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European Commission

Andris Piebalgs

Commissioner for Development

Agriculture – the way towards sustainability and inclusiveness

European Commission's side event on Agriculture /Rio de Janeiro

21 June 2012

Commissioners, Minister, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to join my Colleague, Commissioner Cioloş, in welcoming you all to today's event on sustainable agriculture. I am looking forward to listening to the experiences and views of decision-makers and farmers' organisations from our partner countries.

Commissioner Cioloş has just set out for you some of the challenges we in Europe face as we seek to plot a sustainable future for agriculture. I would like to take a moment to outline how we believe we can help our partner countries meet the challenges they face.

Eight billion of the estimated nine billion people in the world in 2050 will live in developing or emerging countries. Demand for food is likely to grow by at least 70 per cent. If we are to eradicate hunger and malnutrition, then agricultural production will need to be boosted, especially in countries where populations are likely to grow most and where potential to scale up production is greatest. In many of these countries, however, natural resources are already under strain – a trend that climate change will only make worse.

One thing above all is crystal clear, then: we cannot go on as we have been. We need to look after and use our precious resources more efficiently. The path to eradicating malnutrition and food insecurity lies in agriculture that is at once more inclusive and sustainable. Moreover, taking this path will help us meet other Millennium Development Goals, especially those on child mortality, maternal health and basic education. And it will open up real opportunities for women – the mainstay of the agricultural economy in developing countries.

The Commission's efforts to tackle food security go back some way and have borne fruit. There have been a number of "home-grown" initiatives, such as the 1 billion euro Food Facility, set up in 2008 in record time – and, more recently, two major regional initiatives, in the form of SHARE for the Horn of Africa and the Sahel Initiative.

The EU also understands that global cooperation is a crucial factor in any progress we make on food security and sustainable agriculture. In 2009 the Commission pledged 3.8 billion US dollars as part of the L'Aquila Food Security Initiative and already made good on that pledge early this year – one year ahead of schedule. And over the last fifty years the EU has put more than 390 million euro into the Global Rinderpest Eradication Campaign in collaboration with the World Organisation for Animal Health and the FAO. In 2011, for the first time in history, the world was declared free of rinderpest.

The EU has made sustainable development a central plank of its Agenda for Change – its blueprint to take EU development policy forward and heighten its impact. The policy instruments discussed in the run-up to this conference to bring about the transition to a "green economy" and the priorities set out in our Agenda for Change have a lot in common. Not least because both stress the need to shore up the basic conditions for securing inclusive and sustainable growth for human development.

And agriculture and food security will be pivotal in driving that growth. GDP growth originating in agriculture is known to be highly effective in raising incomes among the poor. So there is an obvious link between our natural resource base and lifting people out of poverty. Addressing poverty is about access to safe drinking water, sufficient, healthy and nutritious food, sustainable energy and a safe and healthy environment. And the green economy cannot take off unless crucial resources such as water, energy and land are well managed and sustainable economic activity in these areas is allowed to prosper. That's why sustainable agriculture is a top priority in the Agenda for Change.

The Commission is keen to promote sustainable farming, to build resilience as well to contribute to poverty reduction and growth. And to promote inclusiveness, we will support secure and equitable access to land, in particular for vulnerable groups. Land tenure issues need to be resolved in an acceptable way if smallholders are to be encouraged to invest in sustainable practices.

Sustainable agriculture and "food and nutrition security" must feature properly in the instruments we programme in specific geographical and thematic areas. This is consistent with taking a long-term view focusing on the causes of chronic problems of food insecurity in parts of the developing world.

In some countries and regions we will press for structural reforms and take sector-specific approaches to improve production and marketing through value-chain efforts and public-private collaboration. We will encourage governments to assist local entrepreneurs and deal with land management. We will promote research and innovation to support small-scale farmers. We will step up collaboration with EU Member States. And we will go cross-sectoral, so that, say, project proposals to support agricultural production are discussed with experts from other sectors like water and energy.

I mentioned resilience a moment ago. The Commission has a role to play here. In countries where food insecurity is chronic, the EU will engage with the government to see how the root causes of vulnerability can be tackled with a long-term approach. We have seen an increase of late in the occurrence of shocks and stresses hitting vulnerable countries. These include natural disasters like droughts and economic stresses like high and volatile food prices. Both partner countries and donors have made progress in providing short- and medium-term support –the Commission itself has done so in the Sahel and in the Horn of Africa, for instance. However, we must strive to do better over the long term.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The EU has come to Rio to confirm its commitment to sustainable development – a commitment that began 20 years ago and which it has worked hard to pursue ever since. Now, looking ahead, we are keen to see the decisions we reach here feed into other international processes important to development cooperation, such as our post-Busan work on aid effectiveness, the MDG review and discussions on the post-2015 development framework.

We want to see Rio+20 make progress on global and coherent sustainable development goals that could help move sustainable development forward. It is therefore important that this process is coordinated and coherent with the Millennium Development Goals review process and does not deviate action from the achievement of the MDGs.

I also hope to see Rio+20 impress on us all the need for sustainable development to be integrated across our development work, so that our efforts to eradicate poverty today don't leave us without the natural resources we need for development tomorrow. Long-term development is about us respecting the carrying capacity of this planet – including its capacity to provide clean water and fertile lands.

The EU will continue to confront the challenges we face worldwide. Sustainable agriculture offers solutions to these challenges. That is why, in dialogue with our partners, we will increasingly emphasise sustainable agriculture as a driver for inclusive and sustainable growth and, by extension, as a lynchpin in our campaign for human development and poverty eradication.

Thank you.

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