III. Selected issues
URBAN AGRICULTURE: AN OXYMORON?
City farming has a long tradition in many societies, especially in Asia and Europe. Several factors have led to a growing interest in urban agriculture over recent years. These include: increasing urbanization in the developing world; worsening conditions of the urban poor; wars and natural disasters that disrupt food supplies from rural areas; environmental degradation and resource limitations that cause greater food scarcity; the movement for community sustainability; and recognition of non-market values. Few of the above conditions are new, but recurring disasters and worsening trends have led to urban agriculture emerging as a potential solution. Advocates have argued that policy-makers, scientists and the general public should recognize the opportunities provided by urban agriculture and begin to eliminate the obstacles and provide assistance to this valuable activity.
This chapter examines the proposition that urban agriculture offers benefits that rural agriculture does not or cannot provide. It also discusses the policies affecting urban agriculture and what changes should be made in the light of urban agriculture's potential to improve conditions in the world's cities.
What is urban agriculture?
For the purposes of this chapter, urban agriculture is defined as being food production that occurs within the confines of cities. Such production takes place in backyards, on rooftops, in community vegetable and fruit gardens and on unused or public spaces. It includes commercial operations that produce food in greenhouses and on open spaces, but is more often small-scale and scattered around the city.
The narrow definition used here deliberately excludes some of the important aspects of urban agriculture, such as forestry, fisheries and the specific circumstances of peri-urban agriculture, which is frequently a more intensive variety of rural agriculture. While important, such activities have their own distinctive characteristics and an adequate discussion of them is beyond the scope of this chapter.
The products of urban agriculture are as diverse as those of rural agriculture. Urban farming concentrates largely on products that do not require extensive landholdings, can survive with limited inputs and are often perishable. Thus, fruits and vegetables, small livestock, such staples as cassava, maize and beans, fish and the occasional cow can all be seen in cities. Other food products seen in cities include berries, nuts, herbs and spices.
As well as a diversity of products, the demographic make-up of urban farmers varies considerably by region and economic conditions. Most urban farmers are relatively long-term city residents, moderately poor and female. They exist in both developed and developing countries and in all regions of the world, but face a great range of different conditions and opportunities.
Many studies of urban agriculture describe cases in developing countries where the activity is performed by poor city dwellers providing food for their families. While this is not the only important element of urban agriculture, it is the focus of this chapter because of its food security implications and its importance to FAO and other international development organizations.
Developing country urban poor is a difficult group to focus on because of ambiguities in defining urban, differing definitions of what constitutes agriculture and varying levels of data collection in the cities and countries concerned. An even greater hindrance to measuring the effects of urban farming is that much of what is considered urban agriculture is conducted outside normal market channels. In many of the cities where the authorities have noticed urban agriculture, the official reaction is either to turn a blind eye and allow it to continue against land-use regulations or to discourage it.
In spite of these difficulties in quantification, the hidden potential of urban agriculture to alleviate two of the world's most intractable problems - poverty and waste - has been receiving increasing attention over recent years. Even the Brundtland Commission Report (1987) commented on the subject: "Officially sanctioned and promoted urban agriculture could become an important component of urban development and make more food available to the urban poor.... Urban agriculture can also provide fresher and cheaper produce, more green space, the clearing of garbage dumps and recycling of household waste."2 Both poverty and environmental quality present issues of market failure and the need for government intervention.
Urban agriculture and the poor
Urban agriculture is cited as a possible solution to several of the trends that are currently causing concern. Foremost among these is the phenomenal growth expected in cities of the developing world over the next few decades. In 1994, 45 percent of the world's population lived in cities and that number will grow to more than 50 percent by the year 2000 and to 65 percent by 2025.3 The fastest population growth is in the large cities of the developing world, while urbanization has slowed or reversed in some North American and European countries. Within the developing world, Latin America currently has the highest proportion of city dwellers, followed by Asia and Africa. The rate of urban growth is highest in Africa, however, where cities are growing at a rate of 4.4 percent per year, and Asia, where growth is 3.7 percent per year, than elsewhere (Table 1).
Percentage of the population living in urban areas (by region)
ASIA (EXCLUDING JAPAN)
OCEANIA (EXCLUDING AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND)
AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND
Among the direct causes of the urban poor's worsening conditions are civil upheaval, deteriorating or inadequate infrastructure and the burdens on consumers that are imposed by structural adjustment programmes. Such programmes typically include export-oriented market reforms that raise basic commodity prices, currency devaluations that increase import prices and cuts in food subsidies for urban consumers. The short- and medium-term results of conditionality programmes have put an economic squeeze on the poor populations of developing countries, who frequently resort to non-market activities for survival. Additional factors contributing to this phenomenon include a decline in the real wages of urban workers, reduced stability and security in formal sector employment, the lessening of the distinction between formal and informal sectors, the narrowing income gap between rural and urban dwellers and accelerated migration from rural to urban areas.
The contribution of urban agriculture to food security (which is defined as the holding of a certain supply of food to be available and accessible at all times) appears to be substantial in many developing world cities. In addition, a significant, but unknown, share of the food purchased informally (for example, from street vendors) and in local markets is grown in developing world cities. Mougeot claims, and it has been widely repeated, that there are 200 million urban farmers in the world who supply food to 700 million people, or about 12 percent of the world's population.4 These numbers cannot at present be verified, but they seem to be growing, in part encouraged by an international aid effort to organize local cooperatives and provide information and inputs to urban residents.
The evidence is scattered, but surveys have shown that urban farming provides 30 percent of vegetable consumption in Kathmandu,5 45 percent in Hong Kong, 50 percent in Karachi6 and 85 percent in Shanghai.7 Overall estimates for Asia are that more than 50 percent of households farm; for North America the estimate is 25 percent.8 On the other hand, Gutman reported that gardening for home consumption is much higher in North America than in South America.9 The figures vary widely in African cities (from 25 to 85 percent), which are said to produce from 20 to 80 percent of their household food consumption through urban farming.10
Conditions of urban agriculture among the poor
The poor practitioners of urban agriculture do not fit the stereotypes that might be expected. They tend to be long-term city residents, have full- or part-time jobs, both men and women are involved (depending on the city and crops) and they are not the poorest residents of the city, being marginally better-off. They have lived in the city long enough to have acquired the most important input of all - access to land. The land is rarely their own, but may be granted to them in a formal or informal lease arrangement, or even merely through an understanding with the neighbours, or it may be a public space. This means that urban farmers survive in the city until the conditions are right for them to begin farming. One survey found that migrants to Lusaka, Zambia, waited an average of ten years before investing in urban farming; other studies have found similar patterns. While these characteristics are far from universal, they recur frequently enough in studies of urban agriculture to be regarded as reliable.
The role of women appears to be a critical component in urban food production. Although it is not the case in every city surveyed, women form the bulk of producers in both Africa and Latin America.11 These women are not employed in the formal sector and typically they add food production to their many other household functions because it is their duty to ensure the family food supply. By tending household or neighbourhood gardens they can either reduce the demands placed on their husbands' wages or supplement those wages with cash. As studies in Kampala found, women may not even let their husbands know the extent to which their gardening is relied on in the household budget.
Urban farmers generally face the growing encroachment of their city surroundings, with all the attendant costs and benefits. The most important crops of urban farmers are perishable fruits and vegetables grown in or near the city by small- or large-scale farmers for home consumption or sale in the urban market. They have a locational advantage of being close to the consumer. They are a relatively high-value crop and can be grown in tight space conditions with some capital. Even medium- to large-scale horticultural operations do not have the land requirements that food and feed crops or large livestock operations require, so they can adapt to growth and encroachment from the city.
For the poor, there are many types of fruits and vegetables that need little space to grow, have short growing cycles, provide nutrients not easily obtained from other food sources (thus preventing micronutrient deficiencies), generate their own seeds and shoots, require few tools for cultivation and are familiar components of the diet. The poor are able to supplement their own diets relatively easily with these products, as well as selling any surplus through informal neighbourhood markets or to street vendors. In these ways, many urban poor augment their diet and/or income with fruit and vegetable cultivation.
Livestock production is important in many cities, for traditional and economic reasons. Small livestock can be produced cheaply in restricted spaces, while all forms of livestock are increasingly important sources of protein as rising incomes lead to changing diets. The livestock raised in cities is typically poultry, birds and small animals raised by the less affluent in the dense city centres. People from all social classes in Dar es Salaam reported raising some chickens. Pork and poultry are very common in and around major Asian cities; Singapore is reported to be 100 percent self-sufficient in pork and poultry and Hong Kong produces the majority of its poultry needs within the city. Although in a less systematic and intensive manner, livestock is raised by 17 percent of households in Kenya.
Benefits of urban farming
Urban agriculture provides economic, recreational and ecological benefits to city residents. Foremost among these benefits are the obvious additions to income and household food supply. Precise figures are not known, but urban farming is estimated to provide direct earnings for 100 million people worldwide.12 A major benefit in many poor countries is that urban farming provides actual or in-kind income through work opportunities, rather than depending on a programme of subsidies from government budgets.
Another positive aspect of urban agriculture is the income flexibility it provides. Urban farming offers city dwellers agricultural income opportunities and in-kind resources which can be produced on a part-time or seasonal basis and which are compatible with child care duties. A survey of 11 Latin American countries found that urban agriculture is not efficient enough to be economically advantageous compared with a full-time waged job, but provides partial income support. A survey made in Buenos Aires estimated that between one and one and a half working days a week are required to maintain an urban garden for an average family, saving between 10 and 30 percent of the total food bill. For low-income groups this can represent an in-kind augmentation of income of 5 to 20 percent.13
There are other, less visible benefits of urban farming. Shorter distances from producer to consumer mean there is less need for marketing, transportation and packaging than there is for products grown at a distance, providing a cost advantage over rural agriculture. Certain areas in some cities are unsuited for other uses because of environmental sensitivity or undesirability, but are conducive to agricultural uses. Finally, there are the extremely important, but often ignored, ecosystem benefits to hydrologic systems, biological diversity and air quality that can replace some of what the urban systems destroy.
Obstacles to urban farming
Urban agricultural producers face obstacles and hazards that are not common in rural agriculture. Foremost among these is land use. Land used for urban agriculture is more likely to be rented or borrowed than owned. It can be reclaimed at any time and at short notice. This implies a low degree of security for farmers and a disincentive to invest in their farms. Land tenure practices vary widely depending on tradition and enforcement. In some cities, land availability is not the major problem, but access to secure land of reasonable quality is the impediment for poor farmers. A survey of major developing world cities found that an average of 200 to 300 m2 of unused community land could be made available by city authorities. Instead of established cooperative arrangements, roadsides, rights of way and other unsupervised public areas are often used. These are vulnerable to lead contamination and other pollutants, theft and uneven access for cultivation purposes.
