Vicki Hird (Consultant on Humane Sustainable Agriculture, WSPA)
It’s been very clear – from the submissions to the Rio+20 compilation document, the
statements at Rio+20 preparatory meetings, and in numerous research papers- that food security and sustainable agriculture need serious attention at the Rio+20 Conference in June. A commitment to resilient and equitable food system must be the goal.
As noted in the African Union statement at the Second Intersessional Meetingof UNCSD and the summary from the Regional Preparatory Meeting for the Economic Commission for Europe, both held in December 2011, a key strand of this is the need to address livestock and animal husbandry.
Livestock is one of the most important sectors for employment and livelihoods within agriculture. The sector accounts for 40% of global agricultural GDP, and employs around 1.3 billion people. A billion of the world’s poorest people depend on animals for food, income, transport, social status, and security. Furthermore, in low-income countries, livestock production is often one of the few ways that women, the elderly, and children participate in the cash economy.
Good welfare means people are employed and animals are well cared for. Positive examples include a new backyard chicken rearing system in India improving the livelihoods of thousands of families; and a cattle farm in the U.S. increasing local jobs from 2 to 60 after converting to a higher welfare system.
Though some impacts are positive, research reports detail the major negative environmental impacts of current and predicted livestock production and consumption levels, particularly the rapid growth in feed (soy and grains) production for industrial livestock systems leading to biodiversity loss and ecosystem damage.
What does this mean for the Rio+20 Zero Draft and other outcomes? Given the enormous importance of food security and agriculture for a range of critical issues globally, the Rio
- Explicitly ensure nutrition for all as a primary and global need.
- Commit UN member states to sustainable and humane agriculture that improves livelihoods, health, diversity, culture and animal welfare as well as ecological sustainability.
- Include specific reference to animal welfare because it is vital to ensure that Rio+20 outcomes cover sustainable livestock production. Research confirms that the production of livestock for food is more sustainable in terms of economics, health, and social and environmental impacts when animals are well cared for.
- Address how the products of agriculture are distributed and used; this needs the same level of policy attention as increasing the level of production, given the official evidence that we already produce enough to feed the world but are not achieving that goal.
We suggest that the meaning of the term ‘sustainable intensification’ in Paragraph 64 of the current draft is open to such differing and wide interpretation that it is unhelpful to include.
WSPA suggests paragraph 64 to be written as:
64. We reaffirm the right to food and are committed to ensuring proper nutrition for our people. Only a transformation of agriculture and food systems will enable nourishment of all people and communities, both today and in the future, with healthy, diverse and culturally appropriate food that respects animal welfare and the integrity of natural ecosystems at both the local and global level.
We would urge delegates to consider this and other amendments on agricultural sustainability and to review the evidence on the huge importance and impact of livestock farming to society across the globe.
WSPA can provide research and good practice case studies which demonstrate how humane, sustainable systems can be good for people, animals, and the planet.
WSPA is also encouraging supporters and the wider public to engage in Rio+20 through an innovative and engaging new tool called Pawprint. Rio+20 provides an outstanding opportunity for politicians and the public to act now on one of the neglected but most pressing issues facing our food future.