Agriculture and Rural Development Day 2012 held in Rio de Janeiro

On 18 June, on the eve of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD or Rio+20), the Agriculture and Rural Development Day (ARDD) – a joint effort by more than 15 organizations – was organized to promote concrete steps towards sustainable food systems. The Day was the fourth in a series of annual events. In 2009, 2010 and 2011, the Agricultural and Rural Development Days occurred in Copenhagen, Cancun and Durban, alongside the UN Conference on Climate Change, organized by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This year, the Rio+20 Conference is seen as a unique opportunity to renew commitment to a sustainable green economy and to put agriculture at the core of sustainable development policies.

The ARRD featured a high-level panel discussion and 13 participatory “learning events,” based on an inclusive, cross-cutting and multi-stakeholder approach. The main message conveyed was that while agriculture is affected by climate change, it has a key role to play in addressing it. Indeed, over the past two decades, multiple crises – related to economy, environment, food, energy, and climate – have highlighted the fragility of the current global food and agricultural system. However, there is widespread evidence that farming, livestock, fisheries and forestry sectors offer lasting solutions, and a great number of experiences and programmes based on scientific research and on-the-ground innovations happened to be very successful. Through the analysis of concrete cases of success, the meetings organized for the 2012 ARDD identified best practices along with means to scale them up. They also gave an update of the scientific innovations particularly relevant to build a food-secure future.

The morning session provided an overview of the evolution of rural development since Durban and focused on the role of agriculture to address Rio+20 challenges. Panelists included high-level members of the Brazilian government, the President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the President of the UN Forum on Forests (UNFF) Secretariat, and civil society organizations’ representatives.

In the afternoon session, various topics were brought to the fore and screened in a scientific way, such as strategic partnerships, gender equity in access to natural resources, agro-biodiversity, securing long-term funding, household nutrition security or climate change justice. Once again, speakers included representatives of civil society organizations and UN bodies.

The participatory learning events addressed more specific questions: How can developing countries advance towards a more sustainable agriculture? How can the most food insecure and vulnerable people contribute to and benefit from sustainable development? How can affordable, accessible, inclusive and resilient food and farming systems be achieved through ecological and social intensification? How can we measure the multiple benefits that underlie resilience? How can the potential of rural advisory services be mobilized? How can agricultural innovation better empower women and their key role in food and nutrition security?

At the end of the day, Ann Tutwiler, Deputy Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), summarized the lessons from the Agriculture and Rural Development Day. To overcome the dual challenge of nutrition – under- and over-nutrition – and to ensure a sustainable agriculture, it is necessary to work across sectors and ministries: agriculture, forestry, fisheries, energy, water, etc, she said. She also reminded that integrated approaches for interconnected landscapes were a key component, and underscored the importance of public policies and investments, hailing the example of national investments on infrastructure to connect rural population to urban consumers.

Moreover, discussions of the day stressed the importance of new leadership models and the role of youth and the need to bring farmers, especially women, into the policy-making process. Since grassroots organizations have a key role to play, enhanced South-South partnerships and advisory services can be effective tools to achieve farmers’ empowerment, Ms Tutwiler asserted. Concluding on the importance of agricultural research and the beneficial role of scientists in policy-making, she insisted on the necessity of farmers-led, and especially women-led research since women’s technology needs are often different from men’s.

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