By Robert Kaufman, IFRC
My arrival in Rio for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development was probably similar to that of thousands, make that tens of thousands, of others. Excited to see a wonderful city, overwhelmed by the reports predicting more than 60,000 participants and 500 side events, eager to meet like-minded colleagues from the around the world and hopeful, if not overly ambitious, that our collective intelligence would yield something useful to governments and the rest of us. I was not disappointed, except for perhaps the part about being overwhelmed.
On the first day I attended a couple of exhilarating side events focusing on the connection between youth, women and food security. The consensus was clear; since 80 per cent of food production in Africa comes from women, and many men and young people continue to leave rural areas, the importance in focusing on women is not just important but urgent.
Breaking the chronic cycle of food insecurity requires policies and laws that protect women’s rights and also to facilitate access to farm land, favourable small-business loans and – crucially – to education and equipment.
In many events over the past week, speakers continued to draw attention to the incredible growth of the global population and the growing number of mega-cities. A fascinating point was made that cities represent fantastic assets, producing the vast majority of GDP in many countries, but also an enormous exposure to risk. We have to protect these assets in the same way we protect and insure our homes. Dr. Vandana Shiva, founder of an Indian NGO Navdana International and an extraordinary speaker, said that part of the response to this was taking food production to scale horizontally and promoting traditional, organic farming. She railed against the ‘commoditization of food’ and reiterated the need for food to be recognized as human right.
My colleague – and expert in food security – Kiflemariam Amdemariam, voiced his concerns about the emphasis on cities. I heard him intervene from the floor at one high level side event to drive the conversation back to the link between urban and rural food production and consumption, as well as the role it plays it disaster risk reduction. His comments would prove to be prescient, as the heads of UN agencies echoed them in a later event hosted by the IFRC.
I moderated a side event on Monday, where speakers stressed the need for youth education and the opportunity to use the affinity and aptitude of young people with technology to optimize small holder farm income. Applications that help small holder farms get real-time information about weather patterns and commodity prices can help otherwise vulnerable populations make decisions about when to sow or harvest, where to sell and at what price. This would dramatically increase their financial yields, and thereby increase their resilience to shocks in the future.
While the week is not done, for me and many of my colleagues in the Red Cross Red Crescent the climax clearly came before the final act.
At an IFRC event on Wednesday dedicated to local action and partnerships to promote more resilient individuals and communities, two ambassadors, the leaders of both WFP and WHO, and a Vice President of the World Bank pounded home the message that disasters were at the heart of sustainable development and resilient communities. Disasters disrupt local economies, destroy infrastructure, obliterate hope and steal the lives of the vulnerable populations who have both the knowledge and the initiative to drive long-term solutions.
We have an obligation to provide the conditions for success, and being here has given me better insight into what those conditions are. We need to protect the rights of women and children, promote new ways of investing in sustainable small holder farms and other businesses, and support communities in their efforts to prepare, plan and build their livelihoods.
How do I know this? Because I heard it from 60,000 participants and 500 side events.