In Face of Crises, States Must ‘Act Together’ Now, or Risk Cycle of Poverty, Despair Says Secretary-General at Sustainable Development Commission’s High-Level Segment
In Face of Crises, States Must ‘Act Together’ Now, or Risk Cycle of Poverty, Despair Says Secretary-General at Sustainable Development Commission’s High-Level Segment
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Commission on Sustainable Development
9th & 10th Meetings* (AM & PM)
IN FACE OF CRISES, STATES MUST ‘ACT TOGETHER’ NOW, OR RISK CYCLE OF POVERTY, DESPAIR
SAYS SECRETARY-GENERAL AT SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT COMMISSION’S HIGH-LEVEL SEGMENT
Chair Says Old Solutions No Longer Fit Twenty-First Century Challenges;
Round Table on “Responding to the Food Crisis through Sustainable Development”
In the midst of a global recession and ongoing food price crisis, “things can deteriorate frighteningly fast”, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned today, as he urged the Commission on Sustainable Development to look beyond short-term measures and agree on a set of policy decisions that would revitalize agriculture, support small farmers and promote food security for all.
“It is but a short step from hunger to starvation, from disease to death,” Secretary-General Ban said in a sobering opening address to the high-level segment of the Commission’s seventeenth session, which is expected to culminate Friday with concrete policy options to drive practicable actions on agriculture, rural development, land, drought, desertification and Africa. The day’s programme included one ministerial-level plenary round table and two smaller interactive discussions on “Responding to the food crisis through sustainable development”.
“If we do not act together, if we do not act responsibly, if we do not act now, we risk slipping into a cycle of poverty, degradation and despair,” Mr. Ban said. He called on delegations to help all countries to overcome the current crises in an integrated manner, including by providing the necessary political impetus to “seal a deal” at the next round of climate change talks in Copenhagen this December, and to take part in the United Nations Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and Its Impact on Development next month in New York.
Above all, the international community must offer short-term emergency measures to meet critical needs, while at the same time making lasting investments to promote food production and agricultural development, enhance food security and maintain and accelerate momentum towards the Millennium Development Goals. “The decisions taken here must help to revitalize agriculture and support the productivity and resilience of small farmers,” Mr. Ban said, adding: “The bottom line is that this [Commission] must succeed. It must inspire the world to address the multiple challenges we face in an integrated and comprehensive manner.”
Commission Chair Gerda Verburg, Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality of the Netherlands, said that, against the backdrop of multiple crises highlighted by the Secretary-General, delegations must not add another one: a crisis of leadership. “Old solutions no longer fit the challenges of the twenty-first century,” she said, stressing that the current session must set the stage for change. Its message should be credibility, cooperation and commitment -- the credibility to stick to its promises via a shared vision, the cooperation to build public-private partnerships at all levels and the commitment to implement agreements on the ground.
Doing so required dedication and leadership, she said, emphasizing the wisdom of farmers who understood that it was necessary to plant first to be able to harvest later. A paradigm shift would be required, with agriculture being seen as part of the solution. Indeed, it was at the heart of poverty reduction and, in many developing countries, was driving economic development. It was crucial for the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources and should also be at the heart of the climate-change agenda.
Turning to the ongoing negotiations on a successful outcome for the session, Ms. Verburg was optimistic that the result would be a “positive document” with new, concrete policy actions and deliverables that went hand in hand with the shared vision developed at the high-level segment. That vision would first and foremost call for a sustainable and home-grown green revolution, especially in Africa. “There is no time to waste,” she said, telling the Commission: “We need to be credible, to cooperate and to commit ourselves. […] The green revolution for sustainable agriculture, while effectively conserving and managing our environment, has to become a reality.”
Among the keynote speakers addressing the Commission, Bharrat Jagdeo, President of Guyana, said success would not come through rhetorical declarations or aspirational action plans. Nor would it come through unreformed multilateral institutions that were designed for a radically different era. Instead, a sense of global responsibility to forge a new international policy environment, the effectiveness of which was commensurate with current challenges, was needed.
True multilateralism and international partnership were essential to solve the problems that would, if left unaddressed, affect rich and poor alike. For example, he said, carbon emitted in one part of the world caused as much harm as carbon emitted elsewhere, and short-sighted agricultural shifts on one continent led to economic imbalances, hunger and deprivation on others. Further, because of the integrated nature of the global markets, financial instability could trigger a global recession. Thus, the old paradigm in which small groups of countries could make decisions on behalf of the world, would not work.
While the emergence of the Group of 20 (G-20) allowed an enlarged role for the developing world in global decision-making and could result in a better global financial architecture, it would still be lopsided unless that group of nations was augmented by the voices of the small countries of the developing world. Perhaps a new Bretton Woods-type conference along those lines was needed, he said.
“Sustainable development is no longer a rallying cry or slogan,” he said. It was recognized as essential in ensuring the future well-being of the world’s people, the global economy and of life itself. But this year, with efforts under way to craft a new global financial architecture and to reach agreement on a successor accord to the Kyoto Protocol, would test the world’s resolve. Would it move boldly to create a new global financial infrastructure and climate agreement to put the world onto a more sustainable track, or would it retreat in the face of the challenge’s magnitude?
Speaking during the panel discussion on the response to the food crisis, Alexander Mueller, Assistant-Director General of the Sustainable Development Department, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said the number of hungry people had increased significantly in recent years and the impact of that “bad news” had to be considered against a backdrop of predicted increases in population growth and urban migration over the next few decades. Such growth, as well as changing consumption patterns, meant that food growth and production would have to increase by some 60 per cent over the next three decades.
At the same time, he reminded delegations that agriculture was the biggest “consumer” of water, so the interlinked challenges for sustainable development were “huge”, and only a comprehensive, integrated approach to agriculture and broader development would lead to the solutions required to providing enough food and water for some 9 billion people by 2050. Along with addressing the impact of climate change, which was exacerbating all the aforementioned challenges, he said there was a need to resurrect agricultural sectors, by not only identifying practicable policy options and actions, but also increasing funding to the sector, which had diminished drastically over the past two decades.
Also making opening statements during the morning plenary were Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, Minister of Environment and Tourism of Namibia; Sylvie Lucas of Luxembourg, President of the Economic and Social Council; Homero Bibiloni, Secretary of Environment and Sustainable Development of Argentina; Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Director-General, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources; and Shoaib Sultan Khan, Chairman of the National Rural Support Programme of Pakistan.
Ministers of the Czech Republic (on behalf of the European Union), Jamaica (on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States) and Italy also spoke.
A Deputy Secretary of the United States and a Vice-Minister of Japan also participated.
Representatives of Sudan (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Nauru (on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States), United Arab Emirates (on behalf of the Arab Group), Bangladesh (on behalf of the least developed countries) and the Russian Federation also spoke.
Also participating in the plenary round table were Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, Axumite Gebre-Egziabher, Director of the New York Office of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme and Rajul Pandya-Lorch, head of the International Food Policy Research Institute’s 2020 Vision Initiative.
