Mr. Nikhil Seth, Director, Division for Sustainable, Development, DESA, UN

Distinguished Participants,

It is a special privilege for me to be invited to this panel. I speak to you, both as an Indian and as head of the Rio+20 Secretariat. We are reaching a crucial phase in preparing for Rio+20.

In preparing for today, I went back to Agenda 21 which we had crafted 20 years ago. One statement in Chapter 14 stuck in my mind – it says in paragraph 14.3 “the priority must be on maintaining and improving the capacity of the higher potential agricultural lands to support an expanding population.” We have come a long way from this in the last 20 years. Much of this is evident in the over 6000 pages of contributions we have received. I have not read them all but I have had an early look at the contributions from the Member States, UN entities, and the Farmers’ major group. The Secretary-General’s High Level Task Force on Food Security and the Rome-based food agencies have weighed heavily in this analysis. What then are the major concerns in the area of food and nutrition security that have come to the fore in the last 20 years:

The water-energy-food nexus and the pernicious interaction with climate change;
High prices and volatility of food prices has become the new normal, with attendant social consequences;
Food production and food availability/affordability are two different things;
Drought, famine and starvation continue to grip large parts of the world especially sub-Saharan Africa;
Hunger, malnourishment, and malnutrition have become endemic in many parts of the world. These negative statistics are not shifting in a significant positive direction;
Agricultural productivity has slowed while demand grows rapidly;

Demand for productive land is growing as countries scramble to assure food security.

Clearly the priority focus at Rio 20 years ago has not been matched by implementation or coherent and integrated approaches, which have made a change in food and nutrition security. What then are the transformational approaches and orientations that are coming in the submissions? In other words, what sensible things can the Rio+20 outcome contain, which will impact significantly on future progress? Messages that I can glean from the inputs:

1. Refocus on small holder production as key to poverty reduction and sustainable food security. This should be in ways, which encourage small holders to improve and invest in their lands’ productivity and income diversification. This would include increasing the role of farmers’ organizations in enabling benefits for the smallholder from markets. It would also include creating productive non-farm employment to supplement farm incomes.
2. Refocus on partnerships between agro businesses, agricultural cooperatives and governments for a better deal for small holders for climate smart and sustainable agriculture. Better links between smallholders and large agro businesses which can expand market opportunities for smallholders.
3. Refocus and strengthen knowledge based systems including effective agricultural extension services, participatory approaches to farmer-to-farmer training, two-way information sharing between researchers and farmers. Improve knowledge sharing, recruiting, training, and retaining young people in farming.
4. Refocus and give special attention to rural women on land tenure issues, decision making, credit and extension services. Guarantee farmers’ rights in decision making in all aspects of agricultural processes.
5. Refocus on reducing losses in production, food waste and excessive consumption.
6. Increase the share of ODA focused on agriculture and rural development. Prioritize benefits to small scale farmers, especially women, indigenous people, the landless labourers and the rural poor.
7. Develop approaches to safeguard natural resources by improving resource efficiency, better environmental practices, plant breeding and production to preserve genetic diversity, good animal husbandry, suitable climate responses.
8. Innovation, investment in scientific research are key to meet future food security needs, including for crop improvement, soil conservation, biotechnology, and ecologically based management systems.
9. Distortions in international trade should be removed with the objective of promoting access to markets, food production in developing countries, contributing to stability of food prices and domestic markets.

Many of these orientations were captured in the outcome of CSD 17.

These are some of the key messages that I am getting from the formal contributions. In summary, therefore, I would conclude –

a) Food and nutrition security is a top priority for Rio+20;
b) The focus has shifted dramatically to small holder cultivation and rural women;
c) Knowledge system strengthening is at the heart of transformation;
d) The interface between science/technology and policy and intensification of learning, interaction between the farmer/agricultural business and the scientific community is the only way for sustainable change.

There are two additional messages, which I would like to share from my own life experiences.

I am from a city in an agricultural state in India. This city serves as a hub for a productive agricultural hinterland. Significant land reform in the 50’s and 60’s made small holder production the norm. Big absentee landlords like my family lost their land. This resulted in positive change. But if I were to honestly say what has made the most significant change in the area over the last 50 years it would be two words – electricity and roads. The role of basic infrastructure for agricultural transformation is sometimes forgotten and I would like to re-stress it. All subsequent changes in the city I am from and the hinterland were predicated by change in the road infrastructure and the electricity grid, water, schools, medical infrastructure, community transformation, the sugar industry, the rum factories all came up subsequently. Let us thus not forget basic economic infrastructure and its sustainable creation.

The Indian ‘green revolution’ was inspired by Norman Borlaug and global public efforts, which fired the imagination of a generation of Indian policy-makers at the post-independence, Nehruvian time of the Indian transformation. CGIAR, IFPRI, IRRI are some of the frameworks/creators of initiatives which must continue to inspire the current generation of policy-makers, particularly in Africa. The world needs to examine how these can be re-energized to lead us to an “evergreen revolution” in agriculture, food security and nutrition that is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable.