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Commission on Sustainable Development

Intergovernmental Preparatory Meeting

3rd & 4th Meetings (AM & PM)




The Intergovernmental Preparatory Meeting of the Commission on Sustainable Development today held two expert panel discussions on policy options to address barriers and constraints to agriculture and rural development.

Convened to lay the foundation for the Commission’s seventeenth session, which is slated to take place from 4 to 15 May, the Meeting aims to highlight obstacles, best practices and lessons learned across six thematic priorities: agriculture, drought, desertification, land, rural development, Africa and interlinkages and cross-cutting issues.

Norman Uphoff, Professor of Government and International Agriculture at Cornell University, kicked off the morning’s panel on agriculture by emphasizing that the present model of “modern agriculture” might not be sustainable in the twenty-first century.  Among the reasons was that a projected 50 per cent growth in demand for food by 2050 faced several overwhelming constraints, including shrinking arable land, a general increase in adverse climate conditions and the likely rise in the costs of energy and petrochemical products.

As an alternative “post-modern” model, he suggested “agro-ecology” as a means to promote the growth of root systems while focusing on increasing the abundance of soil organisms.  By taking a management-oriented approach, agro-ecology practices seek to capitalize on the existing genetic potential of soil and plants to produce higher yields at lower costs.  Already available, those methods could make sustainable improvements in livelihoods and raise production levels at the same time.

Sara Scherr, President and Chief Executive Officer of ECOagriculture Partners, underlining the potential of ecologically oriented agriculture to enhance rural livelihoods, said “eco-agriculture” could also conserve or restore ecosystems and biodiversity.  As a system of managing agricultural landscapes, it boosted ecosystem services by creating or expanding conservation areas and minimizing agricultural pollution in production areas.  Farming systems could also be modified in ways that contributed to climate-change mitigation.

To protect agriculture sustainability in 2009, she said it was critically important to ensure that the agreements coming out of the climate change conference scheduled for Copenhagen in December placed high priority on land-use systems for mitigation and adaptation.  A global summit to frame a long-term “green strategy for food security” should also be convened, while national facilities should be established to help farming communities plan for agriculture, the environment and climate resilience.

During the ensuing discussion, a number of speakers said that recent volatility in food prices had demonstrated the urgency of moving towards sustainable agriculture and rural development.  Several delegates pointed out that direct partnerships provided critical targeted support in the absence of major changes to international trade agreements, and due to the failure to eliminate harmful agricultural subsidies in the developed world.

While some delegates emphasized the value of niche crops, particularly organic ones, a representative of the business and industry major group suggested that, while organic agriculture might open niche export markets to farmers, it could not feed 9 billion people in a sustainable way without incurring intolerable environmental costs.  Meanwhile, India’s representative said her country had learned that an optimal combination of organic cultivation and fertilizers was extremely useful in enhancing overall crop production.

Opening the afternoon panel on rural development, Tim Hanstad, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Rural Development Institute (RDI), stressed that among the four elements of successful rural development -- basic health, basic education, infrastructure and pro-poor land policies -– the latter played an outsized role.  Access to land largely determined food security, status, wealth and power in rural communities, and land policies should strive for relatively egalitarian access to and distribution of land, secure tenures and the empowerment of local communities and governments.  Done right, the formalization of land rights increased the value of land, putting money in the pockets of its owners and encouraging investment by farmers.  That in turn fostered higher economic growth in general across an entire society.

Representing Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management (WOCAN), panellist Rosalud de la Rosa said the challenge ahead was to create an integrated approach to sustainable rural development for all policymakers to follow.  To do that, gender equity was vital in expediting sustainable development and a significant human right for women worldwide.  Even though a high price was paid when gender issues were neglected, there was little political will to achieve gender equality in agriculture and rural development.

With women comprising a substantial majority of the agricultural workforce in many low-income countries, however, such attitudes were themselves unsustainable, she said.  Women farmers must be at centre stage and partnerships must be formed to make that happen.  Greater collective action among women was also needed.  To that end, WOCAN had developed a rural women’s leadership course and was collaborating with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and Heifer International in an attempt to restore agricultural to the development agenda.

Responding to those presentations, some speakers underlined the importance of water systems and energy services in rural development and others called for the integration of rural development into national and international stimulus packages aimed at addressing the global economic and financial crises.  Alongside developing countries like Namibia, developed ones such as the United States emphasized the need to address disparities between rural and urban areas with a view to reducing rural-to-urban migration, particularly among young people.

Several speakers suggested that empowering rural people and communities to manage their own social and economic destinies through strong institutions would enhance development efforts.  Many delegates, like the representative Tonga, who spoke on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), also underlined the need to integrate traditional cultural knowledge and land-tenure systems into rural development strategies.

Gerda Verburg ( Netherlands), Commission Chairperson, chaired both the morning and afternoon panel discussions.

In the panel discussion on agriculture, the Commission also heard from representatives of Sudan (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), European Commission (on behalf of the European Union), Senegal (on behalf of the African Group), Jamaica (on behalf of AOSIS), Papua New Guinea (on behalf of the Pacific Islands Developing States), Oman (on behalf of the Arab Group), United States, Indonesia, Canada, China, Federated States of Micronesia, South Africa, Switzerland, Mexico, Republic of Korea, Pakistan, Netherlands, Norway, Malawi, Argentina, Algeria, Iran, Russian Federation, Nigeria, Japan, Chile, Libya, Fiji, Kazakhstan, Marshall Islands, Australia, Brazil, Israel, Barbados, Cambodia and Namibia.

The Permanent Observer for Palestine also made a statement.

A representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) also spoke.

