Will the RIO+20 improve development commitments?

The Rio+20 Conference is an international summit, which seeks to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development in the world. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, hosted the first Earth Summit in 1992 and will again be hosting the 2012 summit (20 years later) which is why it is referred to as Rio +20.

Several international policies and frameworks have been developed and adopted by member states which include the Agenda 21, the Rio declaration on environment and development, the Forest Principles and the UN Framework Convention on climate change.

These documents have been very crucial in setting up frameworks or guidelines from which nations and organisations are operating.

During the two weeks of the workshop, thousands of people from around the world will converge on Rio de Janeiro City with one common demand: Universal Action on Sustainable Development- NOW.

Malawi will be represented at the Earth Summit by various government officials, scholars and social workers.

But the question is: Will the Rio+20 achieve its quest to make these frameworks implemented in the communities? It is crucial that the issue of sustainable development should be addressed with both holistic strategies and solutions. Most significantly, gender relations need to take a critical aspect in these strategies.

In Malawi, for example, gender issues hinder greatly our food production (and hence food shortages) because although women in Malawi make up to 70 percent of all subsistence farmers, they do not have access to land ownership, means of production like agriculture loans, agro-business knowledge or trainings and most importantly produce markets.

Although small-scale women farmers provide more labour in the food production, they lack the skills of increasing their production to ensure maximum utilisation of their land. These small- scale farmers also lack food processing skills and basic food budgeting knowledge to ensure food security.

Politically, government policies also affect food production because most agricultural policies do not address or solve issues affecting women farmers in most communities because they are gender insensitive and as such the beneficiaries of these programmes are not the real food producers.

Government and other stakeholders must ensure that women have access to loans and trainings in how to access input and produce markets, produce drought-resistant crops and practices crop and diet diversification.

Most significantly stakeholders working in the community (including government, NGO’s, service providers, agro-dealers) have to implement gender sensitive policies like promoting land registration for women, encouraging women to access agriculture loans, and promoting women- accessible products markets.

Policy makers could concentrate more on the empowerment of women farmers by advocating for women sensitive agricultural and produce market policies.

Community leaders have to give land ownership to women farmers that are heads of households and encourage the tradition of siblings inheriting land from their parents equally despite their gender.

As a nation, we also need to promote climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies that will guarantee an increase in food production. For instance, promoting and supporting resilience of small-scale farmers and use of renewable energy.

So, the big question still remains: Will the Rio+20 achieve its quest? I hope so. The Rio+20 will be successful if its delegates include stakeholders from food producing communities, policy makers, government officials and the donor community.

The author is a gender equality advocate currently working for Story Workshop. She has written in her personal capacity.

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