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Part 2: FAO's involvement over the years
The initial period: 1945-1959
Raising productivity: 1960-1971
Managing natural resources and the human environment: 1972-1986
Sustainable development: 1987-
The initial period: 1945-1959
FAO WAS FOUNDED ON 16 OCTOBER 1945, the first of a new generation of international organizations. Eight days later, on 24 October, the United Nations itself came into being. By these actions, and for the first time, the nations of the world joined together in a common cause: to raise levels of nutrition and to improve the production and distribution of food and agricultural products. Malnutrition and food surpluses, poverty and plenty, have often co-existed in the past but it was within the framework of FAO that the possibility was seen of finding solutions to these problems through international cooperation and a world food policy based on human needs and universal equity.
FAO's role was laid down in its Constitution by its Member Governments, which determined the activities the Organization should promote and undertake. One of them was to promote and, where appropriate, to recommend national and international action with respect to the conservation of natural resources and the adoption of improved methods of agricultural production'. These activities were aimed specifically at raising the levels of nutrition and standards of living of rural populations.
FAO has pursued this mandate through six main activities:
- collecting the data, developing the analytical tools and identifying the policy measures required to formulate and implement sound land-use and resource conservation strategies;
- catalysing the development and uptake of improved technologies;
- fostering a participatory approach to development so that resource-poor farmers have the means and the incentives to adopt sustainable agricultural practices;
- pressing for the better integration of environmental concerns in agricultural and economic policies; encouraging coherent policies that acknowledge that economic and ecological sustainability are dependent on farm-level responses to incentives, inputs, institutions and infrastructure; and
- supporting agricultural research at the national and international level.
These activities have been conducted since the early days of FAO's existence, implicitly addressing the concepts of sustainable development and protection of the environment even though not describing them as explicitly as at present Perhaps the finest statement that has ever been made of the Organization's responsibilities in this field appears in the document The Work of FAO, submitted to its first Conference in October 1945:
"Over those parts of the earth not covered by water lies a thin crust of soil, perhaps equal by comparison to the thickness of a sheet of tissue paper wrapped around a globe Much of this soil is inaccessible for cultivation or is unusable for other reasons. From the rest, the world's growing population, now more than two thousand million, must draw all their sustenance except for what they get from the sea; and even the fishes, like all other living things, are fed in the final analysis out of the fertility of the land. Whether this thin layer of soil is to be a wasting asset, or one maintained in perpetuity and made more fruitful for mankind, will depend on how it is used and managed. Nothing more deeply concerns the well-being of men and nations. FAO is dedicated to furthering good use and good management, in all ways and by all peoples, of this most basic of man's resources."
The titles of the first FAO Agricultural Studies are indicative of the work carried out in these early days in the field of resource management. They included:
- Breeding livestock adapted to unfavourable environments (1948)
- Using salty land (1948)
- Soil conservation (1948)
- Efficient use of fertilizers (1949)
- Weed control by growth-regulating substances (1951)
- Improving the world's grasslands (1951)
- Communal land tenure (1953)
- Legumes in agriculture (1953)
- Soil surveys for land development (1953)
- Plant exploration and introduction (1958)
- The grass cover of Africa (1960)
- Forest influences (1962)
These studies were part of FAO's core activities of gathering, analysing and disseminating information in order to assist governments in the effective management of their natural resources.
Immediately upon its establishment, FAO took over the collection and publication of agricultural statistics which had been pioneered by the International Institute of Agriculture, founded in 1905. In 1948, the Organization took the lead in developing a system of internationally comparable index numbers for agriculture, and these have been continuously refined in later decades. FAO's international Food and Agricultural Commodity Data System has now become the world's premier source of statistics on agriculture, forestry and fisheries.
From the early days, FAO has addressed the need to establish a balance between environmental requirements, the limited availability of resources, and the need for increased agricultural production. In his foreword to the Agricultural Study on Soil Conservation, Lord John Boyd Orr, the first Director-General of FAO, stated: 'If the soil on which all agriculture and human life depends is wasted away by erosion, then the battle to free mankind from want cannot be won'.
