Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Rio+20: Feeding the World Without Wrecking the Planet

June 14, 2012

As the single largest employer in the world, agriculture provides a livelihood for 40 per cent of today’s global population. It is the most effective way out of poverty for the rural poor. Faced with environmental degradation, climate change, unequal access to land and water, loss of agricultural biodiversity and ecosystem services, and a world population that is continuing to climb, CGIAR, a global agriculture research partnership working for a food secure future, believes that agriculture and natural resource management should be central to the development and environmental agenda.

Sustainable agriculture is crucial if we want to produce 70 percent more food by 2050 to feed a world population of nine billion people and lift the most disadvantaged out of poverty - without wrecking the planet.

In the run-up to RIO+20, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), CGIAR issued a Call-to-Action outlining how agricultural research for development can contribute to a more sustainable, food-secure future.

Seven points to sustainable development

The management of agriculture, forests and water must function in a far more integrated fashion than it currently does if we are to achieve sustainable development.

In response to the price spikes of 2008, 2010 and 2011, and in a context where yield increases have slowed down, farmers from North America to Africa are rapidly expanding cultivation into fallow lands, marginal areas and newly cultivated areas. This is not a long-term solution and disastrous for the environment. Innovation that leads to higher crop yields, and varieties that are more resistant to disease, droughts and floods is urgently needed. But policies and technologies that improve agricultural productivity and profitability can also result in the expansion of agriculture into forests and grasslands.

What we need is sustainable agricultural intensification, that is to say, increasing production while reducing negative environmental impacts. This requires research into farming systems that will support more productive and resilient livelihoods and ecosystems. The emphasis should be on closing yield gaps and improving nutrition, making full use of agricultural biodiversity to offer more sustainable solutions

Degraded environments and ecosystems have too often been the result of unsustainable agricultural practices. About two billion hectares worldwide could benefit from landscape restoration. Further research is needed to scale out these options, to be adopted through community-designed programs.

Marginalized food producers, particularly women, need to be included more in the bid for sustainable development. They should be empowered to increase their production and marketing of a wide diversity of adapted and nutritious crops, many of which have been long-neglected by agricultural research. This empowerment can be achieved through a combination of basic agronomic research, strengthened land and water rights, increased access to markets, finance and insurance, and enhanced local capacity, especially with regard to the use of local agricultural biodiversity, all delivered where possible through community-based farmer organizations.

The first Rio conference, in 1992, established the basis for the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). This treaty promotes not only the conservation and use of agricultural biodiversity but also the equitable sharing of any benefits that may arise from its use. Rio+20 should endorse the full implementation of the International Treaty.

We recognize the need to create, strengthen and support safety nets and humanitarian emergency programs in acute food crisis. However, we also need a clear commitment to the integrated development of sustainable agricultural and food systems, lessening the need for emergency interventions. This will reduce the human toll of disasters and provide longer term and lasting solutions.

Producing enough food without destroying the environment is the greatest challenge facing humanity in coming decades. To meet that challenge, agriculture and the environment can no longer afford to be on opposite sides of the fence. Agricultural research generates science and technology based innovation that is at the heart of the solutions that are urgently needed. It can also support farmers, managers and governments to make evidence-based decisions to invest in agriculture for a food secure future without wrecking the planet.

CGIAR is a global agriculture research partnership for a food secure future. Its science is carried out by the 15 research centers who are members of the CGIAR Consortium in collaboration with hundreds of partner organizations.

Read more about CGIAR’s interventions at RIO+20

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