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Sustainable ‘Green Revolution’ in Africa Only Possible with Radical Change in Thinking about Agriculture, Sustainable Development Commission Told

14 May 2009
Economic and Social CouncilENV/DEV/1050
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission on Sustainable Development

Seventeenth Session

11th & 12th Meetings (AM & PM)



Hears Keynotes, Holds Round Table Discussions

On Realizing Africa’s Green Revolution; Integrated Management of Land, Water

A green revolution in Africa would only be possible if the approach to agricultural development on the continent underwent its own revolution, the Commission on Sustainable Development was told during the first of two plenary round tables today.

That round table, which was entitled “Realizing a Sustainable Green Revolution in Africa”, was followed by two interactive sub-round tables on the same topic in the morning and a second plenary and parallel sub-round tables in the afternoon that addressed “Integrated Management of Land and Water Resources for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development”.

“Successful revolutions are born in passion and are carried out with speed and determination,” Matthew Wyatt, Assistant President, External Affairs of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, told delegations gathered for the second day of the high-level segment of the Commission’s seventeenth session.

Calling for an “about-face” in international thinking on how to achieve a green revolution in Africa, he said that, among other things, small-scale farmers should no longer be viewed as a problem, but as central actors in boosting food production and preserving the environment.  Women should also be seen as key change agents, while agriculture should be seen as an -– and perhaps “the” -– engine of growth and poverty reduction.

Indeed, since they managed 80 per cent of the continent’s farmland and produced the bulk of its food supplies, he said these small-scale, mostly women, farmers should be considered the vanguard of Africa’s green revolution.  Many of them could double or even triple their currently low yields if they got the support they needed.  The potential for success was already suggested by the fact that, between 2003 and 2005, 13 African countries had achieved annual agricultural growth rates greater than 5 per cent.

During the ensuing discussion, most delegations echoed Mr. Wyatt’s emphasis on small-scale farmers.  Many also called for a “green Green Revolution” for Africa that would, among other things, reconstitute biodiversity, increase crop diversity, raise the potential of irrigation methods, build capacity through direct training in agricultural and agroforestry techniques, and intensify regional and international cooperation.  While some rejected input-intensive agriculture as one of the main failures of earlier green revolutions, others maintained that the soil in some parts of Africa had been so degraded that some kind of inputs were required.  Several speakers added that adequate attention must also be given to the very real and unique impacts of climate change on the continent and how they affected its ability to produce enough food to sustain itself.  

Kicking off the afternoon panel on integrated water and land management, Willem-Alexander, Prince of Orange and Chair of the Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, underscored the inextricable links between water, poverty reduction and agricultural development.  Too often, however, decisions about agricultural development did not adequately reflect the value and importance of water inputs, and the short-sightedness of such an approach could not be overemphasized.

With the agricultural sector consuming some 70 per cent of the planet’s freshwater withdrawal and 90 per cent of total water consumption, he said any “water crisis might also be an agriculture crisis”.  Moreover, competition would increase as clean water sources became more scarce.  Climate change was certain to ratchet up the pressure on these sources even more, resulting in conflicts between the water “haves” and “have nots”.  To avoid such a bleak scenario, policies should look beyond traditional irrigation procedures, improve research in such areas as rain-fed crop growth and emphasize greater water efficiency in agriculture.  The “other side of sanitation”, or wastewater treatment and water reuse, should also be scaled up and provided more financing.

During the debate in the two subsequent interactive panels, speakers from all regions reiterated the importance of integrated land and water management to sustainable development.  Several delegations stressed that the availability of water resources determined how dynamic and competitive agricultural and livestock production could be.  As such, integrated water and land management was critical in setting the course for sustainable future growth.  But, as many pointed out, national economic development plans were, in reality, often marked by fragmentation.  A representative of the indigenous peoples’ groups said this was particularly true of efforts to integrate the needs of indigenous people, who often lived in some of the world’s most fragile natural ecosystems.  Like others, she said there was a desperate need to promote indigenous and local knowledge and to pursue an ecosystem approach.