FAO's advisory role, performed through the provision of technical information, was strengthened from 1950 onward by the Organization's participation in the Expanded Programme of Technical Assistance (EPTA). The fifth session of the FAO Conference, held towards the end of 1949, specified that the approach to EPTA projects should be "through the culture of the local people' and in accordance with their 'accustomed ways and institutions" By September 1951, more than 100 projects were in operation in 35 countries, and by 1959 over 1 700 experts had served in the field, more than 1 600 fellowships had been awarded and about 100 training centres had been organized. A great number of these projects were devoted to soil surveys, the assessment of water and forest resources, locust control, fisheries development and other aspects of resource management aimed at increasing agricultural production.
It is worth noting that the statement above, quoted from the first FAO Conference, in 1945, refers to the world's growing population as "... now more than two thousand million". This figure highlights the extent to which the problems addressed by FAO today differ from those it faced at the time of its inception. Broadly speaking, the problems are much the same as they were in earlier years, but with a world population tending towards SIX thousand million by the end of this century the issues have drastically changed in magnitude, urgency and complexity. Sustainable agriculture has clearly evolved beyond the more technical and economic problems with which the Organization dealt in the early years: today it also encompasses social and political dimensions of international importance.
Raising productivity: 1960-1971
In 1960, the world's population reached three billion. For the first time in human history, global population had increased by one billion people in a mere thirty years: it was the start of the so-called 'population explosion'. Food problems could not be solved simply by the distribution of surpluses which had accumulated in industrialized countries in the 1950s: they now required that food production be stepped up in the countries where it was most needed. It was obvious that solutions would not materialize solely through providing information and advice, but that support had to be provided in the field in order to promote and hasten agricultural development at country level.
Food problems now required that food production be stepped up in the countries where it was most needed.
Field activities had started in the 1950s under the EPTA and the Regular Programme in the form of missions, investigations and special projects. These activities demonstrated the availability of usable natural resources but there were no financial resources to undertake the wider surveys and planning exercises needed for their development. Technical assistance made it possible to give advanced training to some technicians but it also demonstrated the need to train many more. It was in order to implement larger and more comprehensive aid programmes that the United Nations Special Fund was set up in 1959. It became fully operational in the 1960s. By 1965, FAO had been assigned 210 Special Fund projects with a total fund contribution of US$180 million and matching contributions of US$221 million from governments. More than 500 FAO staff were engaged. Concurrently FAO was sharing, with the United Nations, the administration of the World Food Programme which allocated resources in the order of US$30 million per year to support development projects in some 50 countries . FAO was also advising the World Bank on the feasibility of agricultural development programmed for which up to US$100 million were granted annually as loans. In 1964 the Organization and the World Bank jointly created a cooperative programme through which FAO could assist Member Nations in the identification and preparation of agricultural development projects suitable for World Bank financing. From being mainly an advisory body, FAO had become an operational organization, assisting countries to prepare overall development plans, helping to execute major projects and helping countries to obtain finance for national development. The volume of the Organization's externally-funded field projects soon surpassed that of the activities financed by its own Regular Programme budget, and the field programme rapidly evolved from a peripheral activity to become the centre of gravity of the Organization.
FAO was convinced of the importance of enlightened public opinion in supporting, and at times promoting, government action on world food problems.
As the years went by, FAO was convinced of the importance of enlightened public opinion in supporting, and at times promoting, government action on world food problems. In 1960 it launched the Freedom-from-Hunger Campaign (FFHC) to focus public attention on the continuing problem of hunger, and to mobilize national and international efforts towards its solution Promotional by nature, the Campaign enlisted the support not only of governments but also of non-governmental organizations (Egos), private organizations, religious groups and individual citizens. By 1965, projects estimated at a value of US$400 million had been implemented, mainly through non-governmental organizations. Direct contributions to FAO amounted to nearly US$ 10 million.
Two general themes ran through FAO's field programme in the sixties: raising the agricultural productivity of developing countries, mainly at the small-farmer level, and optimizing the use of natural resources. FAO's field activities were associated with a major expansion of irrigated agriculture, the introduction of high-yielding varieties of wheat and rice, the efficient use of fertilizers, the control of plant pests and diseases, and the eradication of animal diseases. Most of the projects were supported by comprehensive surveys of land, water, forestry and fisheries resources.
FAO's fertilizer programme sets up thousands of fertilizer demonstrations in more than 20 countries every year. At a site in Zaire, methods for fertilizing row plantings are demonstrated.
