Impressions from Rio Centro and the People’s Summit
Dialogue between government (Minister Pepe Vargas, second from the left) and civil society (AFA’s Esther Penunia, far right) at the People’s Summit
Real food security (which is much more than the availability of sufficient carbohydrates to “feed the world”) is still a far away dream. Most government policies still prioritise industrial agriculture, at the expense of small-scale family farming. This is the case in Brazil, and all over the world.
At the official conference at Rio Centro, genetically modified crops were promoted as a sustainable solution to food insecurity, topped with a green sauce of environmentally smart solutions that do not challenge the predominant system of production. The outcome document of Rio+20, as Hans Herren, president of the Millennium Institute, expressed it, is full of “the well-known diplomatic language that avoids to commit”.
But not all is lost. In Rio, several encounters between a wide range of groups and organisations gave sparks of hope about the possibility of a transition to a truly sustainable agriculture system. Inspiring examples showed that this transition is actually happening in different parts of the world. At the People’s Summit and in some major group side events, there were representatives of government and international organisations who spoke with a different voice.
The Prime Minister of Bhutan Jigmi Y. Thinley, for example, conveyed his full support for organic farming, as he committed to make Bhutan the first country in the world to produce 100% organically within the next ten years. He stated at a side event at Rio+20: “I have written to the heads of state and governments of all the nations presently gathered in Rio, with a request to take specific policy actions to begin moving towards a new economic system. Governments should first remove perverse subsidies for fossil fuels, chemical inputs in agriculture, and other activities that are harmful to the economy and environment. Secondly, governments should support small scale, local production and consumption, ensure public procurement from sustainable local sources, invest in rural sector public goods, including farmer education in organic methods, and incorporate traditional knowledge into agricultural research and development.”
"Family farmers must have a voice in local, national and international decision making bodies"
The host country too showed support for family farming on an agro-ecological basis. Pepe Vargas, Brazil’s Minister of Agrarian Development, underlined the importance of strengthening family farming and to show other countries that Brazil has pro-family farming policies.
The Director General of FAO, Brazilian José Graziano da Silva, agrees. Local procurement programmes, like the one implemented in Brazil, can be a lesson to other countries. “It seems that again, the consensus document from Rio+20 is not the document we need,” Graziano da Silva said. “We need our own document, where we discuss the issues we really need to tackle.” At one of the events at the People’s Summit, FAO and the government of Brazil signed an agreement where the Brazilian Ministry of Agrarian Development will provide FAO with 1.5 million Reais (Euro 720,000) to support regional programmes to build policies that support family farming.
In Brazil, there has been an increasing support for family farmers over the last ten years. The PAA, the Federal Programme for Food Acquisition, has been very effective in combination with the National School Meal Programme, PNAE. This programme requires that at least 30% of ingredients for student lunches are bought from local family farmers, and thus creates a large market for them.
Laércio Meirelles from the NGO Centro Ecológico in Brazil also mentioned PRONAF (government credit for Agroecology, Women and Youth) and an Organic Agriculture Law that recognizes PGS (Participatory Guarantee System), where people involved in the production provide the guarantee of organic production without expensive and complex certification systems. “As civil society, we have to recognise that the Brazilian government supports ecological agriculture,” Laércio said. Oxfam Brazil’s director agrees: “We should pay attention to the Brazilian success of lifting 24 million people out of poverty. The role of the state is key in this.” Also, he applauds the participation of Brazil’s civil society in policy formulation. “But let’s not be naïve, there are limitations.”
These limitations are that the development of Brazil largely depends on the agribusiness sector, and inequality remains a significant problem. Landlessness continues to affect many farmers, despite the efforts so far on agrarian reform. Jean Marc von der Weid of AgriCultures Network member AS-PTA explains the struggle they face with the Brazilian government: “public policy means simplifying reality. Regional differences and the complexity of agroecology make it unappealing for policy makers who want simple and quick results. Politicians get discouraged with agroecological approaches, because they want results in three years. They don’t accept that an experimentation phase is part of agroecology.”
AS-PTA is presently involved in the formulation of a National Policy of Agroecology and Organic Production, but faces resistance. The government likes agroecology as a niche, which is exemplified by their efforts to merely want to enlarge the organic produce supply for the World Cup in 2014, hosted by Brazil. However, Jean Marc argues that agroecology should not be seen as a niche, but as the foundation for a radical change in agricultural production and rural development patterns.
One of the real gains of Rio+20 is that it has been a great opportunity to exchange views and inspiring experiences, to strengthen cooperation and reinforce the collective vision that another agriculture is not only possible but already on its way. Moisés Quispe (Intercontinental Network of Organic Farmers Organisations) from Peru, for example, expressed the need to learn from Brazil’s experiences. Moisés and others, including la Via Campesina, Esther Penunia from AFA (Asian Farmers Association), the president of CONTAG (National Confederation of Workers in Agriculture), Alberto Broch, and Minister Vargas, highlight the importance of building strong alliances to bring about change. “That is what Rio is really for,” many of them said, “to create greater synergies among civil society and between farmers, civil society and (academic) institutions”.
Brazils’ minister Vargas emphasized that the People’s Summit has been supported by the Brazilian government especially for the purpose of this dialogue. “This permanent dialogue is crucial for sound public policies,” he said, for example to establish a sound definition of food sovereignty that can be included in policies. He seemed to be open to criticism from the audience about Brazil’s use of pesticides and the lack of participation of the government in areas of large scale production. “There is space to improve here, I see that,” Pepe Vargas admitted.
The year 2014 has been declared as the International Year of Family Farming. According to Esther Penunia, we need three things in 2014: “Family farmers must have a voice in local, national and international decision making bodies; institutions like FAO, IFAD and national governments need to give priority to family farming; and investments in agroecological approaches are needed.” Here is a great opportunity for national governments to show their commitment to sustainable family farming.
The true achievement of Rio+20 was that alliances were forged and strengthened. As the Prime Minister of Bhutan said: “What I find most encouraging in this moment of life-threatening planetary crisis, is the powerful surge of activity from civil society movements around the world. Taking the lead, where governments fear to tread. This energy will and must generate the political will to act.”
Text: Laura Eggens and Edith van Walsum