Use of public land presents another problem. The urban bias that still exists in many developing countries extends to the desire to have a city look modern and free of traditional practices associated with the countryside. Thus, city farmers can face severe political and regulatory obstacles, including legal actions and confiscation of their products.
Land availability is a particular constraint to the poorest urban dwellers who have recently arrived from the countryside, who do not have jobs and who lack even the meagre resources needed to piece together some farming opportunities. Researchers have found that newcomers to the city, while having some knowledge of farming in many cases, are not sufficiently established within the society to have acquired land or to have found unused land area to be farmed.14 Non-farmers in urban areas often reply in surveys that they would farm if they had access to land.15
Access to other inputs can be very difficult for the poor urban farmer who generally has little or no access to raw materials or equipment and instead substitutes with great amounts of labour. Materials such as seed and fertilizer are often not affordable, chemical fertilizer may pose threats to water supplies, solid waste, which could be used as fertilizer, is not collected or is unsorted and even small implements are not available in the city. Water is often available only at high cost or through illegal means. Credit is unobtainable without secure rights to land, which usually require ownership.
Female urban farmers face the same problems as their rural counterparts - poor access to credit and landownership. Since many urban farmers are women (both heads of households and married), the stability and productivity of urban agriculture is made more tenuous by the traditional prejudices regarding women.
Agriculture in cities is often perceived as wasteful, unsightly or unhealthy. Land-use planners and government officials generally aim to segregate land uses that appear to conflict and have little or no experience in discovering ways to integrate agriculture with other activities. Indeed, agriculture can present competition to existing uses for resources and cause serious problems, such as health and environmental risks. In the most obvious example, livestock farmers face increasing nuisance conflicts the closer they are to the city. They also face losses. Intensive livestock production systems are more vulnerable to environmental degradation and health risks as the waste output from animals becomes concentrated and animal susceptibility to disease increases. As a result, after land-use rights, the largest barrier agriculture faces in cities is official acceptance and provision of essential infrastructure.
As an example of this, the United Republic of Tanzania's National Urban Water Agency expressed strong opposition to urban agriculture's use of water supplies. It estimated that
35 percent of the fresh drinking-water supply was lost through leakage and illegal tapping, so a penalty fee is imposed on agricultural uses of water in the city. Substitutes for such practices can be found, but there needs to be a mechanism for bringing authorities and urban farmers together.
Urban agriculture is, thus, not a universal solution to all the most severe problems of food security in cities. Rather, it is a survival technique for the urban poor to use during times of economic stress and to enhance existing food supplies. The addition to food supply is only partial and cannot completely substitute for food subsidies or all wage-earning activities. Some products cannot be grown by urban farmers and the poorest residents have little access to production possibilities. Urban agriculture will do little to change existing income distribution patterns.
Nonetheless, the phenomenon is contributing significantly to feeding poor residents in some cities, both through household production for own-consumption and through increased supply in informal urban sectors. In addition, urban agriculture provides nutrients that may be unavailable to urban residents or unaffordable in the case of import. Crops of fruits and vegetables, pork and poultry may be the most important contributions to urban food security gained from city farming, providing between 10 and 40 percent of the nutritional needs of urban families in developing countries.
Urban agriculture provides a means whereby poor city residents can improve their food security or living standards. Its relatively low productivity and uncertain conditions mean it will not serve well as the exclusive food supply for urban families in most instances. Several factors mean that urban agriculture can never replace or significantly reduce the role of rural agriculture as the source of food for large populations.
First of these factors is the volume of food production occurring in the cities, which is dwarfed by the quantities produced in rural areas. Even with the productivity improvements that could result from broader support, urban agriculture will never have the capacity to produce large volumes of most foodstuffs. It is already constrained and will become more so as city populations grow.
Second, urban farmers are producing for a local market, not for regional, national or global markets. If they have any competitive edge, it is in feeding nearby populations without the typical expenses of packaging, marketing, distribution and transportation.
Policy support for urban agriculture
What, then, can and should be done to improve conditions for urban agriculture? Policy intervention may be called for to assist urban farmers in locating suitable land and other inputs and in achieving reasonable levels of productivity. There are several possibilities for international development agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to become involved in such areas as planning, technology transfer, technical assistance and advocacy and assistance in overcoming legal and regulatory obstacles.
Policy-makers must first consider which approaches are appropriate for different regions and whether urban agricultural systems used in various areas are transferable. For instance, in Asia, agriculture has an established tradition in city planning and is relatively institutionalized and commercialized. The high rates of agricultural self-sufficiency in Asian cities cannot be extrapolated to other regions as they are derived from circumstances (tradition of centralized planning, high capital input) that are not easily transferred.
The various policies appropriate to each city are determined by several characteristics: who the farmers are and what their purpose is (subsistence or market-oriented output); how permanent urban farming is; what the farmers' most urgent needs are (basic inputs, knowledge, removal of legal and institutional obstacles, advocacy support); what the relationship is between the city and rural areas; and what the economic and social role of agriculture is within
the community. Other issues should be considered according
to country and city circumstances. Such preparation for
policy-making will take time, a basic conceptual structure for establishing the relevant considerations and further survey work in individual cities.
City planning can, however, begin immediately to accommodate, rather than forbid, the needs of urban farmers. Policies to promote urban agriculture may include encouraging the use of city-owned land for farming, providing community "pea patch" garden spaces where knowledge and resources can be shared and even diverting solid waste and wastewater to city farmers when it can serve fertilization and irrigation needs. Planning should involve collaboration among government entities; in particular, those responsible for energy, water supply, infrastructure, transportation and waste sectors.16
Technology transfer could make available hardy and healthy seed varieties, assist in establishing cooperatives for acquiring inputs and marketing products and provide new systems such as biological wastewater treatment processes. Among the types of technical assistance already being provided by FAO are workshops on recycling livestock waste and extension education about appropriate crops to diminish health risks and increase productivity. Even small projects that assist families in rainwater collection or provide small tools for indigenous farming methods would be useful. Finally, in dealing with the lack of land-use rights, interested agencies cannot interfere with local government prerogatives but may be able to identify and suggest models where temporary rights and multiple uses have benefited farmers and landowners alike (such as tax incentives for agricultural leasing).
Before a full understanding of the potential and importance of urban agriculture can be reached, some research gaps need to be filled. The first priority is establishing a common definition for researchers performing case-studies. This will begin to allow quantification of the magnitude and growth of urban agriculture. Analysis of the broader costs and benefits of this phenomenon should be performed, taking into account the full range of non-market effects, including the use of waste resources, and health and environmental risks (see Box 3).
Can the development of urban agriculture improve the overall quality of life for a wide array of city dwellers living in different cities? Proponents of urban agriculture claim it can. They say agriculture is one way in which cities can become more sustainable and be better places to live.
The definition of a sustainable city, like that of urban agriculture, is not clear. It is clearly intended to include ecological aspects of a city's existence, but could also take into account social and economic aspects. Elements that could be considered are: reduced dependency on inputs from outside the city; more efficient use of resource flows within the city; and reduction and reuse of waste flows whenever possible.
The following list of the direct and indirect effects of urban agriculture on a city's social, economic and environmental well-being is meant to suggest only the broad benefits and costs of urban agriculture. A more detailed list would need clearer definitions to avoid double-counting. Many of the effects listed are not directly quantifiable in monetary terms, but are real none the less.
Benefits of urban agriculture
income to producers (market or inkind);
Costs of urban agriculture
use of natural resources (land, water, soil, etc.);
The list could no doubt be expanded and customized to fit the conditions of each individual city. Certainly the actual benefits and costs to a city of allowing or encouraging urban agriculture depend to a great extent on the social and economic conditions facing the city's people, as well as on the mix of resources available in the city and nearby rural areas. For instance, the benefits of urban agriculture are more likely to outweigh the costs where population density and competition for land are lower. Likewise, a city with a large and growing poor population has more immediate need of using all the resources at hand for survival.
Among the more easily quantified benefits of urban agriculture are the jobs, income and products that result from it. Assuming that the people and resources used in urban farming would otherwise not be employed (often true in developing world cities), the increase in employment and productivity is a clear benefit to society. Other benefits are far more difficult to measure. Examples are the increased value from the care and attention given to otherwise vacant land that becomes an urban farm plot or the contribution to air quality of a city forest. Urban agriculture also creates negative externalities that are difficult to measure, including the smells and sights that people find distasteful when livestock are reared nearby. Externalities avoided by growing food within the city include the pollution created by trucks carrying products into the city from distant rural areas.
An important opportunity for urban agriculture is the use of unused or underused resources. While urbanization leads to competition for land, it also forces residents to respond to worsening conditions. One response is to use free land, water and makeshift tools independently of the uncertain supply lines through the formal market. While of very poor quality, some of the inputs used by poor urban farmers would otherwise be wasted or put through costly treatment processes. In fact, in some African countries, rural land is becoming more degraded while urban land with access to wastewater and fertilizer may become more productive.
Two specific examples of resource reuse for urban agriculture follow.
Livestock waste. FAO found from case-studies that long-term intensive livestock production in peri-urban areas may not be viable without dealing with the waste and attendant environmental and health problems. Care must be taken not to add nutrients in excess of the vegetative absorption capacity or problems such as volatilization (air pollution), leaching (soil and groundwater pollution), surface runoff (surface water pollution) and epidemiological contamination may result. Significant research has already been carried out into how to deal with these environmental and health problems and studies suggest that the nutritional and waste recycling opportunities of livestock rearing may argue for retaining this activity close to the city. For instance, in Dar es Salaam roughly 300 000 kg of cattle and chicken manure are produced every day and most (72 percent) is dumped at roadsides. Transporting this organic matter could be much more expensive than organizing small-scale collection, composting and reuse activities.
Wastewater treatment and irrigation. Aquaculture farms are particularly common near Asian cities and include vegetable and fish crops. Among the earliest examples of city aquaculture are the wetlands east of Calcutta where wastewater-fed treatment ponds produce 8 000 tonnes of fish a year while treating 680 million litres of wastewater per year. Fish are the primary source of protein for Calcutta's residents and it has been estimated that the sewage-fed aquaculture system could double its output from the current provision of 10 percent of the city's daily consumption.
Additional opportunities to develop aquaculture for feed purposes using wastewater treatment ponds have been under investigation by international agencies for several years. The substantial research in this area shows that wastewater is already being used in many arid and semi-arid areas of the world and that this can be done without significant health risks and with greater effectiveness than conventional treatments. Most important for the developing world, the relatively simple technology is inexpensive to construct and maintain. The land required by the ponds used in wastewater treatment (20 ha for every 100 000 persons) is the major requirement.
