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Part 1: Towards the 21st century

The challenges
The policy framework
The role of the agricultural, forestry and fisheries sectors in sustainable development

The challenges

FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS, agriculture has been the activity most essential to human survival and well-being. In many parts of the world, however, it is not fulfilling its vital function of feeding people, providing other basic commodities and generating stable income. Rapid population growth and accelerated urbanization have created a pressing need for more and more agricultural outputs. By the year 2025, an estimated 57 percent of the populations of developing countries are expected to live in urban areas, compared with 34 percent at present. Accelerated demand for agricultural products has exerted ever-increasing pressures on the natural resource base, resulting in excessive deforestation, loss of biological diversity, degradation of soils and various forms of pollution and contamination.

Urban population growthputs great pressure on the natural resource base. By 2025 nearly two-thirds of the world's people will live in cities. To feed them without further degradation of the environment, food production should be intensified by using resources more efficiently and in a sustainable way.

Ecological, economic and social imbalances not only affect the present generation but are also a threat to those of the future. Bearing in mind the expected role of agriculture in society and in the economy as a whole, the relationship between agriculture and the environment must be reconsidered so that this vital activity can be maintained on a sustainable basis. The lifestyles of the rich, with their excessive claims on global resources, will have to be modified, while the living conditions of the poor, which compel them to endanger the natural resource base to meet their needs, will have to be improved.

Strategies for sustainable agriculture and rural development should address three main challenges:

• By the year 2025, an additional three billion people will have to be fed from a finite resource base Already, more than 600 million people are undernourished and some 50 million are threatened by food shortages and famine in developing countries. Further intensification of agriculture is therefore imperative to meet present and future demands and to avoid further encroachment on marginal lands and fragile ecosystems. However, intensification as practiced at present, particularly in developed countries, carries with it problems of pollution and contamination, waste disposal and loss of biodiversity which can affect not only the natural resources and the environment but also human health.

• In most countries, agriculture does not offer sufficient opportunities for gainful employment. Disparities in the living conditions of rural dwellers, and between rural and urban populations, are increasing In developing countries it is often poverty that forces rural people either to eke out their livelihoods at the expense of the natural resources that are their sole means of survival, or to leave the countryside in search of employment in cities or abroad. In many developed countries, farmers' incomes are increasingly vulnerable to the vagaries of weather and markets: farming populations are decreasing, leaving large tracts of land sparsely inhabited and largely unattended, with growing risks of degradation. Meanwhile, as urban populations grow in both developed and developing countries, more intensive forms of agriculture and related processing industries develop to meet the needs of the city markets, so increasing the problems of adjusting supply and demand, and of disposing of wastes.

• The search for sustainable forms of agriculture and rural development is related to a number of environmental threats, such as the depletion of natural resources, climate change, air and water pollution, deforestation, desertification and loss of biological diversity. While local environmental problems have long been documented, the role of agriculture as culprit or victim is far from being fully assessed. These risks demand a precautionary approach, which places additional constraints on the agricultural sector and on rural areas and, more generally, may call for changes in consumption patterns, particularly those of affluent societies. Meeting these challenges calls for major structural adjustments, not only within the agricultural, forestry and fisheries sectors but also in the overall framework of policy which governs the relationship between these sectors and other sectors of the economy at national and international levels.

Poverty inevitably leadsto land degradation, as the poor are forced to endanger the natural resource base to meet their short-term needs.

The policy framework

IF, TO BE SUSTAINABLE, agriculture must meet the challenges of food security, provide more employment and better incomes and contribute to the eradication of poverty, while at the same time conserving natural resources and protecting the environment, then the status and role of farmers in our societies must be commensurate with these responsibilities. The terms of trade between the agricultural sector on the one hand, and industry and the tertiary sectors on the other, should better reflect the services rendered by agriculture to the general public Similarly, the terms of trade between agricultural producers and those who process, market and consume agricultural products - urban dwellers in particular must be changed to take better account of the cost to farmers and other rural people of natural resource conservation and environmental protection. Furthermore, North-South and East-West adjustments in commodity prices should be effected in such a way as to enable farmers to make a sustainable living from agriculture without being forced to cause further environmental degradation and depletion of the resource base.

At national level, an overall policy framework to promote sustainable development while safeguarding the natural resource base Should aim to:

• Create an overall economic environment conducive to growth with equity by setting norms and standards, overseeing and if necessary regulating markets, implementing land and tenancy reforms and compensating for social inequities.

