Thematic Session on
Enhancing Productive Capacities: the Agricultural Sector and Food Security


Paper prepared for the
Third United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries
(Brussels, 14-20 May 2001)

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Rome, April 2001

Table of Contents


1. Modernization of agriculture in the least developed countries (LDCs) faces a series of persistent constraints. They include: low levels of productivity and technical skills, high natural and economic vulnerability, weak agricultural policy and support institutions, inadequate physical infrastructure, and shortages of production inputs. In several LDCs, agriculture is further affected by emergencies due to civil conflicts and natural disasters. Nevertheless, agriculture in most LDCs has large unexploited potential. Many have considerable reserves of land and water, and all have ample scope for increasing output and productivity in their crop, livestock, fishery and forestry sectors.1

2. Technical assistance from FAO helps them both to overcome emergencies and to meet short-term, pressing needs, and to build a modern food and agricultural system by exploiting more fully their human and natural resource potentials. The assistance is guided by three global goals, which have been shaped by the Constitution of FAO and by international conferences, particularly the 1996 World Food Summit and the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development:

1. Access of all people at all times to sufficient, nutritionally adequate and safe food, with the aim of ensuring that the number of undernourished people is reduced by half by no later than 2015;

2. The continued contribution of sustainable agriculture and rural development, including fisheries and forestry, to economic and social progress and the well-being of all;

3. The conservation, improvement and sustainable utilization of natural resources, including land, water, forest, fisheries and genetic resources for food and agriculture.2

3. In providing its assistance, FAO follows a policy of making maximum use of technical expertise available in developing countries, through its South-South Cooperation (SSC) scheme and its programmes of Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries and Countries in Transition (TCDC/TCCT). The assistance includes normative as well as operational field activities with a direct impact on supply-side capacities.3 This paper focuses on operational field activities in LDCs and provides an illustrative list of ongoing FAO field projects in these countries.


4. FAO provides technical cooperation and emergency assistance, funded from its regular programme and extra-budgetary resources, to least developed and other developing countries at their request, and in partnership with bilateral donors, multilateral institutions, other organizations of the United Nations system, as well as with the private sector and civil society.

5. In the period 1992-2000, the value of FAO field projects in LDCs totalled some US$849 million, or 31 percent of its total Field Programme. These projects met a wide range of needs, from emergency relief and agricultural rehabilitation to practical assistance to government programmes for food security, sustainable agriculture and rural development.

6. In the year 2000 alone, more than 700 field projects, with a total budget value of US$423 million, were ongoing in 46 of the 48 LDCs. (For an illustrative list of the projects see the Annex to this paper). As shown in the figure below, they cover a wide range of technical fields in agriculture, forestry and fisheries.

FAO Field Programme delivery in LDCs by technical sector, 2000

"Other" includes inter alia, Fisheries (3 percent of the total budget value); rural development (3 percent); food and agricultural policy (2 percent); agricultural support systems (2 percent); nutrition (1 percent); and agricultural applications of isotopes and biotechnology (<1 percent). Source: FAO Field Programme Management Information System.

Technical cooperation

7. In the crops sector, for example, an FAO project in Nepal helped strengthen the country's capacity for introducing and testing improved vegetable varieties, stimulated private sector involvement in production of improved seeds, and contributed to an 85 percent increase in domestic vegetable production.

8. Forestry projects have assisted in rehabilitation of tree cover in Mauritania, capacity-building in forestry research in Bhutan, and creation of a forestry crime monitoring programme in Cambodia.

9. In the natural resources sector, FAO has assisted sustainable agriculture and soil conservation in environmentally fragile mountainous areas of Haiti and helped improve irrigation and water conservation in Djibouti. Livestock projects have increased veterinary vaccine production in Ethiopia, and helped Angola detect and control transboundary livestock diseases.