Researchers have found that virtually all helminths and most bacteria and viruses can be removed by ponding which produces a nutrient-rich and nuisance-free effluent. Wastewater irrigation can supply almost all the nitrogen and most of the phosphorus and potassium required by many crops, as well as important micronutrients. The pond effluent is high in algal biomass content and acts as a slow-release fertilizer. Organic matter in wastewater also contributes to soil tilth and overall long-term fertility of the soil.
The primary cost of establishing such systems is for the collection of wastewater. Many developing world cities currently have no collection systems. However, because of the high priority placed by local and international authorities on controlling disease sources, an opportunity exists to integrate wastewater collection and treatment systems with recycling opportunities, such as urban agricultural uses.
Finally, the costs of urban production can be compared with those of rural agriculture in order to determine what it costs society to allow or encourage the continuation of urban agriculture in an increasingly urbanized world and whether such policies would be in conflict with improving productivity and the quality of life among rural farmers.
Which characteristics of cities make urban agriculture likely to provide greater benefits than costs and which are most in need of technical assistance and support in establishing such enterprises? The characteristics of cities that are relevant include:
The phenomenon of urban agriculture exists in most cities. In some it is still relatively invisible and is likely to remain so as the cities expand and the urban farmers adapt to changing circumstances. In other cities urban farming will remain largely a backyard occupation. In yet another group of cities, however, urban farming - and the people it serves - will encounter greater conflicts and obstacles as city life becomes more desperate, demands on urban resources increase and governments become less able to cope with the needs of growing populations.
INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY: WHAT IT MEANS FOR AGRICULTURE
Situation and emerging developments
In many countries, very rapid changes are now occurring in the development and application of information technology (IT).17 The outcome of these changes will significantly reshape private business and government operations and will affect virtually all aspects of the everyday lives of individuals and businesses in every sector of the economy. Organizations in both the public and private sectors are adopting the new technology as part of a strategy to increase efficiency18 and competitiveness of the organization or sector, provide better service, introduce new means of training and reduce operating costs. Many governments also see the new technology as a means of creating jobs, in part to offset those lost through its adoption. The rapid change is occurring because of more powerful and less expensive communications and computer hardware (the cost of processing and transmitting information is decreasing by 50 percent every 18 months) combined with an explosion in the development of new software products, the convergence of computer, telecommunications and broadcasting technologies and the phenomenal growth in the use of the Internet.
The new information technology improves the accessibility for clients to information and services. It also enables a better sharing of information among users, enhances the potential for two-way communications between providers and users, greatly expands the availability of specialized information resources and provides broader opportunities to access the global information market in a quick, inexpensive and reliable manner. The new information technology goes beyond the traditional one-way or linear communication. It permits interactive linkages among individuals with similar concerns or interests and this greatly expands the information available to individuals or organizations. Information technology allows organizations' structures to be more flexible, more participatory and less centralized.
In the agricultural sector, new IT applications are becoming increasingly commonplace. Applications include the geographical positioning system (GPS) which allows satellite information to trigger precise micro-level applications of chemicals and fertilizers. Information technology can provide education and skills upgrading such as the provision of management advice and use of on-line distance education techniques. Other applications include access to information, particularly time-sensitive information such as market news and weather. The technology provides search skills for information on research and technology about new products, inputs, markets or farming practices. It provides information about the availability of government programmes or commercial services and may be used to access those programmes or services and it is often used in sharing information through the Internet, electronic bulletin boards and mailing lists.
Beyond the farmgate, IT applications are becoming increasingly critical for the vertical coordination of the food distribution system. Just-in-time delivery, specialized production for niche markets and reduced tolerance for variability in raw material inputs all require increased communication between buyers and sellers at each stage of the production, processing, distribution and retailing processes. Information technology is a pivotal component of that increased coordination among the participants in the food chain. It allows firms to hold smaller inventories, avoid waste, provide a greater variety of products, reduce purchasing costs, assess the impact of promotions and enhance client services. To ensure that quality control standards are met throughout the food chain, some retail products, such as meats, will be traceable from the final point of sale to consumers back to the farm of origin, requiring information technology to collect and maintain the individual product transaction records.
As the global environment becomes more open and trade among countries increases, especially for high value-added products, the need for and value of information in commerce increases. Information technology is used to market specialized products to niche markets, responding to growing diversity in consumer tastes. It is likely to replace some of the routine brokerage functions of providing basic information on product availability and prices. For example, sellers and buyers may electronically post availability and requirements of commonly traded, relatively standard products with offer and bid prices in a form of electronic auction. In this highly competitive environment, the successful firms will be those with the most innovative IT applications.
Isolation is a major difficulty in maintaining a viable and sustainable rural sector since rural communities do not attract the same level and quality of services found in urban centres. The situation could be improved with the increased ability to access and share information, in spite of the location, through the use of information technology. Remote communities would get new vitality if they could get some of the same services and easy, cheap communication methods as urban centres have. The new information technology improves the comparative advantage of rural and remote areas, as communication costs over long distances decline sharply.
While there are many benefits attached to the new information technology, there are also several serious constraints to its increased use. These include: inadequate communications infrastructure; high prices for the purchase of computers, telecommunications equipment and related software combined with high telecommunications operating costs; a deficiency of human capital to provide the skills needed to develop, operate, manage and use the new technology; and lack of a private-sector market to provide the necessary infrastucture, develop the software and promote the applications.
Training and skills development is undoubtedly the most essential element of IT development. Skills development may be the most difficult aspect of the integration of information technology into new applications. As with any new technology, the full benefits are not achieved until the developers, operators and users have the technical skills to take full advantage of it. The rapid developments that are occurring in information technology make it clear that training must be considered a continual process for, among others, system and software developers, operator and maintenance workers and the ultimate users of the information systems. Skills upgrading may range from short courses for casual users to advanced technical training at universities for those involved in the development and maintenance of applications. In many developing countries, high-level technical training university courses are not available and managers lack experience in applications of new information technology for communication and sharing of information. New approaches to management and control are, therefore, required.
The World Bank19 highlights the disparity among countries concerning telecommunications infrastructure. The inequality in number of telephone lines between the developed and the less developed countries has hardly changed in the past decade and this great gap in infrastructure is expected to remain into the next century. It is estimated that it will take an additional US$30 billion to prevent further deterioration. The reliability of the telecommunications equipment is also much lower in developing countries, partly because of the age of the equipment. Communication infrastructure requires large annual investments and many developing countries have underinvested for a considerable period.
The United States Cooperative Extension Service was one of the early users of the Internet to provide information to its clients. By 1995, most of the state Cooperative Extension Services had established their own World Wide Web (WWW) site. These sites are a communication and marketing device for the extension service and, typically, they announce the programmes and services available, but occasionally a WWW site provides current information on markets. It is not clear how widely the Internet is used as a source of information to provide service to clients. Many existing staff are not skilled in the use of information technology as an information source and it appears that no widespread training programmes have been used.
One example of the use of the Internet is a project called "Ask an Expert" which is a software package developed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for use by the Cooperative Extension Service to allow it to communicate effectively with clients using a variety of tools such as WWW or electronic mail. As well as the communication aspect, the software provides a searchable database of frequently asked questions and expert answers that is designed to be information of first resort to which users who are trying to obtain answers to agricultural questions using the Internet can refer first.
The program involves three phases. First the question arrives at a special gateway program that enters it into a database of unanswered questions and makes it available to a group of experts. Second, one or more of the experts may choose to respond to the question, but if no one responds the system automatically assigns the question to the next available expert. Finally, the set of questions and answers may be browsed or searched by anyone with access to the Internet. This allows experts to focus on new questions rather than repeating answers frequently.
The software package was used during two farm shows in Indiana in September 1995. Extension specialists from USDA and seven states were available to provide responses to questions raised by clients at the farm shows with a time lag of about one hour. While the experiment was considered very successful, there are questions as to whether or not extension specialists would be willing to commit themselves to the effort required and how they could get credit for these activities in their own organizations.
With such a low level of telecommunication subscribers and the poor service environment, developing countries may need to look at a different organizational system and infrastructure for delivering information to clients than are currently found in the developed countries. For example, radio-based cellular phones have low capital costs and the pricing and competition policy in Sri Lanka provides service at one of the lowest costs in the world, but there may be too few subscribers for viable rural applications. Satellite transmission is cost-effective for broadcasting but not for two-way communication (especially in rural areas), as ground transmission is very expensive. In the remote mountainous areas of China, microwave links, instead of cable, are used to connect regions. Governments have traditionally provided the infrastructure (railways, highways, electricity, telecommunications), but budget pressures may force them simply to administer the rules and encourage the private sector in developing the infrastructure for IT applications. This situation is occurring in many developed and developing countries as telecommunications systems are either privatized or begin to face competition, which tends to promote increased investments and innovation and eventually leads to lower costs across the sector.
The Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (AFRD) Department of the Canadian Province of Alberta established a Project Barley team to provide electronic delivery of information to 76 farmers and to farm suppliers in 13 farm districts in the province. The information for the project is on such topics as crop production and management, farm equipment and dealers, soil fertility, irrigation, harvesting and storage, marketing, market outlook, markets and costs of production. It represents a significant portion of the AFRD department`s information and services. The project also provides guided access to other Internet information that is of interest and value, a discussion forum for users of the pilot and electronic mail access to both clients and project staff.
The project provides about 600 pages
Throughout Alberta 14 office sites (kiosks) were selected where the clients could be exposed to the Internet. Approximately 450 farmers and agribusinesses used the kiosks and at least that many more attempted to do so but could not get on-line. During a three-month period, the site had about 4 800 visits - about 2 425 were from Alberta (including from the kiosks), 575 were from staff and the rest (1 800) were from elsewhere in the world.
Over 90 percent of the pilot users continued on the Internet after the pilot although they had to start paying for the service. They saw it as a way to communicate with specialists and to make specialists more accessible to them. Users adapted quickly to the Internet as an alternative to the "office" approach to the provision of specialist services.
AFRD gained a great deal of status with both producers and staff for taking on such a new initiative. Producers (the pilot users) were very enthusiastic and supportive of the initiative, despite a great deal of technical frustration, often poor service-provider support and the fact that the pilot operated during planting time. Producers were keen to experiment with the Internet. Front-line information providers however felt that they were not prepared to launch the project. The specialists who developed the information were extremely pleased about their team effort and the rapid progress made, but were frustrated by a lack of technology support and training.
The project identified several critical factors for future success, including: providing adequate training and technology support for staff; getting department staff, especially specialists and scientists, connected to the system and using it to communicate among themselves and with producers; creating a major cultural shift in the department with respect to the technology, thus preventing people from operating in the old way with the new technology; establishing a dedicated core group of people responsible for the implementation of electronic delivery of information and services; formalizing staffing arrangements and organizational structure with respect to the project; maintaining the status and profile of the project among departmental staff so that they want to be involved and can see the benefits to themselves of being involved; keeping the content alive through discussion groups and daily contributions from specialists, while not allowing the system to become a "dump site" for data; and developing partnerships with other groups to expand the breadth and depth of the system and to increase recognition and credibility of the site.