• Create an overall policy environment that enables and encourages people's participation, and within which individuals can express choices and associate with others.

• Establish an appropriate policy for human settlements, exploiting the benefits of both urbanization (larger, denser markets and easier provision of basic services) and ruralization (better food and fuel security).

• Establish a population policy that aims at both a sustainable rate of population growth and a population size at which growth should stabilize, given current knowledge of the stock of natural resources and the technologies available to exploit them.

• Induce changes in lifestyles, dietary habits and other consumption patterns, especially in the more affluent societies, to promote frugality in the consumption of goods and so reduce wastage and ease the pressure on the resource base and the environment.

At international level, policies and actions should be designed to:

• Ensure an economic environment that is conducive to sustainable development by reducing the burden of international debt which so seriously impeded growth in the 1980s for the most highly indebted countries, and by establishing clear guidelines on fair trading practices in order to avoid 'environmental protectionism'.

• Assist developing countries in gaining access to improved technologies that will permit more economic and environmentally-acceptable use of natural resources, greater economy and efficiency in the use of energy and renewable resources, and greater use of yield-enhancing biotechnologies.

• Ensure that actions to develop shared natural resources, such as rivers or their basins, are sustainable on a regional as well as national basis. This will involve research, negotiation and an integrated approach to development. Regional action can also extend to the control of transboundary pollution.

• Conclude international agreements, including codes of conduct aimed at setting common standards and rules to promote sustainable practices.

• Develop international financial and technical cooperation in ways that will enhance sustainability objectives while limiting the financial burden, especially for poor countries and the poor in those countries.

Alongside the establishment of an appropriate economic and policy framework, the attainment of sustainable development objectives will require increased people's participation. Local communities must be enabled to take more responsibility in decision-making and in implementing rural development programmes and this will require rapid progress towards decentralization through the revolution of power down to local level, and the provision of incentives for local community initiatives and people's participation. To this end, clear rights have to be allocated with regard to resource use at local level, including those related to the role of women in agriculture. Education, training and support services must also be provided so that people can assume responsibility for managing their resources sustainably and for protecting their own environment.

The role of the agricultural, forestry and fisheries sectors in sustainable development

Sustainable agriculture and rural development (SARD)
Forest resources development and the environment
Fishery resources, development and the environment

Establishment of an appropriate policy framework across sectors is of paramount importance in achieving sustainability objectives, but most of the concrete action to be taken for operational implementation is the responsibility of specific sectors, of the institutions dealing with these sectors in particular, and of the communities and individuals actually involved in these branches of the economy. It is therefore essential that each sector determine its role, its objectives and contributions towards sustainable development. This task is particularly urgent and imperative in sectors such as agriculture, forestry and fisheries which play a vital role in meeting basic human needs and in managing a very large segment of the earth's natural resources

People's Participation directly involves the poor as planners and decision makers in sustainable development. In Sierra Leone, villagers meet to evaluate community development.

Sustainable agriculture and rural development (SARD)

FAO's approach to sustainable agriculture is inspired by considerations of human needs, poverty alleviation and the creation of production incentives. It also recognizes the crucial role of human resources in every sphere of sustainable agriculture and rural development. Natural resources are used and managed by people to safeguard their well-being, not simply for the sake of conservation. Hence, the conservation of natural resources is not just a technical issue: it has important economic and social dimensions. Access to inputs, improved land tenure conditions, economic incentives and sound agricultural policies are crucial in ensuring the sustainable management of the natural resource base. (See panel below.)


In the words of the definition adopted by FAO, sustainable development is:

'... the management and conservation of the natural resource base, and the orientation of technological and institutional change, in such a manner as to ensure the attainment and continued satisfaction of human needs for present and future generations. Such sustainable development (in the agricultural, fisheries and forestry sectors) conserves land, water, plant and animal genetic resources, is environmentally non-degrading, technically appropriate, economically viable and socially acceptable.'

In addition to covering the essential ecological aspects of sustainable development, this definition also gives equal importance to agronomic, economic and social issues. Optimal resource use and environmental management are combined with increased and sustained production, secure livelihoods, food security, equity, social stability and people's participation in the overall development process. This definition implies fair access to and distribution of production opportunities, economic motivation, equitable distribution of income, development of human resources and optimal use of natural resources.