10. Fisheries projects are developing in the LAO People's Democratic Republic, a provincial aquaculture programme, designed to be replicated in other areas, and provide advice to Cape Verde on new policies for its fisheries sector. Other Field Programme activities include expansion of the national food information system in Eritrea, assistance to fruit and vegetable marketing in Nepal, strengthening of the agricultural extension system in Bangladesh, and support to national food quality control in Lesotho, Bhutan and Cambodia.

11. In all of the above sectors, FAO provides also policy advice and assistance to LDCs - for example, through projects for household food security in Gambia, diversification of food production in Malawi, and a review of sugar sub-sector policy in Mozambique.

Emergency assistance

12. FAO meets requests for emergency assistance in the agricultural, livestock and fisheries sectors from LDCs affected by exceptional natural or man-made calamities. It also assists them in the establishment of programmes of disaster preparedness and in post-emergency measures, and in the formulation and implementation of relief and rehabilitation programmes that speed the return to sustainable agricultural development. In October 2000, FAO was operating 42 emergency projects in 16 LDCs, including provision of food storage facilities, livestock feed and animal health inputs in Afghanistan, assistance to farmers in drought-affected areas of Rwanda, and support to programmes for the war-affected population in Sierra Leone. Delivery of emergency assistance in the year 2000 was over US$18 million, or 31 percent of all technical cooperation provided to LDCs.


The World Food Summit

13. The World Food Summit, held in Rome in November 1996, called for concerted efforts at all levels to raise food production and improve access for all to safe and nutritious food, with the objective of reducing the present number of malnourished people in the world by half by the year 2015. The Plan of Action adopted by the Summit focuses on the following: assuring enabling political, social and economic conditions; food production through sustainable agricultural development policies and practices; improving access to food; fostering a fair and market-oriented world trading system; dealing adequately with natural disasters and man-made emergencies; and encouraging investment in agricultural and rural development to promote food security.

Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS)

14. The SPFS constitutes FAO's major thrust toward achieving the World Food Summit's goals. It aims at helping developing countries, in particular the 78 low-income food-deficit countries (LIFDCs), to improve food security at both household and national levels by promoting rapid increases in productivity by small farmers in food production and other rural activities, reducing annual fluctuations in production and improving people's access to food.

15. The central concept of the SPFS is to improve productivity and broaden access to food by working directly with farmers and other stakeholders in identifying and resolving constraints to agricultural development (whether of a technical, economic, social, institutional or policy nature) and demonstrating practical ways of increasing production and productivity.

16. By March 2001, the SPFS was in operation in 34 LDCs (25 in Africa, six in Asia and the Pacific, one in the Caribbean and two in the Near East) while projects had been formulated or were in formulation for five others. The Programme has had notable success in identifying constraints to enhanced agricultural production, introducing improved technologies on a pilot scale or more generally. For example, in the United Republic of Tanzania, the Government has adopted the SPFS as a national programme following the successful completion of activities that promoted improved water control, participatory transfer of improved technologies for crop and small livestock production, and income generation based on formation of participatory farmer groups. Technical advice on irrigation is being provided by Egypt through a South-South Cooperation agreement (see below) within the SPFS. In Cambodia, the Programme has helped to achieve a 30 percent increase in rice yields and increases in farm incomes, using the Farmers' Field School extension approach in introducing new production and post-production technologies. In Nepal, more than 3 000 farmers have been trained in crop husbandry and irrigation, in particular under a World Bank/FAO-assisted irrigation project using the SPFS approach, while in Haiti, 2 500 farmers have participated in farm demonstrations with assistance from experts from Bolivia and Morocco.

17. Initially, SPFS projects were funded from FAO's own resources, but have attracted increasing levels of support from the FAO bilateral Trust Fund Programme, UNDP, other United Nations agencies, international financial institutions, development banks, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the private sector. To date, funds mobilized in support of SPFS activities total more than US$230 million.