Speaking on behalf of major groups were representatives of children and youth, non-governmental organizations, the scientific and technological community, and farmers.

During the panel on rural development, the Commission also heard from representatives of Sudan (on behalf of the Group of 77 and China), Czech Republic (on behalf of the European Union), Oman (on behalf of the Arab Group), Tonga (on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States), Colombia, Bolivia, Indonesia, Fiji, Canada, Guatemala, Switzerland, Argentina, Japan, Norway, Iran, Burkina Faso, Mexico and Morocco.

Speakers representing workers and trade unions, as well as local authorities also delivered statements.

The Intergovernmental Preparatory Meeting will reconvene at 10 a.m. tomorrow Wednesday, 25 February, to continue its work.


Convening this morning to consider policy options to address barriers and constraints on the thematic issue of agriculture, the Intergovernmental Preparatory Meeting for the seventeenth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development had before it reports of the Secretary-General on agriculture (document E/CN.17/2009/3) and on interlinkages and cross-cutting issues (document E/CN.17/2009/9).  In the afternoon, members were expected to discuss policy options to address barriers and constraints on rural development (document E/CN.17/2009/4).  For details on the session see Press Releases ENV/DEV/1025 and ENV/DEV/1026 of 23 February 2009.

Panel Discussion on Agriculture

Gerda Verburg (Netherlands), Commission Chairperson, chaired the morning panel, which featured panellists Norman Uphoff, Professor of Government and International Agriculture at Cornell University and Program Leader for Sustainable Rice Systems at the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development; and Sara Scherr, Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of ECOagriculture Partners.

Mr. UPHOFF kicked off the presentation by noting that among the things that would affect agricultural sustainability in the twenty-first century was a projected 50 per cent growth in demand for food by 2050, shrinking arable land and a general increase in adverse climate for agricultural production.  At the same time, the costs of energy and petrochemical products were likely to rise and sustainable capital restraints would impact poverty reduction.  Those issues raised questions about the sustainability of the present model of “modern agriculture”.  The green revolution had been successful in the twentieth century, but today it was appropriate to ask if the same would be true in the twenty-first.  In contrast to the modern agriculture strategy, which aimed to change the genetic potential of plants and advocated increasing the use of external inputs, the practice of “agro-ecology” promoted the growth of root systems while focusing on increasing the abundance of soil organisms.

He said the latter practices, which were already being used in over more than 35 countries, differed from those of the input-dependent green revolution by taking a management-oriented approach that capitalized on the existing genetic potential of soil and plants.  In one example, the yield over a seven-year period had been 30 per cent greater for farms taking the agro-ecology approach.  Research suggested that changes in management practice could result in higher yields at lower cost.  Most importantly, these methods were now available and could make sustainable improvements in livelihoods at the same time that they increased production levels.  In fact, they were being used in many African countries as well as in such disparate places as Iraq, Iran and Bhutan.

Ms. SCHERR said the point had come when sustainable agriculture must produce not only food and livelihoods, but also “ecosystem services”.  The interlinkages between those different goals were illustrated in a 2008 report released by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on the environmental food crisis, which laid out the scenario for food security in the twenty-first century.  Agriculture clearly relied on natural ecosystems, as did rural and farming communities, but it was becoming obvious, through innovations in space imaging, that more than half of the earth’s surface was influenced by agriculture systems, including livestock grazing.  It was, therefore, no longer possible to think that agriculture was taking place “over there” and lacked widespread influence.

Eco-agriculture was a system of managing agricultural landscapes to enhance rural livelihoods and sustainable agricultural production while conserving or restoring ecosystem services and biodiversity, she said.  Some strategies included creating or expanding conservation areas and minimizing agricultural pollution in production areas.  Farming systems could also be modified, with one outcome being the mitigation of climate change through an increase in soil carbon, the protection of natural vegetation, the restoration of degraded land and shifts in livestock management so that animals emitted less greenhouse gas.  Efforts to do that, however, should involve multiple stakeholders, including those beyond traditional farming communities.

She stressed that three actions could be taken in 2009 to protect agriculture sustainability: it was critically important to ensure that the agreements coming out of the December Copenhagen summit on climate change placed high priority within agriculture on land-use systems for mitigation and adaptation; a global summit to frame a long-term “Green Strategy for Food Security” could be convened; and national facilities should be established to help farming communities plan for agriculture, the environment and climate resilience.

Following the introductory presentations, the representative of Sudan, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said agriculture merited particular attention as it represented the nucleus of global food security, and without it 824 million people would go hungry.  Profound neglect of the agriculture sector had destroyed the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in developing countries, and the recent food crisis spoke to the need for sustained international cooperation to prevent another global crisis.  However, too few global initiatives had enjoyed consistent support to develop agriculture in order to end poverty and spur overall development.  On the contrary, agriculture had been left on the margins of the development process.  The time had come for a major paradigm shift to form a sustainable green revolution.  There was a need for technical and financial assistance, capacity-building and investment in infrastructure, especially for developing nations and in accordance with their own national challenges and priorities.

A representative of the European Commission, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that meeting the Johannesburg commitments in agriculture called for integrating poverty eradication, food security and sustainable natural resource management into an agricultural and rural development framework, as well as improving access to existing markets and sustainably developing new markets for value-added agricultural products.  The European Union was addressing those challenges internationally and internally by supporting the idea of a global partnership for agriculture, food security and nutrition.  It had adopted sustainability criteria as well as reporting and monitoring mechanisms for biofuels.  The European Union urged countries to join the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, and to follow its example of promoting natural resource management techniques that used improved soil management.

