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Press Release 01/84 C8


Rome, November 7, 2001 - With international investment in agriculture at an all-time low, and more than 70 percent of the world's poor living in rural areas, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Bank today announced the publication of a landmark study on the future of agriculture in the developing world. Supported by an associated electronic atlas of farming systems, the study emphasizes that responding effectively to the needs and priorities of farmers and their families is impossible without first understanding the world in which they live and the many choices they have to make each day. The results of the study have contributed to updating of the World Bank Rural Development Strategy.

The book provides international financial institutions and national governments with the tools that will help in this process, by identifying the options open to poor farmers in over 70 different farming systems around the world. Detailed analyses were undertaken of 20 of these systems, which together support nearly 2 billion farmers and their families, about 80 percent of the agricultural population of the developing world. Development options can differ greatly between systems. In some systems, farmers may escape from poverty principally by intensifying or diversifying their production. In other cases, increasing rural non-farm employment offers the best pathway out of poverty, and in some of the poorest systems, many farm families will inevitably abandon their farms and seek better lives in the cities. The feasibility and attractiveness of these different options depends not so much on which province, state or even country the farmers live in, but rather upon the nature of the farming system in which they live.

John Dixon, FAO senior farming systems officer, explained the driving force behind the study: "In our global family, one in five lives in extreme poverty and more than 800 million are undernourished. That's why the focus of the World Bank and other development agencies is now swinging back to poverty. The farming systems approach will help them set their priorities for investment in food security, poverty reduction and economic growth by funding broad-based agricultural development that reaches and benefits the poorest and hungriest small-scale farm families." Mr. Dixon wrote "Farming Systems and Poverty: Improving livelihoods in a changing world" with Aidan Gulliver, FAO agricultural economist and consultant David Gibbon. More than 50 specialists from all branches of FAO, as well as experts from World Bank, have contributed to the work.

According to FAO, small farmers produce much of the developing world's food. Yet they are generally much poorer than the rest of the population in these countries. Recently priorities in agricultural development focused on structural adjustment and economic reform. While there has been economic growth, and food production has increased, levels of poverty are still high in South Asia and increasing alarmingly in Africa. The emphasis on poverty reduction calls for increased attention to support farm level diversification and growth of off-farm income to supplement intensification of existing production patterns.

The material for the book was derived from a study originally undertaken at the request of the World Bank in order to provide a specifically agricultural perspective to the revision of the Bank's Rural Development Strategy. It draws on many years of specialized work within FAO and the World Bank, as well as in a number of other national and international institutions. The findings presented in the book are supported by more than 20 case studies from around the world, which analyzed innovative approaches to small farm or pastoral development. More than 100 digitized maps were prepared to create an electronic farming systems atlas.

In the preface to the Atlas, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf and President of the World Bank, James D. Wolfensohn, say the book was produced for a wide audience. "It is hoped that policy-makers, researchers, non-governmental organizations and the agribusiness sector will all find its conclusions and recommendations interesting and thought provoking; and that they will carry the analysis further by applying the approach at national level to assist in the formulation of rural development strategies."

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For further information please contact the FAO Media Releations Office at telephone number: +39 06 5705 3625


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