The World Food Summit (WFS) held in Rome in 1996 committed FAO Member States to the 2015 goal of reducing food insecurity by half. It is estimated that approximately 800 million people in developing countries - representing about 20 percent of their total population - and 34 million in developed countries, are chronically undernourished. To meet the target of halving malnutrition in developing countries by 2015, this number needs to be cut by at least 20 million per year, more than twice as fast as the current reduction of about 8 million. With a growing world population, this situation may even worsen unless very determined and well-targeted actions are taken to improve food security.
In the WFS five-years-later (June 2002), the Summit re-affirmed 1996 commitments and further resolved to accelerate implementation of the Plan of Action to facilitate attaining the target within the remaining period. The Millennium Development Goals further highlight the importance of confronting the scourge of poverty and the despair of food insecurity. Parties to the WFS documents also agreed to promote coordinated action and to report on progress to the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Council was directed to establish Inter-Governmental Working Group to elaborate Member States' efforts to achieving progressive realization of national food security. Governments were specifically committed to review their national food security policies and fill any policy gaps, identify new initiatives, remove implementation obstacles and streamline inter-ministerial and inter-departmental initiatives.
To meet this obligation will require various improvements worldwide. Food security is a special concern and in rural areas may require physical infrastructure such as road and power infrastructures, property security, and access to systems of market-based exchange, in addition to public investment in research and extension and related communication systems. In some cases it may require the removal of certain constraints, as emphasized by the FAO Special Programme for Food Security (FAO 1997, 2000), including improvements in governance and markets, increases in productivity at the farm level, farmer and community group formation and micro-enterprise development.
There is a need to re-conceptualize and re-prioritize extension services and promote communication for rural development activities within the framework of the food security challenge acknowledged originally at the World Food Conference in 1976 and adopted at the WFS in 1996. This proposal is in line with the changing economic environment, institutional reform, and the international recognition of the public sector role in promoting the public good, including food security and poverty alleviation.
The paper is organized into three main sections, with two parts to each section. The first section is on agricultural extension. Major changes have occurred in agricultural extension and new trends continue to affect its reform and development. These changes and trends are analyzed for their impact on development. At the same time, new extension-type programmes and projects have been advanced internationally to combat the massive problem of poverty and food security, specifically in rural communities. One of these programmes - FAO's Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS) - is reviewed, and its contribution to improved production and income generation by poor rural families is in general favourably considered, although long-range political support, strong leadership and adequate initial investment are crucial to its success.
The second section discusses rural development. In the first part, the various pathways out of poverty are examined, of which improvements in agriculture and resultant income generation represent only one of these pathways. In the second part, agricultural extension is differentiated from rural extension, and the proposal is put forward to develop communication services as a form of "rural extension" to provide both agricultural and non-agricultural information to rural populations. As a rural development instrument, communication holds great promise for serving those in rural areas who work the land as well as those who do not work the land.
The third section focuses specifically on the issue of food security. The challenges, factors and perspectives of food security are reviewed, and the argument made that food security is a public good as well as a social and economic good.
A number of conclusions are drawn from the paper, and three main recommendations are put forward to governments with the purpose of catalyzing new energies for advancing rural development and the advancement of food security in rural areas through newly conceived policy strategies for agricultural extension and rural development. The three main recommendations are:
1. It is recommended that governments develop a new and expanded policy in favour of agricultural extension and communication for rural development. Within this policy framework, it is recommended that governments adopt a diversified and pluralistic national strategy to promote agricultural extension and communication for rural development.
2. It is recommended that governments build a platform for dialogue and collaboration with the relevant institutions that comprise the diversity of multi-sectoral agricultural extension service providers that exist in most countries. This recommendation is intended to encourage governments to establish new conditions and find new mechanisms for addressing the problem of food insecurity, especially in the rural sector.
3. It is recommended that governments catalyze institutional change within the public sector, aimed at supporting and promoting the new policy and the determinations instituted by the nationwide platform.
The ultimate purpose of the three recommendations is to advance the livelihoods, i.e., the food security and income generation of poor people in rural areas.
Agricultural Extension, Rural Development and the Food Security Challenge
"...(Al)though the majority of the world's population will live in urban areas by 2030, farming populations will not be much smaller than they are today. For the foreseeable future, therefore, dealing with poverty and hunger in much of the world means confronting the problems that small farmers and their families face in their daily struggle for survival".
Jacques Diouf, Director-General, FAO/UN and James D. Wolfensohn, President, The World Bank. From Preface of Farming Systems and Poverty; Rome and Washington, DC: 2001
Food security exists when all people at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.
FAO Special Programme for Food Security http://www.fao.org/spfs/