Senegal’s representative, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said it was time to find a lasting solution to Africa’s agriculture problems through financial support for improved agricultural infrastructure, as called for in the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).  Land reform and natural resource policies, particularly those guaranteeing women’s rights, could play a crucial role in achieving economic growth and development in Africa.  The Commission should consider the recommendations contained in the Windhoek Declaration, which called on Governments, international donors and institutions to substantially increase financial support for agricultural and livestock research centres in Africa; help small-scale farmers better manage price- and weather-related risks; work with development partners to mobilize infrastructure investment; and widely diffuse pre-harvest and post-harvest technologies to enable farmers to achieve greater value for their crops.

Jamaica’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) said the volatility in food prices over the past two years had, among other things, demonstrated the urgency of moving towards sustainable agriculture and rural development.  Indeed, food prices could potentially amplify social inequalities within and between countries, thereby accentuating social, political and security risks.  The international community should therefore be unstinting in its support for short- and long-term actions to help countries cope with the realities of higher food prices, including through more and better food aid; empowering farmers and the rural poor; strengthening coordination, monitoring, assessment and surveillance systems; and adopting a strategic stance on agricultural trade and biofuels.  There was a need for greater oversight of speculation in agricultural commodity markets.  Stronger partnerships, including public-private partnerships, should also be created.

The representative of Papua New Guinea , speaking on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States while associating himself with the Group of 77 and AOSIS, said the Pacific region’s growing dependence on imported food was having a great impact on societies.  To meet that challenge, regional Governments had launched strategies to promote local production systems and enhance existing extension services.  However, greater support was needed if those steps were to be effective.  In particular, marine ecosystems must be protected from overfishing, as the consumption of fish and other marine animals remained an important part of the regional diet.

Oman’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said gaps between policies and means of implementing sustainable agriculture remained wide, requiring a multifaceted approach to address the food crisis across a number of sectors and at all levels.  It was important to hold a serious dialogue between importers and exporters of food and energy.  Elsewhere, priority in research should be afforded to bio-energy and ways to combat drought.  Resources were needed to protect marine systems, and storage and post-harvest processing methods should also be considered.  The Arab Group urged Member States to muster the political will to create a sustainable world trading order.

The representative of the United States said her country had adopted a practical, problem-solving approach to increasing productivity and product quality while cutting down on sometimes staggering post-harvest losses through improved product storage and processing.  Fundamentally important to sustainability was an agricultural strategy that integrated good research, science and education, good institutions and policies, and good information and communications technology.  An integrated approach was needed to meet those challenges.  The United States called for promoting enhanced productivity and sustainability of working landscapes, improving livelihoods and linking producers to markets by building strong value chains, and empowering communities and the countryside to work together to grow vibrant markets for food, fibres and fuels.

Indonesia’s representative said most of the 848 million people who went to bed hungry every night and the 1.4 billion people living below the poverty line lived in rural areas in developing countries.  Reforming the global agricultural sector was necessary for global food security.  Better synergies among agriculture and development policies and strategies on the one hand, and regional food security frameworks on the other would boost regional food stocks and production, as well as public and private-sector investment in agriculture, particularly in rural infrastructure development in developing countries, expediting agricultural trade and creating an active global partnership for agricultural development and food security.

Canada’s representative shed light on “Growing Forward”, saying the country’s new five-year agricultural policy framework aimed to help the industry prosper economically, better protect the environment and safeguard the health and well-being of Canadians.  Water and climate change were key environment priorities of that policy framework, which was being addressed in an integrated manner.  That approach involved improving the scientific understanding of agriculture’s interaction with the environment, developing technologies and strategies to improve the sector’s agri-environmental performance, providing technical assistance, information and incentives to increase the adoption of beneficial practices at the farm and landscape levels, measuring and reporting on environmental performance, and helping farmers take advantage of related economic opportunities.

China’s representative, associating herself with the Group of 77, said the rapid increase in food prices called for deep reflection and major adjustments to current polices.  There was a need for a common understanding and further recognition of agriculture as a strategic area for development.  Scientific and technological research must be translated into practice, and agriculture and rural development promoted through infrastructure enhancement, including the construction of transportation systems.  Furthermore, there was a need to complete the Doha Round of trade talks and for the relevant global financial institutions to increase their support for agriculture.

The delegate of the Federated States of Micronesia, emphasizing that island ecosystems must be protected, said agriculture was a priority for small island developing States, and the importance of marine environments could not be overstated.  Despite its current efforts to increase food production, the Federated States of Micronesia had to import food and, as a result, the crisis was having a deep impact.  Climate change was poised to bring devastating changes, particularly through future sea-level rises that would threaten the survival of islands.  Meanwhile, fish stocks were being decimated by overfishing and other unsustainable fishing practices.  Moving forward, greater efforts to protect island forests would be critical.

South Africa’s representative, associating himself with the Group of 77, renewed the call for a uniquely African green revolution, saying that, in order to accelerate agricultural growth and reduce poverty, there would be a need for practical policies that were compatible with natural resource management practices.  Policies that facilitated access to agricultural inputs and supported extension systems should also be a priority.  In addition, policies that fostered inter-African trade were needed to integrate African agriculture into global markets.  The transfer of new technologies was a major part of agricultural development, and South Africa called for increased collaboration within and outside the continent.

India’s delegate said her country had learned that an optimal combination of organic cultivation and fertilizers was extremely useful in enhancing crop production.  India called for an enhanced approach to soil management and biodiversity, as well as appropriate prices and trade policies.  Ensuring food security was imperative, as illustrated by the 2008 food-price crisis.

