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Agriculture and biodiversity must at the centre of next month's World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), according to a new coalition of organisations and governments.

The 'Monterrey Bridge', launched this week in New York, urges world leaders gathering at the Summit to address hunger and poverty issues in ways that ensure biodiversity conservation.

It also asks them to keep financial commitments to boost aid to poor nations made earlier this year in Monterrey, Mexico at the International Conference on Financing for Development.

The call comes in response to widespread concern about a lack of focus in the WSSD preparations and pessimism that any significant results will emerge from the Summit, which opens in Johannesburg on 26 August.

"We call upon participants at the WSSD to ensure that the goal of feeding the world's poor is integrated with efforts to protect biodiversity," said Judith Symonds, executive director of the Future Harvest Foundation, an agricultural research organisation that forms part of the Monterrey Bridge, at the launch of the coalition on 23 July.

"World leaders must commit the financial resources to expand upon these success stories and apply their learning globally."

The governments of Mexico and South Africa, as well as the World Conservation Union and the United Nations Development Programme are taking part in the initiative.

The coalition argues that the 40 to 60 per cent increases in global food demand expected in the next few decades can be met. But they say that enormous losses of habitat and biodiversity must, and can, be avoided.

"A focus on agriculture is critical to break the vicious cycle of poverty that not only affects a billion and a half people in developing countries, but stands in the way of achieving globally sustainable biodiversity," it said in a statement.

Speaking at the launch of the coalition, Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia, said that a key step at Johannesburg should be to increase funding for the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), which supports a global network of agricultural research centres.

He called for an increase in the CGIAR budget from US$350 million to US$1 billion a year. The returns on such an investment would be "huge", he said.

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