Civil society’s concerns with the ‘roadmap for action’

Knowledge brokering13 Nov 2010Shefali Sharma

There is a famous quote: ‘It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end’. I think this is probably the most relevant quote for the Hague Conference. I say this not because the final Hague document makes references to a roadmap being started or a ‘living roadmap’, but because there were so many fundamental problems with the way such a high level meeting was organized and, with such large claims for the end results, that this issue of ‘due process’ deserves careful attention. It merits this attention particularly because the Chair’s summary from the Hague announces a second follow-up conference in Vietnam in 2012.

Agriculture, climate change and food security are serious issues. They are of utmost importance when we think about the way climate change is already resulting in drought, heavy rainfall and floods across much of the developing world. This is leading to a disruption in planting and harvesting cycles and directly impacting the lives of women and men dependent on small plots of land for their survival and food security.

Impacts of climate change are being felt today – so it becomes an imperative for all of us to be thinking about these issues seriously. In that sense, a conference that addresses these issues is most welcome. However, the problem with the Hague conference from start to finish was that ‘a roadmap for action‘ was publicized months before the conference ever took place – but why such a roadmap was being elaborated, by whom, for whom and to what end was never clarified.

It was clear that the conference was being held at the heels of the biggest climate change meeting of the year – UNFCCC’s COP 16 in Mexico, but it was not clear why a ministerial roundtable was being organized around a so-called roadmap, particularly around a roadmap that was not going to be negotiated by governments. In fact, the chairs of the conference announced on November 3 (midway through the six-day conference) that the outcome document was not going to be negotiated.

These concerns had already been raised by civil society organizations on day one of the meeting through a sign-on statement from a 102 organizations around the world. It stated, ‘We are concerned about a lack of transparency, participation and consultation with governments, farmers and others in civil society in preparing for the conference and its “roadmap”‘. Many of these organizations have been working on agriculture, biodiversity, landrights, the right to food, community development. Many of them have been examining the systemic problems with our global food and agriculture system today and why it is resulting in both a food and climate crisis.

Given what these organizations saw of the conference documentation and the background papers, there was widespread concern that previous and much more inclusive and rigorous international processes that have examined the critical linkages between agriculture, food security and climate change, such as the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, are being ignored. Instead, a new conference with the heavy participation of agro-chemical and biotech companies, other agribusiness interests and financial firms interested in carbon trading would be put together in a six-day conference with select governments, select farmers and civil society organizations – the end result of which would be a roadmap that appears to be a consensus document.

Though the idea of a consensus document was thwarted midway through the conference, thanks to concerns raised both by governments and civil society organizations (see my reports of the conference: ‘Watered down roadmap of action on climate change‘ and ‘Reporting on the roadmap at the global conference on ag and climate‘), the outcome document still has a long list of recommendations and assumes that participants gathered at the Hague came together ‘to develop a roadmap’. This cannot be assumed. Many organizations came to the Hague just to learn what different groups would have to say about these issues.

I will not go into details with regards to the framing of the problem or solutions offered – you can read for yourself that the document is a long list of often contradictory ideas. But one point can be made as a concluding remark. The framing of the problem in the roadmap assumes that higher productivity and production will be required to deal with increased food demand in the future. This limited assessment of the problem fails to take into account the existing causes of food insecurity. Today, we produce enough food to feed the world, but we have a billion food-insecure people. The systemic problems of chronic underpayment to small farmers, price volatility and rising food prices for poor consumers must be understood today to deal with the problems of tomorrow.