on 21st June 2012

Does it provide the food future we need?

By Stefan Mielke, Program and Policy Advisor Climate Change and Food Security, CARE Austria

Food security and nutrition is one of the major issues of the 21st century and the Rio+20 conference. Most participants have gained first-hand experiences in food security and nutrition issues during the past days here at the Rio+20 conference centre. For example, I could observe food price volatility at the food court here: In one outlet I saw prices fluctuating and peaking before the Heads of State and Government arrived this Wednesday. Excessively expensive food could be found everywhere. Most participants should have had the economic ability to afford this pricy food. It hurts your wallet – but nutritious food is essential to survive a 14 hours working day. Especially NGO delegates with their meagre per diems were struggling not to go hungry to bed. Fortunately, I just could maintain a healthy and diverse diet. Organic food outlets were particularly well received but required perseverance while queuing. Of course, the prices of sushi are not comparable to prices of staple food in developing countries. But this experience here in Rio showed: We all are affected by fluctuating food market prices and access to food.

Many side events and the negotiation itself have prominently featured the need for sustainable agriculture. Despite this promising setting, the outcome achieved does not pave the way for an agricultural revolution that will provide food in a socially and environmentally sustainable fashion for the expected nine billion people in the year of 2050. The negotiation language used to advocate for sustainable agriculture is very weak. Merely reaffirming the “Right to Food” and only recognising the crucial role women play in agriculture is simply not strong enough to bring about lasting change for smallholder farmer. Clear objectives, targets, activities and timeframes are needed to transform current industrial food production practices into agro-ecological, climateresilient and small-scale practices in all parts of the world.

Smallholder farmers in developing countries are currently producing between 60-80 per cent of the food. The majority of these over 1.2 billion smallholder farmers are women. However, agricultural policies, services and societal conditions often neglect them. Inequalities in the distribution of rights, resources and power are the root causes of vulnerability and poverty. The Rio+20’s draft agreement is blind on these issues.

Rio+20 has not provided us with a clear vision and concrete measures of how to achieve food security and nutrition throughout the world. It has not placed smallholder farmers and in particular women at the centre of attention of an agro-ecological revolution. Current harmful agricultural subsidies and financial speculation on food are not addressed.

In the absence of sufficient political will and ambition, civil society is asked to step in. We cannot count on governments to deliver. CARE already empowers the poorest and most vulnerable people and I have the strong feeling that since Rio+20 will not deliver on all these aspired goals, we have to provide even more to support local communities.

Stefan Mielke

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