Switzerland’s representative stressed the need to increase swiftly investment in rural areas and to look at the international evaluation of the role that technology for development should play in that process.  There must be a greater focus on family farms and on favouring local and regional production through the progressive opening of markets.  Trade links between farmers and local and regional buyers should be established on a long-term basis.  It was important to give greater weight to the environmental, social and other criteria in international trade regulations, and to develop standards of sustainability on a global level.  Promoting biofuels required a framework favourable to production and diversification that would meet minimal environmental standards.

Mexico’s representative stressed the fundamental importance of ensuring there was greater investment in infrastructure, research and technology transfer for developing countries.  Significant work was being done on research and production to better mitigate the effects of climate change, and it was important to put the soil to appropriate use in mitigating climate risks.  It was also essential to adopt soil conservation, restoration and improvement practices.  Agro-energy could contribute to the world energy supply as long as it was sustainable and encouraged improved food supply and forestry care.  Nations must make agriculture and livestock production a priority, and development banks were particularly important in promoting a green revolution.

The representative of the Republic of Korea joined other speakers in emphasizing the importance of increasing agricultural productivity, which would have to be accomplished through higher yields and greater efficiency.  The Republic of Korea had boosted rice production in the 1970s, resulting in self-sufficiency and rising incomes.  Clearly, basic subsistence needs should be met before food production could be a foundation for economic and social development.  For that reason, the Government of the Republic of Korea was contributing millions of dollars to support agricultural projects in developing countries.  It remained concerned, however, about the negative impact that the export policies of some countries was having on the world food market.  Removing barriers and tariffs could increase market stability.

Pakistan’s delegate said it was clear that children born of the same parents could be very different, depending on the surrounding environment.  The same was true in the development community.  It was clear that the right technologies, provided at affordable rates, made a difference in agricultural production, as did access to markets and climate change mitigation and adaptation methods.  Recognition of those facts should serve as the foundation for a holistic approach to the promotion of sustainable agriculture.  Developing countries were constrained by the international financial institutions and trade partners, and changes should be made to the international trade structure, particularly through the Doha Round.

The representative of the Netherlands said the re-discovery of agriculture as a main driver of economic development and poverty alleviation was crucial, but current challenges in food, feed and fuel meant a new approach in agricultural production was needed.  Investments and innovation could make agriculture more sustainable while stimulating local and regional markets for both small- and medium-size agro-businesses.  International market access for all stakeholders in developing and developed countries should be improved.  The role of women and youth in the production and decision-making processes was vital and should be a key factor in resource allocation.  The Netherlands was investing an additional €50 million for revitalizing agriculture in developing countries.  On biofuel production, it was important to profit from the benefits while managing the risks.   For that, a global consensus was needed on how to produce those fuels in a sustainable way.  Also needed was better information on the indirect effects of their production.  Given their higher potential to capture carbon dioxide, there was a need to step up investment in second-generation biofuels.

An official representing the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), noting that the world would have close to 9 billion people by 2050, said future increases in agricultural production would come from a system based on higher use.  There was a need to integrate biofuel cropping into the existing production system, otherwise food security would be severely jeopardized.  An integrated approach combining organic fertilizers such as composts with non-organic fertilizers was needed.

A representative of children and youth stressed the need for local knowledge and innovation in education to enhance the global food system and food security.  Small crop and livestock farmers must be fully supported, including through a halt to agricultural subsidies in developed countries.  There must be more emphasis on promoting local farming knowledge, technologies and innovation through education in order to achieve sustainable agriculture.  Brave and bold thinking was needed in order to create a more equitable and environmentally sustainable system of global agriculture.

Norway’s delegate stressed the importance of supporting locally based agriculture as well as research at all levels to support and develop good environmental management.  Increasing global food production was vital to achieving the first Millennium Development Goal of halving extreme hunger and poverty by 2015.  Norway supported the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which set global rules for crop diversity.

Malawi’s delegate, associating himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, called for incentives to increase crop productivity among smallholder farmers, saying the farmers should also be targeted through expanded irrigation schemes.  Extension service systems should be developed with development partners, and more education and research on drought-resistant crops encouraged.  Generally, protection of the natural environment should be a priority.

Argentina’s representative, noting that among the principal causes of the current crisis in food prices were the distorted world food markets that had resulted from the actions and policies of the developed world.  While Argentina supported the production of organic food as one promising path for small-scale sustainable farming, it was concerned that the adoption of an organic-food regulatory system would introduce changes to the trade system in contravention of current agreements.  Likewise, provisions being elaborated to deal with climate change must be in line with international trade agreements and not become a “covert” means of imposing regulations.

Algeria’s delegate, associating herself with the African Group and the Group of 77, called for coordinated national, regional and international efforts to improve agricultural production through better soil and water management, and improved national storage capacities.  Public-private partnerships could prove beneficial to the promotion of sustainable agriculture practices.  For its part, Algeria had adopted a national strategy for agricultural and rural development that sought to improve agricultural yields, combat desertification and ensure food security.

A representative of business and industry, stressing that agriculture must rise to the top of the global policy agenda, said that ensuring food security while protecting natural resources required increased agricultural productivity through an intensified, sustainable approach.  Some 20 to 40 per cent of the world’s potential crop production was still lost annually due to the effects of weeds, pests and diseases, but those losses would double if the use of existing pesticides was abandoned.  Organic agriculture presented good opportunities for farmers to access niche export markets, but it could not feed 9 billion people in a sustainable way without incurring intolerable environmental costs.  Most subsistence farmers lacked quality seeds, fertilizers and crop protection.  They needed access to good tools and to programmes that encouraged best practices, such as integrated pest management.

Iran’s delegate called for practical measures to speed up implementation and increase the production and availability of animal and fishery resources and products.  There was a need for better water management and public participation in water conservation and usage projects, including recycling the by-products of sewage treatment plants, improving water irrigation networks, supporting water rights and creating consumer cooperatives for water ownership and usage.

