World experts have for the first time agreed on a blueprint for sustainable agricultural development to reduce hunger and poverty and improve environmental protection in developing countries by fostering rural infrastructure and integrating small farmers into the modern supply chain, a United Nations agency said today.
The Beijing Consensus on the future of global agriculture and rural areas, adopted in the Chinese capital earlier this month and published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today, urges governments to recognize the vital role of agriculture and rural communities in overall economic growth and sustainable development.
With the majority of the poor and hungry living in rural areas, the Consensus urges investment in agriculture and rural development, calling it “absolutely crucial to improve their lives and livelihoods.”
The experts in agriculture, the environment and economics, meeting in Beijing on 9-10 September, called on governments to “give priority to public expenditures on public goods for rural areas such as roads, information technology and other rural infrastructure as well as research, extension training and education.”
They warned that globalization and the emergence of supermarkets could lead to de-linking food consumption from local production, creating a risk of that would exclude small farmers from contributing to the food supply in urban areas.
“Urbanization leads to a rapid shift in food consumption, in terms of quantity, quality and product diversity,” the Consensus says. It calls for public and private efforts to “lower obstacles preventing small farmers from integrating into modern supply chains,” effectively locking them out of economic growth opportunities.
On the environment, it calls for rural societies to be the primary custodians of local ecosystems, such as biodiversity, carbon sequestration, pollination and water purification, and for development of a plan that would allow the poor to benefit from “selling” environmental services.
Recognizing that agricultural practices contribute to global warming that will adversely affect productivity in most developing countries, it calls for the development of agricultural practices that will reduce the impact of the sector on climate change
It also recognizes the serious problems in sub-Saharan Africa and urges African countries to build a strong agriculture science base to guarantee food security for their people. “For most of Africa, agriculture will have to be the engine of economic growth. The experience of India, Brazil, and China shows that it takes time to build human capital and effective scientific institutions,” it adds.