Put nature at centre of food crisis debate, says IUCN
06 June 2008 | News story
The Declaration on World Food Security, adopted in Rome on June 5, fell short of showing the political will needed to address the underlying causes of the food crisis, according to IUCN.
Although the Declaration, adopted by 180 countries, mentioned the role of biodiversity in ensuring the world has sufficient food, it did not place enough emphasis on it. The Declaration expressed no commitment to stop the causes of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation that are affecting food production systems.
“Biodiversity and the role that nature plays in ensuring food production, such as providing clean water and healthy soil for crops, must be given more recognition,” says Georgina Peard, IUCN’s Programme Officer for Conservation and Poverty Reduction. “These issues should be central to all discussions on food security, not just a footnote among other problems. We share the concerns expressed by many countries on the weakness of the Declaration’s text.”
The Declaration came at the end of a three-day High Level Conference on Food Security: The Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy, organized by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), World Food Programme (WFP), and Bioversity International.
The High Level Conference attracted 43 Heads of State; an overwhelming turn-out, clearly demonstrating the level of concern over the global food crisis. Billions of dollars were pledged to fight world hunger and the final declaration was a commitment of governments to urgently alleviate the suffering caused by the current crisis through direct food aid and support for agricultural production and trade, as well as measures to secure food for all in the longer term.
While a consensus was eventually reached on the declaration after lengthy debate, a number of countries, in particular Venezuela, Argentina and Cuba, voiced their dismay and anger over the weakness of the text, and lack of political will of nations, to truly face up to the powerful forces negatively influencing food prices and markets and thus contributing to increased hunger in the world.
They were referring to the omission of text on the distorting impact on food markets of agricultural subsidies, the power of large, rich monopolies in Europe and North America over markets, the use of grains for fuel, the models of production and consumption of the developed world and their impacts on climate change, and the impacts of commodity speculation on food prices.
Impacts on the ground
The impacts of climate change are expected to hit hardest some of the most vulnerable and food insecure parts of the globe, such as Sub-Saharan Africa. Some of the expected impacts are changes in agricultural productivity and shifts in growing seasons, increased floods and droughts, decreased water quality and availability, and the propagation of crop and animal pests and diseases. Many of these impacts are already being felt.
Philippe Kiriro, of the East African Farmers Federation, said farmers saw this coming. He noted how farmers are already incurring losses, seeing rivers dry up and soils exposed to erosion. Yet nobody pays for these losses; the smallholder farmers of Africa have no social support system when their crops fail or livestock die.
Mr Kiriro’s plea is for partnership and dialogue in policy formulation and implementation. The farmers of East Africa, like in all other regions, know their land and have strong opinions on food production. With the rapid changes occurring in the climate, however, they are seeking clear and honest information on the risks and opportunities, as well as financial and technical support to help them engage fully in the debate and in developing and implementing sustainable adaptation strategies. Listening to the wisdom of the farmers themselves is essential.
Natural ecosystems, plant and animal biodiversity increase resilience to changing environmental conditions and stresses caused by climate change. It is essential to maintain and reinstate diversity into our agricultural systems, in particular including indigenous and locally adapted plant and animal diversity.
Although the voices of the farmers and various non-governmental organisations present in Rome for the High Level Conference were mostly excluded from the deliberations of government officials, their messages from the sidelines were clear. They want to be included in dialogue. They want clear, honest information on the risks and opportunities on issues such as biofuels, climate change, genetically modified organisms, and other biotechnology. Most importantly, they want to see a shift away from large multinational companies controlling world food production and markets, to policies that support national smallholder farmers in accessing land and producing food locally.
The Rome meeting came some 12 years after the World Food Summit in 1996 when the world’s leader committed to halving the number of hungry people in the world by 2015. Radically off course to meet this objective and faced with the current food crisis and threats of climate change, the commitments of the Rome Declaration of Food Security must now lead to action on the ground.
IUCN is currently developing its strategy and response to the global food crisis. It recognizes that the conservation community has a key role to play in raising awareness on accounting for the services provided by ecosystems and supporting farmers, communities and governments to maintain healthy ecosystems for food security.