The plenary panel on an African green revolution also featured keynote addresses from Robert Watson, International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, United Kingdom, and Tesfai Tecle, Special Advisor to former Secretary-General Kofi Annan in his capacity as Chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

The first interactive round table on that topic was co-chaired by the Minister of Agriculture, Husbandry, Food Security and Rural Development of Gabon, and the Secretary of Environment and Sustainable Development of Argentina, while the second was chaired by the Minister of Environment and Tourism of Namibia.

Making keynote presentations during the plenary panel on Integrated Water and Land Management were José de Jesus Romo Santos, the Director-General for Rural Development Supports at the Sub-Secretariat of Rural Development of the Ministry of Agriculture of Mexico, and Katherine Sierra, Vice-President for Sustainable Development for the World Bank.

The first interactive round table on that topic was co-chaired by the Minister of Agriculture of Jamaica, and the Vice-Minister of Agriculture for Indonesia.  The second round table was chaired by the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources of Guatemala.

The Commission on Sustainable Development will reconvene tomorrow at 10 a.m. Friday, 15 May, to hear summaries of all the round table discussions held during its high-level segment.


The Commission on Sustainable Development met to continue its high-level segment today.  The morning session will be devoted to a sustainable green revolution in Africa, while the afternoon will address integrated management of land and water resources for sustainable agriculture and rural development.

Keynote Speakers:  Realizing a Sustainable Green Revolution in Africa

Kicking off the discussion, ROBERT WATSON, Director, International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, United Kingdom, said that agriculture had been extremely successful at feeding the world in the past.  But given today’s challenges, “business as usual” would not suffice.  Indeed, productivity should be increased and post-harvest loss reduced by, among other things, addressing the needs of farmers, especially small-scale farmers; acknowledging agriculture’s multi-functionality; emphasizing agroecological practices and the critical role of natural resources; boosting the ability to adapt to a changing climate; and empowering women.

With more food being produced today than in the last four decades, total food production was going up, he said.  But, close to 1 billion people still went to bed hungry.  Accordingly, the main question that should be asked about the agricultural sector revolved around not how much food was produced, but the distribution of that production.  While productivity was increasing at a fast rate in countries like China, in other regions –- namely sub-Saharan Africa -- the rate was actually going down.

“The Green Revolution has run out of steam at the very time when agricultural production needs to increase”, he said, highlighting the possibilities and constraints for a traditional green revolution on that continent.  Against that backdrop a number of questions were relevant:  Can crop, animal and fish traits be improved to address the projected changes in climate?  How will the loss of genetic biodiversity affect the future of agriculture?  How can soil degradation be reversed and production enhanced?  Those questions were even more critical in light of the severely adverse effects that were often caused by the traditional ways food was being produced, even those of the traditional green revolution.

Turning to the food price crisis of the last 18 months, he said the main drivers of that increase included rising demand; poor harvests, possibly owing to climate change; increased use of biofuels; export bans; high energy prices; and speculation on the commodity markets, among others.  Those issues were not going away and needed to be urgently addressed in the coming years.  With the demand for food projected to double within the next 25 to 50 years, production had to change to meet that demand and to do so in a sustainable way.  Moreover, that would have to be accomplished with less labour, water and arable land; continuing land policy conflicts; loss of biodiversity; increasing levels of pollution; and ongoing climate change.

To meet those challenges, he stressed that a new agricultural framework was needed.  Farmers should be paid not only for producing food, but for protecting ecosystems.  Indeed, agriculture should be embedded in an “ecosystem approach”.  That was particularly critical given the lack of clarity about the possible effects of climate change.  Thus, any new framework should incorporate adaptation and mitigation measures that sought to address the water deficit problem, soil fertility and soil salinization; improve the nutritional quality of food; and raise the temperature tolerance of crops, among other things.  Fortunately, most of the technologies for that already existed.

Elaborating on the aspects of this new framework, he said agroecological practices should be emphasized, as should post-harvest loss reduction.  Local and traditional knowledge should be integrated with more formal knowledge.  That new framework should recognize the role of women and empower them.  Continuing education and training should be bolstered.  International trade should be reformed.  Farmers should be provided payments based on an ecosystem approach. 

“The bottom line is we can feed the world with affordable food, while providing a viable income for the farmer,” he said.

