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Press Release 99/52


Maastricht, September 12 -- The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Netherlands (NL) today inaugurated a five-day international Conference to study the Multifunctional Character of Agriculture and Land (MFCAL). The MFCAL concept is a tool used to analyze and explain the multiple roles that agriculture plays in a rapidly changing world economy. It helps policy makers understand the roles that agriculture plays in relation to other sectors of society, the economy and the environment. In turn, that enables policy planners to implement policies that encourage economic development and strengthen food security, without disrupting social stability, or degrading the environment.

According to FAO, the first and foremost role of agriculture remains the production of food and other primary goods that contribute to food security. "Attaining food security is a complex task which requires an enabling environment and policies that ensure social, cultural, political and economic stability and equity," the UN agency says.

Apart from food security, agriculture contributes to the environment, the economy and social factors as well. While agriculture and related land use have long been seen as inherently multifunctional, with the MFCAL concept FAO has developed a coherent conceptual framework that helps to understand the complex relations between market development, geography, the resource base and the institutional dimensions of agriculture and related land use. At the same time, the approach puts a heavy emphasis on fostering sustainable development in agriculture and farming communities.

According to FAO, farmers play a central role as "stewards of agricultural land and the environment." Governments and agencies have only recently begun to appreciate the vital contribution of agriculture to urbanization in industrialized and developing countries.

The Conference will address a number of "areas of continuing concern for the future," including the need to better understand the dramatic transformation in human relations to agriculture and the environment and the need to achieve greater social equity and increase opportunities for rural societies.

According to FAO, "Distinguishing the environmental, economic and social functions of agriculture and land already adds significantly to the appreciation of changes in the traditional role of agriculture. Further progress towards sustainability will require closer collaboration between institutions responsible for agriculture and land use, the economy, public policy and overall planning."

The FAO/NL Conference on the Multifunctional Character of Agriculture and Land (MFCAL) and the MFCAL approach itself are distinct from ongoing debates on "multifunctionality" in the context of international trade.

The Conference runs through Friday, September 17 and will produce a report by the end of the year to submit to the UN Commission for Sustainable Development as part of the Commission's review of progress made under the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit and Agenda 21.


For further information contact:

Liliane Kambirigi, Media Officer
Telephone: 0348 234-1145
For more information on MFCAL, visit the FAO web site at: where all the documents for the Conference are available.

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