Source: Information obtained from the Alberta Agriculture Food and Rural Development Department report on Project Barley which incorporates information from a Price Waterhouse Evaluation Report.
With a competitive regulatory environment, there is considerable scope for developing countries to attract foreign investment in communication technology by lowering costs and increasing innovation. This has been the case in a number of countries such as Argentina, Chile, Hungary, Jamaica, Malaysia, Mexico and Venezuela.20 It is important that developing countries establish an internal capability to produce new IT applications, otherwise they will be net importers of information and information software for a long time and, more significantly, much of the information and software imported may not fit the local situation. It is essential that a local software industry be developed to customize the information requirements for a local market.
The Mexican marketing agency, Apoyos y Servicios a la Commercialización Agropecuaria (ASCERCA), uses the national television system to provide agricultural marketing information throughout the country. Users of specially manufactured television sets can find economic and commodity market information on one of ASCERCA's television channels in any location in the country. The system, called teletexto, is widely known among the rural residents of Mexico and a recent survey of agricultural producers showed a high level of recognition of the system (70 percent). The benefits of this approach in the application of information technology are that it uses a relatively simple existing technology, which does not require wired communication infrastructure, for clients to access. As well as agricultural information, there is other economic information provided through this service so that the cost of providing it is distributed across several sectors. There has, however, been limited use because of the requirement for the special television sets and the lack of promotion by the television manufacturers.
There have been a number of successes and considerable new applications occurring in developing countries. It is estimated that Taiwan, Province of China, has more computers per worker than Italy although the per caput income is only half as high. China may have nearly as many telephone lines by 2000 as the United States has today. By the end of 1995, about 14 countries in Africa had permanent real-time Internet connections and, by 1996, most capitals in Africa will have such connections. The United States-based telecommunications company AT&T is proposing to run a fibre-optic cable around the entire coastline of Africa (Africa one). Work is scheduled to start in 1999 and the project will make immense improvements to access within the continent and further afield.
The agricultural sector in developing countries (and even in some developed countries) is confronted with considerable difficulties in its efforts to use the new technology. These are the results of rural areas not being well served by telecommunications infrastructure; the low number of current users, which limits the market for specialized software development; and the low educational level and limited skills of many producers, which restrict current and potential applications. The agricultural sectors in the lowest-income, developing countries experience the most severe form of these problems and, in spite of the social and technological developments that are occurring in the urban centres of developing countries, new IT applications, such as multimedia, appear to be an impossible dream in the foreseeable future throughout much of the developing world.
Closing the gap between the "haves" and the "have nots". Many agricultural and food sector businesses in the more developed economies are adopting new information technology and are benefiting from improved productivity. At the same time, agricultural and food sector businesses in the less developed economies without access to the required communication equipment, software or the necessary information technology skills, risk falling further behind in the technology race. With the increased globalization of markets, lack of access to productivity enhancing tools reduces their competitive position. It is critical that agricultural ministries in developing economies recognize the need to ensure universal access to new technology, at reasonable cost, as a means of narrowing the technology gap and that they initiate steps to implement a development plan for the agricultural and rural sectors.
Overcoming infrastructural constraints. One of the main constraints facing the agricultural and agrifood sectors in all countries is the lack of communication infrastructure in the rural and remote sectors of the country. Much private-sector investment is focused on the urban centres where distances are limited and the payback from infrastructural investments more likely. Low-income, less developed countries have on average only about three telephone lines per 1 000 inhabitants, whereas the developed countries have over 400. It is critical that producers in the agricultural and rural sectors of developing countries press governments to reduce communication costs as much as possible and to encourage investment in expanding and modernizing the telecommunications sector.
Developing countries may have to apply different approaches to adopting information technology than those followed in developed countries, especially in areas where there are very few telecommunication lines. For example, creating information centres that producers and agrifood industry clients can access easily may be more appropriate than structuring the technology around the use of computers in every business.
Effective training and skills development. The most important constraint in the adoption and effective use of new information technology may be the development of adequate human capital. Skills development requires a variety of approaches for different applications. Training and skills development can be a very costly process and can be wasteful if the users cannot readily apply the new skill or if the training is not suitable to the application. The use of private-sector or educational institution providers may be the most cost-effective solution.
Defining the government role. It is important that governments develop clearly defined objectives and outline their strategy for information technology for the agricultural sector. Governments can provide critical leadership and act as a role model with respect to the adoption of information technology in the sector. For example, because the government is a major user of information technology it can strongly influence national IT development and use through its purchases of hardware and software. The government can provide an example to the sector in supplying access to its own services, information and programs. It can also encourage the development and use of technology through assistance programmes and by encouraging the sharing of information on new developments.
In many countries, large budget deficits or strong competing priorities for investment funds require that decisions made be based on carefully defined government priorities. It is essential, in all cases, that the approach used be based on client-driven priorities.
Ensuring appropriate information content. The purposes of information technology are to provide information and services in a more accessible and efficient way and to improve communications. There is a critical need to ensure that the information content is client-driven and up to date and that the application provides a more effective way of delivering services. If the information content becomes dated or is insufficient to interest users, they will be discouraged from accessing that application and the experiment will fail.
Equally unsatisfactory for users is a surfeit of information, irrelevant to their needs for decision-making purposes. More focus needs to be put on the development of information technology applications to filter the flow so as to provide clients with the right information at the right time for decision-making. Information specialists may also play this role.
Developing partnerships. Governments cannot afford to be the sole organization in electronically providing information and information services to the agricultural sector. There must be partnerships among government departments and agencies, with the private sector and with university and other educational institutions. This approach can provide clients with "single-window" access, at a cheaper cost and with higher-quality information and service. Agriculture needs to graft on to the infrastructure and applications used in other sectors, such as health, as a means of accelerating developments and minimizing the costs of establishing and operating systems.
User paying. Information and information services should be viewed as a commodity for which there can be a functioning market. Such a market would allow private-sector participants to develop the infrastructure, software and new services that decision-makers and individual clients wish to have. Information and information service providers should be considered in a similar way to those providing legal, financial or accounting services. Governments may consider some form of user paying system for information and information services which would allow them to expand certain services while getting market signals on those services which users consider to be the most important.
The role of government and international organizations in promoting the use of information technology
Develop a strategy. Governments need to develop a national strategy for the use of information technology that would enhance productivity and communications in the rural, agricultural and food sectors and permit governments to provide better service to clients at lower costs. A well-defined strategy for such applications needs an explicit timetable, additional resources and a commitment to make it work. Agricultural ministries must recognize the opportunities from the new information technology and take action themselves to realize these benefits. Such action includes ensuring appropriate access to the technology at reasonable costs for the agricultural and food sectors. This may require promoting, within government, the need for regulatory reforms and competitive pricing for the benefit of the rural sector.
Promote the upgrading of skills and capital investment. Governments can play an important role in promoting and implementing programmes for the development of skills and the investment of capital in the application of the new information technology. For skills upgrading, governments may develop partnerships with educational institutions and private-sector providers. Skills upgrading needs to include a focus on young people. Governments must also encourage locally developed information technology applications, in either government or the private sector, to avoid import dependency. To promote new developments, governments can establish a clearing-house of new IT applications and illustrations of the best practices used in the sector. Governments can also promote common standards so that systems are compatible, information is easily shared and users are not confronted with a myriad of systems.
Do things differently. Governments need to take a comprehensive approach in the introduction of new information technology. More complicated solutions will be required than simply transplanting systems from a paper to an electronic environment. It will be essential to examine the whole process and understand how users adapt to the new service. Only by changing the whole process can all of the benefits of the technology be obtained, although it may be best that governments start on a small scale, such as with a pilot project to gain experience in operating the system and get effective feedback from clients. It is important that progress be displayed concretely and the use of pilots may allow a total systems development that is more effective and easily accepted by users.
Encourage private commercial services. Governments can help indirectly in the introduction of private commercial services (such as banking, insurance, legal, accounting and information) for the agricultural and rural sectors of the economy through making their own information, information services and programs available electronically to clients. Government and commercial services, when introduced in rural areas, will reinforce each other and encourage the adoption of information technology which offsets the impact of distances. They may also create additional employment in rural areas. Equally important may be for governments to ensure a suitable telecommunications environment, with such features as low rates and adequate infrastructure, to encourage commercial IT services. Adoption rates are severely affected when modems cost four times as much in India as in the United States and Internet access in Thailand costs 12 times as much.
International lenders must recognize the financial and other benefits. The financing of investments in new technology requires that international lenders recognize the payoffs from these investments. More analysis is required to demonstrate that the adoption of new information technology will have a high return to both the sector and the economy. It is important that international agencies and donor countries work together to create awareness, to develop investment and skills and to provide an introduction to improvements in information technology. There needs to be a representative for the rural sector to ensure that there is adequate and competitively priced infrastructure available to allow the rural sector to use the new information technology. It is important that there be a solid business plan established for economic applications which would ease the financing of information technology projects and programmes.
Create an awareness of the benefits. The role of international organizations such as FAO includes creating an awareness of the benefits of adopting new information technology. For example, FAO can provide a demonstration by the use of technology and by providing electronic access to its information and services, such as disseminating all data and reports electronically, video conferencing and interactive fora for providing technical information. International agencies can also help in the analysis of the benefits of information technology, especially for those areas where there is limited experience in conducting such analysis and where the use of information technology is at an early stage of development. They could also play an important role in developing an international clearing-house of electronic information sources and applications, assisting in coordination among governments and aid agencies and in skills development.
THE THREAT OF DESERTIFICATION
The term desertification21 does not refer to the moving forward of existing deserts but to the formation, expansion or intensification of degraded patches of soil and vegetation cover, especially around densely populated rural areas and urban centres, poorly managed farms and water points. Desertification can occur under any type of climate, but the most affected areas are in the arid, semi-arid and dry subhumid regions, collectively referred to as the drylands (approximately 30 percent of the global land surface). A significant part of the dryland regions has suffered for a long time from the degradation of its human and natural resources during long periods of drought, to the point that the degradation may become irreversible. This has caused a complex set of economic, ecological and social problems, collectively referred to as desertification and very different from the functioning of established desert ecosystems.
An important example of the way information technology can be applied to address agricultural and food security problems is FAOs Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS). GIEWS is the only comprehensive international source of data and analysis of current and prospective food supply and demand situations in all countries of the world. It was established in 1975 at the request of the 1973 FAO Conference and the 1974 World Food Conference.