TESFAI TECLE, Special Advisor to former Secretary-General Kofi Annan in his capacity as Chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), said that, during his tenure, Mr. Annan had launched an initiative to examine why previous “green revolutions” had not taken hold in Africa.  The Alliance had been an outgrowth of the study’s findings, and its programmes and partnerships aim to help millions of small-scale farmers and their families lift themselves out of poverty and hunger.

Thus far, under AGRA, some 13 countries, most identified as “bread baskets”, were working with various partners, including academic institutions, to, among other things, develop practical solutions to significantly boost farm productivity and incomes for the poor, while safeguarding the environment, he said.  The key issue was how to ensure that resources were adequately scaled up to promote such projects and initiatives.  To that end, it had been estimated that AGRA and other “green” initiatives would cost about $30 billion to $40 billion yearly, and African Governments would certainly need help to bear that load.

The final keynote speaker, MATTHEW WYATT, Assistant President, External Affairs, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), said that, for Africa, the “grim harvest” of the current parallel food, fuel and financial crises was that hunger and poverty were on the rise.  The long-troubled continent also faced other daunting challenges, and chief among them was how to feed a projected population of 2 billion by 2050 -– a tough task, given that nearly 1 billion Africans were hungry today.  And, of course, all that was exacerbated by the frequent droughts and floods sparked by climate change.

“So what is to be done,” he asked, and answered:  “Revolution.”  Indeed “revolution” was in the title of today’s round table, and without far reaching, radical and innovative change, Africa’s recent socio-economic progress would be reversed; “we risk a downward spiral from which escape will be increasingly difficult,” he added.  A sustainable green revolution was needed in Africa to boost productivity and production and, thereby, generate more income for the continent’s farmers and food for all Africans -- including those who were malnourished today.

Moving on to outline some of the “revolutionary change” needed for “green” initiatives to take hold, he called for an about-face in international thinking on several key factors.  Among other things, stakeholders must:  move away from viewing small-scale farmers as a problem and begin to think of them as central to the solution of food production and environmental protection challenges; stop ignoring women altogether and begin to see them as key agents of change; stop considering agriculture as a livelihood to be “outgrown” and begin recognizing it as perhaps “the” engine of growth and poverty reduction; and end divestment in agriculture by national Governments and their development partners and begin investing the resources needed to make that sector flourish.

“It is impossible to be serious about reducing poverty and hunger without investing in agriculture,” Mr. Wyatt said, noting that agriculture had been an engine of growth in eighteenth century Europe, nineteenth century Japan and twentieth century China.  The basic ingredients for change in Africa would, naturally, have much in common with those that had led to the Green Revolution that had raised production in much of Asia and Latin America over the past 40 years, and had also sparked such advances as resilient and high-yielding varieties of seeds, as well as increased use of fertilizes and irrigation.

Above all, small farmers would have to be at the vanguard of such a revolution, especially as 80 per cent of the farmland in Africa was managed by smallholder farmers, mostly women, who produced the bulk of the continent’s food supplies. With that in mind, he said that many of those small farmers could double or even triple their currently low yields, if they got the support they needed. While experiences in Asia and elsewhere could provide good examples, he said that between 2003 and 2005, 13 African countries had achieved annual agricultural growth rates greater than 5 per cent.  “ Africa has its own treasure trove of experience –- and it has to be used,” he said.

Finally, he stressed that the “right support” for Africa’s small farmers included, among others, bolstering farmers’ organizations and scaling up investment in infrastructure, as well as in financial services, technology, extension services and in payments for environmental services.  He said that the Millenium Development Goals Steering Group on Africa had estimated that some $8 billion was needed in annual external financing for Africa’s agricultural sector.  That funding outlay would need to be backed by the political will needed to find the money, and that meant, first and foremost, that stakeholders must keep the promises for Africa that they had already made.

