Developing country groups highlight international dimensions of sustainable agriculture and food security

The third session of the United Nations General Assembly Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals took place on 22-24 May in New York. The thematic clusters were food security and nutrition, sustainable agriculture, desertification, land degradation and drought, as well as water and sanitation.

Below are the highlights of statements made by several developing countries following that of the Chair of the Group of 77 and China (see TWN Agriculture Info: SDGs - Supportive global economic conditions crucial dated 31 May 2013).

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Developing country groups highlight international dimensions of sustainable agriculture and food security

New York, 31 May (Bhumika Muchhala) -- The third session of the UN Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals addressed food security and nutrition, sustainable agriculture, desertification, land degradation and drought, as well as water and sanitation.

During the intergovernmental discussions of the Open Working Group (OWG), many developing countries, including Brazil, Nicaragua, China, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka stated that while national policies and governance need to be revised and strengthened, international dimensions of food insecurity and agriculture also need to be addressed.

This includes developed countries' agricultural subsidies which have a regressive impact on agriculture in developing countries, the dumping of subsidized agricultural products, trade barriers imposed by major food exporters, biofuels policies, and increased food commodity speculation.

Many of these countries stressed that the inherent dysfunctions of unsustainable consumption patterns and market practices, which fail to deal with food as a basic human right, need to be addressed.

Technology was the key focus for means of implementation to achieve sustainable agricultural practices and food security, in that developing countries must be given technological support to meet their development aspirations.

This entails re-examining current patenting rules in the international intellectual property rights system.  Furthermore, the modification of indigenous knowledge and patenting this knowledge is a grave concern for many developing countries.

Below are highlights of the statements by groupings of countries (the OWG has 30 seats, with two or three countries sharing a seat). The statement of the Group of 77 and China was reported separately in TWN Agriculture Info: SDGs - Supportive global economic conditions crucial dated 31 May 2013.

The country grouping of Brazil and Nicaragua, represented by the Deputy Permanent Representative of Nicaragua, Jaime Hermida, stated that the full realization of the right to food, a basic human right, is essential for poverty eradication and sustainable development.  Addressing food and nutrition security requires immediate attention to both production and the consumption aspects.  Country group deliberations on this area, they said, must be in accordance with the Rio+20 outcome document.

On the production side, Brazil and Nicaragua said that renewed commitments and investments are increased, in particular toward increasing agricultural productivity and diversifying agricultural production.

The means of implementation, they stressed, are indispensable.  This includes social inclusion and social protection policies as crucial tools.  More specifically, this also includes special and steady support for small scale producers and family farming, through credit, insurance, infrastructure and access to technology, technical support, and wide ranging benefits in terms of food and nutritional security, as well as employment and income generation.  Secure land tenure is also an important issue that must be dealt with.

The importance of social safety nets to ensure basic access to food and nutrition cannot be understated. Both Brazil and Nicaragua have adopted Zero Hunger programs, which have served to coordinate the State's actions to ensure the right to food through a multisectoral approach, including conditional cash transfers and school meal programs, income generation, strengthening of family farming and civil society participation and articulation.  Both national programs have had remarkable results, they said.

Brazil and Nicaragua highlighted liberalization of international agricultural trade and the need for reform of protectionist and distortive policies in developed countries as a crucial element for food sovereignty.  Agricultural protectionism in developed countries exposes developing country producers to unfair competition, denying access to important markets and discouraging investments. The redoubling of efforts for an ambitious, balanced and development oriented conclusion of the Doha Development Agenda is crucial in this regard.

Brazil and Nicaragua lent support to the G77 and China regarding financial speculation on commodities, including food, which has contributed to the recent excessive volatility of food prices. This is an issue which must be dealt with, they said, since it impacts more acutely the most vulnerable populations.

However, the misleading notion that associates food security with low food prices or insufficient food supplies needs to be avoided.  The main cause of food insecurity today is the lack of income to ensure access to food.

Food security can only be ensured through equitable economic growth, the creation of jobs, the generation of income and technological advances, including in the agricultural sector.  Poverty eradication and sustainable development depend on farmers in developing countries having a sufficient level of income.

However, the UN must avoid using the concept of sustainable agriculture as a justification for discriminatory trade practices and illegal subsidies under the banner of sustainable agriculture.

The development of national strategies that encompass the three dimensions of sustainable development, such as Brazil's National Plan of Action to Combat Desertification and Mitigate the Effects of Droughts and Nicaragua's Water Harvesting Program, can help concentrate national attention on the subject and integrate policies in that regard.  Such plans can also serve as the basis for cooperation and exchange of experiences.