In 1961, under the aegis of the FFHC, FAO established the Fertilizer Programme, "to improve crop production and farmers' incomes through the efficient use of fertilizers". Over the years, its scope has broadened to include all aspects of efficient crop production, such as the introduction of improved varieties, better soil management, weed control and more effective plant protection. The programme addressed small farmers in their own fields and provided direct support to marketing and credit facilities. The World Seed Campaign launched by FAO in 1957 culminated in the World Seed Year in 1961 with the objective of stimulating the introduction and breeding of improved varieties as well as the establishment of facilities for the multiplication, certification and distribution of better seed. The First World Food Congress, organized by FAO in 1963, identified 'the Far East, where half of humankind lived on only a quarter of the world's food' to lie at the heart of the world food problem. New high-yielding varieties, particularly of wheat and rice, used in combination with other inputs, made it possible to double yields per hectare and avert a major food crisis in that part of the world.
The World Seed Campaign was an important part of FAO's effort to introduce new, high yielding varieties and help avert a major food crisis in the Far East. In Mali, boys transplant seedlings of a high yielding variety of rice.
FAO's locust control activities, started in 1950, were greatly strengthened from 1960 onward by the FAO/UNDP Desert Locust Project, and now cover all principal locust species. The Organization's main role is to strengthen and mobilize support for local bodies, regional organizations and national institutions which carry the main burden of the control operations. Since 1970, FAO has also acted as the main global information centre on the desert locust. The history of locust control over the last 20 years is a success story for which FAO may share the credit.
In 1961, FAO and Unesco embarked jointly on a task that was to take 20 years: the preparation of a Soil Map of the World at a scale of 1: 5000000 The question 'Is there enough land to feed the world's population?' had never been answered adequately because of the lack of a global inventory of world soil resources. The Soil Map of the World project, undertaken under FAO's Regular Programme, provided the necessary tool for policy-making in the field of land use.
In 1965, FAO launched the indicative World Plan for Agriculture (IWP) in response to a standing recommendation of the 1943 Hot Springs Conference on Food and Agriculture that countries 'should progressively adjust the allocation of agricultural resources to conform to a long-term coordinated production plan for the best use of these resources on a world scale'. The IWP was controversial. The proposed agricultural strategy for the next 15 years aroused widely differing reactions according to the divergent interests of Member Governments. The Plan was, however, recognized as 'a pioneering undertaking in the face of great difficulties'. It is this pioneering aspect that appears most significant today. The Plan was, in fact, a forerunner of present concern for sustainability; an attempt at planning for the medium and long term, rather than just for immediate needs.
The 1960s witnessed major achievements by developing nations in their agricultural development. FAO's resources were too limited to claim a central role in bringing about these results, but the Organization takes pride in having made vital contributions in a number of fields. FAO's field work promoted management of resources to include wise utilization - often for new purposes and with new technologies - as well as conservation.
Managing natural resources and the human environment: 1972-1986
Concern about the protection of the human environment was greatly increased in the 1960s and early 1970s as new issues came crowding in, ranging from land, air and water pollution to the degradation of the world's resources through soil erosion, deforestation, over-grazing, over-exploitation of fisheries and other abuses.
The whole field was reviewed in 1972 at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment. FAO played a major role in the Stockholm Conference: of the 108 substantive recommendations made, 36 were either specifically addressed to FAO or included the Organization among the addressees. For the most part, they involved no new lines of work but rather the strengthening of ongoing programmes in the areas of habitat and resource conservation; waste disposal and recycling technologies; food contamination control; and the monitoring of environmental problems associated with the use of pesticides and fertilizer.
The first preliminary bench-mark survey by FAO of the state of natural resources and the human environment was published in 1977.
While protecting the environment has long been an integral part of FAO's work, after the Stockholm Conference the Organization established a framework for its programme on Natural Resources and the Human Environment. Its two main components were an assessment of the state of natural resources and their management. The first preliminary bench-mark survey by FAO of the state of natural resources and the human environment was published as a special chapter in the 1977 State of Food and Agriculture review. The survey brought together the data then available - however incomplete - on the main environmental threats to forests and agriculture; it analysed the impact of soil degradation from erosion, salinization and waterlogging; viewed irrigation problems resulting from loss of water and decline in water quality; examined the degradation of grazing land and forage resources, the destruction of forests, the depletion of wildlife, and the impact of over-exploitation of fish stocks; and surveyed threats to the survival of the genetic heritage of crops, forest species, wildlife and fish. The review also examined in some detail the impact on the environment of specific factors such as the use of fertilizers and pesticides, the effects of shifting cultivation in the humid and sub-humid tropics, and the hazards of desertification. This document was the first comprehensive statement of the principal dangers to the environment in FAO's fields of work.
