuania, associated himself with the European Union and welcomed the Commission’s integrated approach to the main themes under consideration during the session.  Water, forests, biodiversity and climate change influenced all the topics.  To preserve biodiversity, Lithuania had introduced several new economic measures to provide State financial support for organic farming and afforestation in lands not suited for agriculture.  It had also created mechanisms to provide compensation to landowners facing environmental restrictions on their economic activities.  Those measures had resulted in the expansion of protected lands, forests and organic farms.


Turning to climate change and agriculture, he said they were closely related in terms of mitigation and adaptation.  For the first time, drought was a reality in Lithuania, where flooding had historically been a bigger problem.  The country planned, therefore, to renew its system for monitoring, evaluating and forecasting hydrological phenomena.  Lithuania had also prioritized the use of renewable energy sources in its national policies and set a target of 12 per cent of its energy menu for renewable sources by 2010.  The country was also increasing the use of biomass and supported the initiative to develop sustainability criteria for biomass production.


JOSEF PRÖLL, Federal Minister for Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management of Austria, announcing that his country would spend €2.8 million to support current efforts regarding food prices in developing countries, said long-term increases in the prices of agricultural produce were not entirely bad, as they could offer a positive perspective for the world’s poorest people, who lived in rural areas and depended on farming.  Under the precondition “first the table, then the tank”, biofuels could also offer perspectives for income and development.


Noting that biofuels had been turned into a scapegoat in the search to explain the higher food prices, he said the European Union currently used less than 1 per cent of its cereal production to make ethanol.  Two thirds of its rapeseed crop was used for that purpose, but European rapeseed production accounted for just 2 per cent of global oilseed demand.  One substantial but overlooked force driving the current food crisis was financial speculation in agricultural commodities.  In 1998, investment in commodity indexes had totalled $10 billion; in 2007, the total was $142 billion.  There should be discussions on how to curb financial speculation on basic commodities, such as a tax on short-term speculation in agricultural commodities on an international level.  The revenues from such a tax could be directed towards fulfilling the commitments undertaken by Member States under the Commission.


ROBERTO DOBLES, Minister for Environment of Costa Rica, said the issues that had drawn so many high-level officials to New York today -- agriculture, rural development, drought and desertification and others -- were extremely important for developing and least developed countries.  Indeed, related issues, such as protection of biodiversity, climate change and agricultural productivity were crucial to the sustainable development of those countries.  The way forward might lie in finding ways to promote rural development and bringing the world’s most disadvantaged people into the development mainstream.


One way to do that would be to promote rural tourism as a way not only to boost socio-economic growth in those areas, but also to strengthen the stewardship and protection of natural resources, he said.  There must be an alliance among all nations to address the negative impacts of climate change.  The principle of common but shared responsibilities must be followed, while all nations pursued a path towards development that was environmentally conscious, sustainable and respectful of all the world’s people.


FAHAD BIN ABDULRAHMAN BALEGHNAIM, Minister for Agriculture of Saudi Arabia, supported the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, saying his country followed strategies that took full account of sustainability in agriculture while preserving natural resources, particularly water.  Saudi Arabia’s efforts to realize food security, economic diversification, job creation, and sustainable agricultural development were in line with the Riyadh Declaration, which had resulted from meetings of the Arab Organization for Agriculture Development and which called for cooperation among Arab States through shared agriculture investments and on the basis of shared resources.  The international community should place greater importance on long-term agriculture development through support for international organizations like FAO and the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD).


Underlining desertification as one of the main challenges facing his country, he said efforts to combat desertification and sand movement were major priorities for Saudi Arabia.  It required continuous efforts through the implementation of the Convention to Combat Desertification and the establishment of a specialized research centre to identify best practices for water conservation and other practical and scientific research.  An institution had been established to review continuously images from satellites covering the country’s vast area and study sand movement and rates of sand dune encroachments that threatened lands capable of producing crops.  Saudi Arabia was also addressing rural development by expanding the provision of housing, water, sewage, communications, transportation and other social services, and through the establishment of schools, hospitals and training centres.


ESTHER BYER-SUKOO, Minister for Family, Youth, Sports and the Environment of Barbados, reaffirmed that the pursuit of people-centred and fully participatory development would remain at the heart of her country’s efforts to protect the environment and achieve economic and social development.  Barbados was committed to the completion of an innovative food security policy involving the lowering of basic food costs and promoting sustainable consumption and production from the country’s own land and marine resources.


