Solutions to the Lack of Representation of Small Farmers at the Rio+20

By Sophie Russo, VGIF UN Representative

Although the United Nations claims to represent the best interests of the world’s population, it sometimes fails to do so. The lack of representation and participation of small farmers and indigenous communities of the global south in the negotiations on the Zero Draft outcome document of the Rio+20 is particularly alarming. As there is no Green Economy without a sustainable agriculture, not only are farmers key to the three pillars of sustainable development — social, economic and environmental — they will be the first to be affected by the Commission on Sustainable Development’s document. Small farmers, who will be the most gravely hurt, are also those whose voices are less heard.

The Farmers Major Group was created as a solution to that problem. However, it seems to have failed to give a voice to small farmers and indigenous communities. Indeed, the Farmers Major Group before writing its statement to the Rio+20 received submissions from international, national and regional farmers groups. Most groups agreed on a number of issues but contradictions arose. When writing the statement, the Farmers Major Group ultimately prioritized the suggestions of international farmers groups over national and regional ones, as they considered them to be representative of the opinion of a wider range of stakeholders. Although it makes perfect sense, this policy works against the interests of small farmers in the global south, as international farmers groups often have political agendas and fail to identify the very diverse needs of small farmers around the world.

This dire situation is made worse by member states’ lack of consideration for small farmers’ needs, and in particular by the unwillingness of industrialized economies to stop providing a fictitious comparative advantage to their farmers, thereby disadvantaging farmers from the global south.

The issue of how to make the United Nations a more inclusive institution that enables individual stakeholders to have their voices heard is a most pressing one. The Farmers Major Group met on Friday January 27, 2012 to address that problem. Using new technologies such as Skype was identified as an interesting strategy to make the UN more democratic. Small farmers could follow and participate in meetings from their home country through Skype, thereby being able to ask questions and express their concerns. The absence of electricity and lack of access to Internet in rural areas in developing countries, however, could make this endeavor difficult. Therefore, cooperating with local NGOs to receive the representatives and sponsoring their trip to the nearest town might be necessary.

Unfortunately, we will probably have to wait for Rio+21 to see that happening, as the Farmers Major Group’s Statement was just submitted. Moreover, although the United Nations and most NGOs favor such a development, one can expect some resistance from international farmers groups and some member states.

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