The 2009 Agadir International Conference

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Background, Scope & Aims

Food security is a human right, and its provision is a common responsibility. Recognition of this fundamental right by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) has been marked by a progressive evolution.  After 20 years, the Global Agreement on Food Security has reiterated this common responsibility of humankind as well as the need for both moral engagement and cooperation. The World Declaration on Nutrition adopted by the 1992 International Conference on Nutrition laid out clearly problems of hunger, of malnutrition, and of nutrition-related diseases; and it highlighted the import of poverty, ignorance and lack of education as significant drivers of global hunger and malnutrition.

For the first time - on the global level - the issue of food security was addressed by national leaders during the 1996 Food Summit held in Rome. This event placed the issue within a global context by aligning its opportunities with elimination of poverty, attainment of peace, the rational and sustainable use and management of natural resources, conduct of fair trade, and the mitigation and the prevention of natural and man-made disasters. The 2008 Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Global Food Crisis Summit resulted in a consensus statement and called on the international community to marshal aid to those countries and regions affected by soaring food prices. Apart from increasing global food production, the statement urged strengthening investments - both public and private sector - in agriculture, in agriculture-related business, and in rural development.  Also, it called for re-evaluation of agriculture-related business restrictions, and for increased investments in bio-energy research. From this, donor nations and their international financial institutions have begun to forge a "balance of payments" response; in particular, for countries with limited capacities in food import.

Not withstanding these high level deliberations to end food insecurity and malnutrition around the world, about 862 million people in countries of the "South" suffer, as yet in 2008. Long-term prospects foreshadow a continuation of this suffering - in fact, a worsening is seen on the horizon, in particular for Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. The consequences of the collapse of the latest World Trade Organization talks on the agricultural products trade - in light of the present international tensions relating to climate change -suggest that the food security issue may not resonate with the international community, in the short term.

Currently, the food issue has re-emerged vigorously and has been placed at the highest level of national and international (political, scientific, economic, and advocacy) agendas in a context dominated by such factors as: the soaring prices of basic food products; a decrease in non-renewable energy resources; alarming scenarios of climate change; and widespread domestic and international migration. Concerns now focus on the ability of the planet to feed its 6.5 billion inhabitants, especially in some southern countries where malnutrition and food insecurity are still relevant challenges despite scientific and technological progress and the genetic revolution.

It may seem unnecessary to remember that food insecurity is a result of the combined effects of many factors such as poverty, inadequate food production, degradation of natural resources (that is, the quality of air, land, water, and biodiversity), weather hazards, low incomes of farmers, debt service, the overvalued exchange rate and inflated human population growth.  All of these have amplified pressure on the environment and on available natural resources. In addition, distortion and fluctuations in international agricultural markets—in particular the concentration of agricultural production in some exporting countries recognized by their protectionist trade policies—weigh heavily on food security deficits within many countries. Finally, the liberalization of world agricultural trade is also worsening the already deteriorated situation of the poorest countries.

As a response, it is generally recognized that food production will have to increase to meet the constantly increased global demand. In these circumstances, the pressures that will be placed on agriculture to meet this demand require additional innovative solutions. In this perspective, we do not hesitate to consider sustainable agricultural development as a strategic choice to achieve food security. But the generic and cross-cutting nature of the concept of sustainable agriculture requires precaution in its use, country by country, and continent by continent. In other words, any strategy or policy development could now embrace the goal of sustainability, but the implications of such choices are numerous, particularly with regard to: food sovereignty; air, freshwater, and land use and management; biodiversity; social justice; ethics; and local or global governance. Addressing this specific cross-cutting characteristic of sustainable agriculture, therefore, is very crucial.

Differences between contextual frameworks and objectives often confuse and complicate the decision-making process. Without a clear understanding of the purposes and expected outcomes of sustainable agriculture with reference to sustainable rural development, compromises on strategies and policies to be implemented would be less productive. Although agriculture is an activity integral to human life and that of societies, and given that it marshals and consumes significant resources (that is, financial and technical, natural and human), the choices adopted at different political, socio-economic and scientific levels, there is—as yet—no consensus on the future of agricultural economy, food systems and rural areas. The current global food crisis, however, can be considered at this point as overwhelming evidence.

A focus on agriculture raises other political and scientific debates on land use, technology, redistribution mechanisms, public health, biodiversity, sovereignty and collective security. Exacerbation of the current world food and energy crises and the human and environmental impacts of globalization and climate change (especially on the world’s poor) call for a rethinking of development in an holistic manner—and agricultural and rural development in a particular way. Hence the need for an holistic approach - addressing problems with all their recognizable complexity, in a spirit of economic, social and environmental sustainability, equity and solidarity.  This calls for a new paradigmatic approach to address the multiple dimensions of the issue area, interrelated with the overarching theme of this international scientific meeting.

Conference Objectives:

This Conference, as the outcome of joint efforts, is aimed at independent research organizations, universities, government agencies, policy-makers, public policy advocates, nongovernmental organizations (NGO) and corporate representatives from developing and developed countries.  All of these stakeholders are interested in looking critically at the ways in which research is - and can be - used to create change worldwide. This Scientific Meeting will endeavor not only to share research results, but also to identify future research prospects, challenges, issues and concerns. Moreover, the organizers of this Meeting would like to generate innovative thinking in agricultural and rural development and to identify elements of a longer term research agenda to fill critical gaps in knowledge on these issues—through rigorous, defensible data collection, analysis interpretation and communication. They also would like to develop research projects and networks in these fields involving researchers from both developed and developing countries: believing that partnerships among researchers are critical components of any meaningful effort to develop synergistic research and change agendas.

At the heart of these intellectual concerns there is also the expectation of accomplishing a high visibility scientific event that will share knowledge, skills and successful experiences, while proposing new ways for concrete actions and strategies associated with any policy of sustainable agriculture and rural development. The Conference will provide an opportunity for participants to identify obstacles and constraints across specific regions of the world, and from lessons learned and best practices shared. As the remit of the Conference is global, experiences and issues from any part of the world are welcome.