Rio+20 - The Need to Observe the IAASTD’s findings
In 2008, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) was concluded. This four-year process, initiated by the World Bank and the United Nations, saw more than 400 scientists from various disciplines evaluate the state of agriculture worldwide. The report called for a paradigm shift in agricultural policies and practice, and expressed a need to strengthen support for small-scale farmers. The IAASTD did away with common concepts of agriculture, redefined which farming systems are sustainable and offered options for action in order to achieve sustainable agricultural development. Rio+20 must observe these results on the road to sustainability. Although the core issues in the IAASTD are more pressing than ever, most signatory governments, although using the language of the report, have failed to implement its findings, still pursuing policies that maintain business as usual. Rio+20 provides an opportunity to close this gap and mandate a UN agency that can monitor the implementation of the IAASTD’s findings.
Since publication of the IAASTD, profound economic and political change has given rise to new threats. Following the 2008 food price crisis, the global rush for farmland - land grabbing - has reached alarming levels. States, transnational corporations and financial investors are buying or leasing large stretches of land in developing countries, thus preventing those most vulnerable from accessing land and exacerbating hunger. The growing demand for biofuels, triggered by blending targets and subsidies, is putting particular pressure on land. Biofuels directly compete with food production and lead to greenhouse gas emissions through deforestation. Since the IAASTD’s publication, food speculation has increased. Banks, hedge funds and pension funds are dominating food commodity markets and are speculating on food supply, leading to soaring food prices. Moreover, the impact of climate change is becoming increasingly visible with droughts and floods threatening agricultural production.
Time for a Permanent Agricultural Assessment
A continuous and institutionalised assessment of agricultural knowledge, science and technology is needed to solve these emerging and persistent problems, and achieve sustainable agricultural development. Policy and decision makers depend on reliable and comprehensive information to set up effective policy frameworks. In March, the need for such a regular assessment was reaffirmed by the High Level Roundtable on Food and Nutrition Security and Sustainable Agriculture in New York, convening high level representatives from governments and the United Nations, along with members of the scientific and farming community. In a common declaration entitled “Nourish Our People – Nurture Our Planet”, they demanded that the assessment should regularly review the latest research and knowledge. It was suggested that the different forms of agricultural production should be evaluated, ensuring that systems which enhance food security, protect biodiversity and benefit society as a whole are supported, rather than agribusiness which produces at the cost of the environment and depletes already scarce resources. Rio+20 provides the opportunity to implement the findings of the IAASTD and to secure its continuation by initiating a regular assessment.
For this purpose, an international multi-stakeholder panel has to be installed, similar to the IPCC. A network of scientists from various disciplines, institutions, farmers’ organisations, civil society and representatives of UN institutions, such as the FAO or the UNEP, should be built up. In a highly participatory process, all actors involved in agriculture and the food system, as well as holders of different forms of knowledge must be included. The Committee on World Food Security (CFS) and its High-Level Panel of Experts could provide strategic leadership to this project. To this end, the CFS has to be provided with the sufficient financial means and political support to be able to perform its task. A clear time frame, targets and constant monitoring are required. By initiating this broad coalition for a regular assessment, Rio+20 can ensure that agriculture becomes a permanent point on the agenda and receives the attention it deserves as a vital sector in shaping a sustainable future.