Declaration for Rio+20: A change of course is needed in the agricultural sector

Bern, 17.03.2012 - To successfully feed the growing world population, agriculture must be more sparing in its use of natural resources. The UN Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development to be held in June 2012 should point the way towards a radical change of course in global agriculture and food policy. This is the key demand posed in the Declaration “Nourishing our people - nurturing our planet” by high-ranking representatives of government, international organizations, and the scientific community at a roundtable organized on 15 and 16 March 2012 in New York. One of the inspirational forces behind this event was an initiative launched by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

Twenty years after the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, discussions on how to shape a sustainable future for our planet will be held this coming June at the UN Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD). Measures for sustainable agriculture and food security are also to be decided, as was called for in New York by participants in the “Roundtable on Food, Food Security, and sustainable Agriculture” organized in the run-up to the UN’s Third Intersessional Meeting in preparation for the Rio+20 Conference.

The Declaration for Rio+20 states that a change in agricultural policy is a necessity. Efforts are to be made in the domain of food security for all, rural development with improved conditions for small farmers and especially for women, and sustainable utilization of natural resources. The Declaration calls upon the international community to use the Rio+20 Conference as an occasion to task the UN with an action programme for a change of course in agricultural and food policy. In the future, agriculture must rely more strongly on plants and genetic varieties that are adapted to local conditions and that preserve natural resources for the coming generations to use as well. 

Switzerland backs the appeal for sustainable cultivation of food crops grown in harmony with nature. The event took place in New York on Thursday and Friday (15 and 16 March) upon the invitation of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the Swiss Biovision Foundation and the Millennium Institute, with the support of the Mercator Schweiz Foundation and other organizations. Guest speakers included Terezya Huvisa, Tanzanian Minister for Environment, Sally Kosgei, Agriculture Minister of Kenya, David Nabarro, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on Food and Nutrition Security and Olivier de Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food. 

Relevant results in Rio+20 

At this discussion event, the organizers were seeking to reach a common understanding of possible results that could emerge from the Rio+20 Conference to enable food security to be strengthened and sustainable agriculture to be implemented on the basis of the insights and reports compiled to date, e.g., the World Agriculture Report of the IAASTD (International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development) and the Green Economy Report of the UNEP (UN Environment Programme). The recommendations in the Declaration are to be introduced into the preparatory process for the Rio+20 Conference, the objective being that the Conference enable the international community of States to take a decisive step forward in the direction of global food security and worldwide sustainable agriculture. 

The need for action is enormous. Nearly 40% of agricultural soil is degraded, the supply of water is dwindling in many areas, and genetic diversity – the basis for plant breeding - is declining. Ultimately, these problems are consequences of the negative outcomes of an agricultural policy that has been ignoring the needs of small farmers. Indeed, it is precisely they who account for 50% of food production worldwide. 

The results are disastrous. One out of five children born today grows up hungry. Since the mid-1990s, the number of undernourished human beings has risen to more than 100 million individuals, despite the fact that today’s level of food production already corresponds to an average of 4600 kcal per person and day, i.e., approximately double what is necessary. By 2050, the world’s population will have risen from today’s nearly 7 billion to over 9 billion. Against this backdrop, the UN has designated food and nutrition as one of the seven focal themes of the Rio+20 Conference. The Summit will take place from 20 to 22 June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Available for Interviews:

Hans R. Herren, Winner of the World Food Prize, Founder and President of the Biovision Foundation, and President of the Millennium Institute
Peter Bieler, Head of the SDC’s Global Programme Food Security

Address for enquiries

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