During the 1960s and 1970s, it was realized that productivity and conservation could not alleviate hunger or poverty unless there was also a major improvement in social justice through agrarian reform and rural development. The concept of 'poverty-oriented rural development' coincided with a new emphasis on increased production by small farmers. The World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (WCARRD), meeting at FAO Headquarters in Rome in 1979, adopted a Declaration of Principles and a Programme of Action - the Peasants' Charter - which was to be the base for 'growth with equity and participation'. The Charter was to underlie FAO's approach to sustainable agriculture and rural development, thus ensuring a close link between resource management and the solution of socio-economic problems.
Desertificationnow threatens more than one-third of Africa. FAO mapping projects, including the Soil Map of the World and the World Map of Desertification, have helped identify problem areas and target programmes to stop land degradation.
Despite the greater publicity given to the new generation of environmental problems that emerged in the 1960s, by far the greatest threat to large areas of the globe is still the misuse of their limited soil resources. In order to focus on this problem, the FAO Conference of 1981 adopted a World Soil Charter, originally suggested by the World Food Conference in 1974. The Charter recommends that decisions about land use and management be made for long-term advantage rather than short-term expediency, with land-use techniques selected to achieve improved and sustainable levels of production. The importance of this issue was dramatically illustrated in the study of population-supporting capacities which FAO undertook between 1976 and 1981 in cooperation with UNFPA and IIASA.
In extreme cases, soil degradation can proceed to the point where the land becomes desert, and the impact of desertification - as a result of deforestation, overgrazing, poor cultivation and other processes - has greatly increased in recent decades. A World Map of Desertification, prepared by FAO in cooperation with WMO and UNEP, was submitted to the United Nations Conference on Desertification held in 1977.
FAO has been active in the field of plant genetic resources since the 1940s. However, concern for the preservation of genetic resources really began to mount in the early 1960s. In 1961, FAO organized an international technical meeting on plant exploration and introduction; in 1965 it established a panel of experts on the same subject; and in 1971 it formally proposed the creation of a global network of genetic resource centres. This led to the establishment in 1974 of the international Board for Plant Genetic Resources (IBPGR) to promote further programmes at scientific and technical levels in this field. At policy level, an intergovernmental Commission on Plant Genetic Resources was established in November 1983 with three main tasks: to monitor the arrangements set forth, to recommend measures that may be necessary to improve the comprehensiveness and efficiency of the global conservation management system, and to advise FAO on its own work programme in crop and forest genetic resources.
From the outset, FAO's work with pesticides has taken into account the threat they can pose to the environment. In 1961, the Organization established a Committee of Experts on Pest Control whose work, conducted in close cooperation with WHO, has led to the elaboration of a Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides which was adopted by the FAO Conference in 1985. As early as 1965, FAO organized a symposium on Integrated Pest Management (lPM) which promotes plant protection through various different components of a farming system. Similar concern has been shown for the benefits and hazards involved in fertilizer use, and in 1974 FAO convened an Expert Consultation on the Effects of Intensive Fertilizer Use on the Human Environment.
As a result of the uncontrolled expansion of fishing operations, mainly by industrialized nations, total world fish production began to level off in the 1970s. FAO was instrumental in the elaboration of jurisdiction, within the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1982, which recognizes the rights of coastal states to manage their fisheries within 200-mile exclusive economic zones (EEZs), thus ensuring that marine fisheries can be managed properly and effectively. FAO's 1984 World Conference on Fisheries Management and Development produced a World Charter for Fisheries, bringing together for the first time a comprehensive set of guidelines and principles for fisheries management and development.