The representative of the Russian Federation stressed the need to maintain soil security and stability, and to end water scarcity, including through stepped up financing for the agricultural sector.  The international community must respond responsibly to the challenges of global food security, through, among other things, the use of enhanced seeds, the rational use of fertilizers and by increased investment in agriculture.  Measures were needed to support better domestic use of agricultural inputs and food, and to deepen cooperation and pool experiences in biotechnology research.  The international community must rise to the emerging challenges of human health, and seek broad-based methods to protect crops from pests.

Nigeria’s representative, associating himself with the African Group and the Group of 77, cited the numerous proposals on addressing agriculture and poverty reduction that had emanated from various forums.  Those included proposals from NEPAD, the African Group’s call for a green revolution on the continent, World Bank initiatives, the Maputo Declaration, strategic plans on climate change and biodiversity, and the recommendations of non-profit organizations like the Gates and Clinton Foundations.  Hopefully that could all be accomplished, but it was clear that the support of development partners would be critically important.  The developed world must make good on its financial promises, while developing countries undertook a number of reforms, including in land and water use.

A representative of the non-governmental organizations major group called for an expansion of agricultural approaches to diversified production and organic food production so as to benefit smallholder farmers.  Progress in developing countries like Ethiopia underlined what could be done in that regard.  While agro-ecology may not provide solutions to all problems, it presented the means for promoting sustainable development at a lower cost.  Increased consideration of animal welfare would enhance human ecology.  Local knowledge systems should be leveraged, particularly through timely and appropriate technology transfer.  Technology that posed problems to the environment and to human health should be phased out, and small-scale producers should be given incentives to protect biodiversity and the environment.  Rewarding them for their contributions could also help address social problems such as urban migration and farmer suicide.

Japan’s delegate welcomed the agreement by world leaders at the January conference on food security in Madrid to implement the recently established Global Partnership for Agriculture and Food Security.  The production and use of biofuels could contribute to rural development, but its compatibility with food production must be established.  Japan would continue to prioritize agriculture because it considered sustainable food production vital to human security.

Chile’s representative expressed support for liberalization of the world agricultural trade and for doing away with distorting tariffs, which resulted in the inefficient use of resources and negatively impacted food and rural-sector development.  Chile’s agricultural policy focused on improving productivity and competitiveness, integrating poor and less competitive agricultural producers into the market and promoting conservation and the sustainable use of natural resources.

Libya’s delegate said that his country, in cooperation with the African Union and FAO, had recently sponsored a ministerial conference on water and energy for Africa, which called for rational policies and institutional reforms to maximize benefits to the agricultural sector.  Libya called on African countries to fulfil their obligation to set aside 10 per cent of their national budgets for agricultural production.  They should also create national and regional early-warning systems to better mitigate natural disasters.

Ms. SCHERR, responding to the various interventions, said that, while export trade should be encouraged, it should be kept in mind that it had been responsible for only 10 per cent of food production over the last 50 years.  The emphasis on investment, research and policy work should be placed instead on the 90 per cent of production that occurred domestically.  In fact, it was notable how little current agricultural investment reached farmers.  To truly change production, a greater share of agricultural investment should be given at the discretion of farmers and farming communities.  While there was a clear need for investment resources to restore degraded lands, it was important to consider that using fertilizer on highly degraded lands might not prove to be a long-term solution.  Shifting from subsidies to payment for ecosystems services could be politically attractive and prove more beneficial to international trade systems.

Mr. UPHOFF stressed that modern agriculture was not a sole solution to current and future agriculture challenges.  The conditions of the twenty-first century were changing and would do so even more.  What had been attractive and successful over the last 50 years might not be so beneficial in the future.  Thus, a “post-modern” farming model was needed.  It was clear that investment in technology and resources for agricultural methods and tools had been almost zero in many places.  For example, machetes in Madagascar were based on a 500-year-old design.

If soils were seriously degraded, adding inorganic nutrients -– particularly given the rising costs of petrochemicals -– would not be sustainable, he said.  Agro-ecology could be scaled up if it was given appropriate support and a good knowledge base.  If the basic question was how to climate-proof agriculture -– and it was -- the response was to grow roots.  Roughly 98 per cent of agriculture research was currently “above ground” and root systems were largely ignored.  Farming had been chemically dependent over the last 50 years, which was costly both economically and environmentally.  The best way to change that would be to focus on biologically based improvements in farming methods.

TANIA RAGUŽ-CAGLE ( Croatia), Commission Vice-Chairperson, summarized the discussion, saying that, given the high cost of farming practices, there was a clear need for sustainable, biologically intensive methods.  Public investment would be required to support extension services and technology transfer and agricultural research should be scaled up.  Co-innovation, through close collaboration between researchers and farmers in the field, would result in more practical solutions.  Access to the development, transfer and modification of farming tools and knowledge should be widely granted.  Local and regional food procurement should be encouraged and South-South cooperation enhanced in such areas as biofuels and in combating drought and desertification.

Fiji’s representative said his country saw the challenge as moving from policy options to on-the-ground implementation.  In that regard, direct partnerships like those between the Pacific island nations and Italy, Austria and the City of Milan, served as useful models.  In addition, the Government had recently created a project implementation and monitoring unit in the Rural Development Ministry to accelerate project implementation and coordination with all stakeholders and donors.

Kazakhstan’s delegate said that because his country’s agrarian sector and agricultural system were currently going through one of their most difficult periods, the Government, aided by other national actors, was taking measures to assist farmers.  Notably, it was devoting funds to foster livestock breeding and management programmes to bolster that part of the agricultural sector.  Perhaps the best practices of the United Nations system should be used to promote “survival” during the present difficult period.

