FAO at Rio+20: A Sustainable Future Must Be Hunger Free

In preparation for the upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) at the end of this month, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has released a new policy document outlining how sustainable development cannot be achieved unless hunger and malnutrition are eradicated, and that better governance of agriculture and food systems is key to achieving both targets.

Director-General of FAO, José Graziano da Silva said:

The quest for food security can be the common thread that links the different challenges we face and helps build a sustainable future. At the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) we have the golden opportunity to explore the convergence between the agendas of food security and sustainability to ensure that happens.

Food has already been outlined as one of the seven priority areas for the Rio+20 negotiations. The global food and agriculture system requires a complete transformation if we are to nourish the one billion estimated to be hungry, as well as the extra two billion people that will inhabit our planet but 2050.

In this new policy document, FAO outlines three key messages:

1. The Rio vision of sustainable development cannot be achieved unless hunger and malnutrition are eradicated

FAO asserts that reducing hunger and malnutrition starts with fair access to resources, employment and income in rural areas where people directly depend on agriculture, fisheries or forestry for their incomes as well as their food supply. Growth in the agriculture sectors of low-income and highly agriculture-dependent economies is twice as effective as that of other sectors in reducing hunger and poverty, creating employment and incomes. However to make sure this becomes reality FAO argues that improved policies, investment and governance are crucial.

FAO also advocates for the implementation of social protection programmes, such as the Fome Zero programme in Brazil, that can address hunger in the short-term, thus supporting longer-term growth in the form of a healthier, more productive workforce.

2. The Rio vision requires that both food consumption and production systems achieve more with less 

If agricultural output is to be intensified, FAO argues we must improve current practices to ensure that negative impacts to the environment are reduced. These avoidable impacts include soil, water and nutrient depletion, greenhouse gas emissions and pollution, and degradation of natural ecosystems. The implementation of sustainable and climate-smart systems already in practice can help significantly reduce these impacts.

It is also essential to reduce waste and losses of food. FAO research shows that global losses and waste are estimated at roughly 30 percent for cereals, 40–50 percent for root crops, fruits and vegetables; 20 percent for oil seeds; and 30 percent for fish.

3. The transition to a sustainable future requires fundamental changes in the governance of food and agriculture and an equitable sharing of the transition costs and benefits

Priority areas for policy action identified by FAO in this policy paper include:

  • Establish and protect rights to resources, especially for the most vulnerable
  • Incorporate incentives for sustainable consumption and production into food systems
  • Promote fair and well-functioning agricultural and food markets
  • Reduce risk and increase the resilience of the most vulnerable
  • Invest public resources in essential public goods, including innovation and infrastructure

The challenge for participants at Rio+20 and beyond is to support better decisions by building more inclusive and effective governance for agricultural and food systems.

Click here to read the full paper.

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