By Dr Emile Frison, Director General of Bioversity International
Throughout Rio+20, I have been sharing a message: Our current approach to agriculture has to change.
My plea – and the request of many others around the world – was validated this week through the final text of the “Future We Want” Rio+20 document.
The document reiterates facts we already know: More than 1 billion people on Earth live in extreme poverty, and one in seven people is undernourished. At the same time, the world’s population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050 – within our lifetime.
Poverty and hunger – two of the most important areas of focus in our organization – are mentioned in the 2nd and 3rd sentences of the text. These are – rightly so – seen as key areas of need in order to be able to have sustainable development, the focus of Rio+20. People are at the center of sustainable development, a value we hold strong at Bioversity International. We believe that smallholder farmers – who produce more than 60 percent of the world’s food and yet often live in extreme poverty – are that future. We need to lift them up.
In order to solve poverty and hunger, the member states of the United Nations included many recommendations in the final text, including many references to biodiversity. The document also includes many references to sustainable agriculture and ecosystems, areas of focus for our organization. It emphasizes gender equality and women’s empowerment, which we also hold true.
Importantly, the text recognizes the important contribution of the scientific and technological community to sustainable development, along with a strengthening of science connected to policy. As the leader of an international research organization, I strongly believe that science is a powerful tool in reaching sustainable solutions. We need to invest in it like never before.
One of the areas that drew much discussion over the course of the conference was the “green economy.” It’s a concept that I think needs more thought, especially when people should be at the center of our work. Sustainable development is definitely more than an economic framework. It’s also respect for traditions and culture and the people it intends to help.
So what will happen next? The document provides a framework for action and follow-up, and food security, nutrition and sustainable agriculture are prominent areas of this section. I quote “the right of everyone to have access to safe, sufficient and nutritious food.” Bioversity International is working on projects with exactly that goal, especially through the use and conservation of agricultural biodiversity. The document recommends empowering rural women as “critical agents for enhancing agricultural and rural development and food security and nutrition.” The document suggests that agricultural research and international cooperation on such research is critical going forward. “The intrinsic value of biodiversity” is reaffirmed in this document, and noted is the establishment of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. It calls for work to begin in order to provide “the best available policy-relevant information on biodiversity to assist decision makers.”
What is certain is that we don’t have much time until 2050. This work needs to start right away. At Bioversity International, we are committed to do our part. Please join us in that effort.