The representative of the Marshall Islands said his country’s increasingly urbanized communities had become dependent on imported food at the expense of traditional crops, making them uniquely vulnerable to global price shocks, often at the expense of rural communities which could benefit from increased domestic agricultural production.  In 2008, FAO had noted the need for the Pacific region to further mainstream climate change into agriculture, food security and coastal management, and to shift international commitments to “action on the ground” in local communities.  The Government had responded by developing a national strategy to address food security by building on domestic agriculture and addressing coastal erosion through the replanting of coconut trees.  However, it was difficult to discuss food security and agriculture without addressing other thematic topics, including land and water management, the fight to stem erosion and rural development.  While the mobilization of international funding mechanisms was welcome, there was a need for actual direct access to them, and to  scale up and mainstream climate-change adaptation strategies across all development sectors.

The observer for Palestine said the vital agriculture sector had sustained tremendous hardships due to the foreign occupation of Palestinian land.  According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the introduction of Israeli settlers had caused the loss of 20,000 olive trees in one Gaza village.  Israel used 40 per cent of the West Bank for its own infrastructure needs, depriving Palestinians of their agricultural resources.  Approximately 13,000 families in Gaza depended on farming, herding and fishing for their livelihood, but most had suffered destruction and devastation due to the invasion of Gaza in December and January.  FAO reported that 3,000 Gazans who relied on income from fishing had suffered.

Australia’s delegate, calling for a timely look at the state of global agriculture, said agricultural productivity gains would be the main source of growth.  Global per capita agricultural production had increased since the 1980s, with much of that growth occurring in developing countries.  However, agricultural performance varied widely across agricultural regions.  Australia’s farm and land practices continued to evolve to adjust to the environment, and the country strongly supported integrating adaptation responses into natural resource management policies and programmes.  Australia invested efficiently in research and design, and for every dollar invested, it reaped $11 in benefits for the wider community.

Brazil’s representative, emphasizing that biofuels had a significant contribution to make to sustainable development, reinforced the consensus reached at last June’s high-level Rome conference, which called for a coherent dialogue on biofuels involving all stakeholders in the context of global food security and sustainable development needs.  Biofuels also had a significant role to play in revitalizing the agricultural sector, associated as they were with income generation, increased access to energy and many other benefits.

Israel’s delegate said that among the particular successes his country had enjoyed was the development of certain soil conservation and anti-erosion measures.  Israel had also proposed the creation of biofuels derived from non-edible sources.  Recently, the country had hosted a conference in support of Africa’s “green revolution” and was making its research, best practices and lessons learned widely available.  The very critical triangle of applied research, project implementation and the farmer as end-user was central to the promotion of sustainable agriculture practices.

The representative of Barbados said his country recognized the need to maintain a strong agricultural sector and, as a result of its policies and initiatives, produced 30,000 tonnes of sugar annually, giving it the ability to create sufficient amounts of molasses for the production of rum.  To stimulate local food production, Barbados had provided legislative support in the form of a national strategy, and was establishing a national health and food safety department.  However, too much of the Government’s limited agricultural resources were being expended in combating the invasion of certain species and aid was needed in that regard.  The Government was also working to ramp up the quantities of cassava flour it produced, but would similarly need assistance to sustain those efforts.  Barbados was seeking technical partnerships to that end.

A representative of the scientific and technology major group said the key to moving out of poverty lay in effectively harnessing agricultural potential, adding that much of the knowledge required to do so was already available, though, regrettably, it was not widely shared.  The false dichotomy separating science from development must be broken and the interaction between research, knowledge use and practice increased.  The science community must be adequately resourced to win the ongoing arguments about climate change.  There was a need for greater and more consistent investment in research, and to strengthen partnerships and institutional arrangements in ways that put the farmer first.

Panel Discussion on Rural Development

Ms. Verburg (Netherlands), Commission Chairperson, presided over the afternoon panel on rural development, which featured panellists Tim Hanstad, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Rural Development Institute (RDI), an international non-profit organization that has partnered with developing country Governments to secure land rights for more than 400 million of the world’s poorest people; and Rosalud de la Rosa of Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management (WOCAN).

Mr. HANSTAD said there were no silver bullets in rural development, but four components were the keys to success: basic health; basic education; infrastructure, particularly concerning water systems; and a pro-poor land policy.  Access to land largely determined food security, status, wealth and power.  Land policies played a role in facilitating or constraining the transformation of rural and agriculture-based communities into more urban and developed societies.

Defining pro-poor policies as those that “increased the ability of the rural poor and other socially marginalized groups to gain or protect access and secure rights to land”, he stressed that there were no “cookie-cutter” solutions that could be applied to every country setting, but some guidelines were broadly applicable.  Land policy should strive for relatively egalitarian access to and distribution of land, secure tenures and the empowerment of local communities and governments.  An egalitarian distribution of land benefited not just the poor, but by fostering higher economic growth in general, it could be beneficial to the entire society.

Underscoring the importance of the way in which land rights were clarified and documented, he said it included land titling and usually implied formalization as long as group rights were formalized alongside individual rights.  The process should also protect the rights of the poor and vulnerable.  To do that, research was needed in order to understand grass-roots needs and to verbalize those rights.  Done right, formalization increased the value of land, putting money in the pockets of its owners and encouraging investment by farmers.

He said China’s post-1978 land policy had been the foundation for the most successful rural development and poverty alleviation in history.  It had led to equitable distribution through flexible and locally driven processes, while tenure, security and the transfer of rights had gradually increased.  Other successes had been seen in West Bengal, Eastern Europe and Ethiopia.  Overall, the possibility of creating successful land-rights systems increased when microcredit systems were available.

