High-Level Expert Group Meeting on Using Green Agriculture to Stimulate Economic Growth and Eradicate Poverty EGM on Green Agriculture for Rio+20

Opening Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Secretary-General of the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development

Minister Orit Noked,
Dr. Mordechai Cohen,
Ambassador Daniel Carmen,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be here with all of you today.

On behalf of the United Nations, let me express my sincere gratitude to the Government of Israel.

Thank you for hosting this High-Level Expert Group Meeting on Using Sustainable Agriculture to Stimulate Economic Growth and Eradicate Poverty.

At a time when the international community is tackling famine in the Horn of Africa and long-term food security risks, this meeting cannot be more timely.

I am sure it will produce valuable contributions to the preparations for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development otherwise known as Rio +20.


Rio+20 comes not a moment too soon.

Today’s world faces multiple challenges rising food prices and worsening hunger climate-related stress and increasing frequency and severity of disasters.

The result is damage, often irreversible, to our vital ecosystems, infrastructure, and poor people’s livelihoods.

That is why Member States identified food security and sustainable agriculture as one of the seven emerging priority areas for the Conference in Rio next year.

The importance of ideas and recommendations emerging from this meeting cannot be understated.

I have said before and I’ll say it again: Rio+20 must be about three things – integration, implementation and coherence.

This is the common message we’ve heard over the past months during the Prepcoms and Intersessional – as well as at country-led preparatory meetings in Solo, Beijing, New Delhi and Warsaw.

By definition, sustainable development is about integration – integration among the social, economic and environmental pillars and ensuring their coherence.

Unfortunately, in the agricultural sector, in the last decades, we pursued agricultural policies through silos and short-sighted subsidies.

Many governments have lost sight of the importance of supporting smallholders, women farmers and the need for investments in agricultural technologies and infrastructure, in extension services and capacity-building activities. .

Earlier this month in New Delhi, participants agreed that Rio+20 should come up with strategic actions and initiatives to address long-term food security and sustainable agriculture.

Last week in Changwon, Korea, at the COP Ten of UNCCD, I addressed the importance of supporting food security and sustainable agriculture in drylands.

This is an area where Israel has some of the best technologies in the world, including in irrigation, which can be adapted and applied in other dryland regions.

Over the next few days, I hope the experts here will develop new and innovative ideas for how Rio+20 can provide the catalyst for mobilizing political will and strategic initiatives for promoting food security and sustainable agriculture across the planet.

Let us be bold and imaginative.  We have the resources and technologies available to achieve a goal of zero hunger in the world.  We can achieve this in the next 20 years if we work in partnership.

The green revolution started in the 1960s has brought food and livelihoods to millions of people in India, South Asia and elsewhere.

Yet, it has not reached everyone, neither on that subcontinent nor in much of sub-Saharan Africa or other regions with harsh soil and land conditions.

In addition, in some areas the green revolution has taken an environmental toll – on soils, water, fisheries, biodiversity.

That is why, in New Delhi, there was discussion on the need for an “evergreen” revolution to ensure adequate and healthy nutrition for all the nine billion people projected to inhabit planet earth by the middle of the century.

To tackle the food and nutrition challenge, the best agricultural science will need to be wedded to the best traditional knowledge and practices.

And the outcome needs to benefit smallholders, especially women farmers.

This is where coherence is most important.

A coherent agricultural system includes social safety nets in the short-term, and investment in agriculture over the longer-term.

We also need to open markets for agricultural products from developing countries, which will bring benefits to both producers and consumers.

We must work together, coherently. Governments, the UN system, farmers organizations, scientific research institutions, the private sector, and others.

It is in this spirit that the Secretary General’s High Level Task Force on Food Security recently completed their update of the Comprehensive Framework for Action.

It provides a platform for the entire United Nations and Bretton Woods institutions to address food and nutrition security in a coherent way.

Let me share with you some of the key messages put forward by the Comprehensive Framework for Action that are relevant to our discussion today.

Most importantly: sustainable agriculture supports the central role of smallholders, especially women.
Sustainable agriculture also means taking measures to mitigate risks faced by small farmers in improving their land, outputs and incomes.

Furthermore, the role of farmers’ organizations in enabling small farmers to benefit from markets is important.

This is not only for sustainable agriculture, but also for food security and poverty eradication.

We need to do more to connect farmers to markets, and empower them to capture a larger share of value along supply chains.

At the same time, we must create productive non-farm employment to supplement farm incomes and diversify risks.

Better rural infrastructure and links to urban markets are critical. At the same time, links between smallholders and their organizations and large agricultural businesses can expand market opportunities.

The policies and institutional arrangements of the future must recognize the nexus between food, the environment and climate change.

They must do more to strengthen safety nets for the poor, especially during disasters.


As Rio approaches, we must explore concrete ideas, options and proposals for the focused political outcome document.

Over the next few days, we will explore various policy options and practices that increase resilience and reduce the environmental impacts of agriculture.

It is my hope that we will be able to make concrete proposals for member States to consider at Rio+20. These inputs can also inform the upcoming Bonn Conference on the water, energy and climate nexus.

Rio+20 offers us an opportunity to renew the political commitment world leaders made in Rio in 1992. It gives us the chance to envision a future where children will not suffer from hunger and a world in balance with the natural environment.

Let us imagine a world where poverty and hunger only exist as a memory.

Do not underestimate the value of your work here.

Before I conclude, let me say a few words about our host country.

Israel has proven to be a leader in agricultural technology for development.

They have innovated and implemented sustainable solutions for agricultural development… food security… and climate change adaptation and mitigation.

They have informed and advised the Commission on Sustainable Development on matters related to integrated water management, drylands and sustainable crop production.

There is much to learn from the Israeli agricultural experience.
I wish to commend the in-country experts here today for the dedication they have shown in organizing this ambitious and interesting program.

I regret that I will miss tomorrow’s field visits due to my required presence in New York.

I would therefore like to take this opportunity to thank the Israeli Government – the Ministry of Agriculture and MASHAV – for your continued leadership, commitment, and generosity.

I look forward to our continued collaboration in the coming months as we prepare for Rio+20.

Thank you.