Agriculture, Land and Rural DevelopmentFAOCSDUNEP
World Summit on Sustainable Development, South Africa 2002

Message 7

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 From: "RIO10-Moderator" 
Subject: Message 7 - Intervention by Miguel Altieri
Date: Wednesday, March 07, 2001 5:00 AM

Despite increases in food production the developing world faces major food
insecurity challenges. This insecurity is linked to massive poverty, mal
distribution of land, and the pressures of globalization that emphasize agro
exports away from basic food crops. Small farmers keep being bypassed by
modern agricultural advances. More than 370 million poor people live in
marginal environments for which modern science does not offer any viable
option.  On the contrary there are many examples of farmer-led and NGO led
agroecological initiatives that have resulted in enhanced food security and
environmental conservation regeneration. In the more intensely cropped lands
yields are declining due to degradation promoted by agrochemicals and
mechanization. In such areas the need is for less pesticides and inorganic
fertilizers, and less intensification. Trends however now fueled by
biotechnology are enhancing monocultures and leading to a further
industrialization of agriculture.

Clearly a more sustainable agriculture (SA) is needed, but an operational
definition of SA must be defined, one that gives priority to the urban and
rural poor. This definition must emerge from the grassroots and not from the
international organizations (CGIAR, FAO, World Bank ,etc) that historically
have thought they know what is  best for the south and speak for small
farmers.  Food must be produced where the poor are concentrated, and with
methods that are based on local resources, using both traditional and modern
agroecological knowledge systems. Technologies for the poor must be
developed in a participatory way, must be risk averting, cheap and
accessible, adapted to marginal areas and health and environment enhancing.
Any other technological development that does not meet such requirements,
regardless of the promises (i.e as the highly publicized biotechnology) will
not yield the desired impacts. 

It is time that the UN provides the political support for an alternative
agricultural development approach, engaging in a real partnership with NGOs,
farmers organizations, environmental groups and consumer groups in the
search for a more socially just and economically viable agriculture. The
urgency of the task demands for the utilization of public funds to embark in
a major effort up scaling the various successful but localized examples of
sustainable agriculture around the developing world. An alternative
institutional framework will also be needed, where FAO could serve as
catalyst distributing funds to those organizations including NGOs and
farmers organizations committed to delivering solutions.  We cannot afford
continuing to bet solely on an international agricultural research system
(CGIAR and GFAR) that has not delivered what is needed despite the millions
of dollars that are spent in the name of agricultural research and

It is crucial that we come to grips with how serious and urgent the problem
is and mobilize the resources immediately to promote what is really working
out there.

Miguel A. Altieri, University of California, Berkeley


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