She went on to highlight the Sustainable Agriculture Act, which was currently being completed and which would ultimately lead to eco-friendly production methods and technologies and increase efficiency and productivity.  The Government recognized the need for improved access and lower transaction costs within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to address regional food security concerns.  To that end, Barbados was committed to the further development of a sustainable regional maritime transport system that would be consistent with the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and move towards the final phase of the CARICOM single market and economy.


DU YING, Vice Chairman, National Development and Reform Commission of China, noted that the six themes on the Commission’s current agenda were fundamentally linked to the interests of developing countries, and endorsed the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77.  Because China was continually increasing inputs and investment in its agricultural sector, food prices had remained largely stable.  That stability, and China’s disproportionate agricultural output, meant the country was making great contributions to global food security.


Calling for increased implementation of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, he stressed that agricultural development should be promoted earnestly, with all countries giving due attention to that area.  To that end, infrastructure should be built up and technological research pursued.  Food security should be a priority and the growth of food crops for biofuel energy generation should be controlled.  International activity should also be strengthened to support national programmes, while developed countries provided real and effective assistance to developing countries.


Noting that the current food price hikes were the result of distortions in international trade, he called for the establishment of a fairer and more just global trading system.  In addition, the challenge of desertification should be resolved collectively, with the role of the Convention to Combat Desertification being strengthened to that end.  States parties should fulfil their responsibilities vis-a-vis development aid and technology transfer.  China, while transforming its economic growth to build a sustainable society, would work with the world community to attain those goals.


PREDRAG NENEZIC, Minister for Tourism and Environment of Montenegro, said that, notwithstanding current and emerging serious challenges, substantial progress had been made at the global level in implementing Agenda 21, the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation and the Millennium Declaration.  The Government of Montenegro hoped to continue the gradual adjustment of its national policies and practices to reflect those of the European Union, especially towards promoting sustainable development.


Stressing his country’s substantial progress in implementing the Convention on Biodiversity, the Convention to Combat Desertification and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, he said Montenegro would continue with the development and implementation of its national plan to combat desertification and restore degraded lands; strengthen integrated water management; reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and implement a national biodiversity strategy and action plan.


AHIZI A. DANIEL, Minister for the Environment, Water and Forests of C ôte d'Ivoire, aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China and the least developed countries, said Africa’s precarious position placed it at the centre of the current discussion.  Given the high stakes, the problems facing the continent raised delicate questions.  Agriculture was at the heart of Africa’s economic and sustainable development efforts and had confirmed its importance in the face of global food insecurity.  Côte d’Ivoire was a particularly apt example of the current situation.  Despite its status as the world’s leading cocoa producer, it was forced to import more than half the rice and other grains that it consumed.  Because of rising food prices, food riots had recently broken out in his country. 


Calling for a re-examination of the reliance on single crops by many African countries, he said that, in light of the current urgent situation, efforts should also be made to prevent soil degradation and rehabilitate degraded lands in order to increase agricultural capabilities.  As for land security issues, there was a need for increased land productivity through mechanization, as well as education and financing initiatives targeting peasants.  Such measures should include microfinancing programmes and early warning systems to foster future agricultural productivity.  A lack of competitiveness afflicted African products on world markets, and Côte d’Ivoire called for a suspension of agricultural subsidies that contradicted market mechanisms.


MARTHINUS VAN SCHALKWYK, Minister for Environmental Affairs and Tourism of South Africa, said that, as the world experienced a food price crisis and escalating poverty, it was clear that much work remained to improve livelihoods and enhance economic growth across the developing world, especially Africa.  At the heart of the “African Renaissance” stood the challenge of ending the continent’s economic marginalization and attracting the resources and investment necessary to ensure its sustainable development.  In that regard, South Africa was committed to the implementation of NEPAD as the continent’s premier development vehicle.


He went on to say that, since agriculture remained the backbone of Africa’s economy, it was essential to ensure full implementation of the NEPAD Comprehensive Agricultural Development Programme, which in turn was linked to efforts to address inequities in access to land, its resources and insecurity of tenure.  Promoting women’s equal access to land and their full participation in land related decision-making, effecting new land rights, and access to land and development opportunities remained key challenges requiring collective action.