Ms. DE LA ROSA said WOCAN worked to address the three major gaps in sustainable and rural development processes: gender policies in agriculture and natural resource management; the role of professional women in implementing policy objectives for rural women’s empowerment and gender equality; and organizational barriers keeping women from positions of leadership and influence.  WOCAN, a major group and organizing partner for the Commission’s fifteenth session, had members in 32 countries.

She said the challenge ahead was to create an integrated approach to sustainable and rural development for all policymakers to follow.  Gender equity was vital to expediting sustainable development and a significant human right for women worldwide.  There was a high price to pay when gender issues were neglected, but there was little political will to achieve gender equality in agriculture and rural development, and a great deal of cultural bias.  There was also a lack of capacity to integrate gender into agriculture, and agriculture-sector institutions were underfunded.  The world could no longer continue to accept those disparities.

According to the World Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), agriculture accounted for 32 per cent of the gross domestic product of many low-income countries, she continued, pointing out that women made up a substantial majority of the agricultural workforce in those nations and produced most of their food.  Women farmers must be at centre stage and partnerships must be formed to make that happen.  Greater collective action among women was also needed.  WOCAN had developed a rural women’s leadership course and was collaborating with IFAD and Heifer International with the goal of restoring agriculture to the development agenda.

Sudan’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, opened the interactive portion of the panel discussion by noting that the availability of and access to efficient, reliable and affordable energy was an impediment to rural development, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.  With water increasingly scarce, investment priorities should ensure the integrity of water infrastructure.  Rural development goals should also aim at bridging the digital divide, combating diseases like HIV/AIDS, building education and health infrastructure, constructing better transportation infrastructure and including women’s empowerment and gender equity in policy priorities.

The representative of the Czech Republic, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said rural development should aim to foster economic growth and job creation, besides enhancing innovation in rural areas.  The European Union had focused on developing a market-oriented, competitive agricultural and food-production sector by focusing on knowledge transfer, modernization and innovation, such as organic farming.  It also sought to apply agri-environmental measures, while reinforcing and adjusting the role of farming in maintaining the environment and natural resources.  Information technology also sought to diversify and enrich the rural economy and improve the quality of life in rural areas by supporting the employment of women and marginalized groups while supporting smallholder and young farmers.

Oman’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group and associating himself with the Group of 77, said the rural development priorities of Arab countries included improving water security, strengthening the capacities of women in villages and providing for their interests, and providing capital for job-creation projects.

Tonga’s representative, speaking on behalf of AOSIS, said rural development, natural resource management and poverty reduction were closely linked in many small island developing States, adding that it was important to incorporate diversified and sustainable tourism strategies into rural development plans.  Small island developing States needed assistance to develop and implement integrated, sustainable natural resource management and rural development strategies that incorporated traditional cultural knowledge and land-tenure systems.

Colombia’s delegate said agricultural producers in developing countries must have greater access to international markets.  There was a need for an integrated international approach to energy diversification and better use of renewable energy.  It was also necessary to facilitate investment and provide incentives to transform the energy sector.  Renewable energy production was a central policy objective in Colombia, which had a biofuel production and usage policy based on high yields of sugarcane, and which was in harmony with food security and environmental protection policies.

Bolivia’s representative said the existing model for global development was in the hands of a few countries and people.  That model had led to land depletion, which prevented the earth from replenishing vital resources.  To achieve sustainable development and the other Millennium Development Goals, rural development must be strengthened through adequate policies, investment in human capital and the transfer of technology.  But all steps would be limited if the current economic models were continued.  Consumption patterns must be reconsidered, as modern capitalism had distanced humanity from the earth.  The world must adopt the agricultural practices and knowledge of indigenous peoples, and the United Nations must create an international day for mother earth.

Indonesia’s delegate said agriculture empowered his country’s smallholder farmers by facilitating access to financing and other resources.  Efforts were being made to develop and rehabilitate infrastructure.  To blunt the impact of the current financial crisis, however, international assistance was needed to enhance social safety nets.  Better property and business rights were also needed to empower rural populations.  Rural development must be an integral part of stimulus packages provided by Governments and international organizations.

The representative of the United States said the power of new information technology tools should be tapped to stimulate rural development.  To meet the migration of talented young people from rural to urban areas, it was necessary to reduce disparities between the quality of rural and urban life.  Rural communities must be empowered to organize their own future through the construction of appropriate infrastructure.  Agricultural producers must be linked to markets in both local and urban communities, and the resilience of rural communities to natural disasters must be strengthened.  The United States vision of rural development was to make it economically rewarding and environmentally sustainable.

Fiji’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States, said the barriers and constraints to rural development required an all-encompassing debate that took into account other thematic issues.  Poverty reduction and access to markets were also critical elements in any national or regional rural-development strategy.  Undoubtedly they must be supported by investment in human and social capital, infrastructure development, the strengthening and promotion of agro- and marine-based incomes, non-farming employment opportunities and proper management of natural resources.  For Pacific small island developing States, the “tyranny of distance” made the concept of economies of scale almost unattainable.  Because energy costs were often prohibitive, investment in renewable energy had to be at the forefront of policy options.  Additionally, adaptation strategies and investment to “climate-proof” rural development must be a priority.  Direct partnerships would play a central role in strengthening national mechanisms in that regard.

