"Cultivating Our Futures": FAO/Netherlands Conference comes to a close

As globalization heightens economic competition and population growth puts added pressure on natural resources, how can conflicting interests regarding food production and land use be reconciled? This is the type of tough question that participants addressed at the FAO/Netherlands Conference on the Multifunctional Character of Agriculture and Land (MFCAL). "Cultivating Our Futures" was the slogan for the Conference, which brought together over 350 environmental experts and policy-makers from around the world to Maastricht, the Netherlands, from 12 to 17 September to examine the multiple functions of agriculture and land use.

The concept of MFCAL has emerged over the past decade as development initiatives and research have moved toward promoting sustainable agriculture. Approaches to sustainable agriculture have tended to concentrate on finding ecologically sound methods for increasing food production and farm incomes. However, farming is not simply a means of producing food, it has many diverse environmental, social and economic functions as well.

Central to the MFCAL approach to agriculture is the idea that diversified land-use systems are more secure, more sustainable and make more efficient use of natural resources than specialized land-use systems. A better understanding of MFCAL offers the potential for discovering greater common ground among the various stakeholders involved in food production. However, assigning 'values' to farming's different functions is not easy, and negotiating an equitable balance among different interest groups remains a difficult process. Therefore, participants at the Conference sought to refine an analytical approach to MFCAL, one that could be used to inform discussions and decisions on critical issues such as trade, food security, biodiversity and rural employment. The Conference's findings and recommendations will serve as important contributions to the Eighth Session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development, which will be held in New York in April 2000.

Participants at the MFCAL Conference included delegates from UN Member Nations and representatives from UN organizations as well as intergovernmental and international non-governmental organizations. However, people from all over the world participated in "Virtual Maastricht", an Internet-based version of the FAO/NL Conference. "Virtual Maastricht" was part of the MFCAL WebForum, which provided input to the main conference during the run up to the event, and served as a bridge, linking Internet users worldwide with Conference participants.

10 September 1999

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