Key Report Calls for Shift to Sustainable Farming: A Major International Project in Its Final Report Calls for a Shift Away from Industrial Agriculture to More Sustainable Methods, to Address Hunger, Social Inequities and Environmental Problems

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From 7-12 April 2008, the future of agriculture was up for debate. Governments and scientists from around the world gathered in Johannesburg to debate the final report of the United Nations' International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). Adopted by more than 60 countries, the historic final report calls for a fundamental change in the way we farm, to better address soaring food prices, hunger, social inequities and environmental disasters. Only three countries refused to endorse the report: Australia, the US and Canada.

IAASTD is an ambitious, four-year, US$10m project aiming to do for hunger and poverty what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has done for the challenge of global warming. Its final report acknowledges genetically engineered (GE) crops are highly controversial and will not play a substantial role in addressing the key problems of climate change, biodiversity loss, hunger and poverty. Several hundred scientists worked for three years to take stock of the current state of farming, globally. All relevant UN institutions were involved in the project and the final report reflects the best scientific thinking on the subject. It's hard to imagine any national or international institution will ignore its major findings and future decisions on agricultural research and development.

The US, Canada and Australia, criticised the report as unbalanced and one-sided and the genetic engineering industry walked out on the process. But their allegation is untenable. They were involved in selecting the scientists and editors of the report, together with a multi-stakeholder bureau comprising industry, governments and international organisations. The Australian Government had full input into the report and could add its objections to the text in footnotes. For decades, the science and politics of agriculture has been dominated by an agriculture based on high chemical inputs, that treats soil, water, air and farmers as expendable resources. It is indeed a revolution when the global scientific community concludes, in the Summary for Decision Makers of the report: "the ecological footprint of industrial agriculture is already too large to be ignored."

The strength of the report is the fact all stakeholders were involved in the process, so a balanced selection of scientists was guaranteed. …