GIEWS' main objectives are continuously to monitor prevailing food supply and demand conditions, including production, consumption, stocks and imports and exports, based on the most up-to-date and accurate information, and to identify countries facing imminent food shortages and their emergency requirements. It provides warnings not only about food shortages but also about exceptional food surpluses. It also makes early forecasts of production, consumption, stocks, imports and exports, food aid requirements and availability, emergency needs, donor commitments and shipments. All the elements likely to affect food supply and demand are considered, including factors such as weather, animal and plant diseases and pests, range- and cropland conditions, transportation and storage problems and government policies affecting production, consumption, prices and trade in basic food, as well as ocean freight rates.
GIEWS is operated by the Global Information and Early Warning Service in the Commodities and Trade Division at FAO headquarters. The system maintains regular contact with most of FAO's technical units for information sharing and acts as a focal point for the Organization's emergency coordination activities. Since 1975 institutional links and information-sharing agreements have been forged with 110 governments, three regional organizations and over 60 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which act as both providers and users of information. Numerous international research institutes, news services and private-sector organizations also collaborate, providing information on a voluntary basis. Donors of food assistance are the main users of GIEWS, but also fulfil an important role in the provision of information as well as support for the development of the system itself. Bilateral donors are committed to informing GIEWS of all pledges and deliveries of food aid.
Drawing on 20 years of time-series statistics, GIEWS country monitors continuously update and analyse data on food production, trade, food aid, stocks, consumption and sub-national food security. GIEWS monitors the condition of food crops in all regions and countries of the world. Information is gathered on all the factors that might influence planted area and yields. A purpose-built computer workstation facilitates a wide range of data processing ranging from interpreting satellite images to estimating food import requirements. For drought-prone areas of Africa where there is a lack of continuous and reliable information on agrometeorological and crop conditions, GIEWS relies on monitoring and interpretation of satellite images. The cold cloud duration (CCD) estimates the likelihood that significant rainfall has fallen while the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) traces plant growth through an entire season to spot the occurrence of drought.
GIEWS also monitors world food markets. It estimates global food supply and demand by aggregating country-level information and monitors world market export prices and trading on the main international grain exchanges. The system reports on major events in markets and on underlying trends in the key variables, warning if there is a risk of major food price rises. Although global in scope, country monitoring is concentrated on the group of 82 particularly vulnerable, low-income food-deficit countries (LIFDCs). The main focus of the analysis is on cereals as information on other types of food is often extremely weak, but the system is expanding its coverage of non-cereal staple foods, particularly in countries where non-cereals constitute a large part of the national diet. In some of the world's most food insecure countries, where accurate food information is often lacking, GIEWS relies on rapid assessment missions.
Recently GIEWS has sharpened its focus on sub-national food security. For this purpose a computer tool, designed to interpret complex interactions of local food economies, has been developed side-by-side with the preparation of country-specific risk maps for the famine-prone regions.
Rapid and effective communications are a key component of the system and computer technology has enabled GIEWS to speed up the production and dissemination of reports. The regular publications of GIEWS are Food Outlook, Foodcrops and Shortages, Food Situation and Crop Prospects in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Sahel Report. In addition, about 30 special alerts and special reports are published annually. GIEWS publications are freely available to all institutions and individuals. The system also responds to specific information requests.
GIEWS has invested in electronic communication to broaden its audience and to speed up the information dissemination process. The system's output, including all the latest publications, is now available on FAO's main Internet web server. GIEWS information has been made available in francophone countries on a Minitel server and by electronic mail distribution through the Réseau Intertropical d'Ordinateurs network in Africa. The search for innovative measures continues towards strengthening the collection, processing and analysis of vital food security data.
The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) which was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 1992, negotiated the following definition: "Desertification is land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry subhumid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities."22
The diverse processes of land degradation are not all active at the same time and place. Relationships among climate, desertification and society are locality-specific. The various stages leading to desertification are evolutionary in character and are not always visible on a local scale, i.e. to farmers and pastoralists. Their timescale is consequently rather different from that of other phenomena such as drought and, moreover, their effect is continuous. Unlike the visible effects of drought, desertification processes cannot be detected comprehensively at an early stage but entail a progressive breakdown of the fragile ecological balance that has allowed vegetation, human and animal life to evolve in the arid, semi-arid and dry subhumid regions.
The characteristic features of drylands are low and highly variable rainfall, giving rise to large fluctuations in biomass production and therefore fluctuations in the ability of the land to produce food, fodder and biofuels. Drylands ecosystems have demonstrated great resilience and will nearly always recover after dry spells - provided it has not been grossly mismanaged during the dry phase, even mismanaged land can be restored. Traditional land-use practices in drylands are often opportunistic; traditional dryland farmers try to maximize removal during good periods and minimize losses during dry periods. A complex set of production systems, often characterized by mixed cropping, livestock and agroforestry land uses, allows such practices. With the exception of irrigated agriculture, new and more productive systems for the drylands have not had significant success so far.
Much of the world's carbon is stored in the soils and vegetation of the drylands. Desertification affects exchange in the carbon cycle and carbon depletion contributes to the "greenhouse effect". The impact of human activity on rainfall patterns remains the topic of much debate, but future effects are likely to include considerable alterations in amounts and regularity of rainfall, which will have repercussions on all processes of land degradation. In the absence of any large increases in rainfall a predicted global increase in temperature will magnify evapotranspiration and ultimately lead to further desertification in the arid, semi-arid and dry subhumid regions of the world.
The type of soil plays an important role in vulnerability to desertification processes, especially through human (anthropogenic) activities. Like all other elements in the chain of the ecosystem, humans affect desertification processes and are also affected by them in several ways. Human practices have sometimes triggered and accelerated these processes, and/or exacerbated their impact. On the whole, the causes and consequences of land degradation are most acute among the poorest segments of the populations of developing countries, whose actions are often driven by the need to respond to emergencies through short-term survival strategies rather than by taking a longer-term view.
Extent and causes of desertification
In the arid, semi-arid and dry subhumid regions, the processes of desertification are influenced by interaction among the density of population, economic conditions and locality-specific factors. Climatic variation plays a less significant role, at least in the dry subhumid zones where land degradation is mainly the consequence of inappropriate resource management. Human-induced land degradation is by no means a recently observed phenomenon; references to the human element in desertification date back to the 1930s.23 Land-carrying capacities decrease as desertification causes the sustained decline of the biological productivity of the land. In many countries this combination of factors constitutes a serious threat to food security. Pressure on the natural resource base and its prospective overexploitation imply that the livelihood systems (and ultimately the survival) of some human communities are at risk and that a massive loss of biological diversity is likely to occur.
On a global scale, nearly 2 billion ha of land are affected by land degradation to various degrees. Figure 6 on p. 76 indicates that, in absolute terms of surface area, the semi-arid and dry subhumid zones of Asia are most at risk, followed by the arid zones of Asia and Africa. The latter account for over 70 million ha that can be classified as strongly degraded and for the highest extent of extreme soil degradation (3.5 million ha). Thus, about 70 percent of the world's drylands - over 20 percent of the global land surface - is already degraded to some degree.
There are marked regional differences in the main causes of desertification in dryland areas (Figure 6). Activities directly related to agriculture represent a significant factor in land degradation in all regions except Australia, and in North America they account for no less than 52 percent of the degraded arid areas. The worst-affected areas are northern Mexico and the Great Plains of the United States and Canada. To varying degrees, farming activities also contribute to land degradation in the developing country regions in several ways. In sub-Saharan Africa, but also in other regions, increased crop production and diminishing fallow periods have often resulted in net export of soil nutrients and considerable loss of soil fertility in the longer term. During the 1980s, the accelerated development of cash crops (often prompted by the need to restore external imbalances under structural adjustment programmes), led in many cases to a reduction of fallow periods and dryland degradation and it has sometimes destroyed the structure of soils where mechanization has involved agricultural machinery that has proved to be unsustainable on fragile soils. In recent years, cutbacks in fertilizer credit and subsidies, related to the accelerated process of market liberalization, have in some cases reduced farmers' ability to improve agricultural productivity and contributed to further expansion on to marginal lands.
Overexploitation of forests, other woodland areas and trees and shrubs is another major factor of land degradation. Asia, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean, has the highest figures for land degraded by deforestation, which is the second-most significant cause of desertification, after overgrazing, in these areas (Figure 6). Clearing of woody vegetation is generally done in order to extend agricultural and pasture areas, while overexploitation results mostly from harvesting fuelwood beyond the regenerative capacity of the stands and trees, overgrazing and repeated bushfires. The tree canopy and vegetation cover are the most important source of protection from solar radiation. The albedo (the reflectivity of the earth's surface), surface temperature and levels of evaporation will change if they are completely or partially damaged or removed. Depending on the intensity of use, the specific degree of soil vulnerability and the resilience of the ecosystem (the ability to return to its former state following disturbance), such changes, in turn, can lead to land degradation.
Desertification is also caused by the overgrazing of grasses, shrubs and herbs. Figure 6 shows overgrazing to account for 678.7 million ha, over one-third of the total of degraded drylands. Especially in eastern Africa and the Sahel the high rate of overstocking of cattle, which has led to severe land degradation, is partly caused by tree felling in rangelands (leading to a lower fodder content) and a lack of herd management when improved veterinary care has led to lower mortality.
Underlying the above causes of land degradation have been the general process of demographic expansion confronting finite land resources, combined with technical and institutional issues relating to land use and ownership. Population pressure has led to the overexploitation of wood resources and the fuelwood crisis of rural sub-Saharan Africa. Pressure on the local resource base implies that some traditional agricultural practices, such as shifting cultivation, progressively lose viability in certain parts of the world. Nomad sedentarization and transmigration plans proposed by countries with a highly unequal population distribution have not always paid sufficient attention to these factors. Migration (especially seasonal and annual migration) can contribute to the unsustainable harvesting of trees, which need longer periods of time for regeneration, a natural process that becomes seriously impaired if migrant settlers lack the necessary experience and environmental information on their new surroundings. The problem has been exacerbated over the last decade by increasing numbers of environmental and political refugees. Land-leasing systems can also influence the processes of land degradation, if farmers who lease or rent land are forced to exploit it to the maximum during their contractual term. Farmers may be not very interested in long-term investments on such lands, and landowners may be absent most of the time.
Annual rainfall and rainfall-to-evaporation ratios are the most important microclimatic variables affecting the lowering of the water-table, which is associated with intensive agricultural, urban and bio-industrial land use. Soil texture, hydrology and physiographic relief play a crucial role in wind and water erosion. Water erosion affects nearly half of the total degraded land area in the arid regions. In Africa it has caused severe degradation of over 50 million ha of drylands; it is also important in southern Asia. The salinization, sodication and alkalinization of soils are problems that may be aggravated by badly managed or ill-conceived irrigation schemes. FAO studies have found that more than 35 percent of African soils north of the equator are affected by either salinization or erosion. Irrigated farmland deterioration is sometimes caused by waterlogging (the rising of the water-table), mainly as a result of inefficient drainage and/or excessive irrigation.