He said African Governments must keep the promises made in the Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security in Africa to devote at least 10 per cent of national budgets to agriculture within five years.  The wider international community must, likewise, redouble its efforts to, among others, reduce subsidies and reverse the “scandalous decline” in aid to Africa, which had dropped to a mere 3 per cent of all development aid in 2006.  Private sector investors, attracted by the potential profits promised by rising demand for food, must invest in sustainable ways that would enable small farmers to flourish.  “Successful revolutions are born in passion and are carried out with speed and determination,” he said, expressing the hope that the Commission’s discussions and negotiations in the coming days would help kindle the passion and determination needed for a green revolution to take root –- and hold -– in Africa.

Round Table 1

During the morning’s first roundtable, which was chaired by Paul Biyoghe Mba, Minister of Agriculture, Husbandry, Food Security and Rural Development of Gabon, and Homero Bibiloni, Secretary of Environment and Sustainable Development of Argentina, emphasis was placed on creating a “green Green Revolution” for Africa that accounted for the needs of small-scale farmers.  Calls were made for, among other things, reconstituting biodiversity, increasing crop diversity, raising the potential of irrigation methods, integrating land and water resources management, building capacity through direct training in agricultural and agroforestry techniques, and intensifying cooperation, especially on the South-South axis.

African delegations said the lessons of other regions would be critical in implementing a green revolution on the continent that avoided the pitfalls of past revolutions and that was capable of adapting to both a changing climate and the increasing demands of a growing population.   Nigeria’s representative said programmes were needed to increase the agricultural value-chain, by taking an approach that better integrated the different stages of that chain.  That would require, among other things, a paradigm shift from subsistence to mechanized methods.   Ghana’s representative stressed that an African green revolution should ensure that small-holder farmers were not dislocated.  African countries should also pass effective legislation to address the effects of environmental degradation and encourage the sustainable use of natural resources.   Malawi’s delegate spotlighted his country’s success in increasing crop productivity by giving small-scale farmers, who produced more than two-thirds of the country’s food, “smart” agricultural subsidies.

While several speakers said the political will to realize the Windhoek Declaration remained essential, they stressed the need for ongoing assistance from the international community.  To that end, Morocco’s delegate called for the creation of an international strategy that included investment projects, along with new technical mechanisms and partnerships that drew from both North-South and South-South cooperation.

Countries from other regions highlighted the potential contributions they could make to Africa’s green revolution, especially through South-South cooperation and triangulation.  Noting that emphasis had been placed during the Commission on Copenhagen as a locus for making progress on climate change and agriculture, Mr. Bibiloni said that, between now and December, when the Copenhagen meeting would take place, the ninth meeting of the parties to the Desertification Convention would be held.  During that meeting, which would focus on desertification, links between climate change and agriculture should be considered.  Like Africa, Argentina and other South American countries were struggling with the effects of desertification and that fight should be the basis for knowledge sharing and technical transfer.

China’s representative echoed calls for the world community to increase its support for Africa, underlining in particular the need for early warning and monitoring systems.  Stressing that international support should come from both the public and private sectors, he said the Chinese Government’s $600 million investment in Africa had prompted complementary investments from the private sector of $400 million.

A representative of non-governmental organizations, noting a divergence between what was said in the plenary and what had been said by African delegations in the room, suggested those differences fit the “postcard” dilemma that Africa had been pushed into.  Indeed, fully understanding Africa’s agricultural situation required taking a wide-ranging view of the continent’s history.  It would recognize that, while Africa had once comfortably fed itself, it had become a net importer of food after the introduction of structural adjustment programmes.  Emphasizing that that fact should not be overlooked, he framed the relevant issue before the round table as that of “food sovereignty”.  To that end, he highlighted the example of Zambia, which, in 2002, had stood up and said “we must have a right to determine what to grow, what to eat and how”.  Calling for a halt in the production of all genetically modified crops on the continent, he said African delegates and ministers should pursue the production of food -- not cash -- crops.

In closing comments, Mr. TECLE said that AGRA was focused on developing local varieties of indigenous crops and saw no need for genetically modified foodstuffs in Africa for the next 20 or so years.  Further, while irrigation was important, it seemed that most African farmers would continue to rely on rainwater and the focus should, therefore, be on water retention and other ways of improving rainwater’s use.  He stressed that a total ban on input-dependent farming methods was not feasible.  The soil in some parts of Africa had been so degraded, some kind of inputs were needed, although that could sometimes be accomplished with crop rotation, rather than the use of fertilizers.  He went on to say that the question of dignity should not be eliminated from the food aid equation, and the possibility of leveraging local smart subsidies needed more attention in that calculus.  Stressing that innovative financing was needed, he said banks often had idle funds, but refrained from agricultural investment because they considered it too risky.  Mechanisms to reduce that risk were, thus, clearly needed.

