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Small wins for small farmers at Rio+20

Rio+20 has delivered a pretty good text for farmers; now it’s up to governments and agencies to act on these words, and put into place the financial commitments and practical policies that can truly deliver. Photo: N. Palmer (CIAT)
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Jun 27, 2012



by Vanessa Meadu

Are farmers part of the ‘Future we Want’? After two years of consultations capped off by two intensive weeks of sessions and negotiations, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (aka. Rio+20) has produced a 53-page document outlining a renewed vision for sustainable development and commitment “to ensuring the promotion of an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable future for our planet and for present and future generations.” Sustainable agriculture, food security and smallholder farmers are now formally part of that equation.

Participants from the 4th Agriculture and Rural Development Day in Rio had called for the conference to “recognize the significance of agriculture in economic growth, food security, poverty reduction and long-term environmental sustainability.” It looks like they may have achieved their goal: the final Rio+20 text contains several prominent mentions of food security, sustainable agriculture and farming. This includes:

  • Recognition of smallholders as key stakeholders: “farmers, including small-scale farmers and fisherfolk, pastoralists and foresters, can make important contributions to sustainable development through production activities that are environmentally sound, enhance food security and the livelihood of the poor, and invigorate production and sustained economic growth (Para 52).
  • Reaffirmation that “green economy policies in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication” should “enhance the welfare of women, children, youth, persons with disabilities, smallholder and subsistence farmers, fisherfolk and those working in small and medium-sized enterprises, and improve the livelihoods and empowerment of the poor and vulnerable groups in particular in developing countries (Para 58 (k)).
  • A resolution “to increase sustainable agricultural production and productivity globally, including through improving the functioning of markets and trading systems and strengthening international cooperation, particularly for developing countries, by increasing public and private investment in sustainable agriculture, land management and rural development” (para 110).
  • A reaffirmation of “the necessity to promote, enhance and support more sustainable agriculture, including crops, livestock, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture that improves food security, eradicates hunger and is economically viable, while conserving land, water, plant and animal genetic resources, biodiversity and ecosystems and enhancing resilience to climate change and natural disasters. We also recognize the need to maintain natural ecological processes that support food production systems” (Para 111)
  • A resolution “to take action to enhance agricultural research, extension services, training and education to improve agricultural productivity and sustainability through the voluntary sharing of knowledge and good practices. We further resolve to improve access to information, technical knowledge and know-how, including through new information and communications technologies that empower farmers, fisherfolk and foresters to choose among diverse methods of achieving sustainable agricultural production. We call for the strengthening of international cooperation on agricultural research for development” (Para 114).
  • Recognition of “the need to address the root causes of excessive food price volatility,” including “the need to manage the risks linked to high and excessively volatile prices in agricultural commodities and their consequences for global food security and nutrition, as well as for smallholder farmers” (Para 116).

Importantly, the food security section explicitly acknowledges the link between food security and agriculture, which was not the case in the zero draft text from January.

Women’s rights omitted

Although smallholder farmers may have gained a place, women did not. The Women’s Major Group was “disappointed and outraged” as the final text omitted issues of reproductive rights, access, and the links between gender and climate change.

The links between gender and climate change are particularly relevant in a rural setting, where women undertake almost 80% of agricultural labour in addition to taking care of their families. Read more about our work on gender, climate change, and food security.

Where do we go from here?

What the text does not include is a concrete roadmap for how to move ahead with this transformation. Jim Leape, director General of WWF International put it best in his New York Times editorial:

The text finally agreed upon here in Rio is a passing description of “the future we want,” but it does not set us on the path to get there.

Yet there is hope. If you looked around in Rio last week, you saw where the action really is — local and national governments, companies, NGOs, labor unions finding ways to get on with it.

Indeed Agriculture and Rural Development Day brought together over 600 key people working in agriculture and food security, to share practical and successful innovations for transforming the food system, including

A good recap of these learning events is found in Sir John Beddington’s response to the event.

We should be heartened and inspired by the good actions and innovations already taking place on the ground, but serious political commitment is still needed to transform the global food system. Rio+20 has delivered a pretty good text for farmers; now it’s up to governments and agencies to act on these words, and put into place the financial commitments and practical policies that can truly deliver. Groups working in agricultural research and development can accelerate actions and commitments by strengthening knowledge about sustainable agriculture and bringing it into policy making venues. At the same time, they can build on progress already made in adoption of sustainable agricultural practices and technologies through closer engagement with local communities.

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.

Vanessa Meadu is the communications manager for CCAFS.