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8 September 2012

08.09.2012 Agriculture, Food Security and Biodiversity

Today was the main Nature+ Food day at the IUCN Congress.  There was clearly a lot on people’s minds as they headed to their various morning sessions.  In summary it came out of discussions that there was a need for the conservation community to engage more directly with agriculture because it is the most significant driver of environmental change. Debate upon this topic is quite limited as there has been very little research done incorporating both sectors.  It was clear that the indigenous participants to the congress had indeed become the specialists in aligning these two sectors.  We were given presentations which heavily focused on a landscape perspective, featuring The Potato Park in Peru and swidden agriculture in the Philippines in which one seemingly abandoned areas in fact contained 8 different cultivation zones all in one ‘landscape’.  It was interesting to see the increasing use of the term ‘Anthropocene’ to describe the combination of new environmental factors we are talking about.  One comment that stayed with me was about the CAP and agricultural subsidies in developed countries.  “$300billion in subsidies per year, thats just under $1billion per day given to agriculture which has created the dysfunctional system we have today.  Imaging that $1billion per day being given to the indigenous farmers, think what they could do with it.”  Unfortunately my laptop is not working so I was unable to take notes after the session below.
Session on Agriculture, Food Security and Biodiversity

Recently, more than 70 global agri-food leaders in the business, policy, green, and social arenas, were consulted for a report for UNEP that exposes unforeseen areas of consensus about the Agriculture/Food Security and Biodiversity challenge and possible solutions. It also exposes areas of disagreement and lays out a key set of specific “high impact” areas where smart decisions will make the most difference for sustainable and resilient food and agriculture systems. Using the areas of agreement and disagreement cited in the report as a backdrop the speakers outlined the areas of consensus and non-consensus.

  • Dr. Ibrahim Thiaw, Deputy Director of Environmental Policy, UNEP,
  • Ylva Stiller, Syngenta International AG,
  • Andrea Athanas, Senior Program Design Officer – East Africa, African Wildlife Foundation.
  • Julie Shapiro – The Keystone Centre

Areas without consensus

  • Will large or small farming deliver best food security
  • What role for corporations in food system
  • What agri production technologies will best deliver food security
  • What role will GMOs play in improving food security
  • How much agribiodiversity should we promote in our farming systems
  • How can we adapt for growing demand for agri products
  • How can trade affect food security

Areas with consensus

  • Farms need to be organized,
  • Gender balances
  • Nutrition needs to be expanded in line with production
  • Reduce waste
  • Need to evaluate Biofuels and land use.
  • Private enterprise must play a significant role
  • Reduce pre-post harvest losses
  • Need for more public/private partnerships


Andrea Athanas – African Wildlife Trust

1/3 food insecure in Africa

They manage a project to supply Tesco with Avocados in which they ensure producers use ecological techniques and farmer-supplier agreements.  Control and regulate farm inputs like fertilizer and pesticide.

It will be both large and small scale farming that will deliver food security.  Food insecurity is driven by degraded land, lack of water, lack of nutritional knowledge, ill health, and poor infrastructure which leads to post harvest losses, and lack of access to capital, market access and transportation.

Q – Does enhancing local productivity address food security, when in the local context they produce for export.  Can they import the right food at the right price?

Ylva Stiller, Syngenta

Biodiversity, land and water are the fundamentals of agriculture

Sustainable agriculture = sustainable markets which is of great interest Syngenta.  Their goal is to get ‘more crop for drop’ i.e. to produce more food from less.

Need to create environmentally responsible and economically viable solutions, otherwise hard to create local uptake for these practices, such as an insurance systems for farmers

Ibrahim Thiaw, UNEP

There is no single view within the UN on agriculture, however there us a high level panel with WFP, FAO, and UNEP within the UN.

According to the UN availability, access, utilization, stability and environmental sustainability are the 5 pillars of agriculture.

How can we feed all these people without depleting the natural capital?  No single answer but we need to look at the production and consumption chain.

Only 43% of cereals sold are consumed by humans – where is the rest?  Where can we make some efficiency in this sector?  There is much pre and post harvest losses, especially in the poorest countries, before food gets to market.  Cereals are used to feed animals – is that sustainable?  We need to rationalize what we produce.

Enough food in the world to feed all the people at the moment.

Green economy approach – wastewater use in agriculture – hopes to see an increase in re-use.

Need to integrate sectors to produce policies that use a range of approaches.

Julie Shapiro, the Keystone Center

Fundamentals for collaboration in agriculture and in other environmental arenas.

  1. Need a dialogue process
  2. Need to engage all stakeholders in one conversation
  3. Focus on outcomes and interests
  4. Make progress on what is possible.  There are many aspects and many discussions and it doesn’t make sense to start with the hardest.  Start with lower hanging fruit and you can build trust early on.

Case from US – Keystone alliance: sustainable agriculture

Collaborative approach with 50 orgs. With produces, retailers, researchers, USDA, universities – the whole supply train.  Define measure and promote continuous improvement.

Saw the priority to bring producers to the discussion table.

We need to avoid a binary debate – sometimes there is another solution.

Communication across the whole supply chain is fundamental.


I asked about the fact that African rural poor spend up to 75% of their income on food.  Increasing agricultural productivity is not the single solution to food security; it’s the prices and the availability of food that is the key.

The discussion was then led towards the difference between food security and self-sufficiency and what we mean when we talk about food security.