Africa’s success in addressing the challenges of drought and desertification, water and sanitation, he said, hinged on access to adequate finance, technology and capacity to implement agricultural and development programmes, which were supported by comprehensive international science and technology cooperation initiatives.  For those programmes effectively to address the central issue of poverty, they would need to include a focus on the development of entrepreneurs.  Such efforts must be supported by improvements to infrastructure, including transport systems, as well as information and telecommunications infrastructure.


ANIL KUMAR BACHOO, Minister for Environment and National Development of Mauritius, said his country, as a small island developing State, was struggling to optimize resource utilization, capitalize on human resources and meet the Millennium Development Goals.  However, it needed to pull out of the business-as-usual scenario and give itself the means, with the support of international partners, to add value to its resources in order to improve livelihoods in a sustainable manner.  The current session should therefore focus on how to make assistance packages more responsive to the development needs of Africa and small island States.


To overcome the barriers impeding the achievement of the Millennium Goals, there was a need to reinforce agricultural policies and strategies, while greatly improving land management systems in most African countries.  Biofuels, while useful, should not be allowed to cause deforestation, destruction of other natural habitats or displacement of food crops.  The best agricultural practices, alongside the most appropriate varieties of crops, would result in increased yields while reducing the need for deforestation.  Mauritius called for adaptation to climate change to be addressed seriously through international cooperation, honesty of intent and action on the ground.


KWADWO ADJEI-DARKO, Minister of Local Government, Rural Development and Environment of Ghana, said that efforts to promote sustainable agriculture included programmes in related sectors, such as land and water management, food security and sustainable forestry management.  Therefore, there was an urgent need to enhance agriculture sectors beyond food security and production concerns, towards promoting industrialization, through, among others, supporting increased agricultural research to promote widespread adoption of improved technology; providing more incentives for farmers, other producers and market agents to develop their operations; and improving the infrastructure base, including storage, irrigation and transport systems.


He went on to say that industrial sectors could be strengthened to bolster national productivity, income and employment, by, among others, implementing measures to enhance growth of small- and medium-sized enterprises; improving the quality and standards of domestic output so that industrial products could be more competitive internationally; and continuing and expanding programmes to enable exporters to meet emerging global market challenges by helping them penetrate foreign markets. 


ERLAN NIGMATULIN, Senator, Parliament of Kazakhstan, said a review of the progress made in implementing the Johannesburg Plan was extremely important, adding that the key to economic, social and environmental progress lay in fulfilling the principles of sustainable development.  To carry out its commitment to those principles, the President of Kazakhstan had decreed that sustainable development was a State priority and, for the first time, the country was pursuing environmentally sustainable policies designed to further economic development.  Among other things, they provided for the establishment of cross-border cooperation to combat environmental degradation, and sought to improve the quality of life while addressing the particular problems of desertification and drought.  Kazakhstan had also adopted an environmental code.


He said his country was also focusing on increasing its use of renewable resources and harnessing its own biomass reserves.  To that end, Kazakhstan had recently set a target of generating 5 per cent of its total electricity production from renewable sources by 2024.  The country was also setting up an environmental research centre and seeking ways to harmonize Central Asian initiatives with European ones.  That aim would be achieved through, among other actions, the holding of two upcoming Eurasian environmental conferences.  Kazakhstan also hoped to host a third Earth Summit in 2012.  By reducing its coal production, Kazakhstan reaffirmed its commitment to combating climate change and emphasized the need for care of the Aral Sea to come under the aegis of the United Nations.


LEE BYUNG-WOOK, Vice Minister of Environment of the Republic of Korea, said that the current food pricing crisis was exacerbating poverty and malnutrition worldwide.  And while the international community must devote time to a deeper examination of that issue, it must move quickly to help poor farmers improve their livelihoods.  That could be done through, among others, the implementation of income generating projects such as the Republic of Korea’s rural Saemaul Undong New Village Campaign in the 1970s and 1980s.


On responses to desertification, he noted that dust and sandstorms were one of the most serious consequences of climate change and unsustainable land use affecting his region.  The Republic of Korea and other countries had launched many projects to address that challenge, especially to strengthen the monitoring and early warning systems in the region.  But to comprehensively address the problem required innovative solutions, including to promote and ensure responsible land use and to enhance capacity-building.


