In our RIO+20 Call-to-action, CGIAR urged addressing the unequal sharing of natural resources and their benefits through improved governance and technology dissemination.
But what does that practically mean?
We sat around the table with four distinguished guests to find out more: Steve Hall (Director General, WorldFish Center), Peter McCornick (Deputy Director General Research, International Water Management Institute – IWMI), Alain Vidal (Director, Challenge Program on Water and Food - CPWF) and Jean-Marcel Ribaut (Director, Generation Challenge Programme – GCP).
Why is the sharing of natural resources crucial for a sustainable future?
Peter McCornick: Resource sharing becomes an imperative when people are confronted by scarcity. Take “water” for example: An estimated 1.2 billion people are currently experiencing physical water scarcity. Maybe another 1.6 billion, almost one quarter of the world's population, are facing economic water shortages, where countries lack the necessary infrastructure to take water from rivers and aquifers.
We need water to grow food, but also for energy, sanitation and industry. While at a global level there is enough freshwater available, at a more practical regional scale, access to sustainable freshwater is at critical levels, especially for the poor. So sharing means planning for equitable land and water access for all users.
But ‘sharing’ is not simply about the physical distribution of water, it also means sharing of the benefits of water use. If big commercial concerns withdraw large amounts of water, for instance, what policies can we introduce to ensure that the poor also benefit? We also need to share the risksof scarcity. Drought affects the poorest most. Taking a more holistic and integrated approach to water management can achieve all of this, but new institutional arrangements, including rights of access to the resource, are urgently needed to make it a reality.
Alain Vidal: Yes, both benefits and risks need to be shared if we want all levels of society and actors to develop. We cannot focus our efforts on conservation or only development but rather on benefit sharing mechanisms. These are not just a technical tool, but rather a social, economic and cultural instrument to create agreements that support sustainable development in the river basins.
In theory, that sounds nice, but has “benefit sharing” ever been successfully implemented?
Steve Hall: Let’s take the example of Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake, the most productive freshwater fishery in Southeast Asia. Cambodia depends on its freshwater fisheries for food and income more than any other country in the world. Fisheries in Cambodia have come under strain in recent years as local populations became more vocal in denouncing corruption in the allocation of fishing rights, and arguing for greater equity in the distribution of benefits.
WorldFish Center and local partners launched an initiative in 2009 supported by the CGIAR Collective Action and Property Rights (CAPRi) program to assess the causes of resource conflict and build capacity for more effective resource governance. Collaborating with the leading civil society network representing fishing communities and the key government agency the initiative stimulated a regulatory shift in 2010, expanding resource access for local communities. By the following year, a second wave of policy reform led to the cancellation of all commercial fishing rights, a decision to create dozens of new community fishery management areas, and renewed efforts at resource protection. While the institutional challenges remain daunting, these changes are already enabling a more equitable distribution of benefits.
That is a good example within the area of fisheries. As water in the Mekong basin is used for many other purposes, one “benefit area” also has to work with the others, no?
Peter McCornick: Yes, the whole Mekong river basin is sometimes described as the “battery of South East Asia”. Electricity is in high demand as economic growth sweeps the region. There are 147 dams in the catchment, and 11 major new hydropower dams planned for the main river itself. The full consequences of these developments on agriculture and the hugely productive fisheries in the lower parts of the basin including Cambodia’s Tonle Sap are currently unknown.
IWMI’s research in partnership with CPWF is shedding new light on the difficult trade-offs that will have to be made. For instance, in Mekong Basin we held multi-stakeholder forums with our partners, to discuss contentious issues using science based tools.
OK, now I understand this in the context of sharing water resources. Have we also applied the “sharing of benefits” in the area of crop research?
Jean-Marcel Ribaut: Oh yes, our work is all about partnerships and networking, bringing together players in crop research. A typical GCP project brings together partners from CGIAR, developing countries and developed countries, partners that may otherwise never have worked together.
Take the example of our work on sorghum, the world's fifth most important cereal crop. When soils are too acidic, aluminum that is locked up in clay minerals dissolves into the soil as toxic material, making it hard for sorghum to grow.
In screening a diverse panel of sorghum breeding lines and landraces grown by farmers, partners at EMBRAPA in Brazil and Cornell University in the United States successfully identified contrasting genotypes for aluminium tolerance. They cloned a major gene for aluminium toxicity resistance in that important crop. Elite alleles for this gene have been identified and introduced into Brazil’s elite sorghum and efforts are already underway to transfer this resistant Brazilian allele into African germplasm. Benefit sharing across continents!
Even within CGIAR’s core area of agriculture, sometimes there can be conflicts between different stakeholders: Crops and livestock for instance, often use the same common water resources...
Alain Vidal: This is certainly true when you look at water as one of the key natural resources: There is almost never one single entity making sole use of a water source: Crops and livestock share water resources with people, and water of course also affects the natural environment.
Take the Fuquene river basin, in Colombia for example: the quality of lake water and the livelihoods of people living near that lake were negatively affected by agricultural practices in surrounding hillsides. These practices caused erosion, and flows of sediments and nutrients into the lake. Nitrates and phosphates from crop production and nitrates from cattle manure stimulated growth of water plants, resulting in eutrophication, endangering fisheries as well as water supplies to lakeside settlements. An innovative financial mechanism — a revolving fund with preferential interest rates — was introduced to encourage the use of conservation agriculture in upland farming systems, to reduce erosion while raising productivity.
At RIO+20, CGIAR advocates that institutions implement a holistic approach to address development issues that lead to the unequal sharing of resources and benefits. No matter where you are, no matter where you live, everyone deserves the opportunity to have fair and equitable access to resources and the benefits that derive from them.
CGIAR is a global partnership that unites organizations engaged in research for a food secure future. CGIAR research is dedicated to reducing rural poverty, improving human health and nutrition, and ensuring more sustainable management of natural resources. It is carried out by the 15 centers who are members of the CGIAR Consortium in close collaboration with hundreds of partner organizations, academia and the private sector.
Read more about CGIAR’s participation at RIO+20
With thanks to Fiona Chandler, Michael Victor, James Clarke and Antonia Okono.
Picture courtesy Peter Casier (CGIAR)