Rio+20: Opportunity for Change in Agriculture
On June 20-22, twenty years after the 1992 Earth Summit, heads of state and government will once again gather in Rio de Janeiro for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20). In 1992, the summit adopted the principle of sustainable development: development which aims to meet the needs of present and future generations whilst preserving the environment. The conference also highlighted the interdependence of economic development, social equity and environmental protection. Besides conventions on climate change and biodiversity, a global blue print for sustainable development (Agenda 21) was adopted. Chapter 14 of this agenda was dedicated to promoting sustainable agriculture and rural development with the aim of increasing sustainable food production and enhancing food security. Two decades later, the implementation of this agenda remains deficient and a coherent approach to fighting hunger and poverty is still missing.
The Same Old Problems…
So far very little progress has been made in fighting poverty and food insecurity, or in protecting the environment. It is unlikely that the target of halving the number of undernourished people by 2015 will be reached. Nearly one billion people are suffering from malnutrition - a blatant violation of the right to food. A new food crisis is currently threatening the Horn of Africa, primarily affecting women and small farmers. Greenhouse gas emissions also continue to increase. The loss of biodiversity is accelerating. Desertification and land degradation are destroying agricultural land, while water resources are becoming increasingly scarce. Industrial agriculture and food systems are perpetuating their unsustainable dependence on external inputs and emitting large amounts of greenhouse gases. Monocultures and pesticide use are contributing to the depletion of soils and water resources.
Rio+20: Setting the Course for Future Farming
The Rio+20 Conference has an historic opportunity to tackle these urgent problems. Important, binding decisions can be made to initiate a change of course, and prevent a further 20 years without action. As it is one of the main contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and environmental destruction, agriculture must be central to the Rio+20 agenda. It is possible to feed the growing world population through sustainable small-scale farming systems based on agroecology. It is therefore vital that Rio+20 enables a policy framework that will strengthen sustainable forms of agriculture: transforming unsustainable, industrial agricultural practices into systems which protect biodiversity, enhance soil fertility and provide safe and nutritious food for all.
Greening Business as Usual is not an Option
The Rio+20 Conference will focus on two main topics: (a) a new institutional framework for sustainable development and (b) a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication. It is expected that a transformation to a green economy will create green jobs and generate growth, thus reducing poverty. However, this concept, as currently put forward by Rio+20, will not generate a profound change. It follows the same logic as the existing economic system that focuses on endless growth and overlooks the fact that the planet’s resources are limited. While the Zero Draft of the conference’s outcome document proposes a “sustainable intensification of food production”, this simply gives a green veil to the current intensification in agriculture rather than actually supporting sustainable peasant agriculture. Greening the existing agricultural model and continuing business as usual will not help the challenges ahead to be met. Rio+20 must take stock of past implementation deficits and initiate a complete overhaul of our agriculture and food system. A clear time frame, concrete targets and constant monitoring are needed to ensure the implementation of the conference outcome. >>more