The first sub-round table was co-chaired by Oliver Dulić, Minister of Environment and Spatial Planning of Serbia, and Manfred Bortsch, State Secretary and Director-General, Federal Office for Agriculture of Switzerland. The second was co-chaired by Kathleen A. Merrigan, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture of the United States, and Ms. Nandi-Ndaitwah.
The Commission will continue its high-level segment at 10 a.m. Thursday, 14 May.
The Commission on Sustainable Development met this morning to open the high-level segment of its seventeenth session, focusing on the priority themes: agriculture, rural development, land, drought, desertification and Africa. Today’s programme is expected to include one plenary round table and two sub-round tables on “Responding to the food crisis through sustainable development”.
For more information, please see press release ENV/DEV/1041 of 4 May 2009.
Commission Chair GERDA VERBURG ( Netherlands) said it was clear that humanity was living in a world of crises -- with the food crisis, energy crisis and, more recently, the financial and economic crisis. At a time when it was most needed, sustainable development was hit in its heart. Nevertheless, the average per capita income was higher than any time in the past. Enough food was being produced for everyone, yet nearly a billion people, most of whom depended on agriculture for their daily livelihoods, lived on less than $1 a day. Although no longer on the front page, the food crisis was still there and the achievement of the first Millennium Development Goal was further way than ever. One of the world’s biggest challenges required figuring out how to feed 9 billion people by 2050.
Against the backdrop of those multiple crises, she urged delegations not to add another crisis; a leadership crisis. Old solutions no longer fit the challenges of the twenty-first century. As Namibia’s Minister Netumbo Nadi Ndaitwah had said at the Commission’s high-level preparatory meeting in her country: “If you do what you did, you get what you got”. The time for change had come, and the current session should set the scene for that change. Its message should be credibility, cooperation and commitment -- the credibility to stick to its promises via a shared vision; the cooperation to build public-private partnerships at all levels; and the commitment to implement agreements on the ground.
Doing so required dedication and leadership, she said, emphasizing the wisdom of farmers who understood that it was necessary to plant first to be able to harvest later. A paradigm shift would be required, with agriculture being seen as part of the solution. Indeed, it was at the heart of poverty reduction and, in many developing countries, was driving economic development. It was crucial for the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources and should also be at the heart of the climate-change agenda.
Highlighting the ongoing negotiations for a successful outcome for the session, she said she was optimistic that the result would be a positive document with new concrete actions and deliverables that went hand in hand with the shared vision developed at the high-level segment. That vision would first and foremost call for a sustainable and home-grown green revolution, especially in Africa. It would encompass ideas, technologies, agricultural and trade policies, market access and financial means. New, creative and innovative thinking was needed to complement concrete actions and means for implementation. The green revolution must unfold along a five-track approach: increasing investments in sustainable agriculture; creating an enabling environment; developing sustainable production and food chains; improving market access, especially for developing countries; and strengthening the social safety net and access to finance.
She went on to stress the additional need for fully using the opportunities provided by science, research and technology. Those should be linked with education and extension initiatives to make such knowledge and technology applicable on the ground. Linking traditional knowledge to new science and research would also be pivotal in spawning new ideas and generating breakthroughs. The mistakes of the past should be avoided, while effective practices were scaled up and replicated. The opportunity to leapfrog to new technologies that recognized specific national circumstances should be seized.
As the heart of the climate change agenda, agriculture should be harnessed to contribute to mitigation and adaptation efforts, she said. It also had the potential for pro-poor “double dividends”. Investing in agricultural mitigation measures had tremendous potential to absorb greenhouse gas emissions in cost-effective ways, and the door should be kept open for including agriculture and soil carbon in a new climate change deal, even as due respect was given to the competing claims between food and fuels. While easy answers did not exist, the question was whether there was a need for a process for the sustainable production of biofuels.
Turning to water issues, she asked if there would be enough water to ensure sustainable and sufficient food production. Globally, agriculture accounted for 90 per cent of all water consumption. The gap in agricultural productivity in many parts of the world had to be closed and more adequate and efficient water management provided unexplored potential for making unprecedented changes in policy and production techniques. Should a water agenda for food and ecosystems not be developed?
She stressed that such a shared vision would succeed only if the means to implement it were provided. That was the biggest challenge. New and additional resources from private, public, domestic and international sources were needed, especially for developing countries. Developed countries had a special responsibility in that respect, and the world had to live up to its promises.
“There is no time to waste,” she told the Commission, stressing the need for leadership to develop strategic long-term goals for sustainable development. “We need to be credible, to cooperate and to commit ourselves. […] The green revolution for sustainable agriculture, while effectively conserving and managing our environment, has to become a reality.”
BAN KI-MOON, United Nations Secretary-General, said many believed the world was at a tipping point and that “if we do not act together, if we do not act responsibly, if we do not act now, we risk slipping into a cycle of poverty, degradation and despair”. Twenty-two years ago, the United Nations had advanced the idea of sustainable development as a way of escaping from such a cycle. The idea of an integrated and comprehensive approach to development remained as valid today, as ever. It showed how to address the climate crisis, the food crisis and the energy crisis. It contained durable solutions to the financial crisis and global recession.
He said the world must follow the wisdom of the Brundtland Report and pursue “development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”. He added: “To do that, we must deal with climate change. As you know, this is the year of climate change.” The international community looked to the December climate negotiations in Copenhagen to “seal a deal” that would enable all countries to pursue climate action on all fronts. A deal that covered adaptation, mitigation and the deployment of clean technologies, as well as one that would reverse deforestation, build capacity and mobilize financial resources for developing countries.
To that end, he invited all Heads of States and Government to a high-level event on climate change on 22 September in New York. It would be the only international climate meeting before Copenhagen that would bring together all world leaders -- from the major emitters to the most vulnerable countries. The agenda would reflect the latest progress in the climate change convention negotiations and would integrate political developments that might have occurred in other forums, such as the current Commission session, or the forthcoming Group of Eight (G-8) meeting. “Most of all, it will focus on solutions and provide the necessary political impetus to seal a deal in Copenhagen,” he said.
He went on to say that there was a strong link between climate change and the issues before the Commission. Sustainable agriculture could contribute to climate change mitigation. On the other hand, if left unchecked, climate change would affect agricultural production and exacerbate drought and desertification. That would have a devastating impact on the poor and would particularly affect women, who made up a significant portion of agricultural producers in many highly vulnerable countries. He hoped the Commission would contribute to the climate discussions and the successful outcome of the Copenhagen conference.
Turning next to the issue of food security, he said the food crisis was “not yet behind us” and, indeed, it might have widened its scope. High food prices meant 100 million people in low-income countries were at risk of joining the ranks of the malnourished. In consequence, the World Food Programme (WFP) would need to increase its budget from $500 million to $750 million to maintain its operations.
On the positive side, however, he said there was a broad-based international support for addressing the issue. In January, Spain had convened a high-level meeting that had agreed to a comprehensive, long-term approach that linked nutrition, food security, agriculture and trade. Success would depend on partnerships among Governments, civil society, farmers’ organizations, businesses and international organizations. He was also encouraged by the Commission’s initiative to convene a ministerial round table on a sustainable green revolution for Africa.
