Food security: a question of justice and human dignity

Mary Robinson spoke during the fourth Agriculture and Rural Development Day provinding her audience with a inspiring speech. Photo: C. Schubert (CCAFS)
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Jun 22, 2012

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Cecilia

By Cecilia Schubert

Mary Robinson’s message at this year’s Agriculture and Rural Development Day (ARDD) was clear. Farmers have the right to live free and equal in dignity and respect. “There is no dignity in seeing your child die prematurely due to malnutrition,” she said.  Research on climate change and agriculture must be linked to questions of rights and justice; science must respond to the true needs of farmers. A climate justice approach, which is based on science and grounded in human rights, can ensure that the science carried out serves the needs of the people.

Ms. Robinson, President of The Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice (MRFCJ), former President of Ireland and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, also addressed the need to change the discourse and way of thinking about the future. Current projections for estimate that by 2050, twenty-four million additional children will be malnourished. We can’t accept this discourse said President Robinson. Because envisioning and describing our future in this way is not acceptable. She declared that the Rio+20 conference is “an opportunity… to change mindsets and ensure implementation of action and human rights.”

Many people in the agricultural community hope that the Rio+20 sustainable development negotiations will produce meaningful support for farmer and sustainability development goals (SDGs) that integrates food security and social, and environmental sustainability. What is also needed is a more comprehensive picture of farmer’s constraints and reality is crucial. As President Robinson pointed out during her speech, innovative technologies alone won’t improve a smallholder farmers’ lives. Farmers need “access to and control over resources such as land and water, access to extension services and credit and an active role in decision making.” to truly realise their potential and enhance their lives.

President Robinson emphasized the need for more inclusive scientific research, suggesting that research be ‘farmer-led’, even going as far as suggesting ‘female-farmer-led’ research, as women in Africa perform 70 percent of agricultural work. There are several cases where participatory farmer-led research and farmer-to-farmer mentoring, have proven to be successful cases. “The challenge facing the scientific community is to understand the issues facing rural and food insecure people around the world,” said President Robinson, “and to work across disciplines to find appropriate solutions.” How can this be achieved in practice?

In East Africa, West Africa and South Asia, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) is putting farmers at the centre of research, via a range of participatory approaches that seek to ensure that farmers are heard and the research carried out will have a real impact on the ground. At a side event on how to obtain a food secure future, organised by World Food Programme (WFP) the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) among others, CCAFS Director Bruce Campbell, highlighted the urgency of bringing local knowledge into research. “We need to revolutionize the way we do research,” he said, and allow for “more local voices at international meetings and conferences”. He stressed the need to create forums for the local voices that have knowledge about their reality and context specific problems but also potential solutions. Researchers must work closely with farmers to identify what actions farmers can help transform their lives in the face of complex challenges such as climate change.

For the declaration made in 1992 in Rio during the Earth Summit, not to lose its significance, there must be a willingness for negotiators to build on it, and not take steps backward. What we need from Rio, concluded President Robinson, is “an outcome that will benefit poor women, men and children and not governments and organisations.”


The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) is covering the Rio+20 Conference live between 12 - 22 June. Read the latest stories related to agriculture and food security from the conference. To get the latest updates follow both CCAFS on Facebook and Twitter and Agriculture Day Facebook and Twitter. Join the conversation about agriculture and food security during at Rio+20 using #Rio4ag on Twitter.

Cecliia Schubert is a communications assistant at the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).