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TWN Info Service on UN Sustainable Development (May13/02)
21 May 2013
Third World Network

Dear friends and colleagues,

The third session of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals will be held from Wednesday, 22, to Friday, 24 May 2013 at the UN headquarters in New York. The formulation of SDGs is one of the major agreed actions from the June 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development. The Co-chairs of the Open Working Group are Ambassadors Macharia Kamau of Kenya and Csaba Korosi of Hungary.

This week's session will address the following clusters of issues: (a) food security and nutrition, sustainable agriculture; and (b) drought, desertification, land degradation and water and sanitation. It is expected that the Programme of Work for 2013-2014 will also be adopted, making this a key meeting, as the Programme of Work will unquestionably influence the formulation of the SDGs.

We are pleased to share with you a TWN briefing paper on "Important elements for consideration: Food Security and Nutrition, and Sustainable Agriculture".

With best wishes,
Third World Network


 

Important elements for consideration: Food Security and Nutrition, and Sustainable Agriculture

1. Increase investment in sustainable agriculture

Sustainable agriculture practices contribute to food security and climate resilience. Governments should specifically reorient agriculture policies and significantly increase funding to support biodiverse, sustainable agriculture, as recommended by the International Assessment on Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). In The Future We Want, which is the outcome document of the Rio+20 Conference, paragraphs 110-113 emphasize the importance of sustainable agriculture and the need for increased investment in sustainable agricultural practices. Particularly, in paragraph 111, the need to “maintain natural ecological processes that support food production systems” is recognized, which is a nod towards agro-ecological principles.

  • Conduct in-depth assessments of agricultural conditions and policies at the national level, to identify both barriers to a transition to sustainable agriculture and gaps in policy, and ensure policy coherence such that sustainable agriculture is promoted and facilitated.
  • Focus national agriculture policy frameworks urgently and immediately on sustainable agriculture. In particular, increase emphasis on the conservation and use of agricultural biodiversity, building healthy soils, and developing and sharing water harvesting and other water management techniques.
  • Devote a large share of the national agricultural budget to promoting sustainable agriculture. The support should include mechanisms (both traditional extension and more far-reaching farmer-to-farmer networking methods) to train farmers in the best options for sustainable agriculture techniques, the development of ecological infrastructure including water supply, improvement of soil fertility, and the provision of credit and marketing.
  • Directly fund adoption of agroecological practices that reduce vulnerability and increase resilience, such as soil-fertility-enriching and climate-resilient practices (e.g., use of compost to enhance soil health, water storage and soil quality).

2. Focus on smallholder farmers and their practices

Agriculture is the most important sector in many developing countries and is central to the survival of hundreds of millions of people. Most agricultural production in these countries involves small land holdings, mainly producing for self-consumption. Women are the key agricultural producers and providers. Hence agriculture is critical for food and livelihood security, and for the approximately 500 million smallholder households, totaling 1.5 billion people, and living on smallholdings of two hectares of land or less. Smallholdings account for 85 percent of the world’s farms.

The role and needs of rural communities are recognized and rural development emphasized in paragraph 109 of The Future We Want, including the need for enhanced access by small producers to credit, markets, secure land tenure and other services. Paragraph 109 also stresses the importance of traditional sustainable agricultural practices, including traditional seed supply systems, including for many indigenous peoples and local communities. This is important in light of the threats that undermine and marginalize such systems and the increasing takeover of the seed supply by a few large multinational corporations.

  • Ensure enhanced access by small producers, women, indigenous peoples and people living in vulnerable situations to credit and other financial services, markets, secure land tenure, health care, social services, education, training, knowledge and appropriate and affordable technologies.
  • Support conservation and use of local knowledge and seeds, as well as support peasant seed systems and community seed banks. In addition, prioritize participatory and formal plant breeding efforts to adapt seeds for future environments, particularly increased temperatures.
  • Improve social safety nets to enable farmers and the rural poor to cope with external shocks climate-related disasters. This includes implementing a range of policies that support the economic viability of smallholder agriculture and thus reduce their vulnerability, for example, improving access to credit for smallholders; and building and reinforcing basic infrastructure, such as water supplies and rural roads that can facilitate access to markets. Special attention and specific support should be given to women smallholder farmers.
  • Strengthen small-scale farmers’, women’s, indigenous and community-based organizations to, among other objectives: access productive resources, participate in agricultural decision-making and share sustainable agriculture approaches.

3.   Dismantle perverse incentives and subsidies that promote unsustainable agriculture

Current agriculture policies are geared to promoting conventional agriculture practices that are unsustainable. Perverse incentives, including those perpetuated under the international trade regime governed by the World Trade Organization and bilateral free trade agreements, entrench this unsustainable system. Agricultural incentives and subsidies therefore need to be redirected away from destructive monocultures and harmful inputs, towards sustainable agriculture practices of the small-farm sector. These need to be phased out in a fair and equitable manner, taking into account the impact on small farmers in developing countries.

  • Avoid and phase out perverse incentives and subsidies that promote or encourage the use of chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and fuel, or that encourage land degradation, while ensuring that impacts on small farmers are addressed in a fair and equitable manner.
  • Reduce the use of synthetic fertilizers by removing tax and pricing policies that contribute to their overuse.
  • Shift subsidy priorities such that the initial costs and risks of farmers’ transition efforts to implement sustainable farming practices are borne by public funds.
  • At the international level, modify key market distortions that act as a disincentive to the transition to sustainable agricultural practices in developing countries. These include the significant subsidization of agricultural production in developed countries and their export to developing countries. As long as these conditions prevail, it is difficult to imagine how developing-country producers can implement a paradigm shift towards sustainable agriculture.