Roundtable II

Opening the interactive discussion, panel Chairperson, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, Minister of Environment and Tourism of Namibia, said that African countries had taken the lead in addressing sustainable development challenges, including in the area of agriculture, and had been charting the way forward through their implementation of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).  At the same time, she hoped participants in the round table would examine, among other things, what could be done to:  provide or rehabilitate rural infrastructure, especially in farm communities; support agricultural research and development; and create an enabling environment that provided incentives for innovation and risk-taking on the part of African farmers.

Many of the participants stressed that there was no “one size fits all” solution for ensuring sustainable agricultural sectors in Africa.  Above all, geographical and regional specifics of countries must be taken into account and, as several delegates noted, adequate attention must be given to the very real and unique impacts of climate change on the continent and how they affected its ability to produce enough food to sustain itself.  Other key issues for delegations included the need to boost aid for local and regional research and extension services, and taking into account indigenous knowledge and practices and integrating them with scientific research on agricultural productivity.

One speaker urged listening to the voice of African leaders, especially as expressed in the Windhoek Declaration, which had called for improved South-South cooperation, chiefly in biofuels, crop diversity and combating desertification, among others.  She also reminded the Commission that Agenda 21 had spotlighted education as a crucial element of achieving sustainable development.  A delegate from the Central Asian region agreed and added that targeted education programmes focused on training were very important, to ensure that small farmers in remote communities could take advantage of new technologies and practices in such areas as post-harvest procedures, pest control, and irrigation. 

There was also broad agreement that the key to a green revolution in Africa lay with small farmers.  They needed to be the targets of all sustainable development initiatives, including public-private partnerships, research and training, and infrastructure enhancement.  Such efforts should not take for granted that most small farmers on the continent were women, and, therefore, women, and women’s farming organizations, needed to be empowered and strengthened.  Another speaker highlighted the success in her country of initiatives based on shared decision-making and policy-planning that included discussions between authorities at state and federal levels, and local community leaders and farmers themselves.

Keynote Speakers:  Integrated Land and Water Management

With the Chair GILDA VERBURG urging delegations to consider the importance of launching a “water agenda” to accompany global action on agricultural development and environmental preservation, WILLEM-ALEXANDER, Prince of Orange, Chair of the Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, said that the water crisis was about more than the 1 billion or so people worldwide that lacked access to clean drinking water; it was also about the nearly three million people without access to adequate sanitation.

While basic water and sanitation services were vital to lives and livelihoods in both rural and urban areas, it was in those remote communities where lagging access was most acutely felt, he continued.  So, meeting the Millennium Development Goals target of halving the number of people without safe water and sanitation by 2015 would require concerted action by all stakeholders.  It would require equally comprehensive action to address energy, agriculture and rural development concerns.  Water and agriculture were inseparable.  Agriculture consumed some 70 per cent of the planet’s freshwater withdrawal and 90 per cent of total water consumption.  “So the water crisis might also be an agriculture crisis.”

“We must change the way we grow our food,” he said, stressing that water, poverty reduction and agricultural development were inextricably linked.  He had just returned from Afghanistan where those links were becoming so evident that the peacebuilding and reconstruction efforts were beginning to promote agricultural development by investing in irrigation, crop improvements, and infrastructure such as roads so farmers could get their crops to the market.  “The planners realize what many of us have long known:  supporting a vibrant agriculture sector is the most effective way to bring peace, stability and sustainable development to any region,” he said.

Too often, however, water was mismanaged.  By example, he noted that water shortages had recently forced California to declare a state of emergency.  But, according to the Pacific Institute, that state could have met its needs, and laid the ground of future sustainability, if it had implemented current water-saving techniques.  Decisions about agricultural development did not adequately reflect the value and importance of water inputs, he said, stressing that, if the international community wanted to increase food production and alleviate poverty while maintaining ecological systems, “we must join forces between water and agriculture.  We must give water its due place when agriculture policy and investments are debated.”

