Delegates to the eleventh session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), which met in May 2003, could not have known how timely their decision would be to place agriculture, rural development, land, drought, desertification and Africa on the agenda for the sixteenth session, which will take place in a little under two weeks.
The global food crisis has dominated news reports in recent weeks. Rising food prices led the World Food Programme to indicate earlier this week that it would need an additional US$ 756 million to meet its commitment to feed 73 million hungry people this year, an increase of over US$ 250 million since a similar announcement in February. The annual World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund Spring Meetings, on 12-13 April 2008, highlighted the issue of rising food and energy prices and their impact in developing countries, and welcomed the call by World Bank President Zoellick to combat hunger and malnutrition through a “New Deal for Global Food Policy.” The semi-annual meeting of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the UN’s agency heads, from 28-29 April 2008, is expected to focus on the food crisis and climate change. Japan’s Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda has announced that the Group of Eight industrialized countries will discuss the global food crisis, particularly food trade, biofuels, farm productivity and climate change affects on agriculture, at their July meeting in Hokkaido, Japan.
As the “Agriculture” background paper for CSD 16 aptly states, “It is therefore timely that attention is turning again to the role of agriculture as a crucial sector in national, regional and international efforts to reduce hunger and poverty, to improve rural livelihoods and to achieve sustainable development.” These discussions will be shaped by the current food crisis as well as other forces, including the politics surrounding the Doha Round of trade talks and its attention to agricultural trade issues, and connections with subsides and mandates for biofuel production. Additional input into discussions on this matter are provided by the World Bank’s World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development and the reports of the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), which were released on 15 April 2008. The former calls for greater investment in agriculture in developing countries, while the latter highlights the need for frameworks that combine productivity needs with the protection and conservation of natural resources.
CSD 16 and related fora, including the Food and Agriculture Organization’s High-Level Conference on World Food Security and the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy (3-5 June 2008, Rome, Italy), will provide the international community many opportunities in the coming months to consider the way(s) forward. Milton Friedman has written that only crises produce real change, but the action taken relies on ideas that are “lying around.” The CSD agenda setters in 2003 may have thought the sixteenth session would contribute ideas that would “lie around,” although in this case the need for an international forum that can table new options is greater than ever. IISD RS will report from both of these meetings, identifying the ideas discussed and options that delegates consider to move forward on this issue.