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Is it agriculture's time to shine in Rio?

Rio+20 must succeed in producing an outcome on sustainable agriculture. Photo: N. Palmer (CIAT)
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by Vanessa Meadu

A coalition of agriculture research and development organisations is working hard to put food and farming front-and-centre in next month’s Rio+20 conference, where world leaders will decide on the future framework for sustainable development.

Twenty years ago, the first United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development helped give birth to major international environmental treaties such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The 1992 meeting also shaped international and national discourse and environmental policies, and helped root the concept of sustainable development firmly into the mainstream. While even the UN environment chief has 'mixed' feelings as to whether the world has indeed achieved the goals laid out in 1992, it is certain that this year’s conference will help shape how sustainable development policies unfold for the next generation. Sustainable agriculture must not be left out.The agricultural organisations, which together are hosting the 4th Agriculture and Rural Development Day in Rio on 18 June, want to ensure that sustainable agriculture is embedded into an overall sustainable development approach, contributing to the ‘green economy’, to poverty eradication and to food security.

The current pace of negotiations has been overly slow and complex. A recent analysis by Robynne Anderson of the World Farmers’ Organisation (one of the groups behind Agriculture Day), indicates that “trade and other contentious issues” threaten to hold back agriculture and overshadow the needs of smallholders.

Nevertheless, CGIAR, which is a key driving force behind Agriculture Day, just issued a Call to Action for Rio+20, featuring a 7-point plan for ensuring that ‘agriculture research for development can contribute to a more sustainable future’ . In particular, CGIAR has called for a more integrated approach that takes into account the entire agriculture system rather than focusing on isolated solutions. Bruce Campbell, director of the CGIAR Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security program (CCAFS), has previously emphasized that a focus on technology is insufficient: agriculture must be seen as part of broader social-ecological system.

The Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change also focused on the entire system in its seminal report on transforming the food system. The challenge is as much about sustainably improving productivity as it is about enhancing equity of access; as much about nutrition as it is about developing better technologies and information systems. We already have many of the tools needed to shift into sustainable agriculture: now is the time for concerted global action.

Moreover, the CGIAR position highlights specific actions for a range of actors including government decision-makers, farmers and land managers, civil society, and the private sector, who together have the power to transform the food system, and who also have everything to lose if things stay the same.

Will you be in Rio? Register now for Agriculture Day  or follow the event on twitter @agricultureday #rio4ag and facebookLearn more about CGIAR research innovations that can contribute to a food secure future.

Story by Vanessa Meadu, communications manager for the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). Follow CCAFS on twitter @cgiarclimate.