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Press Release 00/24


Rome, 24 April - Progress towards more sustainable agriculture has been slow in the eight years since the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, and most of the challenges identified then have still to be met, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a report prepared for the eighth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD).

Sustainable agriculture and rural development could effectively tackle many of the critical problems facing the world today, but environmental problems such as land degradation, loss of agro-biodiversity and the impact of climate change on agriculture, pose an increasing threat to the ability of countries to grow enough food and to reduce hunger and poverty, FAO said. Although there are pockets of progress in several areas, "Most issues and challenges of sustainable agriculture are still outstanding," the report says.

FAO is the task manager for two of the four issues to be covered by the Commission at this session - Agriculture and Land Management

Progress towards halving the number of undernourished people by 2015, a key target set by the World Food Summit in 1996, has been slow, FAO said. "The current pace of progress toward meeting this goal is uneven and insufficient."

Currently 790 million people in developing countries and 34 million people in industrialized countries and in countries in transition are suffering from hunger and undernourishment. The number of hungry people decreases by about 8 million every year, but the annual decrease needed to reach the World Food Summit target is nearly 20 million.

Despite some progress in reducing trade barriers, "support and protection to agriculture is still high in many developed countries and adversely affect agriculture in other countries by depressing commodity prices, which undermines investment in agriculture."

The volume of foreign direct investment in developing countries has increased rapidly, but most of the benefits have been concentrated on just a few countries, FAO said. In addition, most of the money has been invested in non-agricultural sectors.

Official development assistance (ODA) for agriculture has been steadily declining since the late 1980s, amounting to only $7.5 billion between 1995-97, compared to nearly $15 billion in 1986-1988, according to FAO.

The world's farmers need to produce 40 percent more grain in 2020 to feed the growing global population. Increases will mainly come from intensified agricultural production. "Partial intensification of agriculture has already been achieved in many regions, but sustainable intensification without further degradation of natural resources and environment still remains a challenge," the FAO report said.

The need to combat degradation of agricultural lands has been emphasised by many governments, international institutions and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. However, land degradation and the decline in soil fertility continue to be major threats to food security and sustainable development, especially in developing countries, FAO said. "The problem is most severe in sub-Saharan Africa, where annual average nutrient loss is estimated to be around 24 kg per hectare and is increasing. In South Asia alone, the cost of different forms of land degradation is estimated to be $10 billion per year."

Progress has also been slow in reducing excessive use of mineral fertilizers and livestock wastes in intensive agriculture in certain countries, FAO said. Water pollution by nitrates is increasing in many countries, causing eutrophication in lakes, estuaries and coastal areas. In many developing countries continuous soil nutrient depletion leads to the deterioriation of soil productivity and threatens the sustainable production of agriculture and food security.

FAO noted that pesticide use continues to increase in developing countries, but in many developed countries it is falling gradually from very high levels. A growing number of countries are now using Integrated Pest Management techniques, aiming to reduce the negative impact of pesticides on the environment and human health. International agreements such as the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) reduce the availability of pesticides that can cause devastating problems to human health and the environment.

The report said that infrastructure development and other rural needs were not being adequately met in many rural areas. But at the same time, there were examples of isolated successes that, if widely replicated, could improve the livelihoods of many rural peoples. In many cases, overall statistics masked progress being made by individual communities in overcoming hunger and poverty. "Successful examples show that hunger and poverty can be eliminated with the right policies and measues that improve access to land, create rural employment and reduce rural emigration."


For further information, contact : Erwin Northoff (tel.: 0039.06.57053105) or FAO Media Relations Branch (0039.06.57053625).

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