Sustainable food security:
The role of FAO's Sustainable Development Department

800,000,000 of the developing world's 1,100 million poor live in rural areas. The vast majority are directly dependent on agriculture for employment and income. Boosting the rural economy, particularly through increased food and agriculture production, is therefore one of the chief means of alleviating poverty.

Bringing these people into the economic mainstream is a complex task. Among the major causes of their low productivity is their very limited access to resources, such as land, education, credit, energy and farm services. In many countries, this reflects the low priority given by government to agriculture. Another factor is the poor's lack of organization: delivering services to isolated, individual producers is simply too costly.

The most disadvantaged of all are women, the "silent majority" of the world's poor. Rural women produce up to 80% of food in developing countries. Yet studies indicate they have title to only a fraction of farm land, and access to just 10% of credit and 5% of extension advice. Their food security is deteriorating as men emigrate in search of jobs and leave them with total responsibility for the farm.

The cycle of food insecurity and poverty will be broken only when all rural people have the means to generate income to buy food or the resources to produce for their needs. Macro-economic policies to stimulate the rural sector are essential. But equally important is strengthening the capacity of the poor to participate in socio-economic development. A key strategy is building grassroots organizations that represent the poor's interests and provide economies-of-scale in accessing resources, markets and technology.

FAO's Sustainable Development Department designs policies, strategies and methodologies to foster the active participation of rural people - men and women - in agriculture and rural development. Through its People's Participation Programme (PPP), SD is helping build small, self-reliant groups of the rural poor. Its programmes on rural women and population provide capacity building and training, increase policy maker's awareness of gender issues, address women's key roles in food production and food security, and analyse demographic links with environment and food production.

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