Highlight 2010: Biovision active in the global dialogue

By Stefan Hartmann, journalist , Zurich

Since 2010, the Political Dialogue and Advocacy team at Biovision has been active on the political stage, as this is where the strategic decisions on sustainable food security are taken. The success of Biovision in shaping the International Assessment of Agriculture Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, Rio + 20 and Agenda 2030 clearly demonstrates the need for lobbying on agro-ecological issues.

Farmers from Biovision’s “Biofarm” project sent a message to Rio calling for “Food for all, naturally”.

Biovision had been in existence ten years when in 2008 – in the middle of a hunger crisis – IAASTD published its report on global agriculture. Compiled by 400 experts and signed by 60 countries, the report highlighted the overall malaise in global agriculture. Its preparation, which had lasted four years had been managed by the co-chairs Hans Rudolf Herren and the Kenyan Judi Wakhungu. After publication, it appeared that the uncomfortable report was at risk of being mothballed and so Biovision took action. It realised that development projects on their own would not be enough to achieve their stated objectives and so Biovision decided to take an active role in political dialogue and advocacy at the global level.

Giving smallholders in Africa a voice

When the concept of sustainable agriculture was not even mentioned during UN preliminary preparations for the Rio Earth Summit, Biovision set up its own Advocacy team. As part of the subsequent negotiations, the young team, which was advised by Hans Rudolf Herren and the Millennium Institute, contributed documented proposals to member states on the necessary policy changes required in order to create sustainable food systems. It also brought experts from Africa to the discussions in New York to provide first-hand knowledge of the situation in the field. This advocacy work by the small Swiss NGO was well received and Biovision was soon regarded as a reliable source of information on sustainable agriculture, as its briefings were both concise and evidence-based. The team had good lines of communication with the delegate from Ghana, the representative of the Africa group, as well as delegates from Switzerland and the EU. This allowed Biovision to exert an influence on the wording of the final declaration.

Successful work behind the scenes

Biovision was once again on the spot at the Earth Summit in 2012 in Rio de Janeiro. As a result of joint efforts with relevant NGOs, the Final Declaration at Rio stated that members would be supported in their efforts to encourage sustainable agriculture by an international committee of experts on which farmer representatives would also sit. In summer 2012, Biovision became the first Swiss NGO to be granted general consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) – recognition of its work and an important prerequisite for further intervention in the global political dialogue. As part of the process to implement “Rio+20” and the drafting of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, Biovision focussed on Goal 2 (“End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture”). At round table discussions with crucial stakeholders, Biovision was able to press the holistic nature of food systems. This required a great deal of advocacy work behind the scenes and Hans Rudolf Herren was also questioned for two hours as an expert by the member states participating in the UN negotiations. As a result of the persistent lobbying by Biovision, the final wording of SDG 2 was more than just a vague formulation of “enough food for all”. It reflected the fact that if food security were to be achieved, it would be necessary to embrace all aspects of sustainability.