4.   Implement a research and knowledge-sharing agenda towards sustainable agriculture

Paragraph 114 of The Future We Want resolves to enhance agricultural research, extension services, training and education to improve productivity and sustainability. National and global agricultural research agendas have been however dominated by conventional agriculture approaches and the promise of new technologies. Sustainable agriculture has been sidelined, yet it has thrived and has proven successful despite the lack of public support. Research and development efforts must be refocused towards sustainable agriculture, while at the same time strengthening existing farmer knowledge and innovation. Moreover, current agriculture research is dominated by the private sector, which focuses on crops and technologies from which they stand to profit most. This perpetuates industrial, input-dependent agriculture, rather than solutions for the challenges facing developing-country farmers.

  • Place sustainable agriculture at the forefront of the international and national agriculture research agendas; this means providing public resources for sustainable agriculture interventions.
  • Address current intellectual property systems that act as drivers towards corporate consolidation and corporate dominance of agriculture research, including the issues of patents on living organisms and seeds, as well as plant variety protection consistent with the strict standards of UPOV 1991, which may also impinge on farmers’ rights and affect smallholder agriculture.
  • Generously fund efforts to conserve crop diversity, both in situ and ex situ.
  • Support research on sustainable agriculture approaches that mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, such as practices that reduce or eliminate the use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers.
  • Identify research priorities in a participatory manner, enabling farmers to play a central role in defining strategic priorities for agricultural research; and increase networking and knowledge sharing between farmers and researchers.
  • Reorient research and extension systems at the national level to support farmer-to-farmer agroecological innovation; increase the capacities of farmer and community organizations to innovate; and strengthen networks and alliances to support, document, and share lessons and best practices.
  • Ensure farmers have access to information about sustainable agriculture practices, through both formal and informal means, including extension services, farmers’ organizations, climate farmer-to-farmer field schools and cross-visits.

5.         Build supportive global partnerships

A range of international institutions can make positive contributions by supporting and enabling the adoption of sustainable agriculture. These institutions should support the range of efforts to be undertaken at national and regional levels, and cooperate and coordinate efforts to mobilize necessary resources at the international level. Public financing and transfer of appropriate technologies by developed countries are needed not only for the adoption of sustainable agriculture but also to put in place the required infrastructure, communications and other enabling conditions. Furthermore, trade commitments made at the multilateral and bilateral levels must provide developing countries enough policy space to enable support for the agriculture sector, expansion of local food production, and effective instruments to provide for local and household food security, farmers’ livelihoods and rural development needs. This is needed before farmers in developing countries can start investing in sustainable agriculture. A universal, rules-based, open, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system that will promote agricultural and rural development in developing countries and contribute to world food security is reaffirmed in paragraph 118 of The Future We Want.

  • Ensure sustainable, predictable and significant public funding for sustainable agriculture, rather than speculative and volatile market-derived funding. International agencies must play an active role in mobilizing public resources.
  • Increase the scale of the work to promote sustainable agriculture practices by the Rome-based UN agencies: FAO, WFP, IFAD. This should include technical support to enable countries to transition to and prioritize sustainable agriculture, and appropriate policy advice that supports its implementation.
  • Encourage CGIAR centres to leverage research and research partnerships, and the funding thereof, which focus on sustainable agriculture, agricultural biodiversity and small farmers in developing countries.
  • Ensure the conservation and sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity and related traditional knowledge systems, including through the relevant work on agricultural biodiversity carried out by the FAO and the Convention on Biological Diversity.
  • Revive the work of the UN for a global framework for corporate accountability, including the reinstatement of obligations under the aborted UN Code of Conduct on Transnational Corporations.
  • Implement the outcomes/decisions of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), as the governing body for food, agriculture and rural development policy and related financial issues at the global level, including the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security and the outcomes of the ongoing discussions on Responsible Agricultural Investment. (The important work and inclusive nature of the CFS is reaffirmed in paragraph 115 of The Future We Want.)
  • Eliminate export subsidies in agriculture (in line with WTO Hong Kong Declaration 2005) and substantially and effectively reduce agricultural support and subsidies in developed countries (in line with WTO Doha Declaration 2001) so that distortions in global agricultural trade will be reduced and developing countries’ farmers will have a more level playing field.
  • Prioritise developing countries’ goals of food security and protection of farmers’ livelihoods in free trade agreements (FTAs). The percentage of goods to be subjected to tariff elimination by developing countries should be adjusted if necessary to accommodate the need to exclude sensitive agricultural products from tariff elimination. Ensure that the FTAs provide enough policy space to allow sufficiently high tariffs on agricultural imports that enable the fulfilment of the principles of food security, farmers’ livelihoods and rural development, and to allow countries to rebuild and strengthen their agriculture sector.
  • Ensure that commodity markets operate in an adequately regulated manner that avoids excessive volatility and speculative activities and serves the real needs of both producers and consumers. Address the root causes of excessive food price volatility, including its structural causes, and manage the risks linked to high and excessively volatile prices and their consequences for global food security and nutrition, as well as for smallholder farmers and poor urban dwellers (as emphasized in paragraph 116 of The Future We Want).

This Brief is based on Stabinsky, D. and Lim L.C. (2012). Ecological agriculture, climate resilience and a roadmap to get there.   TWN Environment and Development Series 14. Third World Network, Penang.

 


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