“To achieve a green revolution, African farmers must have access to land and security of tenure. They also need access to markets, technology and improved infrastructure,” he continued, adding: “And when I say farmers, I mean women, as well as men.” Indeed, farming and non-farming sectors alike must empower Africa’s women. Women must be full partners in development, so they could lift themselves and their communities out of poverty.
He went on to say that the world was in the throes of a global recession. In such times, things could deteriorate frighteningly fast. It was but a short step from hunger to starvation, from disease to death. He was, therefore, pleased that the President of the General Assembly would convene a United Nations Conference at the Highest Level on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and Its Impact on Development, in June. That was a most timely intervention, and he hoped it would buttress the commitments made by the world’s leading economies at the Group of 20 (G-20) London summit in April.
The international community must offer short-term emergency measures to meet critical need, he said. But, it must also make longer-term investments to promote food production and agricultural development, enhance food security and maintain and accelerate momentum towards the Millennium Development Goals. At the recent G‑20 summit in London, he had urged Governments to help all countries to overcome the current crises in an integrated manner.
“I believe they heard my call. They agreed on a genuine global stimulus that will advance the interests of all nations, not a few,” he said, noting that the participants had, among other things, stood against protectionism, reaffirmed their commitment to the Millennium Goals and had called on the United Nations to work with other global institutions to establish a mechanism to monitor the impact of the crisis on the poorest and most vulnerable.
The Organization had moved to establish such a mechanism. Its system-wide vulnerability monitoring mechanism, global vulnerability alert, would collect real-time information on the social effects of the economic crisis worldwide. It would also help Governments to monitor the effects of their decisions on the most vulnerable. “I hope it will help us to mitigate the impact of the crisis,” he added.
Finally, he said that, with the daunting challenges facing the world, the actions of the United Nations family of organizations and agencies must be coherent. He commended the Bureau and the Chair of the Commission for their focus on how this multi-stakeholder forum could contribute to the United Nations system’s “delivery as one”. He particularly appreciated the Chairperson’s initiative to organize ministerial dialogues with the heads of governing councils and executive boards of various United Nations bodies, and with the heads of agencies, civil society groups and the policy research community.
“I know the delegates have been engaged in intense negotiations over the past week to come up with a concrete package of policy options and measures for sustainable agricultural and rural development agenda,” he said. The decisions taken there must help revitalize agriculture and support the productivity and resilience of small farmers, in particular, to achieve food security for all.
BHARRAT JAGDEO, President of Guyana, said that, while vital, raising awareness was not enough to achieve sustainable development. The international community must turn awareness into solutions that could make the urgently required difference. Success would not come through rhetorical declarations or aspirational action plans. Nor would it come through unreformed multilateral institutions that were designed for a radically different era. Instead, a sense of global responsibility to forge a new international policy environment, the effectiveness of which was commensurate with current challenges, was needed.
This year presented two significant opportunities to do so, he said. First, as a result of the economic crisis, the world community was moving to create a new global institutional and regulatory framework. As it was formed, the world should work to ensure that a platform to meaningfully integrate sustainable development into global decision-making was created. Second, it was vitally important that, as the world community met in Copenhagen to forge a new climate change deal, it acted with the same urgency it had displayed when wrestling with the worst of last year’s financial collapse. Future generations would not be forgiving if the world community failed to grasp those two opportunities and use them to realize the important policies emanating from the Johannesburg, Barbados, Mauritius and other major United Nations sustainable development conferences.
He stressed that true multilateralism and international partnership were essential to solve the problems facing the world that would, if left unaddressed, affect rich and poor alike. Indeed, carbon emitted in one part of the world caused as much harm as carbon emitted elsewhere, and short-sighted agricultural shifts on one continent led to economic imbalances, hunger and deprivation on others. Also, financial instability could trigger a global recession, because of the integrated nature of the global markets. Thus, the old paradigm, in which small groups of countries could make decisions on behalf of the world, would not work. While the emergence of the G-20 allowed an enlarged role for the developing world in global decision-making and could result in a better global financial architecture, it would still be lopsided unless the G-20 was augmented by the voices of the small countries of the developing world. Perhaps a new Bretton Woods-type conference along those lines was needed.
Turning to climate change, he stressed that the science was “very compelling” and, when countries met in Copenhagen, it would be essential for the world’s historic polluters to make meaningful commitments to reduce emissions. If the countries of the developed world accepted their responsibilities, the developing world in general would be willing to play its part. Such commitment was in everyone’s interests. Indeed, while the developing world emitted a fraction of per capita emissions today, the entire world would benefit if it avoided the “high pollution path” that today’s richer countries had followed. Put more bluntly, it would be impossible to avoid catastrophic climate change if the developing world did not take a more sustainable path to future development.
To that end, he said, Copenhagen should seek to cut emissions deeply, create financing flows and transfer technology. While it would not be cheap, it would be good value for the money, and the leaders of the developing world should be willing to be part of the solution. That was particularly evident in the example of rainforest countries like Guyana, where 80 per cent of the territory was pristine forest. Preserving Guyana’s forest came at an economic cost: the world valued cut timber and the agricultural products that could be harvested after timber was cleared, but it did not value forests that were kept alive. It was increasingly well-known that deforestation caused 17 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, but less well-known was that sustainable use of forest and agricultural land could deliver 37 per cent of the world’s abatement of those gases between now and 2020. Guyana, therefore, supported calls to cut net global deforestation in half by 2020 and to make the global forestry sector carbon neutral by 2030. It was willing to provide the world a model with how that could be done, based on its own desire to place its entire rainforest under long-term protection. But, the world had to find the right way to include forestry within a broader climate agreement. Guyana was working with Norway’s Government to develop innovative ways for the developed and developing world to work as equal partners in solving the climate problem.
Similarly, he said, the challenge of food security could no longer be addressed within the confines of national boundaries. With less forest available for conversion to agriculture and growing desertification, the world faced a reduction in available arable land for agricultural production. Ensuring food security thus required a partnership that combined the best science, adequate resources and a coherent set of trade policies that emphasized cross-border collaboration and coordination, such as those seen in the regional food security programme of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). The common actions it had identified included establishing an agricultural modernization fund, improving land policy and administration, expanding research, developing physical infrastructure and enhancing regional coordination.
In closing, he stressed that sustainable development was no longer a rallying cry or slogan. It was recognized as essential in ensuring the future well-being of the world’s people, the global economy and of life itself. But, this year would test the world’s resolve. Would it move boldly to create a new global financial infrastructure and climate agreement to put the world onto a more sustainable track, or would it retreat in the face of the challenge’s magnitude?