He went on to highlight the Republic of Korea’s efforts to ensure sustainable development, including those aimed at addressing environmental degradation and pollution that had resulted from the country’s remarkable economic growth.  The problems had pervaded every level of the community and even caused a conflict between development interests and environmental advocates.  In response, the Republic of Korea had taken definitive steps to restore its ecological health, including by following a path of economic growth that took into account the impact on land and other natural resources.  He added that his Government would be pleased to share that and other experiences in establishing and implementing a national vision for sustainable development.


MATTHIAS MACHNIG, State Secretary, Ministry of the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety of Germany, said that, due to the pressures of a growing global population and climate change, the current food price crisis would be a concern for many years to come.  Given that agricultural development was one of the backbones of economic development around the world, sustainable strategies to increase production must be sought.  Germany advocated the adoption of basic environmental standards at the international level for all agricultural products. 


Noting that debates on climate change, food security and biofuel production called for linkages between policies surrounding those issues, he stressed the need for a rights-based approach to resolving such matters and the importance of considering them in a balanced way.  Sustainability criteria were urgently needed for biofuel production, which the German Government supported as long as it was undertaken in an environmentally responsible manner.  A common set of standards must be found to that end.  Indeed, Germany’s strategy for biofuel development had been created in an open process, through dialogue with multiple stakeholders, including civil society and non-governmental organizations.  International efforts to develop common standards should occur in a similar way.  As for the current agenda, systematically reviewing past decisions was the only way in which the Commission could ensure its work was implemented.  Germany welcomed the discussions surrounding the water and sanitation review.


MONA BRÖTHER (Norway), noting that climate change was one of the main cross-cutting issues highlighted during the session, said global warming might result in worsening food security and more severe drought and land degradation.  Natural hazards such as floods and hurricanes were also likely to increase in frequency and intensity.  Those combined factors threatened to reverse years of progress towards achieving sustainable development goals.  It was now time to act on all the evidence pointing to climate driven disasters that could result in humanitarian emergencies.


One of the international community’s most urgent tasks, therefore, was to integrate climate change adaptation measures with disaster risk reduction as part of the broader sustainable development effort, she said.  Climate change and disaster risk reduction should be considered in key sectoral policy areas such as agriculture, land management, urban development and energy.  Another priority issue was empowering women in agriculture and land management.  The role of women in fighting desertification must be enhanced, and there must be a concerted effort to secure their rights as agents of change.  All that should be supported by civil society/Government partnerships from the grass roots level up.


NGUYEN VIET THANG ( Viet Nam) emphasized the imperative of closer cooperation among all stakeholders in striving to resolve the wide range of topical and urgent issues at the global, regional and national levels.  Finding solutions to those problems also represented a development priority for the Government of Viet Nam, which had instituted policy guidelines for working with other countries in fulfilling agriculture related targets set forth in the Millennium Declaration, including providing emergency food aid to countries affected by natural disasters and restoring food and agricultural production.  Viet Nam also transferred technology to a number of other developing countries.


The Government supported the proposals on a south-south cooperation programme to help African countries within the Special Programme on Food Security, he said, adding that it had signed agricultural cooperation agreements with Senegal, Madagascar, Congo, Benin, Mali and Guinea to help their farmers develop crops, livestock, fisheries and water resources.  As for global climate change, it was another major concern of all countries, international organizations, non-governmental organizations and individuals.   Viet Nam had been working intensively on a national target programme of adaptation to climate change, which would be followed by sectoral action plans in the years to come.


YAEL SHALTIEL, Director-General, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Israel, said agricultural development had a key role to play in enhancing sustainable development, improving livelihoods and stimulating rural economic growth.  It had the further potential to more comprehensively alleviate poverty, improve food security and provide increased rural income and economic growth, thus facilitating achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.  For its part, Israel had had to deal with the challenges of arid and semi-arid conditions by adopting an integrated and innovative development approach that also contributed to the global effort to combat climate change, including at the level of the small farmer.  As for the global food crisis, the way forward should include investment in research and development in new varieties of inedible biofuel crops that would also be suitable for marginal soils and waters.