In 1982 FAO published the first comprehensive survey of tropical forest resources, including an analysis of the rates and patterns of depletion and degradation.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, FAO C) steadily promoted the role of forestry in watershed management, the control of desertification and the development of improved farming systems based on agroforestry. In 1982 FAO published the first comprehensive survey of tropical forest resources, including an analysis of the rates and patterns of depletion and degradation. In 1985, FAO, jointly with the UNDP, World Bank and World Resources institute, launched the Tropical Forestry Action Plan which provided an overall framework for investment planning in the forestry sector as well as support to national development plans In addition to the natural resources aspects of forestry, FAO also focuses on ways to strengthen the sustainable livelihood of people through multiple-use management of trees and forests. A special action programme called 'Forests, Trees and People' addresses this specific component of rural development and is a natural development from an earlier programme 'Forestry for Local Community Development', launched in 1978.
Sustainable development: 1987-
International environmental consciousness was boosted by the report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, presented to the United Nations General Assembly in 1987. The Commission's mandate was to propose long-term environmental strategies for achieving sustainable development by the year 2000 and beyond, and to recommend ways by which concern for the environment could be translated into greater cooperation among countries with a view to meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability- of future generations to meet their needs.
FAO has long been concerned with the numerous and interconnected components of what is now called sustainable development. The objectives set out in the preamble to FAO's Constitution, 'raising levels of nutrition and standards of living', 'securing improvements in the efficiency of the production and distribution of all food and agricultural products' and 'improving the conditions of rural populations', are all contained in the various sub-programmes of FAO's overall Programme of Work.
In November 1989, the FAO Conference decided that the Organization should: intensify its interdisciplinary work to ensure the integration of environmental considerations in all relevant FAO activities; give higher priority to the prevention of environmental degradation which affects agriculture, fisheries and forestry; strengthen its cooperation with other organizations of the UN system in these fields; collaborate fully in the preparations for the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED); and respond positively to the UNEP proposal for a joint FAO/UNEP meeting on sustainable agriculture
The special chapter of The State of Food and Agriculture in 1989 was devoted to sustainable development and natural resource management and outlined strategies for sustainable agriculture, forestry and fisheries. The sections that follow describe how these strategies were further elaborated and how they have been translated into action.
With the cooperation and support of the Government of the Netherlands, FAO organized a Conference on Agriculture and the Environment in 's-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands, 15-19 April 1991. The Conference provided an opportunity for experts from around the world to review and reallocation-assess various strategies and tools for sustainable agricultural development in the developing world. Participants included senior government officials from 119 countries, representatives of 17 intergovernmental organizations and 20 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and 26 independent experts.
A noteworthy aspect of the Conference was the open and fruitful exchange of views between experts from a wide variety of backgrounds: senior agricultural planners, administrators in agricultural research and natural resource management, leaders of farmers' organizations in developing countries and representatives of NGOs concerned with environmental protection, alternative forms of agriculture and rural development. Also represented were women's associations, consumer unions, the pesticide and fertilizer industries and both bilateral and multilateral development agencies.
The Conference addressed four main topics related to sustainable agricultural development: issues and perspectives of agricultural growth and sustainability; technological options and research requirements; strategies for sustainable agricultural development in areas with different resource endowments; and criteria, instruments and tools for implementation. The results of the Conference, synthesized in the Den Bosch Declaration and Agenda for Action on Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development, provide a basis for:
- at national level, a review of agricultural development priorities, policies and plans and of the related implementation tools and programmes;
- at international level, as regards FAO, a means of complementing and reinforcing environmental and sustainability considerations in FAO's agricultural development programmes; and
- also at international level, a broader process of consultation among governments and international organizations with a view to making a substantive contribution to the preparations for the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, in particular 'Agenda 21'.
In many regions, major changes and adjustments will be necessary if sustainability is to be achieved. This is particularly the case in rural areas with high population densities and on marginal lands where small farmers and landless people are living in extreme poverty with no alternative but to survive at the expense of the limited natural resources available to them.
The Programme Frameworkadopted by FAO's Conference in 1991 emphasizes the need to coordinate policy and programmes to promote sustainable development..
FAO's determination to address this core problem of rural poverty was reflected in the decision taken by its Conference of 9 28 November 1991 to launch an international Cooperative Programme Framework for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (ICPF/SARD). This Programme Framework is aimed specifically at assisting and encouraging change at international, regional and national level in order to promote and facilitate the sustainable development of agriculture. The main thrusts of this programme framework are presented in the last chapter of this document.
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