NETUMBO NANDI-NDAITWAH, Minister of Environment and Tourism of Namibia, said that, against the backdrop of multiple global crises, Government delegations at the Commission could not continue “business as usual”, especially since the people they represented had such high expectations for the outcome of the meeting, as well as the actions for implementation and follow-up. Here, she emphasized that it was deplorable that so much time was spent debating the meaning of concepts, as opposed to the ways and means of their implementation. That was especially important to remember this year, when the global effort to implement policy actions on the priority themes of the current session were at the core of the struggle against poverty.
She said Namibia was taking the session very seriously and, among other things, its Government had hosted one of the high-level intersessional meetings in Windhoek. That conference had clearly underscored the importance that all of Africa attached to agriculture. Most of the people living in developing countries depended on agriculture and, at the same time, agriculture and agricultural practices contributed in no small measure to the sustainable management of natural resources in those countries. At the Windhoek meeting, African ministers had, therefore, underscored the urgency of a sustainable green revolution to boost agricultural production.
“We believe that a green economy is the only way to address current and perhaps future food crises,” she said, stressing that efforts to eradicate poverty must be based on sustainable development and, in order to ensure such development and food security, it was necessary to bolster all sectors of agriculture and food production. Those sectors included, among others, crop production, livestock and aquaculture. Further, different levels of agricultural production from small-, medium- and even large-scale farmers must be given adequate attention. Namibia, for its part, had initiated a process to mobilize domestic resources for implementing its “green” policies for enhanced agricultural productivity, increased production and marketing. Namibia’s “Green Scheme”, she said, was a national framework through which its sustainable agricultural production interventions would be implemented.
She went on to say that that there was a need to recognize the role of women in agriculture and rural development, and that women farmers should be empowered through skills development and secure land tenure. As women made up the majority of the developing world’s agricultural producers, the decisions they made would affect investment and productivity in rural areas. Laudable efforts in Africa and elsewhere were being undermined by natural disasters, such as droughts, floods and field fires. While there was a need to address mitigation for such disasters to stave off desertification and other forms of land degradation, there was also a need to tackle the serious threats posed by climate change. As long as those countries with high greenhouse gas emissions continued with business as usual, global efforts to reduce poverty would never take hold.
With that in mind, she asked: “How long will those who are defending their way of life be allowed to continue on at the expense of those struggling to fight poverty and protect the environment?” It was absolutely crucial that a “development round” of climate change negotiations be concluded this winter in Copenhagen, with clear commitments for a transparent and predictable financial mechanism, financing for the transfer and development of clean technology and resources for capacity-building in developing countries. “We are all in a collective and collaborative undertaking,” she said, urging delegations to recognize that there were no policies without financial implications. Therefore, if they were sincere in their deliberations, they would agree on the financial means and resource mobilization to implement them.
SYLVIE LUCAS ( Luxembourg), President of the Economic and Social Council, stressed that sustainable development provided a key to the overarching development framework. As a result, the Council had chosen sustainable development as one of its priority focuses last year. Indeed, with 75 per cent of the world’s poor living in rural areas and with most of them depending on agriculture for their livelihoods, rural development and agricultural policies were clearly interlinked with poverty eradication goals. Yet, global warming, increasing energy consumption and declining resources intensified the sense of urgency to raise agricultural production and ensure sustainability.
Continuing, she said several issues were of critical importance. Chief among them was the fact that current agricultural practices would not allow the world to meet the needs of growing populations, much less do so in a sustainable way. The means for more sustainable agricultural production were needed. In particular, Africa continued to suffer from a lack of food security and the means for sufficient agricultural production. Sustainable land management played a key role in sustainable agriculture and adaptation measures needed to be integrated into management schemes. Indeed, an integrated approach that encompassed financial means was required.
She expressed hope that clear deliverables and concrete actions would come out of the Commission’s session. A commitment demonstrated in the Commission’s outcome document would provide a critical input at the Council’s annual segment in July, and would be most welcome as the Council addressed its overall theme of public health. The Commission’s recommendations on advancing rural development would be particularly critical.
HOMERO BIBILONI, Secretary of Environment and Sustainable Development of Argentina, said the themes of the Commission’s current session required the international community to focus on the impact of unsustainable production and consumption patterns. There had been significant progress since the 1992 Rio “Earth Summit” and Agenda 21, but there was a need for more actions and concrete agreements to address the serious parallel crises affecting the world today. As for the Commission, he said: “We don’t need more statements, documents, or workshops to tell those that are suffering that, indeed, they are suffering. We need to focus on how to put agreements to work. We need to focus on ‘how’, not ‘what’ or ‘why’.”
He said concrete solutions were needed to address concrete realities, especially since more than 75 per cent of the people on the planet depended on agriculture for their livelihoods, and especially since current consumption practices and trade policies were pushing more than 100 million people below the poverty level. The international community must examine how agricultural subsidies affected trade relations and incomes. Such topics must be addressed “here and now”, not at some far off date when negotiations on other issues were taken up. Rules were imposed by the strongest, not by the weakest, who were most often, ironically, the producers of the products the strongest used.
Add to all that the devastating impact of climate change and natural disasters, and it was clear the situation did not appear very positive, he continued. Poverty went hand in hand with desertification and land degradation. A green revolution required a revolution in values. Indeed, the standards of comfort for some must change, or else the standards for all would suffer. Values were upside down, as stimulus packages targeting banks and mortgage companies did nothing to address poverty or environmental degradation.
With all that in mind, he said, Argentina might be able to accept another statement at the end of the session, but such a conclusion would not help future generations at all. Policies and actions to promote better agricultural production were they only way to improve rural sectors, provide jobs and end the disenfranchisement of billions in the developing world. It was also necessary to help forge a strategic alliance with the scientific community to harmonize efforts to protect the environment, improve agricultural sectors and bolster production.
JULIA MARTON-LEFÈVRE, Director-General, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), said that, as the world’s Governments and peoples reeled from the impact of crises on a scale never before witnesses, it was clear that the negative effects of unsustainable lifestyles and practices were being felt in Africa more strongly than anywhere else. Indeed, the entire international community would fail to attain the Millennium Development Goals and be unable to tackle tough environmental challenges, if it continued to neglect the African continent. Turning around that trend required not only scaling up investments in agriculture, markets and infrastructure, it also required a much more concerted effort to integrate Africa into world trade and significant increases in development aid to Africa.
Looking ahead to the Commission’s next thematic cycle, delegations needed to pay particular attention this year to sustainable consumption and production and the impact, thereof, on Africa. She urged delegations to keep environmental issues in the forefront of their thoughts and actions, even as the fallout from the global financial crisis continued to grab headlines. Ignoring the pressures on the environment and natural resources caused by current behaviour would be a “serious mistake”, she said, noting that, among other things, ongoing population increase combined with social and economic inequalities was amplifying the stress on ecosystems and the services they provided. “In short, we are running out of time to reverse a series of dangerous trends. […] We must now recognize that we have overdrawn our account of natural assets.”