Canada’s representative said sustainable agriculture development was a key component of current approaches to rural development.  The Canadian Government worked in partnership to support and enhance the viability of rural communities.  Resource-based and single-industry communities were vulnerable to sectoral downturns and economic diversification was crucial to long-term community sustainability.  Canada supported domestic and international initiatives to increase economic diversification and employment opportunities, strengthen rural capacity for sustainable development planning and decision-making, and enhance critical rural infrastructure for improved quality of life.

Guatemala’s delegate, calling for environmental justice, said it was important to develop policies that recovered traditional and ancestral knowledge of natural resources, stressing the need for biodiversity rather than “bio-destruction”.  It was necessary to develop better policies to preserve biodiversity, combat poverty and ensure food security.  Sustainable tourism was also important, as was decentralization of Government, so as to give local communities a say in decisions governing their resources.

Switzerland’s delegate called for strengthening and widening rural peoples’ access to relevant basic education, skills development and professional training in agriculture and cattle-raising.  In terms of institution-building, it was important to promote legitimate and representative rural organizations.  Targeted investments were required to bridge the bottleneck between agricultural research and technology transfer.  There was a need for more rural infrastructure to facilitate mobility and access to markets.  Smallholder farmers had tremendous potential for growth and could contribute to an increased food supply.

A representative of the workers and trade unions major group called for the creation of new industries outside the agricultural sector with the aim of employing young people.  Policies aimed at building and reinforcing social safety nets -- unemployment insurance was one key example -- would raise the resilience of rural communities to external shocks.  The right to collective bargaining and the elimination of workplace discrimination were also essential steps in that effort.

Argentina’s delegate, associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, said a holistic approach to rural development was needed, and stressed the critical importance of adequate management tools in that regard.  Rural development should aim at stemming the outflow of youth from those areas.

Namibia’s representative, associating himself with Group of 77 and China, said the primary focus of rural development should be on better land-use policies.  Better use of land could help the rural poor as well as rural women.  There were clear links between land reform and other areas of rural development, education and health services among them.  The migration of youth to urban areas should be arrested.

Japan’s delegate said community-based multisectoral and participatory approaches to empowering communities were becoming more relevant today, with more than 1 billion extremely poor people living in rural areas.  A human-centred approach was critical, particularly with respect to poverty reduction, economic growth and access to primary health care, especially in Africa.  Women played an important role in community development, particularly in rural areas.

Norway’s representative emphasized the crucial importance of strengthening the position of women in agriculture, including by promoting their right to own and inherit land.  The role of women was particularly important for poverty reduction, as so many small-scale farmers in developing countries were women.  Gender equality was a matter of justice and human rights, as well as smart economics.  The Norwegian Government aimed to increase women’s participation in the agriculture sector and to ensure that 40 per cent of all agriculture businesses were owned by women.

Iran’s delegate, noting that poverty, hunger and malnutrition were growing in rural areas, reminded the Commission of its commitment to sustainable development goals.  It was necessary to expand the fishing industry, provide grants for educational programmes and training opportunities for nomadic peoples, expand capacity-building, create job opportunities and social insurance, and provide special insurance for nomadic women.

The representative of Burkina Faso said his country had committed to organize and host the seventh World Forum on Sustainable Development, on 19-22 October 2009, and would request contributions for that meeting.

Mexico’s delegate said there was a need to support capacity-building, so as to improve labour and production performance and ensure that rural citizens were engaged in and committed to their own development.  Such “co-responsibility” would enhance community development efforts.  To ensure success, modern technologies should be combined with traditional ones.  Capital investments were also needed to bolster infrastructure and boost productivity.  Promoting the transfer of technology would help increase rural living standards.  Overall, rural development policies should be focused and the transparency of resource allocation increased.

A representative of the local authorities major group stressed that the vital role that local governments played in rural development was due to their concentrated buying power, which could be linked to rural agricultural production.  Where they had previously focused on regional-level systems, local authorities were increasingly recognizing the value of local food systems.  Markets, farmers’ markets chief among them, were providing key links to rural communities, promoting sustainable local development while raising food security and channelling the capital of urban populations into rural ones.

Morocco’s delegate said the national plan for “green Morocco” worked to tackle water scarcity while achieving sustainable rural development.  It aimed to improve rural living conditions and increase rural incomes, ease pressure on natural resources and ensure the sustainable development of rural environments.  Reducing the isolation of rural populations by developing rural areas had been an essential part of national development plans.

Ms. DE LA ROSA, responding to the various interventions, called for more input from sub-Saharan Africa with respect to placing more women in leadership positions and working directly with WOCAN.  It would provide women leaders with training and its website had posted case studies of its successes in various countries where it had placed women in leadership positions.  WOCAN aimed to see a 50-50 participation of women and men in the Commission’s seventeenth session.

Mr. HANSTAD said gaps between policies and grass-roots realities were often great.  It was important to employ educated youth from rural areas to make women aware of their rights under Government programmes.

Ms. VERBURG (Netherlands), Commission Chairperson, summarizing the discussion in closing remarks, said rural development should be integrated into national and international stimulus packages and national development planning, adding that desertification should be part of the rural development agenda.  Energy services were important to rural development strategies.  There was a need to address disparities between rural and urban areas with a view to reducing rural-to-urban migration.  Ensuring women’s rights would help secure land tenure and increase women’s participation in the agricultural sector.

Climate-change adaptation strategies and investments to improve rural development must be high on the policy agenda, she said.  Job creation in non-farming activities and linking various agricultural activities were essential in diversifying agricultural economies.  Sustainable tourism could play a big role in that regard.  Rural people and communities must be empowered to manage their own social and economic destinies through strong institutions.  Rural development strategies should be formed from the bottom up and integrate local and cultural knowledge, in combination with the latest scientific and technological know-how.

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For information media. Not an official record.