UN Commission on Sustainable Development – VN Commissie voor Duurzame Ontwikkeling

It’s the Baha’i Fast, but I’m not going to write about that (still have 16 more days to go). I just want to share and highlight some of the comments of the chair of the upcoming 17th session of the UN’s Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-17) in May 2009.

Yes, I’m proud; the chair is a woman (Gerda Verburg) AND she is the Dutch Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. Her parents and grandparents were dairy farmers.

It’s the 1st time EVER that CSD has a female chair. It’ll be interesting to see how the Dutch culture (too direct for our own good sometimes, I know all about that) works together with Iranian culture (vice-chair).

You can read Gerda’s call for action here:

I’m just highligting some points I found interesting (the numbers will make sense if you read the rest of this blog):

Within just one year, the world has been shaken by an unprecedented spike in the costs of basic foods, by hunger riots and by social tensions that have demonstrated that food insecurity is an irrefutable reality. Estimates suggest that the total number of malnourished people worldwide could rise to 967 million in 2008, up from 923 million in 2007. In addition, a large number of developing countries ares struggling to address the macroeconomic impacts of high domestic food prices and inflationary pressure, as well as increased import expenditure.

It is a new reality to which global warming and declining natural resources are now adding an unprecedented sense of urgency. Ever rising trends in energy consumption are a major concern. Reports show that we are using far more of our natural resources than our planet can regenerate. As a global society (1) we cannot accept increasing levels of poverty and hunger. So, we are faced with one of the toughest challenges in this new millennium.

Agriculture continues to be, in the 21st century, a fundamental sector for sustainable development (3) and poverty reduction. With over 920 million people being food insecure and at the same time having agriculture as the main source of income for most of the world’s poor and as the motor for economic development in many rural areas, attention to agriculture and rural development issues in developing countries in terms of policy commitment and investments is crucial.

One thing is clear: we have neglected agriculture too much for many years….

We all have to face these dilemmas, including the dilemma of competing claims for food and fuel. And let us not forget the competing claims on water.

It is time to act!
Let’s take the words of the UN statue serious: “Swords into ploughshares” words into action. CSD 17 has to deliver concrete measures and actions.

Long-term lack of investments in agriculture, rural infrastructure and rural development has eroded productivity gains.
* Productivity improvement: more private and public investments in agriculture, particularly in scientific, technological and institutional innovations; sharing of knowledge, technology transfer and capacity building (4 & 3) were mentioned as key elements. Lack of sustainable land management has aggravated land degradation, reducing soil fertility. Climate change has exacerbated water stress and desertification;
* Enabling environment: creating an environment for private investments and stimulating entrepreneurship are crucial. Wide-ranging constraints to rural development were identified from deficient rural development policies and lack of participation in decisionmaking of key stakeholders (2), to limited education (4)and underdeveloped financial markets. Land tenure has been biased against women (5) and extension services have fallen behind.
* Sustainable value chain development: Attention was also drawn to population growth and increased consumption patterns, i.e. of dairy and meat products, which have contributed to increases in commodity prices. Some pointed out that increased demand for biofuel has become an increasingly significant user of agricultural commodities and may have pushed up their prices. Developing a sustainable value chain (production, processing, marketing, trade and consumption) could be part of the solution.
* Market access: Equally important is the impact of subsidy on food production, the need for improved access for agricultural exports from developing countries and supporting the development of local and regional markets. Also the development of markets that are accessible to small farmers as well.
* Food security and safety net mechanisms: Lack of access to affordable private health insurance of public health care. In addition to the existing group of chronically poor people, a larger section of the population is now at risk of sliding below the poverty threshold. Food security policies and food aid needs are critical.

The goals of poverty eradication, food security and sustainable natural resource management need to be seen as inter-linked and should be addressed in a coherent and integrated manner (1-5). The CSD is uniquely placed to tackle these challenges, focussing on the linkages among the thematic issues and on their relations with the cross-cutting issues.

The CSD also provides a unique platform with unmatched institutional strengths in the intergovernmental processes. Its long-standing engagement with the Major Groups will enable it to hear the diverse voices of civil society groups; and its mandate in promoting partnership will facilitate consensus building and adopt policy decisions underpinned by a shared commitment to progress in implementation on the ground.

CSD-17 should be a forward-looking and action-oriented session. I will take the lead in mobilizing broad-based ministerial participation, invite Ministers of relevant portfolios to attend CSD-17, provide guidance on policy options and actions and take bold, action-oriented initiatives during CSD-17.

CSD-17 affords us the opportunity to make a difference. We have a historic obligation to our peoples. Let us be bold and ambitious. With leadership, a shared vision and a shared commitment to action, we can work together to make sure this food crisis will be the last one.

Read those bits in bold and seen the numbers 1 to 5 in brackets?

Now read the focus points BIC delegates used during the 16th CSD session in May 2008:

  1. Only upon a foundation of genuine unity, harmony and understanding among the diverse peoples of the world can a sustainable global society be established.
  2. The task of sustainable development is not merely a technical one but an ethical and moral one.
  3. Development policy must reflect the fact that agriculture constitutes the fundamental basis of economic and community life.
  4. Education should be designed to build the capabilities of rural inhabitants to contribute to rural development.
  5. The full emancipation and involvement of women is a prerequisite for sustainable rural development.

You see?! We are talking the same language and aiming for the same outcome.

Abdu’l-Baha in Foundations of World Unity (p. 37) says:

“The fundamental basis of the community is agriculture, tillage of the soil. All must be producers.”

He describes agriculture as “a noble science” whose practice is an “act of worship”, and He encourages both women and men to engage in “agricultural sciences”. He indicates that should an individual “become proficient in this field, he will become a means of providing for the comfort of untold numbers of people”

And in the Compilation of Compilations vol. I (p. 81) Bahá’u’lláh states:

“Special regard must be paid to agriculture.”

He characterizes it as an activity which is “conducive to the advancement of mankind and to the reconstruction of the world”.

Watch out for more CSD-related entries before my next trip to the UN in May.


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