She urged delegations and their respective Governments to scale up their “investments” in nature, by, among other ways, supporting the environment’s ability to continue to provide clean air and water, food, clothing, medicines and inspiration. Such investment required understanding that the environment was not a separate sector, but rather a crucial element to address many of today’s challenges. Investing in nature also meant taking advantage of the interdependence of the environment, economy and society. Moreover, through ecosystem-based and landscape scale approaches, it was an effective way to decrease people’s vulnerability to drought, desertification and food insecurity. “Without investment in nature, your objectives for managing today’s sustainable development challenges of food security and poverty reduction are doomed to failure,” she declared.
She went on to highlight the proposal for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD), which IUCN believed was one of the best examples of what could be achieved by investing in nature. Stopping deforestation could curb from 10 to 20 per cent of the current global carbon emissions. An additional 117 gigatons of carbon emissions could be captures by restoring 850 million hectares of degraded forests worldwide. She added that the additional capture would also improve local livelihoods simply by using agro-forestry and other techniques. “Why we would pass up an opportunity to make such a difference, using available technology and capacity, is beyond imagination,” she said.
SHOAIB SULTAN KHAN, Chairman of the National Rural Support Programme of Pakistan, said that, following the advice of his mentor, Akhter Hameed Khan, he had devoted himself to local communities in Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka. As a result, he had held dialogues with over 5,000 communities and had offered them an approach to overcome their differences themselves. That approach, which asked those communities to work for their own development, was grounded in the principle that, unless the community and the poor were prepared to fulfil their obligations, a partnership with donors or international actors would be impossible. He had told the communities where he first worked that “your limit is our limit”.
He said those early experiences had reinforced his conviction that people were willing to do what it took to come out of poverty themselves. The poor had known what would bring them out of poverty. They had planted hundreds of acres of trees and developed micro-hydro projects. They had also planted cherries and apricots and initiated wildlife protection programmes. He had recently visited the village of Ahmedabad in Pakistan’s northern area, which had been incredibly isolated decades ago and now had “everything”. That area would have gone unnoticed by international development macro-planners, but for the work of the villagers themselves. The secret of their success, in their words, was that “we got organized”. As a result, the income of the people in that area had more than doubled in real terms, according to the second World Bank assessment of the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme.
He stressed that one of Programme’s most important outcomes had been the development of community-supported agriculture that allowed the poor to break out of the exploitative relationships with middle men. Moreover, the environmental benefits had been enormous. However good the technology was, though, it would remain in university laboratories and classrooms if the people were not involved, and a people-centred approach would be critical in mitigating and adapting to climate change.
Continuing, he said the rural support programme network offered a way to reduce rural poverty. In Pakistan, a new chapter of development was opening, with the federal Government committing itself to rural development through increased social mobilization. Further, at the recent Friends of Pakistan meeting hosted by Japan, billions had been pledged to help the country eliminate rural poverty.
ABDALMAHMOOD ABDALHALEEM MOHAMAD (Sudan), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the international community’s responses to the current parallel crises must be decisive. All efforts must aim to, among other things, eradicate hunger and poverty, ensure food security and achieve wider internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals. They must be carried out with a focus on the special needs of Africa, least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States. Further effective measures must be taken to ensure that people living under occupation were able to fully realize sustainable development. He added that his delegation also reaffirmed the special challenges faced by countries emerging from conflict.
He went on to say that the Group of 77 reiterated that, for all developing countries the implementation of sustainable development plans and strategies were a top priority. Indeed, without a means of implementation, such strategies would remain scarcely more than “words on a page”, he said, urging greater efforts in that regard to ensure action in areas such as trade, capacity-building, technology transfer, education and scientific research and development. He also urged the Commission to find ways to ensure that new and additional financial resources could be targeted to those areas, particularly to help ensure the transfer of environmentally sound technologies and the corresponding expertise to developing countries, as a means to enhance productivity and competitiveness.
JAKUB ŠEBESTA, Minister of Agriculture of the Czech Republic, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said extraordinary situations required innovative and dynamic approaches. In that respect, the shared vision resulting from the current high-level segment would benefit greatly from the session’s innovative spirit. For its part, the European Union believed that increasing the sustainability of agriculture was critical in ensuring global food security, quality and safety over the long term. It supported the establishment of a global partnership for agriculture, food security and nutrition. It also believed the sustainable management of natural resources, the sustainable use of pesticides and fertilizers, the use of more environmentally friendly management techniques, sustainable production of bioenergy and frameworks of land tenure, use and management were necessary. The sustainable use of ecosystem services could strengthen resilience to climate change. Integrated water resource management principles could enhance disaster risk reduction and drought preparedness, while reducing desertification and land degradation. In that, special attention should be paid to the challenges facing small island developing States.
Turning to rural development, he said that, to diversify the rural economy and improve the quality of life in rural areas, non-agricultural activities needed support. Sustainable forest management and sustainable tourism played an integral part in balanced rural development. The working conditions of farmers and other agricultural workers also deserved attention, with a focus on decent work and the empowerment of women and youth. Africa and its agriculture required priority attention, in the context of addressing poverty and eradicating hunger, and the continent’s access to existing markets should be improved, while new markets were developed. Further, a more coordinated and coherent approach between national stakeholders, donors, intergovernmental bodies and United Nations bodies was required for delivering substantial results.
He said the major global challenges demonstrated the absolute need to integrate social and environmental considerations, as well as governance aspects, in economic recovery plans. The move towards a green economy needed a boost to stimulate the development of innovative and environmentally sound technologies and to change unsustainable patterns of production and consumption. Overall, special attention should be given to Africa, the least developed countries, land-locked developing countries and small island developing States, and multilateralism would be critical as the basis for action.
KATHLEEN MERRIGAN, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture of the United States, said that, throughout the Commission’s current cycle, her country’s delegation had emphasized the role of research and education in discovering ways to address problems and prepare future generations; the importance of empowering people and communities so they could work together to meet current and future demands; and the powerful facilitating role information and communications technology played in the overall process of sustainable development. Underlying all three of those factors was the United States commitment to ensuring that women fully participated at all levels.
She went on to say that all delegations must strive to ensure sustainable agriculture and that the Commission was best when it was promoting practical, detailed solutions. To that end, she noted that perhaps the most lasting legacy of Commission’s eighth session had been the emergence thereafter of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (SARD) partnerships. The United States continued to believe that it was just such practical solutions, such as the new nutrient partnership, that, through information exchange, would help facilitate the wise and judicious use of fertilizers. It would also help facilitate action in such areas as rural cooperatives, rural-urban market links and ecological land potential in land management and planning. Finally, she said it was incumbent on delegations participating in the Commission’s current session to find ways to improve people’s lives, while protecting the environment to ensure that it would be able to meet the needs of current and future generations.
CHRISTOPHER TUFTON, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries of Jamaica, speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), said climate change was the single most urgent threat confronting such States. That “quiet tsunami” affected every sector of the economies of small island developing States and, for most of them, food security was intricately linked to the health of subsistence fishing and marine areas. The continued decline of such coastal areas posed a grave threat, and the alarming frequency and intensity of severe weather patterns and extreme events like hurricanes was one of climate change’s most debilitating effects, particularly in the Caribbean. Many small island developing States were also contending with continued coastal erosion and sea-level rise and, unless urgent measures were made to arrest that trend, many countries would be submerged in the next few decades. Soil salinization, resulting from coastal erosion, had further serious implications for food security.