Increased population pressures and excessive human expansion into drylands during long wet periods increasingly leave people stranded during dry periods. The removal of critical production elements for alternative uses (e.g. dry-season grazing lands) through introduction of irrigated and non-irrigated crops and the industrial and urban uses of water at the expense of rural agricultural producers break links in traditional production chains - where these are not compensated they lead to a breakdown in the whole production system. At the same time, the loss of social cohesion (e.g. community and tribal authority) and collective practices (such as transhumance and nomadism) has aggravated the vulnerability of dryland populations to climatic variations.
Policies to prevent and combat desertification
The fight against desertification is political, social and technological. As laid out by the International Convention to Combat Desertification, policy implications vary according to specific geographical and agroclimatic settings. In many circumstances, however, an effective way of reducing pressure on land is to support income diversification in rural areas. Non-farm income can "buy time" for farm households to try out and learn new activities, allow perennials (which help soil rehabilitation) to reach full maturity and reduce pressure to extend agriculture on to marginal lands by providing cash for food purchases. Thus, it facilitates land-use intensification by encouraging the adoption of new technology, which becomes a less risky investment even in unstable agroclimatic settings.
Intensification of agriculture will remain a necessary strategy since, unless investment in productive resources can be realized, growing population densities will in the long term lead to impoverished soils and a low level of equilibrium. Income diversification would take pressure off currently overgrazed pastures; notably in areas where there is a strong tendency to provide "self-insurance" by building up livestock against drought and cropping shortfalls. In many areas where there is a relatively low potential for agricultural development, however, livestock husbandry is a comparative advantage and should be encouraged as a complement to cropping, in terms of both income and production, as long as soils are not too fragile.
Diversification of non-farm sources of income should be accompanied by measures to diversify agricultural activities and value added to the greatest possible extent. Where possible, fisheries and aquaculture should be promoted and developed. Apiculture and non-timber forest product processing should be considered in zones with sufficient marketing infrastructure and development potential. Innovative technologies may have important additional effects if, by reducing the time and energy required for food production and other daily tasks, they enable the increasing participation of rural households in measures of environmental conservation.
The international Convention to Combat Desertification was drafted by the Intergovernmental
Negotiating Committee on Desertification (INCD) at the urgent request of the African representation at UNCED.
It was adopted in June 1994 and by the end of January 1996 it had been signed by 115 countries, 25 of which have
already ratified it. The June 1994 INCD session marked the establishment of two working groups and the plenary.
These met again in August 1995 and started preparations for the first Conference of the Parties (scheduled for
late 1997). It is expected that by September 1996 multilateral funding mechanisms should be resolved and the
Convention be ratified in most signatory countries. The Convention recognizes in particular:
an integrated approach to the issue;
The challenge for the interim phase of the Convention has been to implement the resolution on urgent action for Africa, without at the same time neglecting action in other affected countries.
Mali was among the countries that reacted most quickly and implemented a national component of the urgent action for Africa at the ratification of the Convention to Combat Desertification. In October 1994, the Government of Mali merged the planning processes for the establishment of a National Environmental Action Plan and the drafting of the National Action Plan to Combat Desertification; established an institutional body regarding environment and desertification that includes an interministerial committee at the political level, a Consultative Committee to monitor progress technically and focus technical work and a Permanent Secretariat to coordinate the formulation of the National Action Programme on Environment and Desertification; and approached the Government of Germany and FAO to assist in the preparation of the programme.
Through the assistance of the latter, the contribution of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the involvement of national expertise, the Malian action plan was put into practice in January 1995. It included a first phase of information and awareness building on environmental issues (especially natural resource degradation), keeping track of many factors through the organization of a dialogue process involving the local population and a reporting mechanism of national consultants. This two-way mechanism of information gathering and awareness building culminated with the organization of a National Forum on the National Action Programme in February/March 1996. The Forum discusses and makes specific proposals on major problems of, and elements for action on, the conservation and rehabilitation of natural resources; the problems caused by urbanization, industrial development and pollution; the institutional problems and need to engage in sustainable environmental protection and desertification control; and the planning process within the framework of the Convention, particularly regarding the nature of national participation, democratization, decentralization, development at the local level and the total engagement of national human resources at all levels.
With support from the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ), FAO, UNDP and other donors, Mali has been engaged in the second phase of its programming exercise since March 1996. This is expected to include an integrated national programme including strategic approach, objectives and content of national initiatives, a detailed set of specific national programmes and a number of local area development programmes that will help implementation at the decentralized (village) level, led by local forces and institutions. The programme will include necessary legal measures, regulations and funding arrangements, particularly those geared to mobilizing local resources and to detecting adequate funding mechanisms at the local level.
Combating desertification requires close interaction among the various public and private agents involved in land use and management. Collaborative institutional and administrative approaches require decentralized decision-making and should provide for extensive feedback mechanisms. More authority needs to be delegated to members of rural communities, particularly women, who are left out of these procedures in most of the affected areas (except in regions with a history of high male emigration). Local commitment is favoured by improved social conditions, which are in turn influenced by a positive national and international policy environment. At the community level, people should be able and encouraged to participate in programme preparation, implementation and monitoring. Land-management strategies should be based on the formation of resource-user community groups, such as water user groups or irrigation rotation systems, as already happens in South Asia. At the same time, agricultural researchers should find ways of articulating rural people's knowledge systems with their own investigations. Problems can thus be identified, discussed and prioritized, and this should lead ultimately to locality-specific policy strategies and measures.
The green revolution has made fundamental contributions to global food security, but some "second-generation" problems linked to intensive farming technology need to be addressed. A variety of technical propositions, not necessarily costly or sophisticated, can be envisaged to this end. Integrated agrarian systems can be developed through the introduction of wood crops that allow the application of agroforestry practices. Fencing and relay grazing systems allow for ecologically sound cattle-range management. Special revegetation and cultivating equipment can rehabilitate the soil and crops can be planted without triggering desertification processes; polycultures rather than monocultures are more effective for this type of soil treatment. Where the revegetation of degraded land is feasible, adequate equipment should be used to plant trees, shrubs and grass strips for sustainable soil conservation and watershed management. This does not need to be capital-intensive. Barriers of vegetation strips sometimes provide better solutions to the problems of desertification than high-technology engineering projects. Bunds, terraces, culverts and windbreaks contribute to sustainable land improvements, particularly for households that lack access to credit, especially for conservation-related activities.
The legal aspects of land use should be examined, since behaviour tends to vary according to access to and rights on land. Communities that feel more secure welcome longer-term planning incentives and, to promote integrated natural resource management, guaranteed medium-term use of land is desirable. Although land legislation is a notoriously complex issue in many countries, in many cases the importance of land preservation alone would justify priority attention from national authorities.
An integrated programme for dryland development and to fight desertification including the above action elements requires substantial financial resources. However, the magnitude of the economic, social and environmental costs of desertification defies quantification. Leaving aside non-economic factors, the long-term economic loss involved in land degradation (in terms of income foregone per year) has been calculated at US$250 per hectare of irrigated land, $38 per hectare of rainfed cropland and $7 per hectare of rangeland; the total annual loss thus amounts to
$42.3 billion.24 The maintenance of soil quality is of paramount importance, not only because of the direct implications in respect to land productivity, but also because if soils become degraded, so will the dryland ecosytems and, even where fertility loss is not irreversible, soils can sometimes be rehabilitated only at a very high cost. The costs of not protecting soils must also be taken into account. For a society to accept the costs involved in desertification prevention and control it must be fully aware of what is at stake. Such awareness must be raised both among the directly affected population, for whom the enabling conditions for active participation need to be created, and among the development aid community. Steps in this direction have included the publication of a number of easily readable guides to the International Convention to Combat Desertification.
Mention should also be made of the many UN projects and activities dealing with the subject, particularly the studies undertaken by FAO in collaboration with the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) and the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), on estimating potential population-carrying capacities of lands in developing countries. Determining critical thresholds of population density and reducing the risks of, and vulnerability to, climatic hazards and other disasters are necessary to ensure future food security. Changes in soil quality over time are difficult to monitor and this restricts the ability of researchers to analyse the negative environmental externalities of technologies and policies. Agricultural research institutes should develop a set of soil quality indicators, ensuring international uniformity and financial sustainability of the data collection methodology. Remote sensing data should be made available through databases such as FAO's GIEWS. Some countries (e.g. Ethiopia) have a national early warning system for drought and famine.
Finally, given the often very high cost of rehabilitating already degraded land, policy-makers should emphasize measures and regulations that prevent such degradation to occur in the first place.
SUPPORT SERVICES POLICY FOR AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT
Agricultural support services in development
Farms that produce for the market need three types of support services:
Backward linkages include input services such as aerial sowing of pasture seeds, land clearance, lime and fertilizer spreading, spray management and technical information. The forward linkages include output services such as grading and packing of produce, cool storage, transport and marketing information. Examples of downward linkages are accounting and legal services, farm business management advice and planning and training.
As the agricultural system becomes more developed, the support services it requres become increasingly varied in their scope and specialized in their nature. Highly productive agriculture depends on the availability of a wide range of specialized support services, many of which may be bought in under contract rather than provided by the farm itself. This is especially true where the technology used by the service is subject to economies of size of operation - aerial sowing and spraying are obvious examples - or relies on sophisticated information and skills, such as tax planning and compliance with legislation. Such specialized services are increasingly provided by the private sector, with government services assuming less and less importance or even being totally absent. In fact, the sorts of agricultural support services that are associated with more developed agriculture are characterized by an ever-greater requirement for specialized information. "Information is data endowed with relevance and purpose. Converting data into information thus requires knowledge. And knowledge, by definition, is specialized".25 Information of a general nature becomes decreasingly important as farming becomes a more highly developed business. Relevant and useful information is farm-specific and, in the face of ever-increasing quantities of raw and semi-processed data, farmers are willing to pay to have these data converted into information that can be used to improve the running of their farm business.
At low levels of development, few support services are available and those that are tend to be far less specialized and more likely to be provided by the public sector. The information component, however, may be of more general application, but it remains just as important. For example, fertilizer and pesticide sales need to be accompanied by impartial information about the profitable and safe use of the product - safe for the user and safe for the environment and the consumer. The adoption of more productive agricultural technologies that improve agricultural profitability and reduce food prices is a key element in economic growth. Yet agricultural development is constrained by the lack and poor quality of service provision, while good-quality, reliable, private-sector support services cannot easily develop where agriculture is of low productivity and profitability. Thus agricultural development and the development of the rural economy as a whole are both hindered. Research, extension and training in support services are therefore needed. Accurate and timely information about input availability and prices and output marketing opportunities and prices is critical for the development and smooth functioning of competitive markets and the commercialization of smallholder agriculture.
