ROME (IDN) - Representatives of farmers and rural producers from around the world feel far from comfortable with the ramifications of a "green economy" focus that they fear could turn ecosystem services and biodiversity into economic "goods" to be traded and speculated upon in open markets.
They disapprove of government focus on investment in urban infrastructure, despite the fact that a majority of people live in rural areas. Lack of reliable land tenure and insecure access to natural resources were mentioned as persisting obstacles to smallholder, family farming and indigenous peoples’ wellbeing.
This emerged from discussions at the Fourth Global Meeting of the Farmers' Forum at the Rome headquarters of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) on February 21.
Their reservations are grounded on the 'zero' draft outcome document of the Rio+20 conference from June 20 to 22 in Brazil to commemorate the historic Earth Summit twenty years ago, which does not put a square focus on smallholders. In fact paras 64-66 of the Food Security section state:
"64. We reaffirm the right to food and call upon all States to prioritize sustainable intensification of food production through increased investment in local food production, improved access to local and global agri-food markets, and reduced waste throughout the supply chain, with special attention to women, smallholders, youth, and indigenous farmers. We are committed to ensuring proper nutrition for our people.
"65. We call for more transparent and open trading systems and, where appropriate, practices that contribute to the stability of food prices and domestic markets; ensure access to land, water and other resources; and support social protection programmes.
"66. We further support initiatives at all levels that improve access to information, enhance interactions among farmers and experts through education and extension services, and increase the use of appropriate technologies for sustainable agriculture."
On the positive side, however, the farmers' organizations attending the Forum felt that if they are strategic and coherent in their approach, Rio+20 could be an opportunity to make progress on these frustrating points.
The associations generally expressed appreciation for the Rome-based agencies' – including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) – joint submission to the zero draft document, as well as to the Farmer's Major Group submission. There was optimism that if consensus can be reached on how to engage in the process and exactly what the outcome objective should be, important progress for the rural poor was not out of reach.
"One key hurdle to overcome will be connecting farmers organizations worldwide to enable their collective voice to be heard leading up to and at Rio+20," noted an informed observer. "The associations may request IFAD to support their efforts to organize and navigate the dizzying mix of events and procedures."
IFAD is an international financial institution and a specialized UN agency based in Rome – the United Nation's food and agricultural hub. It is a unique partnership of 167 members from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), other developing countries and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Coming from the floodplains, hillsides and dry lands of the different regions where IFAD operates, attendees represented the voices of millions of smallholders, family farmers, pastoralists and fishers who face serious climate-change challenges every day. The Forum took place in conjunction with IFAD's annual meeting, the 35th Governing Council, and focused on the links between overcoming poverty and food insecurity, and improving sustainable agriculture development.
"The sea is empty, which means that our nets and our plates are empty as well," said Herman Kumara Wijethunge, General Secretary of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement and the World Forum of Fisher People at the opening of the meeting. He further emphasized that institutions like IFAD help facilitate policy dialogues and that the Farmers' Forum is a key vehicle to attract attention to the needs of fishers. All 92 farmer leaders attending the Forum agreed on the need to jointly address the global challenges of food insecurity and climate change.
"Partnerships are central to IFAD’s work," said IFAD’s President, Kanayo F. Nwanze. "And farmers from developing countries are our most important partner of all. They are the experts and the agents of change in ensuring enough food for an ever-growing population. We need them and their knowledge to do our job – to help grow more food and increase the resilience of smallholder farmers worldwide who currently feed one-third of the global population."
Since 1978, IFAD has invested about US$13.7 billion in grants and low-interest loans to developing countries through projects empowering about 405 million people to break out of poverty, thereby helping to create vibrant rural communities.
Smallholder farmers in developing countries suffer most from the changes in climate patterns and the degradation of natural resources. They live and earn their livelihoods in the most ecologically and climatically vulnerable landscapes, relying on weather-dependent natural resources. Increasing volatile and uncertain weather patterns, water scarcity, soil erosion, declining soil fertility and salinization of arable land are all undermining agricultural production in many parts of the developing world.
"Solutions to climate-related challenges and the enhancement of environmental sustainability is not only a question of technology, but also one of the right policies," said Jean-Philippe Audinet, who leads IFAD's work with the Farmers’ Forum. "Farmers' organizations play a central role in representing smallholders in policy dialogues to ensure that policies respond to their needs and realities."
The Farmers' Forum was initiated in 2005, with the first meeting taking place in 2006, to institutionalize the continuous dialogue between smallholders and rural producers, IFAD and governments of its Member States.
IFAD President Nwanze on Februray 22 committed to pull up to 90 million people out of poverty. "The time has come for smallholders to play their rightful role in contributing to economic growth and food security," Nwanze told a gathering of world leaders, international policymakers, farmer representatives and government ministers.
"When these farmers are recognized as small entrepreneurs, when they have access to better resources and incentives, and when they have access to markets and an enabling environment, they can transform their communities, their own lives, and indeed the world," he said.
In the light of the world population projected to be more than 9 billion in 2050, Nwanze called for "perseverance, patience and determination to reduce rural poverty and create climate-smart ways for smallholders to build their resilience."
Specifically emphasizing IFAD's Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme, Nwanze added that the Fund has a critical role to play helping smallholders adapt to a changing climate while also reducing emissions and safeguarding the natural resource base.
Nwanze highlighted the importance of women, who shoulder a heavy workload in rural areas. IFAD has long recognized that there will be no substantial progress in poverty reduction unless there is greater investment in women, one half of humanity.
And with more than half of the rural population in developing countries between the ages of 15 and 25, Nwanze challenged leaders of the developing world, to work in partnership with IFAD to "harness youth’s tremendous energy and provide opportunities for them, particularly in rural areas."
"We will need the young people of today to be the farmers of tomorrow," he added.
Since taking office in 2009, Nwanze has overseen a change and reform agenda which has improved IFAD's efficiency with projects being implemented more quickly, with less delay between approval and first disbursement.
Nwanze, who has led IFAD's increased presence in the countries where it works, said the Fund will reach more people and strengthen collaboration with its additional country presence. In addition, Nwanze pledged to expand partnerships with the private sector to make, "smallholder farmers more visible business partners in their efforts to feed the world."
He applauded Member States for their commitment to IFAD’s Ninth replenishment of resources of US$1.5 billion in new contributions to finance agriculture and rural development projects across the developing world. This represents a 25 per cent increase over IFAD's Eighth Replenishment.