Emphasizing that climate change was not just a passing fad for small island developing States, but an existential threat, he highlighted the barriers it posed not only to sustainable development goals, but to their economic and physical survival. Against that backdrop, he called on the international community to put aside a “business as usual” mindset and give priority to small island developing States during the current session by recognizing their special and important needs. The international community’s role in providing financing, technology and capacity-building to address the special needs of small island developing States was not only necessary, but vital. To that end, AOSIS looked forward to the General Assembly’s two-day high-level review of the progress made in implementing the Mauritius Strategy, scheduled for September 2010, and repeated its call for the Commission’s next session to devote more than the one day normally allotted to small island developing States, as part of the preparation for the high-level review.
MARLENE MOSES (Nauru), speaking on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States, said that the countries that made up her delegation, which faced natural geographical challenges and limited natural resources, relied on the immediate and concrete implementation of sustainable development strategies outlined in international frameworks to achieve their development goals. Small island developing States in the Pacific region had identified climate change as one issue that affected all the areas being considered at the current session, and while those islands were pleased to see a growing acknowledgment of the impact of climate change, they believed that more needed to be done to address the matter.
Indeed, many such islands would be among the first Member States threatened with extinction by rising sea levels, and she urged the Commission to use its current session to focus collective efforts to ensure the direct implementation of adaptation strategies. She went on to recommend, among others, that such strategies be integrated into all development polices promoted by United Nations agencies, that land-use planning be integrated into strategies that addressed climate change and that more focus be devoted to the issues of soil erosion and land conservation. Finally, she drew the Commission’s attention to the difficulties faced by Pacific small islands in accessing the funds to implement the goals of the 2005 Mauritius Strategy. She hoped that issue would be giving major attention at the 2010 review of that action plan, because without accessible funding, Pacific small islands could not implement agreed policy options for sustainable development.
AHMED ABDULRAHMAN AL-JARMAN (United Arab Emirates), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said agricultural development required continuous improvement in agricultural methods and practices, as well as in developing and adopting technological innovations. To that end, it was imperative to focus on, among other things, supporting scientific research and agricultural extension activities; supporting the production and marketing of agricultural products and ensuring their quality and competitiveness; drafting legislation on veterinary quarantine and phytosanitary issues; increasing investments and achieving food security based on activities to increase farmers’ revenue; and enabling the participation of women in all aspects of agricultural development.
Food security in most Arab countries remained a rural issue and, thus, those countries must implement policies and measures to ensure the balanced development of rural and urban areas, he said. Projects for small-scale farmers should also be financed and rural market information services strengthened. Further policies were needed to protect the land from degradation and to enhance the use of non-conventional water sources for irrigation.
Emphasizing that some parts of the region were experiencing increased numbers of severe drought episodes owing to climate change, he said there was an urgent need to design and implement comprehensive long-term drought risk management strategies. Early warning systems were needed, as was regular field monitoring. Concerted efforts to combat desertification were also needed to reverse land degradation trends. To that end, an integrated regional approach was needed, along with joint technology transfer programmes throughout the region.
Underlining the need for international cooperation and the provision of technical and financial assistance to implement those policies, he called for strengthened cooperation between United Nations organization and the League of Arab States. Regional and international institutions should support the Arab countries’ efforts through joint financial and technical programmes, particularly those aimed at combating desertification and mitigating climate change. The continued Israeli occupation of the Palestinian lands and the Syrian Golan had also led to serious deterioration in agricultural sectors, as well as those related to rural development, land and water. Thus, the Commission should pay special attention to the issue of foreign occupation and call for the halt of illegal practices that had negative effects on economic and social development and that violated human dignity and values.
ISMAT JAHAN (Bangladesh), speaking on behalf of the least developed countries and aligning her statement with Sudan’s statement on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said the least developed countries were being affected disproportionately by the global crises. Their exports were falling, migration outflows were decreasing, returnee influxes were increasing, private capital flows were reversing and trending negative and official development assistance (ODA) was decelerating, even as debt burdens and debt servicing obligations rose significantly. The social and human dimension would be unimaginably high and long-lasting. The unfolding global financial crisis was impacting agriculture and had a strong food security dimension. It was, thus, imperative that recovery and stimulus packages take into account specific conditions of the rural areas, where agricultural activities were the main economic activity. Rural infrastructure also needed upgrading to enhance the sector’s resilience.
Because those sectors were mostly rain-fed, their productivity was highly vulnerable to climate change, she said. Soil erosion, land degradation, water-logging and sea-level rise induced by climate change posed further threats to food and livelihood security in the least developed countries, especially those in sub-Saharan Africa. A strategy for ambitious emission cuts with adequate adaptation financing was needed and should be an outcome of Copenhagen. Investment in agriculture and rural development should also be scaled up across the developing world. The interface between climate change, drought and desertification also needed to be addressed, so affected rural communities could raise their capacity to adapt to climate change.
She stressed that increased global partnership was needed more than ever. Developed countries should fulfil their ODA commitments, while the external debts of least developed countries should be cancelled. Developed and developing countries in a position to do so should provide market access free of barriers and tariffs to least developed countries. The current intellectual property regime should provide access to appropriate technologies at an affordable cost. Least developed countries should also be provided access to financing for the rural poor, and gender issues must be mainstreamed in agricultural, land use and environmental policies.
KAZUKHIKO TAKEMOTO, Vice-Minister for Global Environmental Affairs of Japan, said progress was needed across all six priority themes for sustainable development to be realized. An appropriate response to climate change from the international community was needed and should be based on scientific data and analysis. To that end, the Japanese Government had published a report entitled Wise Adaptation to Climate Change in June 2008, and had committed to promoting further cooperation support to developing countries in that regard. But, as technology was transferred from developed to developing countries, special precautions were needed to prevent problems in their management and application. Traditional knowledge and local technical skills must be respected and utilized to ensure proper maintenance and management of new technologies.
In mitigating climate change, he said, it was also important to utilize biomass, which could revitalize local communities, reduce waste and achieve new frontiers in agriculture, forestry and fishing. Further, it was important to strive for compatibility between production of biofuels and a sufficient food supply by promoting both at the same time. Japan was working to produce biofuel using rice straw and thinned wood. As part of its efforts to preserve biological diversity, Japan was working to support the REDD programme into a post-2012 framework and was collecting good practices with regard to the symbiotic interaction between lifestyles and ecosystems. Japan aimed to create an international model for sustainable natural resource management that would be introduced as part of its “Satoyama Initiative” at the tenth conference of parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, in 2010. Stressing the importance of basing land use on the concept of carbon sinks, he said carbon capture and storage of farmland soil had great potential in mitigating global warming. To that end, Japan also encouraged the use of compost for carbon capture and storage.