Because agriculture was the largest consumer of water globally, efficient water management was a priority, she said.  Israel, while employing irrigation technologies and soil conservation practices, had adopted more friendly production systems towards water sustainability.  As a result, 50 per cent of its consumption of water for agricultural purposes was based on the use of treated waste water and other marginal water sources.  It was also using education and capacity-building to foster a culture of water conservation and was actively involved in the Convention to Combat Desertification.  Israel was committed to sharing its experiences and lessons learned through bilateral and multilateral international technical cooperation programmes.  It had also initiated a resolution in the General Assembly on “Agricultural technology for development”.  Israel called on Governments to make their knowledge and know-how in the field of agriculture more accessible.


BRUNO JEAN RICHARD ITOUA, Minister for Energy and Water of Congo, said no sustainable development was possible without access to water services and sanitation, or sufficient energy sources and a general commitment to protecting ecosystems.  In efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, the specific risks of water and sanitation targets should be identified and their evolution outlined.  Such efforts should also be aligned with the fight against climate change.


He said that, given the average drinking water levels in most African countries, it was necessary to move twice as quickly to provide access to safe drinking water by 2015 to the more than 300 million Africans who currently did not have it.  Efforts to provide more access to sanitation must be quadrupled in that time.  The African Ministers’ Council on Water hoped to create conditions for better water management as well as better financing mechanisms.  It also sought to join approaches and mechanisms for better monitoring and evaluation of water management efforts.


Ensuring the proper conditions for the necessary financing should include a consideration of local needs and capacities and leverage public-private institutions as well as private sector funding sources, he said.  Integrated water management should be approached in a way that rigorously applied the principles of sustainable development and adopted institutional practices that supported good governance of water.  It must also elaborate methods to respond to the impact of climate change by, among other measures, creating early warning systems.


JOSIP KRALJICKOVIC, State Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Development of Croatia, aligned himself with the statement made on behalf of the European Union and noted that, as a candidate members in the regional bloc, his country had undertaken fundamental reforms of its agricultural and food sectors with the goal of improving its living and working conditions while preserving its natural and cultural heritage.  In the interest of rural development, Government programmes supported production cooperatives and adult education.  Practices for the preservation of original brands and the marketing preparation of agricultural products had already been established.


He said an integrated approach to agricultural production and rural development should be put in place at the national, regional and international levels.  It should include the transfer of knowledge, exchange of experiences and information on best practices.  At the global level, Croatia shared other Member States’ concerns about slowness in dealing with guarantees of food safety and sustainable development in rural areas, and was ready to work actively towards better policies and practices.


LUIS MEDEIROS VIEIRA, Secretary of State for Agriculture and Fisheries of Portugal, aligned himself with the statement of Slovenia on behalf of the European Union. He said that his country had followed the Union’s model to reinforce the multifunctional nature of its agricultural sector, nurturing its economic role as producer of market goods, its environmental role as service provider and resource manager and its social role in integrating activities and income.  In order to ensure the sustainability of the rural world, it was crucial to uphold the values of safety, quality and efficiency through new technologies and rational use of water and soil.


In Portugal, he said, the strategy of Integrated Territorial Interventions had led to optimal use of both conservation areas and areas with agro-forestry systems.  Training, research, innovation, quality and diversification were key factors in sustainable development of such rural areas.  Through the European Union’s LEADER+ initiative, partnerships had been developed to achieve that goal, along with the promotion of quality regional products.  In that context, the response to the current food crisis created a window of opportunity for the expansion of domestic production worldwide, for which more investment in the agricultural sector was required.  He reaffirmed Portugal’s commitment to the European Union-Africa plan of action and an action-oriented outcome of the Commission’s next session.


FRANCOIS JOSEPH NZANGA MOBUTU NGBANGAWE, Minister for Agriculture of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said that, thanks to the help of the international community, his country was recovering from a long period of unrest and political instability.  In order to secure sustainable development and continue its path of socio-economic growth, the Government had embarked on a plan to address key environmental and rural development issues.  Among other steps, it had launched agro-forestry projects, aimed at reducing the alarming impacts of climate change and promoting diversification in agricultural production.


He reminded the international community of the important role the vast Congo Basin, which stretched across six countries, played in regulating the world’s climate.  To that end, States had an obligation to adhere to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and provide assistance in the conservation and sustainable management of the vital and diverse ecosystem.


AHMED AL-ANWAR, Assistant Minister for Environmental Affairs of Egypt, said that, in spite of economic growth in many regions over the past decade, many African countries were still struggling to overcome poverty.  Egypt was one of the countries most affected by climate change.  Its position on the Nile delta also made it vulnerable to sea-level rise.  Egypt would, therefore, need increased technological assistance to help with research and the establishment of monitoring mechanisms, among other measures towards adaptation to climate change and sustainable land management.