He went on to note that competition would increase as clean water sources become more scarce.  As climate change was certain to put even more pressure on freshwater sources, conflicts between the “”water haves” and “have nots” would lead to social instability and unrest.  “Let us avoid this bleak scenario,” he said, and the most obvious place to start was, of course, with agriculture.  On the way forward, he recommended, among other actions, looking beyond traditional irrigation procedures and improving research in such areas as raid fed crop growth.  He also called for scaling up efforts and financing targeting “the other side of sanitation”, such as for wastewater treatment and reuse; and improving integrated water and land management programmes by putting greater focus on water efficiency in agriculture.

JOSÉ DE JESUS ROMO SANTOS, Director-General for Rural Development Supports at the Sub-Secretariat of Rural Development of the Ministry of Agriculture of Mexico, said there was no doubt that his country had been implementing policies that were fully in line with many of the principles repeatedly called for during the Commission’s session.  Mexico considered it particularly essential for rural communities to have greater say in decision-making processes, and to such end it had passed, in December 2001, a law for rural development that supported this participation.  Councils for rural development at all levels of Government were set up and institutional coordination established.

While much remained to be done, he said, progress on the path towards integrating land and water management had been made.  That progress had been, and would continue to be, dependent on the premise that natural resources were the productive base not only for the current generation, but for future ones.  Today, that premise faced new, growing challenges, most of which were related to global warming.  Although Mexico had less total carbon emissions than other developed countries, 18 per cent of those emissions were generated by the agricultural sector and through changing land use patterns.  The frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, especially hurricanes, had increased since 2000 in Mexico, and such events affected the sustainability of rural development by, among other things, reducing soil quality.

In its policy instruments, he said the Mexican Government was working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change and had given the highest priority to sustainability.  The environment was considered a fundamental element in ensuring the country’s economic competitiveness, and eight state departments had 49 shared strategies to respond to climate variability.  To restate that commitment, the Government was enacting a special climate programme as part of its national policy for climate change mitigation.  Specific goals had been set for the support programmes against a 2012 deadline. Projects aimed to, among other things, reduce the practice of burning wood for fuel, reduce pollution from outboard motors on fishing vessels and replace fertilizers that released high levels of nitrous oxide with those that emitted less.  With the effects of climate change being felt with increasing intensity in recent years, Governments must take actions that modified and changed the trends of greenhouse gas emissions.

The final speaker, KATHERINE SIERRA, Vice President for Sustainable Development for the World Bank, said agriculture must be a “solution provider” of success across a range of issues, including rural development, climate change, and poverty reduction.  To that end, the Bank had decided to promote a set of principles –- reinforce, rejuvenate, and rebuild, or the “three R’s” -– aimed at tackling many of the key issues before the Commission during this policy cycle.

The first “R” aimed to reinforce global thinking that agriculture remained essential for poverty reduction, ecological preservation and sustainable development.  The next called for rejuvenating partnerships in a time of rapid global transformation, and the third called for “rebuilding the art of the long view”.  Specifically on that point, she said emergency responses were no longer enough -– despite how effective they might have seemed in the wake of the financial crisis -- and the international community must be strategic about achieving the goals of sustainable development.  She went on to say that the Bank was also thinking about how to scale up investments in land management, especially in the areas of carbon capture and sequestration.  There were many problems ahead, but also many opportunities.  All global development partners must act together to find solutions that adequately addressed climate action, environmental protection, and poverty reduction.

Round Table I

Heading up one of the parallel interactive discussions in the afternoon were Co-Chairs CHRISTOPHER TUFTON, Minister of Agriculture of Jamaica, and SUMARDJO GATOT IRIANTO, Vice-Minister of Agriculture for Indonesia.  Mr. Tufton said land, water and population pressures were three factors that influenced food security.  Ensuring food security therefore involved achieving proper balance between population polices, integrated land and water management, and integrated resources management.  He asked participating delegations to consider, among other things, through what means and mechanisms could countries ensure holistic sustainable agricultural and rural development, while integrating land and water management programmes.