The problems of sustainability differ markedly between developed and developing countries. In developed countries they may arise from overuse of agricultural inputs, improper tillage or continuous mono-cropping. In developing countries, they are usually related to lack of agricultural inputs, the low productivity of manual labour and the reduced fallow in shifting cultivation. In developing countries environmental damage is often due to low-intensity agricultural practices which require horizontal expansion of cultivation on to marginal areas prone to degradation. Sustainable development in developing countries should therefore be sought within an overall framework of growth, so that the development measures adopted can maintain a momentum towards the goal of a more effective, stable and productive agricultural sector.

Sustainable agriculture is therefore closely linked to rural development, and the two concepts are combined in FAO's strategy for the future, which takes into account the wide diversity of ecological, cultural, social and economic conditions under which agriculture is practiced. The primary goals of agriculture are to ensure food security for all, both in terms of quantity and quality; to provide employment, and to improve livelihoods and security of income in rural areas. Sustainable agriculture should be achieved as part of a dynamic process of rural development. Trade-offs between sustainable development and the conservation of resources must be given due attention. Furthermore, considerations of intergeneration equity - meeting the needs of future generations - should not overshadow the need to solve the acute intrageneration problems of alleviating poverty and hunger at present.

The Conference on Agriculture and the Environment, organized jointly by FAO and the Government of the Netherlands in April 1991, discussed strategies and tools for sustainable agriculture and rural development with particular reference to the developing countries. The Conference identified eight prerequisites if the challenge of sustainable agriculture and rural development (SARD) is to be met in the years to come:

- Agriculture, in both the developed and developing worlds, should be restructured in such a way that the demands of sustainability can be met.

- The developed countries should recognize their role in, and responsibility for, sustainable agriculture and rural development in developing countries by improving international economic relations. In this way they will be able to increase and stabilize incomes for farmers and so create incentives for appropriate investments in rural areas.

- The international community must accept the need to provide technical and financial assistance in specific fields to promote SARD; to review and improve the rules governing international trade in order to provide better access to markets and ensure fair prices, and to strengthen development financing that will make investment in SARD feasible.

- Population policies should aim in the long term at improving prospects for sustainable development.

- Governments and society at large should recognize that agriculture and rural people collectively perform a vital role in ensuring food security and maintaining the renewable natural resource base. For most developing countries, this recognition must be reflected in the allocation of adequate financial resources, in pricing policies, in the decentralization of institutions and in the empowerment of rural people, particularly the poor.

- Fair terms of exchange should be established among agricultural producers, industry and consumers.

- Farmers, particularly small-scale and resource-poor farmers, both men and women, should have better access to education and training, and to appropriate technologies and resources.

- Campaigns should be undertaken to increase public awareness of the need for SARD.

In evolving towards more sustainable production systems, agricultural and rural development efforts should ensure the attainment of three essential goals:

- food security - by ensuring an appropriate and sustainable balance between self-sufficiency and self-reliance;

- employment and income generation in rural areas, particularly to eradicate poverty; and

- natural resource conservation and environmental protection.

To meet the declared objectives of SARD, most developing countries w :1 have no choice but to intensify their agriculture; but experience in developed countries shows that intensification can lead to pollution and problems of waste disposal. The developing countries will therefore need forms of agricultural and rural development that allow for an appropriate balance between intensification and diversification in the choice of production systems, technologies and practices (See panel)


In the 1980s, agriculture in industrialized countries came face to face with itself. A marked intensification of agricultural practices - due in part to strong government support to the agricultural sector - resulted in both economic and environmental problems. Modern production methods, based on high capital investment and purchased inputs, implied high costs not only in monetary terms but also in the form of water pollution, soil erosion, pesticide residues and the development of pest resistance to chemical control measures. As a reaction to this situation, a call for alternative agriculture' was voiced, with a view to reducing input costs, preserving the resource base and protecting human health.

Alternative practices include incorporating natural processes such as nutrient recycling, nitrogen fixation and pest/predator relationships into the agricultural production process; reducing the use of off-farm inputs (especially those that are a potential hazard to environment or health) making greater use of the biological and genetic potential of plant and animal species; matching cropping patterns with the potential and limitations of the physical resource base, and improving farm management with respect to the conservation of soil, water, energy and biological resources. At the same time, land set-aside programmes are being promoted to avoid surplus production.