Finally, conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity must be a component of all food and agriculture policies, as well as combating desertification, land degradation and drought.

The country group of China, Indonesia and Kazakhstan, represented by the Deputy Permanent Representative of Kazakhstan, Akan Rakhmetullin, stated that transformation toward sustainable agriculture and achievement of food security, which includes increasing food production in the developing countries, are among the most important issues that need to be addressed in the discussion on Sustainable Development Goals.

While the MDG target of reducing extreme poverty (MDG 1a) may have already been reached at the global level, it is projected that achieving the target to reduce hunger (MDG 1c) by 2015, will be difficult.  The target related to child nutrition (MDG 1c) is most probably unlikely to be met and is off-track, as confirmed by the World Bank's progress assessment.

The group of China, Indonesia and Kazakhstan asserted that the main causes of this rise in global and national food insecurity, among others, are due to trade barriers imposed by major food exporters, the existing biofuels policies, and increased food commodity speculation, combined with inefficient national governance to cope with such shocks.

The Rio+20 Outcome Document, in paragraph 108, reiterates the right of everyone to have access to safe, sufficient and nutritious food, consistent with the right to adequate food and the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger.

The Rio+20 Outcome Document further highlights the importance of revitalizing agricultural and rural development, notably in developing countries, in an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable manner.

The group said that food security is built on three pillars: the availability of food, the access to appropriate foods for a nutritious diet, and the appropriate use of food according to the knowledge and principles of basic nutrition and care, as well as adequate access to sustainable water resources, particularly for women, children and the elderly.

The focus on improved practices and higher shares of productive land and pastures, without over grazing, and efficient irrigation systems will therefore positively impact yields, employment and GDP.

China, Indonesia and Kazakhstan emphasized that while fulfilling food security is part and parcel of national responsibility, multilateral cooperation and action should be the integral elements to overcome this global challenge.  In this regard, enhanced global partnership, as well as means of implementation, are of the utmost importance.

On this note, the key structural issues that determine global food security, especially in the following spheres, must be revisited in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals: enhancing access to high quality research and technology; promoting trade and investment in ensuring food security; and environmental-related challenges in the context of the global food crises.

Systemic problems can be addressed by improving global trade, food stock management, agribusiness (improving seeds, fertilizer, pesticides), infrastructure development, and intellectual property rights for easing access and enhancing agricultural growth in developing countries.

The Rio Outcome Document (paras 110-113) reiterate the importance of sustainable agriculture, and the need for increased investment in sustainable agriculture and practices.  Development in the agricultural sector should also focus on enhancing the participation of smallholder farmers; increasing the role of traditional sustainable agriculture practices; and preventing food loss and wastage throughout the supply chain from initial agricultural production down to final consumption.  It also needs to maintain natural ecological processes that support food production systems.

Addressing food security will also mean recognizing its cross-cutting issues, among others, such as effective and long-term land management systems, especially, for women, together with those of rural development, trade, health, employment, social protection, water, and biofuel energy versus food challenges.

On the problems of desertification, land degradation and drought, which are the most overlooked, land is a central element that links energy, food, water and environmental health together.  Desertification and drought, especially, cause soil and land degradation, which is closely linked to the two major crises of climate change and loss of biodiversity.

China, Indonesia and Kazakhstan stressed that land degradation is very costly and has very immense far-reaching impact. It has brought direct effects on one in every four human beings. Soil erosion in the world's croplands depletes about 20 billion tons of fertile soil.

Developing and implementing proactive national drought management policies by dealing with impact assessment, preventive, planning and risk management measures are critical, while at the same time, fostering science, appropriate technology and innovation, public outreach and resource management.

Instruments must be designed to incentivize sustainable land management, and effective measures can only be introduced by bridging the science-policy gap through knowledge transfers and capacity building.

Halting and reversing declines of land productivity by restoring and regenerating land that is already degraded call for global processes and commitments to implement strategies and interventions to combat the challenges of land degradation.

The country grouping of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka was represented by the Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka, Dr. Palitha T. B. Kohona. The group aligned itself with the statement delivered by Fiji on behalf of the G77 and China, and said at the outset that the right to food is a fundamental human right, as is the right to development.

India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka said it is incumbent on the member states of the UN to build upon the results of the MDGs.  Quantitative assessments of global and regional food requirements made by the FAO and WFP are helpful tools in this regard, but population dynamics, including variations within countries, have to be weighed. Moreover, the increasing demand for food crops and other organic materials in biofuel production should also be addressed substantively.

