NGO Documents for the UN
Commission on Sustainable Development 8th Session, 2000
[ Back to NGO
Documents for CSD ]
CSD-8: Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue Segment on
Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Caucus
Choices in Agricultural Production, Consumption Patterns and Safety
Regulations: Potential and Threats to Sustainable Agriculture
Presented by Thomas Forster, International Partners for
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
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
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.