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NGO Documents for the UN Commission on Sustainable Development 8th Session, 2000

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CSD-8: Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue Segment on Sustainable Agriculture
Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Caucus

Topic 1: 
Choices in Agricultural Production, Consumption Patterns and Safety Regulations: Potential and Threats to Sustainable Agriculture

Presented by Thomas Forster, International Partners for Sustainable Agriculture

April 24, 2000

Thank you, Mr .Chair for giving NGOs this opportunity to speak on this vital issue. The SAPS Caucus represents agricultural development and environmental NGOs, Indigenous Peoples and Women from around the world.

The NGO Caucus has called for an informal, ad-hoc Multi-Stakeholder Working Group, including representatives of all Major Groups, to increase collaboration and co-ordination of international efforts and to increase the capacity for implementation of SARD. This Working Group should report to CSD-10. We are grateful that this proposal is included as paragraph 110 in the Chairman s Report of the Ad Hoc Working Group.

What is sustainable agriculture?

Sustained access to safe, healthy and adequate food is a basic human right. Access to other agricultural products such as fodder and fibre, are also critical to meeting human needs. Sustainable Agriculture systems allow communities to exercise this right balancing individual and collective rights and responsibilities through local control. It is ecologically sound, economically viable, socially just, culturally appropriate and based on holistic scientific approaches, including indigenous community based knowledge systems. Sustainable agriculture means much more than narrow choices in production and consumption. Stable local and sustainable food systems and livelihoods are fundamental to the eradication of poverty, reduction of civil strife and the benefit of humanity as a whole.

What are the main threats to sustainable agriculture?

One of the key drivers threatening sustainable agriculture is trade liberalization and export-oriented food and fibre production supported by national governments and international lending organisations. This has resulted in chemical intensive monocultures and corporate ownership of land and intellectual property. It has also threatened food production at domestic levels.

Food security and the production of traditional food crops have therefore been seriously compromised. The concentration of land ownership has resulted in the dislocation of people from rural areas to become urban homeless and jobless. The impact has been even more dramatic for Southern societies, particularly for indigenous peoples. In many societies, women who had critical roles in farm decision making and the conservation of seeds, found themselves displaced when commercial monocultures were introduced. Moreover women and children tend to be the main victims of malnutrition.

The intensive use of agrochemicals has also resulted in adverse health and environmental impacts, including acute poisonings and death, chronic effects such as cancers, birth defects and endocrine system disruption. The environmental impacts include harm to wildlife, biodiversity, soil water and air. Changing diets as a result of monoculture and the imposition of foreign diets and processed foods have increased the incidence of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and hypertension, particularly among indigenous communities who have had their traditional food systems destroyed.

The recent introduction of genetically modified crops is likely to exacerbate this trend. Corporations are intensifying their ownership of intellectual property rights, and further threatening food security by making both commercial and communal farmers even more tied to corporate owned seeds and chemical inputs. Indigenous knowledge and protection of centres of seed diversity is further undermined. Local production of ecologically appropriate and diverse food has been proven to withstand external stresses such as drought, and floods which are currently increasing due to climate change.

How to achieve sustainable agriculture?

Sustainable agriculture will not be achieved through technological fixes alone. Without political the full implementation of SARD will not be achieved. Attention must also be paid to social, gender, cultural, and economic issues. As adopted by Member States during the CSD8 Intersessional the following recommendations must be implemented:

A. Support systems of organic and ecological agriculture currently in use, including traditional and indigenous systems, targeting small farmers, family farms and indigenous peoples as a priority.

These forms of food production have been found to be highly productive and efficient. For example, a recent analysis of agro-ecological projects throughout Latin America emphasising green manures has more than doubled maize yields from 1.5t/ha to 3-4t/ha.

B. Ensure land security and territorial rights of indigenous peoples, women and small farmers. Indigenous Peoples own policies on the use, management and administration of natural resources, must be respected.

Security of land tenure is the basis of food security. To ensure land tenure, relevant national and international instruments of law must be developed, ratified and implemented. The ability to feed rising world populations depends on these fundamental criteria.

Support efforts for the transition from chemical/industrial production to organic/ecological agriculture including the creation of international conditions for this purpose.

Because of adverse health and environmental impacts of pesticides, there needs to be a long term goal to eliminate the use of chemical pesticides, as demonstrated by the Rotterdam Convention and the forthcoming treaty on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). We call on governments to adopt and ratify this treaty. In the mean time, governments need to adopt and implement full and appropriate pesticide regulation. It is necessary to recognise the hidden costs of pesticides on health and environment and regulatory costs, but also on biodiversity, local economies over-dependent on pesticide use, and loss of knowledge and confidence of both men and women farmers and indigenous peoples.

Recognition of the full costs of pesticide use would demonstrate the economic viability of investing in sustainable alternatives and the participatory, farmer-centred training and research which would achieve this goal.

Governments must remove the subsidies to unsustainable agro-intensive food systems, reallocate financial support, and design training program in full partnership with farmers and other stakeholders. Revenues from subsidy elimination should also be used for the recuperation of degraded agricultural and forest soils caused by intensive agro-chemical use.

C. Support broad-based review of new technologies. Redirect and set international and national research and development priorities to support organic/ecological agriculture and multiple values of small farm and indigenous food systems world-wide. Call for a moratorium on commercial applications of biotechnology which have not been proven safe, in accordance with the Precautionary Principle and the recently negotiated Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.

The dominant applications of genetic engineering are not in support of the goals of SARD ( such as the terminator technology ), although there may be some valid uses or applications for research purposes. Genetic engineering using Recombinant DNA technology is an unproven, inherently hazardous development and fundamentally contrary to the Precautionary Principle. It also reflects corporate control and dominance in decision making and the introduction of a new technology with no democratic control or liability. This has resulted in the widespread planting of millions of hectare of genetically engineered crops and the placing of genetically engineered food on the market with little public awareness. Because genetic drift is currently occurring, and GMOs once released cannot be recalled, the practice must be immediately halted.

D. Support right of farmers and indigenous peoples including removal of obstacles to protection of traditional and indigenous knowledge, including removal of subsidies for unsustainable practices, the patenting of life forms and living processes embraced by the agreement on TRIPS (Article 27.3b), and to complete revisions to the FAO International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources to protect farmers rights.

The theft and patenting of life forms and living processes developed by women and Indigenous Peoples is facilitated by the TRIPs Agreement of the WTO Some plants which Indigenous Peoples have discovered, cultivated, and used for food, medicine and for sacred rituals are already patented in the United States, Japan and Europe. A few examples of these are ayahuasca, quinoa, and sangre de drago in forests of South America; kava in the Pacific; turmeric and bitter melon in Asia.

E. Support consumers' right to know to make fully informed choices in the market p[ace. Consumers need to have access to information about the entire life cycle of the food product, such as where it was grown, by whom, and by what process. This goes beyond traditional food labelling. The only way to support farmers and sustainable food production is for consumers to be active participants in the food chain and be active agents in the democratisation of the marketplace, for example in opening the Codex Alimentarius process to Civil Society.

The Aarhus Convention on Public Participation in environmental decision making signed by European governments in June, 1998 needs to be extended globally. This convention acknowledges the right to a healthy environment, access to information, public participation and access to justice in environmental matters.


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