The group highlighted the following points in developing a Sustainable Development Goal on these issues:

First, poverty alleviation remains the key challenge while promoting sustainable agriculture as well as food security and nutrition security. In this regard, promoting and accelerating rural development in developing countries must be a priority. Countries which emphasized rural development have recorded notable successes in poverty eradication.

Secondly, the two themes are linked closely and we must give serious thought to developing an overall cumulative target under these themes. More specifically, in crafting the basis for targets/goals, we would need to weave these elements together instead of treating them as separate or independent goals. Notwithstanding, we do believe that an overall goal facilitating rural development, food and nutritional security could have a set of nationally driven and determined indicators such as (a) social protection; (b) infrastructure development and linkages to urban centers (c) enhancement of resource endowment, including through access to credit markets of the poor and small-scale farmers (d) national policies and other incentives to encourage private sector investment; and (e) adaptation to the adverse impacts of climate change on agriculture.

India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka said that it is important to view varying circumstances and capacities of countries in pursuing these goals consistent with the principle of the common but differentiated responsibilities, an element, which has been firmly reiterated in the Rio+20 outcome.

The group stressed that a funded programme must be developed to address nutrition, as malnutrition has been the key reason for MDGs on Infant Mortality and Maternal Mortality lagging behind the rest. We have to aim at higher benchmarks to sustain our efforts.  Even within countries that have reached satisfactory average nutrition levels, pockets of malnutrition remain.

Fisheries and all forms of aquaculture products must be given a prominent place in our dialogue not only as a part of issues associated with agriculture but also in addressing malnutrition - aqua products being one of the best source of nutrients, including micronutrients.

However, it is important to keep in mind the parlous state of global fisheries, mainly due to over exploitation. Overexploitation has been the result, mainly, of the activities of the fleets from industrialized countries. At the moment, over 70% of the global fish stock has reached a critical state.  Policies to ensure employment, nutrition and better management of stocks need to be developed.

When considering the economic aspects of food production, there must be a focus on affordable access to inputs, including land, water and fertilizer.  Access to markets is an integral element.  The agriculture sector is a key area of employment generation, especially in developing countries.  Over 85% of agricultural land is held by small scale farmers.

Therefore, the group said that creating jobs with greater value addition and environmental sustainability is critical.   By considering food as a human need, global efforts must aim at a balanced demand-driven approach because a solely supply-driven approach has not led to the desired results.

Increasing the availability of land, maximizing the productivity of cultivable lands and increased application of eco-friendly technologies, such as production methodologies that consume low amounts of water, energy, chemicals and land as well as those resulting in low quantities of waste must be taken into account while designing the goals. The restoration of degraded land is essential.

This entails a balance between agriculture, deforestation, and the need to generate employment and food. The solution may lie in the access to eco-friendly modern technologies, which are available but are costly. Targeted investment levels in agriculture in developing countries are a possible option.

One third of all food production globally is lost or wasted in production, transportation and consumption, amounting to 1.3 billion tonnes per year. This happens in the developed world because of lifestyle patterns and in the developing world due to lack of adequate infrastructure.

On this note, the "Think-Eat-Save" campaign of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) should reach a wider global audience.  Attitudinal change encouraged by massive awareness campaigns in the developed world will help save huge amounts of food that is wasted.

To build on the successes of the green revolution, it is also important to establish mechanisms to effectively accommodate indigenous knowledge on agriculture and food processing.   It is with better technology and adequate funding that agriculture can be made sustainable and a burgeoning world population fed.  Developing countries must be given technological and financial support to meet their development aspirations. On the other hand, such technologies must also be applicable in the national contexts.

To ensure technology for sustainable agriculture, current patenting rules need to be examined.  Modification of indigenous knowledge and patenting these become an issue for developing countries.

An important aspect of food security and livelihood in developing countries is the impact of massive subsidies given by developed countries to their farmers.  These subsidies, amounting to billions of dollars annually, have had a regressive impact on agriculture in developing countries and have retarded progress on MDGs. The issues of subsidies, trade and market access must be addressed comprehensively while dealing with food security in the context of the Sustainable Development Goal menu. The dumping of subsidized agriculture has had a crippling effect on some developing countries.

In conclusion, the group said the OWG of the UN General Assembly should not duplicate work already undertaken under existing mechanisms, and rather should benefit from the success that the international community has achieved and build further on these. Similarly, it is critical to think holistically, taking into account cross-sectoral factors.  The bottom line should be to make our world a better place for future generations.