NETUMBO NANDI-NDAITWAH, Minister for Environment and Tourism of Namibia, said that, to further rural development and raise agricultural productivity, fertilizer inputs should be increased and better funding made available to farmers.  Yet, productivity could not be increased without wider market access for agricultural products, particularly those from Africa.  There was a need for an integrated approach to rural development in which access to markets would be considered of key importance.  Such approaches should also seek to improve the quality of rural life, and to that end, improved access to water services and sanitation should be paramount.


Community-based approaches to agriculture production as well rural tourism should also be promoted, she said, highlighting the often overlooked fact that rural communities could benefit greatly from tourism and sustainable forest management.  In light of escalating food prices, preventive measures should be taken to increase agricultural productivity before emergency conditions prevailed and food aid was required.  The production of biofuels should not compromise food security.  Namibia was already suffering from such impacts of climate change as drought and desertification as well as destructive floods, and called for adequate funding of United Nations efforts to combat desertification.  Namibia looked forward to the negotiations on a post-Kyoto framework.


Round Table I: Investing In Africa


In one of two parallel round table discussions wrapping up the first day of the Commission’s high-level segment, ministers focused on investing in Africa to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and sustainable development.  Chairperson Francis Nhema of Zimbabwe encouraged the participants to consider the critical challenges in, as well as opportunities for, increasing investment in Africa.


Delegations could also consider, among other things, ways Africa could ensure continued improvements in the business climate for private investment, notably for the domestic private sector; how to support private entrepreneurs in seizing new market opportunities created by growing demand for sustainable goods and services; and ways to augment the size of official development assistance (ODA) flows to Africa and their effectiveness in creating the infrastructure and other conditions for the strong growth of private sector investment in productive, diversified and sustainable African economies.


Opening the panel, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Asha Rose Migiro said that increased investment in Africa was critical to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  Indeed, while the continent had human potential, ingenuity and natural resources to spare, what it needed was dedicated and consistent international support to meet its sustainable development needs.


“You, as ministers, can encourage your Governments to manifest the political will and the visionary leadership needed to help Africa to meet its development needs,” she said, adding that, beyond Governments, the international community needed to harness the energy of non-governmental organizations, corporations and other sectors of society.


“But, even with the strongest political will and the best ideas, we still need investment for sustainable development to take root,” she continued, noting that African countries had some of the lowest rates of domestic savings and investment in the developing world.  Africa’s financial institutions and capital markets needed to be strengthened, so they could offer people a return on their savings.


But, she said, investment meant much more than money in the bank or property that could be sold at a profit.  The best investment in a society’s future was not a line on a balance sheet –- it was a child in a classroom.  Education was closely correlated with economic growth, with smaller family size, with greater health and wealth.  African families, like families everywhere, wanted so badly to educate their children, but could not always afford to do so.


So, investing in people by providing them with proper education, health care and other basic social services was critical to the continent’s advancement.  “The first investment is in the next generation; ensuring that children have all the protections that they deserve […] this is especially true in countries ravaged by HIV/AIDS -- and there are far too many in Africa,” she said.


In addition to investing in people, there was also a need to build infrastructure, but that would be a major challenge.  Africa was vast, she said, noting that the United States, Western Europe, China, India and Argentina would all fit inside that one continent.  Linking roads and electricity networks over such long distances would be a major challenge anywhere, and in Africa the problems were compounded by the damaging legacy of the colonial past, bad governance, vulnerability to climate change and well-known security challenges.


So investing in basic infrastructure, from all-weather roads to electricity to water and sewerage, was a prerequisite to sustainable development in Africa, she said.  It was critical to scaling up economic growth.  Likewise, because most people in the region still lived in rural areas, they needed irrigation for their crops, including water-saving drip technologies.  Farmers in Africa also needed to be able to store their crops and to get them to the market with a minimum of spoilage and damage. More importantly, investment in farmers would help the world’s population to feed itself.


She went on to say that African Governments would need to mobilize domestic resources for those purposes.  But, they would not be able to finance all the initiatives themselves.  So, they had to create a climate that would attract private investment -- and international partners must honour their commitments to help Africa meet its financial needs.


