Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture Panel – Making Connections

For the first breakout session of the day, I had the opportunity to attend the “Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture” session, with speakers Mark Bomford, Director of the Yale Sustainable Food Project, and Amy Kalafa, Independent Filmmaker and Author (including her work on the broken school food system in America with “Two Angry Moms

Fifteen or so graduate students, undergraduate students, chicken farmers, international development bank representatives, sustainability managers, engineers, and so on, gathered around the table. Even with our impressively diverse backgrounds, our focus on “the interconnectivity of all things,” as one attendee put it, united us in our interest in sustainable agriculture.

In a very practical way, food and agriculture represent one of humankind’s most basic connections with our environment, as well as one of our largest impacts. Our choices about the food we choose to eat in this country, and how we choose to grow it, have undeniabl important results for water quality, air pollution, soil health, and global warming, not to mention the health of humans and wildlife alike. Too often, food and agriculture are treated as being outside of the environmental discussion. Our panel called for leaders to be, as Mark Bomford put it, “food literate,” about the impacts our food choices. This not only applies to leaders at Rio+20, but our national representatives, local government officials, and civil society leaders.

Amy and Mark both shared very holistic perspectives about these issues, and made many interesting and compelling linkages, between food and urbanization, for example. As Mark put it, “the existence of urban centers is predicated on healthy, rural farms.” We can’t have a complete discussion of sustainable cities without considering where these cities  will obtain their food from, and how. Besides the theme of thinking holistically, this session also stressed the changes that have occurred since the 1992 Earth Summit, particularly our ability to disseminate and utilize information, and communicate with each other. By participating in this session, the need for more communication in the field of sustainable agriculture, and novel and engaging ways of educating stakeholders, became clear. While research and policy are crucial, without education we will not find a sustainable path forward.

From this session and others, it really becomes apparent that the Citizens’ Summit, by effectively bringing together a diverse group of individuals interested in sustainable development from a multitude of perspectives, is fostering new collaboration and connections.

Finally, I’d like to share what our group came up with regarding our “asks” for Rio+20, and beyond:

Agriculture is the bedrock of human society – we cannot hope to promote green economies, functioning ecosystems, and social well-being without sustainable agricultural production systems. In order to ensure food security for an increasing global population, we must consider not only the quantity of food we produce, but also its nutritional quality, energy inputs, and environmental footprint.  The growth of thriving cities is predicated on healthy rural farms. Increased access to information about food systems has helped shape consumer demands in post-industrial societies, but we still lack a truly food literate electorate.

At the Rio +20 conference, the United States and Canada must recognize where both the physical and social aspects of our current food system fall short.

We request of our governments:
Expansion of community and school gardens as a focal point for education about agriculture and nutrition.
Expansion of extension programs and financial support for farmers using sustainable practices.
A renewed commitment to preserving the genetic diversity of crops to allow us to meet the challenges posed by a changing climate.
Increased transparency and government oversight of safety standards for GM crops.
Research and support for the agroecological approach to agriculture and a diminished role for monoculture crops.

Lindsay Buchanan, MEM ’13 Yale F&ES


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