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Youth Farmers Have Great Needs and Low Expectations from Rio+20

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jun 19 2012 (IPS) - Ulvia Abdullayeva, from Ganja in western Azerbaijan, has come to Rio to deliver a simple but critical message to world leaders and her national authorities: small farmers need protection and financing.

Abdullayeva, who works in Azerbaijan for a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that supports farmers from her region and promotes sustainable development, describes the host of problems that small farmers in Azerbaijan must confront.

Not only do they face water shortages, a lack of financing and a lack of storage infrastructure, which leads to food waste, but gaining access to markets is also difficult for small farmers, as markets are dominated by a few private companies supported by the government and flooded with cheap food imports.

Small farmers around the world face special challenges in sustaining their livelihoods. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

Together with a group of more than ten youths from all over the world, aged 18 to 25, Abdullayeva has come to Rio to participate in a youth partnership programme organised by the international NGO Oxfam. The programme encourages young people to spur social change in their communities and creates opportunities for them to network with one another. In Rio, the programme is focusing on farming and food security.

“It is really inspiring to be here in Rio,” she says as she joins a march for women’s rights taking place around Cupula dos Povos, the People’s Summit, part of the Rio+20 conference on sustainable development, on Monday. “All these people are into the idea of active citizenship, which is missing back in my home and I am hoping to bring back.”

Saying no to large corporations

Daniel Chrisendo, from Tulang Bawang Barat, Sumatra Island, in Indonesia, is another participant in the programme. He says that one of the main messages the youth are trying to convey to the United Nations and national governments is to make no concessions to large companies.

Chrisendo says that for his community, producing food and eating locally is becoming increasingly difficult, primarily because of the expansion of palm cultivation for oil production, among other monocultures.

“Indonesia is an agrarian country, but we are almost not producing food anymore. We are forced to rely on expensive imports, which is taking a serious toll on the poorest, as they cannot afford it,” Chrisendo says.

Titilola Kazem, from Lagos, Nigeria, is most worried about the impacts of climate change on farming in her country. Having worked with small farmers in her region, she says one of the biggest problems is unpredictable rainfall, which makes planning crops impossible. In other areas, climate change has led to serious droughts that also affect farming.

“In Nigeria, small farmers produce 70 percent of food, and there is a lot of food being produced in our country. Nevertheless, so many people continue to be hungry,” Kazem says, adding that people need to be educated about the impact of climate change.

“They should get help with irrigation, with storage facilities,” she adds, “and they should be encouraged to do organic farming, which is more sustainable.”

Different places, similar struggles

While these young people face particular challenges in their respective regions, they have nevertheless managed to compile a shared list of recommendations aimed at decision-makers, which could serve as a starting point for addressing the common issues faced by farming communities around the world.

Their recommendations include broad citizen participation in decision-making; subsidies and import taxes to support small local farmers; making seeds available and affordable; support for access to markets; stopping forced evictions of farmers and offering them land tenure; promoting indigenous goods; and immediate action on climate change.

The youth attending Oxfam’s programme interviewed by TerraViva were not necessarily sure how the Rio+20 conference could help them implement these demands, but they did hope the conference could help bring the recommendations to their governments’ attention and that the Rio agreement could pressure their national authorities to implement such measures.

Other young people attending Cupula dos Povos were less optimistic. On one of the patches of grass next to the beach where the tents of the Cupula dos Povos are currently located, a seed exchange was taking place. One participant was Elena Cooper, representing Capim Limao, a students’ group from Rio de Janeiro University that promotes agroecology and whose members do small-scale farming in the Rio region.

According to Cooper, no results can be expected from the official negotiations of Rio+20, but the contacts made among participants in the Cupula dos Povos could bring about positive transformations in the future.

“We have much more hopes from the exchanges we have here with other people, with farmers, from the exchange of these seeds,” Cooper said.


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