An FAO study of the organization and management of agricultural services for small-scale farmers in Asia found that:
"...a considerable proportion of agricultural holdings are operated by small farmers, who are dependent, to a great extent, on the state policies and state support services.... The support service system and input delivery mechanism are managed and administered by various government departments, statutory bodies, boards and corporations as well as NGOs."26 The major conclusions of the study were that inadequacies in service provision, such as input supply and produce buying, were the major constraints to increased production. A similar situation is found in much of sub-Saharan Africa where, despite structural adjustment programmes that have given some prominence to the private-sector provision of farm services, there have been many cases of late delivery of fertilizer, loans promised but never disbursed, key tractor parts that are unavailable, delays in payment for produce procured and many other similar problems.
There are compelling causes for concern about government delivery of agricultural support services.27 First, public employees often have little incentive to deliver services effectively and efficiently, especially as regards timeliness. Second, incentives to further private interests are often strong, leading to favouritism and, at worst, corruption. Third, the public provision of services that could be provided by the private sector can stifle private-sector development. Finally, public-service provision has an inherent tendency to be ineffective because it is supply- and not demand-driven. Even where the first three problems are not encountered, the last may be, as has happened in several cases of the introduction of charges for services. For example, during the process of commercializing the United Kingdom's Agricultural Development and Advisory Service (ADAS): "at the outset of charging, ADAS made the classic marketing mistake of developing products and then attempting to sell them, rather than first finding out the needs of the market and then developing products to fulfil these needs".28 It should, however, also be noted that some public-sector entities are delivering services in a highly satisfactory manner; Roberts29 cites the Bank of Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives in Thailand as one such example.
The issue of government delivery of agricultural support services concerns policy implementation, and what the government's role is in implementing its own policies.
The development of agricultural support services
Public versus private-sector delivery of support services. The economic case for continuing government provision of agricultural support services that could be provided by the private sector (e.g. fertilizer delivery, output marketing and credit) is based on the fact that in many liberalizing economies the private sector remains underdeveloped in key areas. Governments are, therefore, sometimes reluctant to withdraw the public sector from involvement in activities of an essentially commercial nature, even where its involvement has been singularly ineffective. Both policy and commercial risks affect the private sector's willingness to enter the arena, which probably explains why the private sector is far more active in output marketing than in fertilizer supply in a number of African countries. The problem is exacerbated by a high proportion of low productivity, semi-subsistence farmers, low population densities and poor infrastructure.
One approach taken in Andhra Pradesh, India, was to establish planned rural service centres with a mixture of public and private provision, initially to increase agricultural productivity and then to expand their services to meet the demands for consumer goods that resulted from increased incomes. An investigation of one such centre30 showed that over time the private sector expanded to provide services in the areas of health, transport and distribution of fertilizers, pesticides and agricultural machinery that competed with those provided by government agencies. This type of approach may be helpful in creating the demand for services that can eventually be supplied by the private sector. Great care must be taken, however, to ensure that the government has no monopoly of supply or hidden subsidies in any of its relevant commercial operations, otherwise the private sector will not be able to compete.
Where there is no private-sector involvement or interest, another approach may be to set up a private-sector operation on a project basis, i.e. with funding assistance for the first few years until the market is sufficiently developed for the assistance to cease. There are obvious dangers here, the main one being that such an operation could become yet another inefficient state-run monopoly, and so the project phase has to be very carefully designed to ensure the application of commercial principles and practices from the outset. One notable case where such an approach succeeded is the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh.31 In this regard, a point for consideration by governments where the private-sector institutions are very weak or non-existent is whether, in the face of increasing budgetary constraints, the limited funds should be used to support agriculture directly or to support the overall development of the rural economy, which would also benefit farmers. Investment in rural institutions as "soft" infrastructure may be as important as investment in "hard" infrastructure, such as rural roads.
The case for government provision of certain other types of support service, most notably extension but also research and training, rests on a number of beliefs: that the social benefits of those services outweigh the private benefits and so private provision will be lower than is socially optimal; that information in the public domain is a public good, with the characteristics of non-rivalry in consumption and non-excludability in provision, such that its costs of provision cannot be recouped and, therefore, the private sector cannot supply it at all (this issue is addressed in more detail below); that to have certain types of information in the public domain is in the public good; and that it is in some sense wrong to expect farmers, even rich ones but especially poor ones, to pay for something of such basic importance for agricultural development and national food security.
Whatever the validity of these beliefs, a distinction needs to be made between who pays for the provision of the service and who delivers it; thus, although there may be a strong economic justification for saying that some services will be underprovided or not provided at all by the private sector, this is quite different from saying that such services cannot be provided at least in part through the private sector. The distinction is becoming much more obvious as the traditional role of government departments as both policy advisers and policy implementers is being questioned. In many countries, attempts have been, and are being, made to overcome the perceived problems of public-sector service provision by instituting markets and market disciplines for the provision of government-produced goods and services or by taking the public sector out of services provision altogether.32 In the United Kingdom, for example, the delivery of agricultural advisory services has been fully commercialized and the old Agricultural Training Board privatized; in New Zealand, the agricultural ministry's science functions have been transferred to nine new crown research institutes and the extension service has been sold off to a private-sector company; China has created agricultural technical services companies and introduced an agricultural technology responsibility scheme that links the remuneration of extension staff to the effectiveness of the extension services they provide;33 Chile discontinued government extension provision to medium- and large-scale farmers and introduced two new services subcontracted to the private sector for different parts of the smallholder sector, with some cost-sharing between government and farmers;34 in Mexico, extension services are subcontracted to private consultants by the government and the proportion paid by farmers is related to their ability to pay;35 in some countries, government extension agents augment their low salaries by selling their skills to even the poorest farmers (e.g. in Sierra Leone), by entering into sharecropping arrangements (e.g. in Ecuador) or by acting as sales staff or demonstrators for private input supply companies (e.g. in Southeast Asia);36 and partial cost recovery through fees for service is increasingly widespread. Assessing the extent to which these initiatives have been successful depends critically on the performance standard chosen and what success criteria are used in the assessment. For example, in many cases budgetary costs may have been reduced, but so has the size of the target group. It would be useful to evaluate the changed policy delivery system in terms of effectiveness, efficiency, equity and enforceability against the stated objectives of the policy.37
The first policy decision that a government needs to make concerns the funding and coverage of public provision of agricultural support services. What are the policy objectives of the support service provision? What agricultural support services does the government want to fund? Does it want to fund them in their entirety, recover some part of the overall cost or charge in full for specific services? Does it want to discriminate between different income levels of farmers in terms of coverage and charging? Does government funding have to be channelled to the service provider directly or can farmers be issued with, for example, an "extension stamp" that enables them to purchase extension services up to a predetermined value from whomsoever they choose? An important point to consider in any discussion about charging is whether the Treasury is willing to allow the Ministry of Agriculture to develop separate cost centres with self-accounting status; if not, any revenues generated from cost recovery of service provision will go to the general revenue fund rather than to the Ministry of Agriculture, which will therefore have no incentive to embark on such a scheme.
The second policy decision concerns how the service in question should be delivered. Should it be delivered by a government department, a university or research institute, an autonomous government agency, private-sector agents, international agencies, NGOs or a combination of different bodies? Should a different pattern of provision be used over the life of the strategy? How can the private sector be enabled to develop the skills and capacity to take over the provision of certain specified services, thus freeing public-sector resources? How should the relevant government departments be staffed and organized so as to provide support services effectively, efficiently and when needed? What are the advantages and disadvantages of the alternative service providers? What are the requirements that need to be met in the overall policy environment for successful policy implementation?
The issue of service provision is not simply a matter of public versus private sector, but rather of assigning appropriate roles to each in the given circumstances.
Information: some special problems. One aspect of agricultural support service provision that seems to pose particular problems is that of information. The case has often been made that, in economists' parlance, information is a public good - economists define a pure public good as one that is "non-rival in consumption", which means that one person's consumption does not reduce the amount available to everybody else, and "non-excludability in provision", which means that nobody can be denied access to the good once it has been provided. Examples of pure public goods are clean air and defence. The characteristics of a pure public good are such that the quantity of it provided by the market will be less than is socially optimal because its non-excludability precludes the possibility of recouping the full costs of provision. Information is clearly non-rival in consumption, but it is not necessarily non-excludable in provision. Certainly as the information embodied in an agricultural support service becomes more time- and location-specific, it also becomes a private good that the private sector is willing to supply, as the increasing sophistication of agricultural support services demonstrates. Developments in information technology have, in some cases, made it easier to exclude non-payers from receiving information (e.g. cable and satellite television), but in other cases they have made widespread dissemination cheaper and easier (e.g. Internet).
The problem for governments is, therefore, not so much one of information as a public good, but one of ensuring that information considered to be in the public good is actually in the public domain. This has implications on the way in which research is carried out as an agricultural support service. Research has a vital role in agricultural development and long-term food security, which is why governments need to have a long-term policy and strategy for the funding and provision of agriculture-related research. If governments wish to ensure that the results of research are and remain in the public domain, they should consider very carefully how any privatization or commercialization of research institutes and activities is carried out.
The quality of research work depends in part on the independence of the researchers in terms of their scientific methodology and judgements. Independence is also required to ensure the reliability of the data on which research results depend. It can be argued that the preservation of the independence of the data collecting organization is particularly necessary with regard to financial data, such as farm accountancy data. There should therefore be no interference in these strictly scientific areas from the government, governmental organizations or any other party with an interest (including commercial) in the results. For example, individual politicians may be tempted to influence the reporting of scientific research so that the findings support their own particular policy lines, but governments need to ensure that society's needs and priorities are reflected in any state-supported research programme.
This does not imply that agricultural research institutes should be fully dependent on the Ministry of Agriculture for financing and programming their research. Nor that there is no role for the private sector and other institutions. The government does, however, have to ensure that the research necessary for underpinning policy preparation, implementation and evaluation can be and is carried out, and that research-generated information that is in the public good reaches those who can benefit from it. Alternatives to the full government funding of research institutes could include guaranteeing the core funding necessary to ensure the continued existence of a particular institute, together with an annual lump sum for the provision of ad hoc policy advice and for carrying out regular work such as the preparation of annual reports. Short-term projects and longer-term research projects could then be implemented on a contract basis, for which the government could, in some cases, seek cofinancing. The resources of the research institutes can be complemented by those of other institutions, such as the universities, and the International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR) is working on a project to strengthen the role of universities in national agricultural research systems.38 The international research insitutions of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) network also have a role. Private-sector organizations may also be suitable for carrying out certain types of research.
The information transfer is not a one-way process. Information needs to flow back from farmers to and through such service providers as agricultural advisory and extension agents and thence to researchers if the suppliers of the services are to be in a position to tailor their products to what is wanted and needed. The government also needs information so that support service policy decisions - and agricultural policy-making is or should be a dynamic process - are based on a good understanding of what is happening at the farm level. Whatever combination of public- and private-sector bodies is chosen for policy implementation, these information flows need to be safeguarded.