During the discussion, speakers from all regions reiterated the importance of integrated land and water management to sustainable development.  A delegate for the United Republic of Tanzania, however, stressed that “land is the only resource a poor majority can use as an asset” to sustain lives and livelihoods and promote socio-economic integration and development.  With that in mind, his country’s Government had elaborated a comprehensive land policy that addressed, among other things, women’s access to land and security of tenure; protection of vulnerable groups such as displaced persons and children; and promotion of land set asides for biological and ecological conservation.

Other speakers from the developing world agreed that access to land was crucial to driving growth, especially in rural and informal sectors.  Indeed, access to land and land ownership had a great impact on social stability and economic growth, especially in countries where huge segments of the population made their living from farming.  For those people, access to land, along with active participation in decisions regarding land and water management, was crucial to their very existence.  As such, one speaker called on national Governments and outside development partners to stand by their commitments to strengthen agriculture sectors, help with climate change mitigation and adaptation, and scale up aid for poverty eradication.

A representative of the indigenous peoples’ groups said that she represented some 370 million people living in 8 countries, often in some of those countries’ most fragile natural ecosystems.  While there was a desperate need to secure land rights for indigenous peoples, promote indigenous cultural knowledge and pursue an ecosystem approach –- and indigenous civil society groups appreciated the Commission’s increasing realization of those facts -– the reality was that national economic development plans were marked by fragmentation, and efforts to integrate indigenous issues lacked political support.

As that was the case, she said that indigenous land rights and livelihoods were under threat not only from Government indifference, but also from predatory extraction companies and other reckless conglomerates that cared little about natural resource preservation or environmental protection.  It was crucial to provide support and protection for the rights, including land rights, of hunter-gatherers, highland farmers and pastoralists, whose daily activities were highly valuable to the planets well-being, but were apparently of little value in national accounts.

Round Table II

The discussion in the second round table, which was chaired by Luis Alberto Ferrate, Minister of Environment and Natural Resources of Guatemala, underlined management as the key to the sustainable use of finite resources like water and land.  With modern challenges to the environment requiring ever higher levels of coordinated management, several delegations said a “road map” for effective water and land management should be established to guide national policies, highlight best practices and drive innovation in the use of natural resources for agricultural production.  To that end, one speaker emphasized how essential it was for the Commission to reach an agreement on appropriate water and land policies, as a step towards a guiding vision.

Regional mechanisms were also needed, others said.  In that regard, Kazakhstan’s delegate highlighted the joint statement on addressing the Aral Sea crisis, which she said should serve as a model for regional coordination.  While calling on the Commission to focus specific and undivided attention on the need of landlocked developing countries, Mongolia’s delegate said his delegation aimed to hold a summit on climate change among north-east Asian countries.  Angola’s Environment Minister called for an African forum to develop guidelines that were particularly relevant to the continent.

Many delegations stressed the role of irrigation systems in water management and agricultural production.  The availability of sufficient water for agricultural and livestock production determined how dynamic and competitive that production could be and would set the course for how sustainable future growth might be.  Pointing out the heightened number of hardships facing the world’s 2 billion people who lived in drylands, Iceland’s delegate said his country planned to launch a formal United Nations University training programme to promote food production via efficient land and water use.  Israel’s representative spotlighted his country’s experience in developing one of the world’s most advanced irrigation systems vis-à-vis its limited access to water.  Its integrated approach drew from fresh, marginal, recycled and desalinized water.   

Several delegations also outlined their national strategies and policies for improving water and land management.  Canada’s delegate said his country had learned that flexibility and agility were needed to tailor water and land programmes.  Water and land issues varied spatially, meaning that tools that were effective in one place might not be in another, and a holistic approach had to be used.  Further, the active input of those people who actually implemented policies was critical in producing better results.

The representative of Iraq said that, while he appreciated the presentations by different delegations on their specific national management policies, the Commission’s focus had to be broad enough to address regional and international issues, which was the only way to sufficiently engage questions of transboundary water resources and the needs of “downstream” countries.  In that respect, he called for wider ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.