The Secretary-General’s MDG Africa Steering Group, which brought together powerful development and financial institutions, had put forward fresh ideas, like launching Africa's own Green Revolution to tackle hunger and malnutrition.  That was a clear path to success.  “But, we need your input on how best to mobilize resources to invest in Africa's future; to invest in Africa's children; to develop Africa’s enormous economic potential; to protect the continent’s stunning but fragile natural environment,” she said.


Next, Prince Willem-Alexander Clause George Ferdinand ( Netherlands), speaking in his capacity as Chairman of the Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, said the flow of water mimicked the flow of life.  When water stopped flowing, so did life.  Water was, therefore, at the heart of sustainable development; without it, you forgot about achieving any level of development, including the targets set out in the Millennium Declaration.  To achieve sustainable solutions, it was also necessary to understand that, by the end of the century, the world would be home to about 9 billion people, all of whom would need food, as well as water.


Continuing, he said that industrial and agricultural development were crucial to economic growth in Africa and other developing countries.  But a key driver of that growth was access to water supplies.  Currently, however, Africa was using only 3 per cent of its water resources for sanitation and irrigation.  That meant that 97 per cent of Africa’s hydro-potential was untapped.


Moreover, he continued, socio-economic growth required a healthy population.  Sadly, the world water and sanitation crisis was severely affecting Africa and, indeed, at any given time, about half of the hospital beds on the continent were being used by people suffering from diarrhoea-related illnesses.  Worse, countless work- and schooldays were lost because of diarrhoea illness, due to poor sanitation conditions and unsafe hygiene practices.  All that required urgent and collective action to help Africa rehabilitate its dilapidated sewage and water systems; raise awareness and educate its population about integrated water resources management; develop sound water and sanitation policies; promote best practices; and develop capacity for sustained access.


When ministers and Government representatives took the floor, there was general agreement that, while the international community bore a responsibility for helping to lift millions of Africans out of dehumanizing poverty and hunger, the continent, with its historical importance, vast human potential and natural resource base, should not be branded a charity case.  Indeed, with the exception of the sub-Saharan region, many African countries were excelling in growth and economic stability.  It was important to not let the stories of growth, strong leadership and achievements that would make Africa more attractive to outside investors be overshadowed by persistent news of poverty, hunger and a few well-known conflicts, some speakers said.


Still, none of that absolved the international community from living up to the various commitments made, including at the 2006 Group of Eight Summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, the Monterrey International Conference on Financing for Development, the General Assembly’s 2005 World Summit, as well as in the Millennium Declaration.  To that end, many speakers stressed adequate instruments, based upon a mix of resource flows, debt relief and market access, combined with support for the diversification of the African economies, especially since they were mostly agro-based, and the replication of successes that had been implemented in collaboration with the United Nations and other international or regional organizations.


Several noted that there were many issues facing the African continent that were linked to ecological matters, including population growth, food security, political instability and inequitable access to resources.  To that end, participants called for enhanced investment in measures such as integrated water resources management, biodiversity education and training and, among other things, a re-examination of the laws and regulations governing the conservation, utilization and management of natural resources in Africa.


Here, as at other points during the discussion, the importance of investing in and harnessing the capacity, knowledge and potential of women and indigenous groups was also highlighted, particularly in matters related to water, sanitation and the adaptation to drought and desertification.  Throughout the discussion, African ministers acknowledged that Africa bore a large share of the responsibility for ensuring a sustainable future for its people.  Many shared their national experiences towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, including in the areas of health and education.  The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) was also citied as an important framework for promoting home-grown development efforts.


Speakers said that, overall, it was clear that conditions in Africa today were right for sustained economic growth and poverty reduction, if challenges were met and commitments were sustained.  One speaker form civil society urged the ministers not to see the current food and commodity price spikes as a crisis.  It was perhaps the first time that foreigners could invest in various agricultural sectors within Africa and get a guaranteed return of some 20 per cent or more.  That was the right moment to prioritize the modernization of agriculture as a tool to fight poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals, he stressed.


In the wake of the skyrocketing prices for rice, wheat and other base food supplies, he wondered how many of the ministers had convened meetings with their local farmers to ask if the proper structures were in place to take advantage of the situation, for the benefit of the farmers themselves and local communities.  “We have the land, we have the capability, we have the momentum and we have the product. But are you using them?” he asked.


