Preparing for Rio+20: Including Agriculture and Local Partners for Successful Solutions to Complex Problems

By Jenna Banning

At a briefing in September in Washington D.C. by the U.S. Department of State, three top government officials met with representatives of non-governmental organizations to share perspectives on the United Nations’ upcoming  Conference on Sustainable Development. The first Conference on Sustainable Development, or Earth Summit, was held in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Rio+20 Conference in June 2012 will focus on the key themes of building a green economy and a framework for sustainable development.

The briefing brought together Celeste Connors, National Security Council (NSC) Director for Environment Affairs, Michelle DePass, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of International and Tribal Affairs, and Lawrence Gumbiner, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Oceans, International Environment and Scientific Affairs, who is in charge of coordinating the Department of State’s preparation for the conference.

The briefing highlighted three initiatives recently released in the Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development – global climate change, global good security, and global health. Connors highlighted the role of weather-resistant seeds and other agricultural innovations in helping to alleviate the challenges of global hunger, and the importance of supporting research, training, and data sharing was a central issue throughout the discussion.

The Department of State’s Larry Gumbiner forcefully rejected the idea that approaches should be one size fits all, and stated, “Some of the most creative and innovative solutions are coming from our state and local partners.”  Answering the world’s challenges involves complex and interrelated issues, and Gumbiner discussed how effective solutions must take consideration of a number of issues: “This is more than just about the environment. The economic and social factors are just as integral.”

As policymakers gear up for the Rio+20 meeting next year, it is important that they realize that true sustainability can only be achieved when economic development and the environmental challenges that come with it are addressed in tandem. As Michelle DePass stated, “Growth at the expense of healthy people and land is not sustainable.”

To read more on building upon the knowledge and strengths of local actors, see African Biodiversity Network: Sowing Seeds for Grassroots Resilience and Working with local farmers to build local solutions

What agricultural issues would you like to see addressed at the UN Conference for Sustainable Development?

Jenna Banning is a research intern for Nourishing the Planet.

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