Almost a decade later, FAO believes it is time to renew world commitment to that vision. "There have been some encouraging developments since the Earth Summit," says its report to COAG. "However, not enough is being achieved. Although more food is being produced worldwide than ever before, some 800 million people are still chronically malnourished. Many environmental objectives are not being met, and many countries are unable or unwilling to integrate environmental requirements into agricultural and rural development policies."
New perceptions. Meeting SARD's goals - which include reducing the number of undernourished by at least one half over the next 15 years - will require a radical shift in priorities towards alleviating poverty and social exclusion. "While SARD remains a valid development paradigm," the report says, "new and sometimes contentious developments have rapidly altered perceptions and issues in agriculture and rural society."
Globalization may offer enormous potential for accelerating development, but its benefits easily bypass those who are outside, or only tenuously linked to, the modern economy. The role of government has been reduced in many countries, leading to wider involvement of society in decision-making - but also to gaps in services and cuts in investment and expenditure in rural areas. At the same time, rising incomes and increased urbanization are reshaping food consumption patterns, leading to rapid growth in the livestock sector and to expansion of agriculture in peri-urban areas.
"The challenge is to harness these potentially beneficial forces in a SARD framework," FAO says. "The SARD concept must extend to social, institutional and economic sustainability and not exclusively to the conservation and rational utilization of natural resources." In FAO's view, moving ahead with SARD requires action in three key areas:
Build capacity, strengthen institutions. The cornerstone of SARD is building people's capacity to participate fully in their own development. This means access to basic education and technical, environmental and economic knowledge, and sharing of information and experience. But much information is unavailable or inaccessible, particularly to poor farmers. What's more, there are few opportunities for dialogue on their concerns. "Building capacities is of little use if there are no effective institutions to enable such capacities to be exploited," FAO says. While government and public agencies world-wide have progressively entered into new partnerships with civil society and the private sector,
Mobilize investment. The public sector's declining investment in agriculture has been matched by alarming cuts in the flow of development assistance to the sector from bilateral and multi-lateral donors. "What is needed," the report says. "is an investment strategy that obtains maximum leverage by directing limited government resources toward public goods, such as transportation infrastructure, which - in turn - can unleash private investment inflows." New alliances and partnerships between government, business and civil society, facilitated by greater global integration, could help redefine the traditional roles of external finance and technical assistance. There may also be new opportunities and mechanisms, such as the Global Environment Fund and carbon trading, to provide finance for public sector investment in SARD-related activities.
Develop technologies that enhance productivity, conserve natural resources. The technology needs of poor farmers - and the research effort needed to meet them - are enormous, but effective demand is very low: the poor themselves cannot pay for it nor for associated inputs such as water, fertilizers and additional labour. Needed is expanded funding of public sector agricultural research and extension, possibly in closer partnership with the private sector. The potential research agenda includes development and dissemination of production systems that limit the depletion of land, water and biological resources caused by agricultural intensification, and of environment-friendly technologies - these include integrated management systems (e.g. organic agriculture, integrated pest management, zero tillage, agro-forestry), and technologies that guarantee food safety. The potential benefits that genetic modification technology may offer in the future should not be ignored.
Those three challenges should guide FAO in shaping its own SARD programmes, the report suggests. As Task Manager for Chapter 14, the Organization must strengthen its role as a focal point for promoting SARD globally, in cooperation with its international partners within the UN system, other intergovernmental organizations, member nations and civil society.
Published March 2001