Round Table II: Interlinkages among Thematic Issues


Commission Vice-Chairperson Daniel Carmon ( Israel) chaired the second ministerial round table, which considered how to expedite implementation on the Commission’s current themes, including adaptation to climate change.


Leading off the round table, Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, underscored the timeliness of the Commission’s consideration of sustainable development through the lens of food security.  A comprehensive, integrated and long-term response to the current food crisis should be supported by an in-depth consideration of the interlinkages among agriculture, rural development, land, drought and desertification, he said.  Certainly, runaway food prices required quick action to mobilize the funds and food aid necessary to meet the current crisis.  But, more than that, efforts today must be aimed at preventing future crises by identifying the roots of the current crisis and exploring appropriate future responses to those root causes.


It was clear that the global neglect of agriculture in the last decades had carried a high cost, he continued.  Capacity-building support to farmers, including women farmers, had been lacking.  Drought had reduced soil fertility.  Meanwhile, public spending on rural infrastructure had left the agriculture sector in disrepair around the world.  As a result, productivity had dwindled.  Moreover, given the current high prices of production, agriculture might not be able to respond quickly enough to the growing demand for higher levels of production.  He also pointed to the development of biofuels on the demand side as another reason for these high prices, and suggested the need to develop frameworks for biofuel production.


Stressing that “none of this happened overnight”, he said it was important to consider why, if there had been time for adjustment, supply had failed to meet demand.  Today, it was known that the world population would be rising dramatically over the next half century and it was clear from the Commission’s thematic discussions, that climate change was already being felt in agricultural sectors around the world.


Given that, a piecemeal approach would not be enough to end the food crisis, he added.  Yes, small farmers needed support and drought-resistant crops should be developed.  But the key to long-term food security was a coherent, integrated and multi-pronged strategy, and he underlined his hope that today’s dialogue would make progress towards that strategy.  In closing, he highlighted the Secretary-General’s recently announced task force dedicated to tackling the food crisis and welcomed the guidance of the gathered ministers to enhance the task force’s work.


In the ensuing discussion, Government ministers and representatives highlighted the role of science and technology in making agricultural development increasingly sustainable and adaptive to climate change’s various threats.  While climate change was already impacting all countries, the least developed countries often faced the most severe devastation, many agreed.  Efforts to foster adaptation had to be given greater support from the international community and the industrialized world.  Speakers stressed that the support hinged on appropriate funding and equally important was the need for transfer of appropriate technology.


One speaker stressed that adaptation could not be done on the cheap and efforts to deal with climate variability had to be sufficiently funded.  While the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change called for funding for developing countries, such funding had not been substantial.  In addition, technology transfer targeting new energy sources like biomass and providing the biological know-how to grow drought-resistant crops was sorely needed.


Elaborating on funding mechanisms, another representative said funds should be made available to countries that urgently needed them in emergencies.  Small farmers should also be given access to training and micro-financing options for seeds and fertilizers.  Other special financing should be made available through concessionary funds, so Governments could support their farming communities without incurring crushing debts.


As ministers underscored the impact climate change was already visiting on their countries, particularly their farms, calls were made for early action to prevent famine.  To that end, many speakers said the creation of early warning systems to signal where and how drought, flooding and desertification were crippling farm production.


Other speakers said further research and better understanding of climate change’s impacts on local communities was needed.  One representative said investments in agricultural productivity and sustainable management of biodiversity and natural resources should be combined with a better, continually updated understanding of the effects of adapting to climate change.  In that, industrialized countries had a special responsibility to provide the main part of the solution.


A number of speakers stressed that, although more research was needed to enhance monitoring capacities and “climate proof” development efforts, a wealth of knowledge existed and was waiting to be tapped.  Underlining the fact that much was already known about the ways that agriculture could respond to variations in climate, a one speaker said that making the right decisions required the right information.  He stressed the need to invest in observation, research and information products that were fine-tuned to agriculture and could be easily accessed by the communities and farmers on the frontlines.


Picking up that thread, another representative said inadequate local knowledge posed particular and dangerous constraints on responding to local needs.  To circumvent that knowledge gap, research, education and data gathering should be strengthened.  In addition, increasing technological capacities through significant technology transfers could assist in overcoming water shortages and strengthening food security.


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For information media • not an official record