Ideally, governments should think in terms of a well-defined, long-term policy for the whole agricultural information system, to be realized through a medium-term strategy for the provision of all related agricultural support services including basic and adaptive research; advisory services - technical (agricultural and environmental), economic (prices and marketing) and farm business management; and agricultural and related training and education, including training to facilitate the private-sector provision of support services.
Sequencing changes in agricultural support service delivery. In addition to the question of what are the appropriate roles of the public and private sectors in a given set of circumstances, there is the question about how to handle major changes in those roles. The sequencing of changes as the public sector withdraws from service provision or commercializes its own service provision is now recognized to be of great importance and needs to be supported by the actions of donor agencies and NGOs. For example, it is not helpful to the development of private-sector fertilizer suppliers if donors deliver fertilizer as aid to government marketing agencies who then supply it to farmers at less than the economic cost.
Although the sequencing issue has been particularly emphasized in the context of countries undergoing structural adjustment programmes, it is of just as much relevance in countries in transition from centrally planned to market economies. This transition process involves changes in the way in which support services are provided. For instance, large state or collective farms were able to employ technical specialists to give animal and crop husbandry advice, while small family farms cannot. Once the structural transformation of agriculture has been accomplished, the next stage in the sequence of reforms is the provision of technical advice to the new small-scale farmers. Transition may also require the provision of entirely new services to facilitate the development of markets, for example, farm business management advice and the establishment of market price and location information. In these cases, there is no pre-existing demand because the services were not previously needed, and the new support services can be introduced only after key markets have been liberalized. In sequencing policy reforms for the agricultural sector, both types of agricultural support service need to be planned for and their provision organized.
A good example of sequencing policy reforms is the establishment of a market information system in Albania. As a result of tight fiscal policies, the government had to withdraw rapidly from the public domain, particularly the agricultural sector, at a time when the market economy was still very underdeveloped. However, agriculture had been privatized and agricultural marketing liberalized so it was possible to sequence policy measures that would support market development at little cost to the government:
What was absent in Albania was a public reporting service of agricultural retail prices from the markets in the country. This was the reason for establishing a market reporting service primarily aimed at the agricultural industry, particularly farmers, enabling the market participants to make decisions concerning the production, distribution and marketing of produce.... Other functions that the market information service can facilitate are:
Data collection and dissemination are carried out on a timely basis and the whole system has been geared to the needs of the users. The response has been good and new users with specialized needs are starting to approach the marketing office of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. There is an increasing awareness in the agricultural sector of how to use market price information, which is the foundation of an agricultural market economy.40
Sequencing of policy changes is also of relevance in the developed economies. Reference has already been made to the commercialization of advisory services in the United Kingdom. This was a carefully planned and phased process that took place over a ten-year period, with repeated reassessments of how the process was progressing. Some of the lessons learned in the early days of charging have a much wider applicability as more countries attempt some degree of service charging. Initially, cost targets were introduced in the form of revenue targets:
Faced with revenue targets alone, there was an initial tendency for staff to go after, and to take on, any job, however small. This meant that the Service quickly built up a large customer base each paying small amounts for work which was costly to service. At the same time, because of the long tradition of extension work, and the desire to be of service to the farmer or grower, insufficient attention was given to matching the time spent on delivering the service to the fee negotiated. This led to considerable over-delivery of services. [Because of the revenue targets] too little attention was given to the costing of individual jobs. Nor, indeed, were the systems in place to allow such costings to be made.... The change to targets couched in terms of cost recovery rather than revenue alone was significant. It resulted in a major rethink of the way in which ADAS planned its operations; costs came under closer scrutiny and the service became much more discerning about the type of work undertaken.41
In the final analysis, each country needs to plan for (rather than to plan as such) the provision of the agricultural support services needed for agricultural development. To do this adequately it needs information about: what services are already being provided and whether they provide what farmers need rather than what the providers want to supply; the capabilities of the public and private sectors to deliver services effectively, efficiently and equitably; the willingness and ability of farmers to pay for different types of services; and the essential services the provision of which the state must ensure in its long-term interests. Obtaining this amount of information (some of which must be culled from an analysis of masses of raw data) is a resource-intensive procedure and one for which the international agencies might be well placed to assist.
2 World Commission on Environment and Development. 1987. Our common future. Oxford, UK, Oxford University Press.
3 UN. 1994. World Urbanization Prospects, 1994. New York.
4 L. Mougeot. 1994. Cities feeding people: an examination of urban agriculture in East Africa. International Development Research Centre (IDRC). Ottowa, Canada.
5 I. Wade. 1987. Community food production in cities of the developing nations. Food and Nutrition Bulletin, 9(2).
6 Y. Yeung. 1988. Examples of urban agriculture in Asia. Food and Nutrition Bulletin, 9(2).
7 G.W. Skinner. 1981. Vegetable supply and marketing in Chinese cities. In Plucknett and Beemer, eds. Vegetable farming systems in China. Boulder, Col., USA, Westview Press.
8 IDRC. 1995. Agriculture technology notes. Ottawa, Canada.
9 P. Gutman. 1987. Urban agriculture: the potential and limitations of an urban self-reliance strategy. Food and Nutrition Bulletin, 9(2).
10 See cases in Mougeot, op. cit., footnote 4, p. 45.
11 J. Smit and A. Ratta. 1995. Urban agriculture: neglected resource for food, jobs and sustainable cities. UNDP Urban Agriculture Network. (Unpublished manuscript)
12 K. Helmore and A. Ratta. 1995. The surprising yields of urban agriculture. In UNDP. Choices. New York.
13 Gutman, op. cit., footnote 9, p. 47.
14 Smit and Ratta, op. cit., footnote 11, p. 47.
15 IDRC, op. cit., footnote 8, p. 47.
16 E.J. Carter. 1994. The potential of urban forestry in developing countries: a concept paper. Rome, FAO Forestry Department.
17 Information technology refers to the advanced information and communications carriers of electronic data, including cable and satellite television, digital and traditional airwave radio, CD- ROMs, broadband, narrow-band and wireless (e.g. cellular) telephone and local-area (LANs) and wide-area (WANs) computer networks, including the Internet.
18 Applications of information technology refer to the software and the data, text and audiovisual information provided by the technology.
18 Increased efficiency or productivity enhancement through information technology come from an increase in availability, quality and timeliness of information combined with enhanced two-way communications that permit organizational changes throughout the business or economic activity and increase the output using the same or fewer resources.
19 The lowest-income countries had, on average, only three telephone lines available per 1 000 residents and even the moderately developed countries had only 45 lines (1990 data). In comparison, the developed countries had 442 lines per 1 000 inhabitants. At the same time, there were five times as many faults reported for each main-line telephone in the lowest-income countries as in the highest-income countries. See World Bank. 1994. Infrastructure for development, Table 32. In World Bank, World Development Report 1994. Washington, DC.
20 World Bank. 1994. World Development Report 1994. p. 63. Washington, DC.
21 The term was first used by A. Aubreville in A. Aubreville. 1949. Climats, forêts et désertification de l'Afrique tropicale. Paris, Société d'Editions Géographiques, Maritimes et Coloniales. Generally the term does not refer to the movement of mobile sand bodies, which does occur but is estimated to be no more than 10 percent of the entire process. The southern limit of the Sahara, for example, has been expanding or contracting depending on annual variations in rainfall; longer time-series of data are necessary to determine the tendency.
22 In 1990, a UN-hosted ad hoc consultative meeting of experts concluded that there is no point in distinguishing desertification from land degradation in the dryland regions, since to do so only confuses the whole problem. In this chapter the two terms are used interchangeably; UNCED's denotation is used as a working definition.
23 See the work of E.P. Stebbing, for example, E.P. Stebbing. 1938. The man-made desert in Africa. Journal of the Royal African Society, 36.
24 At 1990 prices, see H. Dregne, M. Kassas and B. Rozanov. 1991. A new assessment of the world status of desertification. Desertification Control Bulletin, 20: 6-18; UNCED (1992) estimated the cost of a worldwide programme from 1993 to 2000 at a total of US$8 730 million per year (excluding the national development programmes, of which it should really form a part).
25 P.F. Drucker. 1990. The new realities. London, Mandarin.
26 A. Salehuddin and R. Shafiqur. 1991. Organization and management of agricultural services for small farmers in Asia. Rome, FAO and Dhaka, Centre on Integrated Rural Development for Asia and the Pacific (CIRDAP).
27 R.A.J. Roberts. 1995. Agricultural services: their role in development. Paper presented at the Agricultural Economics Society Conference, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, March 1995.
28 R.J. Dancey. 1993. The evolution of agricultural extension in England and Wales. Journal of Agricultural Economics, 44(3), 375-393.
29 Roberts, op. cit., footnote 27.
30 S. Wanmali. 1993. Service provision and rural development in India: a study of Miryalguda Taluka. International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) Research Report No. 37. Washington, DC, IFPRI.
31 The bank originated as an action-research project in 1976 to provide credit to the rural poor. It is now a financial institution established by government order, with an excellent loan recovery rate and a clear focus on the poorest groups in society. An explanation of its special approach and philosophy is given in M. Hossain. 1988. Credit for alleviation of rural poverty: the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. IFPRI Research Report No. 65. IFPRI and the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies; P.S. Jain. 1996. Managing credit for the rural poor: lessons from the Grameen Bank. World Development, 24(1): 79-89.
32 F. Sandiford and G.E. Rossmiller. 1996. Many a slip: studying policy delivery systems. Paper presented at the Agricultural Economics Society Conference, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, United Kingdom, 27 to 30 March 1996.
33 D.L. Umali and L. Schwartz. 1994. Public and private agricultural extension: beyond traditional frontiers. World Bank Discussion Paper No. 236. Washington, DC, World Bank.
37 A framework for such a performance evaluation of policy delivery systems is given in Sandiford and Rossmiller, op. cit., footnote 32.
38 ISNAR. 1995. A framework to strengthen the role of universities in national agricultural research systems. ISNAR Briefing Paper No. 24. The Hague, ISNAR.
39 C. Grace. 1996. The Establishment of the Albanian market information service. Paper prepared for the Network for Agricultural Policy Research and Development Meeting, sponsored by FAO, Bucharest, 25 to 28 April 1996.
40 An interesting approach to the provision of market information to illiterate or semi-literate farmers in countries where there is high inflation or as part of the sequence of policy reforms for structural adjustment programmes is based on the Braudel measure of small-scale entrepreneur purchasing power. A summary is given in the World Bank Social Dimensions of Adjustment Newsletter, 1(2), Summer 1991.
41 Dancey, op. cit., footnote 28, p. 85.