South-South Cooperation

18. Launched in 1996 within the framework of the Special Programme for Food Security, FAO's South-South Cooperation (SSC) initiative provides an opportunity for more advanced developing countries to share with LDCs their experience and expertise in agriculture and rural development. The more advanced developing countries provide technicians and experts who work for two to three years with farmers, livestock owners and fishing communities to increase their productivity and production and to improve access to food. Funding is arranged on a case-by-case basis but involves contributions from the cooperating country, FAO's Regular budget and the host country, in some cases in conjunction with Trust Fund projects.

19. By April 2001, a total of 21 SSC agreements had been signed, providing up to 2 100 field experts and technicians, and a further 17 agreements were expected to be signed soon.

Technical Co-operation among Developing Countries and Countries in Transition (TCDC/TCCT)

20. FAO's TCDC/TCCT Programme provides another source of technical expertise available to LDCs. So far 125 countries has signed agreements under the Programme, providing more than 1 500 experts for wide-ranging FAO priority programmes and projects in member countries. Experts from the private sector and NGOs have also undertaken a number of assignments.


Trust Funds

21. In the period 1992-2000, some US$370 million of FAO's technical assistance to LDCs (or 43 percent of total delivery) was funded by donors channelling their resources through FAO's Trust Fund Programme. About 30 percent of this support was for emergency projects. Of increasing importance are Unilateral Trust Funds (UTFs), whereby recipient governments themselves finance programmes and projects that are implemented with FAO technical assistance. In 2000, FAO was implementing 33 projects in LDCs through UTF arrangements.

United Nations Development Programme

22. UNDP has always been one of the largest funding sources for FAO's technical support, accounting for about US$350 million (or about 41 percent of total funding) for Field Programme projects in LDCs in 1992-2000. However, UNDP funding channelled through FAO has declined substantially over the period, from some US$80 million in 1992 to US$12.5 million in 2000, due to a reorientation in UNDP's development assistance strategy and the introduction of the national execution modality.

FAO Regular Budget

23. In addition to providing funds for the SPFS, FAO allocates limited resources from its own budget for its Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP), which responds rapidly to urgent and unforeseen requests for technical assistance in agriculture, fisheries, forestry and rural development. During 1992-2000 FAO provided such assistance to LDCs totalling US$120 million (14 percent of total delivery).

Telefood Fund

24. Since 1997, FAO's annual, world-wide fund-raising campaign, Telefood, has collected US$6 million for small, grassroots microprojects. The campaign is supported by a variety of partners, including private companies and institutions, local and national governments, NGOs, and radio and television broadcasters. Telefood projects are designed to cost less then US$10 000 each and are integrated to the extent possible into the SPFS.

Support to investment

25. In addition to the direct assistance described above, FAO assists member countries by identifying and preparing agricultural investment projects and programmes for funding by international financial institutions. Over the period 1992-2000, the FAO Investment Centre helped generate total investment in agriculture for LDCs valued at a little over US$3 143 million.


26. FAO's technical cooperation with developing countries largely relies on extra-budgetary resources. Consequently, the volume and effectiveness of its direct support to LDCs depends on the extent of such funding. As regards official development assistance (ODA), annual commitments to LDCs rose from an annual average of US$12 922 million in 1981-1990 to US$15 564 million in 1991-1999 4, but the share of agriculture in the total fell by 20 percent. This trend is a matter of concern, as food security in LDCs will remain a major priority in the foreseeable future, as was noted by the World Food Summit.

27. A major thrust of FAO's Medium Term Plan (2002-2007) is accordingly to create the conditions and enabling mechanisms for a substantial flow of extra-budgetary resources, primarily to meet requests for technical assistance. It foresees continuous assessment of country needs, and creation of partnership agreements with multilateral and bilateral donors and private institutions to ensure coherent, longer-term cooperation. It stresses early involvement of prospective donors in project formulation and close monitoring of Field Programme performance.

28. A major opportunity for renewal of international commitment to FAO's goals, and to its technical cooperation activities in LDCs, will come in November 2001 when the Organization hosts a special high-level conference (World Food Summit: Five years later) aimed at both strengthening the political will and enhancing the financial resources needed to reduce hunger and poverty.


FAO Field Projects in operation in LDCs in 2000