DMITRY MAKSIMYCHEV ( Russian Federation) said sustainable development was one of the most important issues on the international agenda. To that end, bolstering agricultural development was vital. The Russian Federation was concerned that the food security crisis had not disappeared and was, in fact, deepening for many nations, as food prices continued to fluctuate or rise steadily. The Russian Federation had made a contribution of some $25 million to the fund set up to address the food crisis. It would follow-up that contribution with other measures, including scaling up the provision of grain to world markets. He said his country was also planning to organize, in Saint Petersburg, a World Grain Forum, to examine, among other things, ways to scale up investment in agricultural markets, infrastructure and assistance. That meeting would also examine ways to ensure fair grain pricing for producers and distributors.
STEFANIA PRESTIGIACOMO, Environment Minister of Italy, aligning her remarks with those made on behalf of the European Union and presenting her delegation’s work as President of the G-8, said that the Group had been working on several issues that overlapped with the work of the Commission. The discussion during the April summit of the environmental ministers of the G-8 in Syracuse had addressed the development of low-carbon technologies, ensuring biodiversity and promoting children’s health and environments. That meeting on climate change and biodiversity had sought to develop a path forward and, to that end, had adopted a “Carta di Siracusa on Biodiversity” [Charter of Syracuse on Biodiversity], which sought to identify common goals for the conservation of biodiversity and natural ecosystems. It established, among other things, that biodiversity was necessary for life and for the achievement of certain human and social development goals, such as the Millennium Development Goals. It also postulated that biodiversity had economic value and played a role in the business and financial sectors. The G‑8’s environment ministers had further affirmed their desire to create a concrete post-Kyoto climate agreement that looked at long-term goals and articulated concrete steps to meet them.
Turning to the meeting of G-8 agriculture ministers held in Cison di Valmarino in April, she said that meeting’s outcome had opened a new road for promoting food security. Its main vision had focused on reducing poverty and increasing food production, particularly in developing countries. The agricultural ministers had agreed to use all available tools to mitigate the effects of the financial crisis on food production and hunger. She was confident that the G-8’s main stakeholders and policy-makers would work together to improve policy coherence that recognized the interlinkages between the Commission’s main policy themes.
Round Table: Responding to Food Crisis through Sustainable Development
Leading off the discussion, which Ms. VERBURG said would consider what lessons had been learned from the food crisis that had begun some 18 months ago and what could be done to avoid ongoing fluctuations in food prices, ACHIM STEINER, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said it was important to understand that the issue of food security was as much about the urban economy as it was the rural one. The crisis, both in its genesis and culmination, as well as its continuing reality, had been “somewhat confusing”. On the one hand, 2008 had seen historic crop yields and significant increases in pay for farmers and other producers of vital commodities. On the other, millions had been imperilled by the sharp run-up in prices for those commodities, as well as the fallout from the energy crisis and ongoing climate change.
One lesson learned was that such events could no longer be considered relegated to one “sector” or area of concern, he said. The convergence of the crises had fundamentally impacted socio-economic development, health and environmental factors in all societies and communities. It was quite clear that sustainability and the environmental change agenda were likewise converging. By example, he said that nascent investments in the transition towards a green economy were leading policy-makers to redesign and rethink economic development, sustainable agriculture and “other defining parameters of tomorrow’s economy”.
For its part, UNEP was launching a programme in its home country, Kenya, which focused on “farming” carbon. The project would examine carbon storage and the sequestration capability of Lake Victoria’s watersheds, as well as how local farmers could be part of what was certain to become a carbon-market-informed economy. Such schemes could have fundamental impact on rural economies, by, among other ways, earning real returns for environmental custodians. He noted that 70 per cent of the planet’s carbon was stored in protected areas, which covered only about 10 per cent of Earth’s surface. Those nature preserves could become real revenue earners. Such strategies would, of course, be accompanied by efforts to bolster rural economies and maintain the ecological infrastructure that had for so long been ignored, but which would soon become a vital part of the international community’s approach to dealing with global crises.
AXUMITE GEBRE-EGZIABHER, Director of the New York Office of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), delivering a statement on behalf of Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of UN-Habitat, said cities were fundamental to food security and the food security problem could not be solved unless they were included. For UN-HABITAT, the point of departure for that was the recognition that there could be no sustainable development without sustainable urbanization. Thus, any solution had to account for the irreversible trend of the world’s increasing urbanization. It was estimated that, by 2050, 70 per cent of the world’s population would live in cities. Even in Africa, which was the least urbanized region in the world, 60 per cent of the population was projected to be urban-dwelling by 2050.
She said that urbanization process, like the food crisis itself, presented both challenges and opportunities. Africa was undergoing an urbanization of poverty, which forced the urban poor to grow their own food in city communities and peri-urban areas. While tolerated, such urban farming was not officially recognized and, like other parts of the informal sector, had shortcomings -- especially in terms of quality. To overcome those, such urban farming needed more support and encouragement as part of the overall food security strategy. Policymakers should also recognize the links between urban and rural areas, particularly the fact that cities and towns constituted the marketplace for most rural production. To that end, it was necessary to envision a production-consumption chain or continuum.
With the food crisis linked to climate change, rapid urbanization and increased competition for water and natural resources, the dissociation between the brown and the green agendas should be merged to increase environmental sustainability, she said. Accordingly, land use, distribution, management and governance served as a starting point for fully integrating urban and rural development strategies. A number of questions applied: Who had access to land and who did not? Whose rights were secure and whose were not? Who participated in decision-making? How were conflicting interests resolved? How were agreements enforced and who got to use the land and the resulting revenue streams? And what role did cities play in driving the agricultural production and distribution systems?
She suggested that, to improve land governance, the gap between informal and formal institutions needed to be bridged through partnerships between the Government and the grass-root, private and professional sectors. Also, significant institutional reform and behavioural change were needed, while a range of land rights should be recognized. Women’s land and property rights should be further strengthened. A more holistic view of urban rural issues was also needed.
ALEXANDER MUELLER, Assistant-Director General of the Sustainable Development Department, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said the number of hungry people had increased significantly in recent years and the impact of that “bad news” had to be considered against a backdrop of predicted increases in population growth and urban migration over the next few decades. Such growth, as well as changing consumption patterns, meant that food growth and production would have to increase by some 60 per cent over the next three decades.
At the same time, he reminded delegations that agriculture was the biggest “consumer” of water, so the interlinked challenges for sustainable development were “huge”, and only a comprehensive, integrated approach to agricultural and broader development would lead to the solutions required to providing enough food and water for some 9 billion people by 2050. Along with addressing the impact of climate change, which was exacerbating all the aforementioned challenges, he said there was a need to resurrect agricultural sectors, by not only identifying practicable policy options and actions, but also increasing funding to the sector, which had diminished drastically over the past two decades.
RAJUL PANDYA-LORCH, head of the International Food Policy Research Institute’s 2020 Vision Initiative, said the food crisis was not over. Rather, the food and the financial crises had become intertwined, thus dealing a double blow to the world’s poor. Moreover, if swift action was not taken, another food crisis would result. To ease the burden of those crises, agricultural growth was needed, market volatility should be reduced and an emphasis on social protection and child nutrition renewed. Policymakers also needed reliable and timely data to respond.