Among the low-input technologies now in use, biological farming is becoming increasingly important, especially in Europe. Various different methods have been developed, but all are based on the premise that the individual farmer should be considered the smallest functional unit of production. Biological farming involves the whole farm in a structured system, treating it almost as a living organism. All the different branches of production are harmonized, the production cycle is closed as far as possible, and external inputs are restricted to the absolute minimum required.

The exchange of experimental data and experience in low-input technologies could make a significant contribution to the improvement of biological farming in Europe, and in recognition of this the FAO Regional Office in Europe (REUR) in collaboration with the Swiss Federal Research Station for Agricultural Chemistry and Hygiene of the Environment organized the 'Expert Consultation on Biological Farming in Europe: Challenges and Opportunities'. The Consultation was held during 2831 May 1990 in Bern, Switzerland, and was attended by roughly 100 experts from 17 European countries and from various international organizations.

In developing countries, however, alternative agriculture' does not have the same connotations. In these areas, agriculture is characterized by minimal economic incentive, low levels of inputs, low yields, low capital investment, low productivity of human labour, and a relentless expansion of arable land at the expense of forested areas. Although high-input agriculture may not be the ideal model, it should be realized that the major constraint to agriculture in developing countries lies at the other end of the spectrum, and that there is a need to boost incentives and inputs rather than tune them down. Full use should be made of the experience of traditional farmers, and this should be allied to a better understanding of the production potential of local environments, the findings of agricultural research, and the support of government policies. First and foremost, 'alternative agriculture' in developing countries must be geared to increasing production in order to overcome the drudgery, poverty and harrowing shortages of food which are a major threat to life in these countries.

Since its inception the Organization has pursued the effective use of natural resources toward increased agricultural production and the well-being of rural populations.

The demanding process of SARD will require enlightened and skillful participation of the primary producers, technicians, researchers, planners decision-makers and managers of developing countries. New programme initiatives will be needed, together with reallocation-allocation of resources and additional financial resources for human resource development efforts, particularly in the areas of formal and non-formal education in agriculture, forestry, fisheries and rural development, and in action areas that mobilize trained manpower in the development process. However, the acquisition of new investment and the reallocation-allocation of existing financial resources will involve adjustments that may initially reduce the overall production and income of some producers. The agricultural sector may therefore require assistance from other sectors of the national economy and, in developing countries, from the international community.

The challenge of overcoming poverty and translating the SARD concept into an operational reality is the responsibility of the world as a whole, and FAO is prepared and committed to play a major role in this undertaking. Since its inception, the Organization has pursued the effective use of natural resources toward increased agricultural production and the well-being of rural populations. The intensive involvement of FAO with agriculture and environment in the 1970s and 1980s emphasized that people matter, and that it is possible to cooperate with nature without over-exploiting it.

Forest resources development and the environment

To foresters, sustainability has been an integral part of planning and management for more than 200 years. Classical forest management concepts include those of sustained yield, allowable annual cut, the even distribution of age classes and the maintenance of species diversity. Since its inception, FAO has assisted Member Countries in forestry by emphasizing trees and forests as a renewable natural resource and by contributing to the understanding of the role of trees and forests in rural development, food security, conservation of genetic resources, wildlife management, wind erosion control and watershed management.

Since the early seventies a series of FAO meetings and programmes has provided evidence and documentation of the Forestry Department's involvement in integrated rural development and sustainable development. The seventh World Forestry Congress, held in Buenos Aires in 1972, had as its theme 'Forests and Socio economic Development', and the eighth, in Djakarta in 1978, 'Forests and Population'. The Department also participated significantly in the World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (WCARRD) held in Rome in 1979. Around the same time a new major programme 'Forestry for Local Community Development' (FLCD) was started with support from the Swedish International Development Authority (SIDA). This programme has now gained the support of a large number of donors under the name 'Forests, Trees and People'(FTP).

The contribution of forestry to food security was documented in relation to the tenth session of the Commission on Food Security, held in Rome in 1985. This contribution covers among other things three important aspects of sustainable rural development: direct food production (wild fruits, wild animal meat, honey, mushrooms, etc.); conservation of the resource base (soil and water conservation, windbreaks, organic material, nitrogen fixation, fuelwood production, etc.) and generation of income and employment in rural areas (wood for construction, furniture and handicrafts; fuel and fodder production; tourism and non-wood forest products).

