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Rio+20 COMMENTARY: From side event to side event

In his second blog entry on Rio+20 Urs Niggli reports about the current negotiation text.

Representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) tend to flock together. They attend the same events, which take place far from the actual “battlegrounds”. They are generally like-minded, but every organization wishes to see its own specific agenda reflected in the negotiation text. Solidarity ends when it comes down to details, because everyone considers his or her own topic to be more important than any other.

On Saturday morning, during a briefing of the agricultural groups (of which IFOAM is an established member), the news came crashing down: Brazil had withdrawn the entire negotiation text and wanted to start all over again. The negotiations were being blocked by the mass of small interest groups whose demands were weighing down the text with countless clauses; moreover, the Brazilians found that some points of the text went too far.

On Sunday morning, a new version of the text was distributed. It was somewhat reduced, and in some important points it even fell short of positions that had already been agreed upon. On Sunday evening, around 100 young NGO representatives voted for Brazil as the “fossil of the day”.

Nonetheless, the current negotiation text still contains some important elements that point towards an agroecological orientation in agriculture and food production. There is, of course, still the fear that too much has been left noncommittal and that actions will be so contradictory as to be ineffectual. It certainly is appalling how little has actually been accomplished in the 20 years since the last Rio conference, even though enormously important decisions were made at that time.

In relation to agriculture and food production, the following key elements are currently set:

  • Sustainable consumption is a high priority, and this calls for fundamental changes (Article 226).
  • Agriculture and rural communities are vitally important to the fight against poverty (Article 109). Rural communities must have access to credit, financial services, markets, secure land tenure, health care and social services, education and training, and appropriate and affordable technologies. The needs of small producers, women and indigenous peoples are particularly emphasized. The importance of traditional sustainable agricultural practices and traditional local seed supplies is also recognized.
  • Poverty and the lack of access to sufficient food are identified as particularly urgent challenges (Article 108). It appears that the emphasis on production (yields) is no longer absolute.
  • The fight against soil erosion and further desertification is a major priority. Periodic droughts are seen as a main cause of hunger. Improving water management practices and soil fertility is therefore crucial. Training programmes, research projects and local initiatives involving farmers and experts should be particularly promoted (Articles 207 to 211).
  • The dramatic loss of biodiversity must be stopped (Articles 198 to 206). The intrinsic value of biological diversity, beyond its economic worth, is reaffirmed, and the ecological, genetic, social, economic, scientific, educational, cultural, recreational and aesthetic value of biological diversity is recognized. It is further recognized that indigenous peoples and local communities are particularly dependent on intact ecosystems. Therefore, their access to these resources and their shared utilization are vital to the eradication of poverty and to the promotion of sustainable usage. The utilization and commercialisation of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge is of particular importance to developing countries (which are often the countries which provide genetic resources). Any benefits derived from such resources must be shared in a fair and equitable manner.
  • The pollution of the environment through chemicals and waste must be drastically reduced.  Developing alternatives to chemicals is imperative. Chemicals should generally pose little risk and should be managed according to a life-cycle approach, from production to reuse or complete degradation. This is particularly significant with regard to agriculture due to the wide-spread use of chemicals. Waste prevention and waste recycling are of primary importance. Although the modern concept of “Cradle to Cradle” design is not specifically mentioned, some suggestions point in this direction: The waste that accumulates from each individual production process and from consumption should be of such high quality that it can be used as a valuable resource for a new cycle of production (Articles 215 to 225).
  • Climate change is the greatest challenge of our times. Many developing countries are already experiencing droughts and extreme weather events. The aggregate effect of the current mitigation pledges of all countries would never suffice to keep the increase in global average temperature below 2 °C or 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. Adaption to the effects of climate change is therefore becoming an increasingly urgent priority (Articles 191 to 193).

One glimpse of light in this otherwise sobering situation is that good organic farming practices are helping to meet many of the challenges we are facing—and that FiBL’s many research projects are right on target with regard to Rio + 20 strategies.

Urs Niggli, June 19, 2012, 14:34

Further information


Urs Niggli, Dierctor FiBL Switzerland