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What will Rio herald for agriculture?
22 February 2012
Jeffrey A Brez

Acknowledgements: FANRPAN acknowledges International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) as the source of this information


Dr Lindiwe Majele Sibanda of FANRPAN, introducing herself as the daughter of tomato farmers, this afternoon inspired IFAD's governors and attendees with her compelling call to put farmers first to allow them to produce food sustainably to feed a growing urban population.

She pointed out that there is a disjoint between technology and policy: the technologies are there (soil management, animal management, water harvesting) but policies don't give poor rural farmers the tools to use them. These sustainable technologies need to be adapted to local conditions and then adopted by farmers - but investment must enable this. A policy process that does not enable this adaptation and adoption, she explained, has robbed African farmers of their natural assets, sending them into a downward spiral of poverty and environmental degradation. 20 years ago yields were double what they are today, she remembered, and farmers could make a decent living.

How to bridge the gap? She observed that governments took action when the food price crisis hit a few years ago. They had to, under strong pressure from civil society. In an acute crisis it is more likely for policymakers and political leaders to act. In slow onset environmental crises such as climate change the impetus to act can be less strong. She cited the lack of political leadership and commitment giving the example of the 2004 CAADP pledge taken in Maputo to dedicate 10% of national budgets in Africa to agricultural investment and lamenting the small number of countries (10) that have "put their money where their mouth is" to date.

A silo approach pervades development planning and is damaging the rural poor farmer. She gave the example of climate talks where for years agriculture was ignored – and even considered a "dirty word" - because it wasn't an "environment" sector, despite the fact that agriculture is the most sector most impacted by climate change. The silo approach, she said, is killing us by slowing down policy progress and investments. She was relieved that we are close to having an agriculture work programme under the scientific and technical advisory body of the UNFCCC (SBSTA), which will be decided at the next climate negotiations in Qatar. Better late than never!

For Rio+20 she was optimistic that the main 7 areas of focus – food, jobs, energy, cities, water, oceans and disasters - were the right mix for rural poor people and smallholders. She counted three things we need to achieve "the future we want" in Rio and beyond. First, bold political leadership. Second commitments to invest in sustainable agriculture and food security with smallholders. Third a framework that takes an integrated approach to investing in agriculture to create green "dignified" jobs, engage youth and empower poor rural women who, despite producing 70% of the food only own 2% of the land.

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