Forestry developments in the years ahead are outlined in three major series of documents/events, all with a strong FAO involvement. These are: the Paris Declaration of the Tenth World Forestry Congress and the follow-up action proposed; the documentation prepared for UNCED including 'Agenda 21' on forests; and the Tropical Forests Action Programme (TFAP).

Originally called the Tropical Forestry Action Plan, TFAP was launched in 1985 with the following goals:

- to increase awareness of the problems of deforestation and to mobilize the commitment of all levels of society to address them;

- to introduce intersectoral planning approaches, involving all relevant partners, to allow the generation of effective policies and programmes; and

- to mobilize national and international resources to assist the implementation
of plans in a coordinated manner.

From 1991, the principal goal of TFAP has remained the curbing of tropical forest loss.

From 1991, the principal goal of TFAP has remained the curbing of tropical forest loss by the promotion of the sustainable management of tropical forest resources while meeting local and national needs. However, five years of experience have led the TFAP to revise and refine its objectives, principles and procedures. The revised objectives emphasize national leadership, multidisciplinary approaches and the involvement of forest-dependent people in the preparation and implementation of national action plans. Procedures are more flexible and whenever possible coordination is carried out at the country level.

In all FAO activities the questions of biological as well as financial and institutional sustainability, the elimination of rural poverty and the management of forests as a renewable natural resource for present and future generations, are accepted primary objectives.

Fishery resources, development and the environment

The foundations of current FAO fisheries policy were laid in 1984 when the Organization adopted its Strategy for Fisheries Management and Development. The Strategy includes principles and guidelines for the sustainable use of fishery resources and the protection of aquatic habitats from pollution and other forms of degradation. Its long-term goal is to improve national capacity to deal with the complex issues related to sustainable development of fisheries and their implications for environmental management.

Although the majority of fisheries are not threatened by extinction, urgent action is required at several levels (fishing communities, national policy and planning departments, regional fisheries organizations and international agencies) to arrest the present degradation of habitats, to rehabilitate them and to promote conditions for sustainable fisheries in watersheds, coastal zones and the high seas. To these ends, FAO's principal aims are to raise general awareness, improve information systems, increase the rights and responsibilities of fishing communities, improve national decision-making mechanisms, and make better use of international organizations, legal and institutional frameworks and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

Research is needed, particularly at national level, to establish resource inventories; to assess the economic value, degree of exploitation and status of individual species; to define acceptable rates of use; to analyse trade-offs between development activities and possible environmental damage, and to study the environmental impacts of intensive coastal and inland aquaculture.

Concern for the conservation of biodiversity is reflected in the FAO ICES Code of Practice for Consideration of Transfers and Introductions of Marine and Freshwater Organisms. FAO is pressing for the Code to be more widely accepted and more rigorously enforced to avoid the spread of diseases and the introduction of undesirable species into coastal fisheries. Biotechnology as applied to fisheries is still in its infancy compared with current agricultural applications, but this area must be carefully monitored, both for its possible benefits and for any risks it may represent to aquatic ecosystems.

Issues related to sustainable development, food security and environmental protection have high priority. Of particular concern are the environmental problems that may arise from multiple use of watersheds and vulnerable coastal habitats such as mangroves, deltas, lagoons and intertidal zones. Such critical habitats must also be monitored for any impacts of climate change, and appropriate national and regional contingency plans should be prepared.

The goal is to bring fishing intensities to levels that are economically viable, ecologically sound and socially acceptable.

Many of FAO's actions and policies focus on the need to improve long-term efficiency and reduce waste. The goal is to bring fishing intensities in inland waters and the sea to levels that are economically viable, ecologically sound and socially acceptable. Recommended Steps include the limiting of subsidies to remedial and initial development measures only; the imposition of resource and environmental fees; development of national administrations to take responsibility for the management of coastal areas, and the improvement of gear selectivity and fishing techniques to reduce the numbers of young fish caught and the incidental mortality of non-target species. Other actions should restrict the numbers of vessels using gears that damage the environment, or restrict the areas in which such gears may be used in particular, FAO is anxious to help develop guidelines for the effective marking of gear and vessels to improve enforcement, minimize conflicts and reduce the loss or deliberate discarding of gear at sea.

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