Developments at the IAASTD
1.Towards a New and Improved Green Revolution
Stephen Leahy Inter Press Service (Johannesburg), 6 April 2008 http://allafrica.com/stories/200804070026.html
As food prices soar and hundreds of millions go hungry, experts from around the world will this week present a new approach for ensuring food security, at the intergovernmental plenary for the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD).
The Apr. 7-12 conference is taking place in South Africa's commercial hub, Johannesburg, and will be attended by representatives of an estimated 60 governments.
In the past year the price of corn has risen by 31 percent, soybeans by 87 percent and wheat by 130 percent. Global grain stores are currently at their lowest levels ever, with reserves of just 40 days left in the silos. Meanwhile, food production must double in the next 25 to 50 years to feed the additional three billion people expected on the planet by 2050.
'The question of how to feed the world could hardly be more urgent,' said Robert Watson, director of the IAASTD and chief scientist at the British environment and agriculture department.
The findings of the three-year IAASTD indicate that modern agriculture will have to change radically from the dominant corporate model if the world is to avoid social breakdown and environmental collapse, he explained. 'Agriculture has a footprint on all of the big environmental issues...climate change, biodiversity, land degradation, water quality, etc.'
The IAASTD brought together more than 400 scientists who examined all current knowledge about agricultural practices and science to find ways to double food production in the next 25 to 50 years and do so sustainably, while helping to lift the poor out of poverty. They concluded that the way to meet these challenges is through combining local and traditional know-how with formal knowledge.
The effort produced five regional assessments and a synthesis report, as well as an executive summary for decision makers.
Representatives from 30 governments of developed and developing countries, the biotechnology and pesticide industry and a wide range of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including Greenpeace and Oxfam, were involved. Public sessions were also held to gather input from producer and consumer groups, as well as others within the private sector.
However, last year the two biggest biotech and pesticide companies, Syngenta and BASF, along with their industry association -- Crop Life International -- abandoned the assessment process. This was on the grounds that the final draft of the synthesis report was overly cautious about the potential risks of genetically modified crops, and sceptical of the benefits.
'It's unfortunate that they backed out...I don't think they are used to working with a wide variety of participants as equals,' said Josh Brandon, an agriculture campaigner with the Canadian branch of Greenpeace. He had high praise for the scientists involved in IAASTD -- and for the attention given to problems presented by biotechnology and the Green Revolution, such as the patenting of seeds, genetic contamination, and air and water pollution by pesticides.
The term 'Green Revolution' was coined in 1968 by William Gaud -- then administrator of the United States Agency for International Development -- in reference to the increased agricultural yields that were experienced in Asia and Latin America from the late 1960s through greater use of fertilizers and better crop varieties, amongst others.
However Robert Paarlberg, a political scientist and agriculture policy expert at Harvard University, in the United States, also has concerns about the way in which the IAASTD tackles biotechnology.
He is particularly critical of the assessment for sub-Saharan Africa, saying it reads as if written by activists 'who believe that the Green Revolution was a tragedy not a triumph of lifting hundreds of millions out of hunger and poverty in Asia.'
Paarlberg, who did not participate in the IAASTD, recently published a book titled 'Starved for Science: How Biotechnology Is Being Kept Out of Africa'. In it, he argues that poverty and hunger in Africa are largely a result of agriculture there not having been improved by science, including modern biotechnology.
But Harriet Friedman, a sociologist at the University of Toronto in Canada and one of the editors of the assessment documents, counters that the IAASTD is based on scientific findings, not opinion: 'The biotech industry and its supporters have a very narrow view of agricultural science.'
The assessment places the focus on improving sustainable agriculture and small-scale production, which is receiving little investment for research. Paarlberg said that U.S. funding for agricultural research in Africa had dropped substantially in the past years, as had financing from the World Bank.
The bank is a major sponsor of the IAASTD along with a number of United Nations agencies.
In addition to analysing how the world can be fed, the assessment focuses on supporting poorer communities with agricultural science and technology, noted Cathy Holtslander, a project organiser for the Beyond Factory Farming Coalition, an animal protection NGO in Canada.
The final synthesis document, to be presented at the end of this week, is intended to act as a blueprint for governments about the future direction of agriculture.
'It's not necessary that the assessment's findings are accepted by all governments,' said Friedman. 'This about a sea change in public consciousness.'
2. IAASTD draft proposes significant changes to status quo
6 April 2008
THIRD WORLD NETWORK INFORMATION SERVICE ON SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE
Dear friends and colleagues,
Re: IAASTD draft proposes significant changes to status quo
The International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology (IAASTD) will hold its intergovernmental plenary meeting from 7-14 April in Johannesburg, South Africa. Over three years, from 2005-2007, the IAASTD evaluated the relevance, quality and effectiveness of agricultural knowledge, science, and technology (AKST), as well as the policies and institutional arrangements in relation to AKST. The final report (comprising a global and 5 sub-global assessments) is due to be accepted and approved by governments at the meeting.
The IAASTD was launched as an intergovernmental process, with a multi-stakeholder Bureau, under the co-sponsorship of the FAO, GEF, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO, the World Bank and WHO. In a comprehensive and rigorous process, more than 400 authors were involved in drafting the reports, drawing on the evidence and assessments of thousands of experts worldwide. The drafts were subjected to two independent peer reviews. The experts for the assessment included persons from the research community, international agencies, NGOs and industry, though representative(s) from industry decided not to stay with the process.
The IAASTD draft report proposes a fundamental re-thinking of our approach to agriculture and essentially calls for a new paradigm that gives farmers a central role. It recognizes that market forces alone cannot deliver prosperity and food security to the poor, and that trade rules unfairly favouring rich countries and multinational corporations must be reformed. Similarly, intellectual property laws need to be reformed to prevent patents on novel crops from stifling new research and agricultural innovation. The report is critical of the power and resources of the multinational companies that dominate world seed and fertiliser markets.
The report also calls for a systematic redirection towards agroecological strategies, particularly to realize environmental sustainability. It is notably muted in relation to the claimed benefits of genetically modified crops, highlighting instead the lingering doubts and controversies surrounding GM crops.
Whether the progressive recommendations in the draft report remain in the final report will depend on the outcome of the Johannesburg meeting.