She went on to say that, while food prices had come down in the last year, they were not lower than two years ago and, more importantly, the decline in global prices had not, for the most part, been reflected in local markets. The rise in food prices stemmed from, among other things, subsidized biofuel production, the slow response to the increased demand and the long-term lack of agricultural investments. While the financial crisis had its roots in different causes, it had now converged with the food crisis and was undermining the poor’s food-nutrition security. Poor households were reducing both the quantity and the quality, in terms of nutrients consumed, of their food intake. Too often in discussions over what do to address the food crisis, the impact on employment was overlooked, but it should be addressed. So too should the situation of those farmers who had gone into debt to capitalize on rising food prices, only to find they were unable to do so now that prices had fallen.
She said her Institute’s “scenario work” showed that food prices might rise soon, due to investment constraints from the financial crisis. That would mean that 60 per cent of children were more likely to remain malnourished than otherwise. To promote agricultural growth, reduce market volatility and expand social safety nets, it was important to, among other things, increase access to markets by small-holder farmers, who been prevented from benefiting from last year’s higher food prices owing to a lack of increased inputs and infrastructure investment. Indeed, while social protection was typically conceived as preventing people from sliding into poverty, in this case it should be seen as providing positive benefits that allowed forward movement, rather than preventing its opposite. In closing, she said that the responses to last year’s crisis, whether they were effective or not, had largely been based on spotty data. Investments were needed so that better data could be culled and used more effectively. Indeed, to respond to future crises, it would be necessary for policymakers to be better informed.
Sub-Round Table I
The discussion, co-chaired by Oliver Dulić, Minister of Environment and Spatial Planning of Serbia, and Manfred Bortsch, State Secretary and Director-General, Federal Office for Agriculture of Switzerland, touched on, among other things, the main areas that required enhanced investment -- both public and private -- to foster agricultural and rural development in developing countries, requirements for improving rural infrastructure and ideas for ensuring that small-scale framers benefited from such improvements. Speakers also touched on the need for agrarian reform, social safety nets to protect people in times of crises or natural disaster, protection of forests and other land- or water-based ecological resources, and the empowerment of women, who made up the bulk of the world’s farmers.
“We are facing a crisis of sustainability,” said one minister, who noted that, as the past century had been marked by the search for raw materials and oil, the current one might be marked by the search for food and water, especially with the planet’s populations set to jump by another 2 billion or 3 billion people over the next four decades. Another stark symbol of modern life was that perhaps half a billion people on the planet were overweight, while just slightly more than that went to bed hungry every night. So, while it was vital to increase productivity, it was necessary to ensure that the benefits were equitably distributed and the means were sustainably executed.
Several speakers highlighted the many obstacles their countries faced, even when statistics showed they were “doing well” or coping effectively with the current crises. For example, an environment minister from Thailand noted that, while his country was the world’s biggest rice exporter, much of its infrastructure was sub-par or deteriorating rapidly. That single factor was affecting nearly every aspect of the country’s agricultural production, from crop irrigation to storage and farm-to-market transportation. The Thai Government had launched a very successful micro-credit programme for small- and medium-sized farmers, but it was clear that more measures were required to address the serious obstacles, especially in the area of integrated water and land management.
Echoing similar concerns, an environment minister from India said that his Government had, among other things, enacted policies that had improved agricultural output, as well as productivity and the country was now the world’s second largest producer of both wheat and rice. However, India’s land and water resources were under “considerable strain”, since the country supported about 17 per cent of the world’s population on a mere 2 per cent of its geographical area and 4 per cent of its water resources. He said India’s problems were expected to intensify with the increasing demand for food grain and falling water supplies. The Government had launched a national food security mission, as well as a climate change strategy, along with measures to integrate rural and agricultural development. At the same time, India was aware that sustainable development could not be achieved without tackling poverty in countries where millions of people depended on diminishing or endangered natural resource bases.
Finally, representing civil society, the head of the International Federation of Agriculture Producers said that, while farmers applauded those Governments that had action plans in place to cope with current global crises, the real answer lay not in creating new frameworks to address every global challenge, but in investing more comprehensively in agricultural development. Such a shift in thinking would not only boost productivity, but would also help harness agriculture to revitalize rural areas and spur economic growth. It was time to get creative, he said, calling on the Commission to devote more attention to agricultural development.
Sub-Round Table II
The discussion in the second sub-round table, which was chaired by Ms. Merrigan, Deputy Secretary, Department of Agriculture of the United States, and Ms. Nandi-Ndaitwah, Minister of Environment and Tourism of Namibia, focused on, among other things, lessons learned during the recent food crisis, areas where enhanced investment could foster sustainable development and best practices to support small farmers.
Several speakers underscored the tension between boosting production and ensuring sustainability, noting that, while agricultural production could easily be increased in many cases, too often that higher harvest came at the expense of the future viability of land, water and other necessary resources. The representative of youth and children argued that responding to the current crises and developing sustainable agricultural practice were not mutually exclusive goals, and cautioned that, in its haste to act quickly, the world community should not forget to act wisely.
Many delegations underlined the related tension between making farming pay and reducing the price of food. One speaker expressed the concern that, if a push for lower food prices was made, it would diminish the desire to invest in agriculture. Highlighting how that dichotomy impacted small countries, Jamaica’s representative said that, with their limited land space, those countries had to balance the need for sustainability with the goal of ensuring that the economics of farming worked for small farmers constrained by such land limits. In that effort, trade issues had to be front and centre. Also focusing on the need to incorporate trade into the discussion, Sweden’s delegate said more trade -- rather than more bans and tariffs -- was required to enhance agriculture’s economic viability.
“Investments, investments, investments in agriculture -- that’s the right answer,” Poland’s delegate said, echoing others who lamented a widespread lack of such investment in the past. Elaborating on the types of investments needed, Ms. Pandya-Lorch said those were needed to support research aimed at broadening the understanding of climate change’s effects on agriculture. To that end, the negotiations for Copenhagen were critical. She added that the principle of sustainability had to extend to the investment effort -- rather than being merely reactive, investment had to be sustainable. Speaking for Mr. Steiner, a representative of UNEP said that for agriculture to be sustainable, increased investment was needed for research into adaptation mechanisms and less-polluting inputs, as well as how to preserve agro-ecosystems by ensuring that the right amount of food was produced, while the ecosystem remained undamaged, and to reduce post-harvest loss.
Echoing other affirmations that the focus of the current session should be on cooperation, Brazil’s representative recalled the Windhoek Declaration’s emphasis on South-South cooperation, suggesting that such efforts should focus on biofuel production, dryland agriculture and combating desertification. Other representatives said national social safety needs had to be strengthened, so people would not fall into, and become trapped by, chronic poverty. Many also said the integration of local expertise and techniques in sustainable development policies were of paramount importance. Several other speakers further emphasized the need to include local people in agricultural policymaking at all levels.
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