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"Agriculture is the mother and nourisher of all other arts: when agriculture is well conducted, all other arts prosper; when agriculture is neglected, all other arts decay, on the land and on the sea."

(Xenophon, Economico, V)

More than two millennia after it was written, this statement still contains much truth. In modern times, for many countries agriculture remains, if not the cornerstone of their economy, a crucial source of income, employment and foreign exchange. Even those countries that have reduced their economic dependence on primary agriculture to a minimum tend to consider the sector important enough to warrant special attention.

Whether or not agriculture remains a nourisher of the "other arts", it will always be the source of our daily nourishment. Its role in food security alone justifies priority attention from policy-makers, and calls for a "well-conducted" agriculture with the same urgency as in Xenophon's time.

However well trained to sophism and paradox, an ancient Greek mind would surely find many aspects of our agricultural order strange, including the policies that have contributed to its configuration. For instance, that agriculture should often be neglected where it matters most and yet, in other countries where its economic and social role is relatively minor, supported to the point of creating worldwide market distortions. It would be equally difficult to explain the existence of 800 million malnourished people in a world of abundance and with societies capable of admirable scientific and technological feats; our inability to counter the depletion of more than 15 million ha of tropical forest each year during the past decade; or the fact that rich countries and societies have tended to become richer and needy ones needier, while external assistance, particularly to agriculture, has shown a decline in real terms in recent years.

The State of Food and Agriculture 1994 examines these issues in the light of recent trends and developments, with a particular focus on the way policy-makers "conduct agriculture". As a special feature, it discusses the difficult policy dilemmas involved in managing our forest resources in a way that ensures equilibrium between economic and social demands, sustainability of production and consumption patterns and environmental stability.

This publication reports the accentuation of anomalies and obstacles to economic progress and food security in many parts of the world, but it also reviews a number of positive recent developments in the global political, economic and institutional fields that raise optimistic expectations for the future.

Among the positive features, the recent past has seen remarkable economic dynamism in much of the developing world, despite the global recessionary conditions that have prevailed since the beginning of the 1990s. Recent signs of economic recovery in the industrial world augur well for the continuation of this process.

Even more solid grounds for optimism are provided by events within the developing countries themselves. Together with the consolidation of democracy there has been a strengthening of the economic liberalization process in much of the developing world, and this has extended to agriculture. Many developing countries, including some of the largest and most populous, have benefited from this process and made further inroads into the longstanding problems of hunger and malnutrition.

The 1993-1994 period also saw a number of major market and institutional developments affecting agricultural trade. Foremost among these was the signing in Marrakesh of the Final Act concluding the Uruguay Round of GATT negotiations and the agreement to create a World Trade Organization. These important events bear the promise of global welfare benefits as well as clearer, more orderly and enforceable "rules of the game" for trade, including in agriculture. Nevertheless, the Uruguay Round's outcome in terms of market access and reductions in domestic support and export subsidization fell short of what could be expected from the importance of the issues at stake and the seven years of strenuous negotiations involved. Protectionism remains intense and is likely to remain so in the future, and major efforts still have to be made to improve market access for and the competitiveness of developing countries' agricultural exports. While recent months have witnessed a welcome strengthening in prices for commodities of crucial importance to many developing country economies, this cannot be taken as the sign of a fundamental improvement in the distortions and weaknesses of the global agricultural market. Moreover, different groups of countries will be affected by trade liberalization in different ways. In particular, many low-income net food importers risk seeing their import bill increase and their food security situation deteriorate, at least initially. This calls for generous and farsighted efforts to help food-deficit countries overcome the negative impact of the new trade environment while maximizing any market opportunities that may be offered to them.

Another major process under way is the strengthening of regional trade and economic integration agreements. The consolidation and broadening of economic integration in Europe and the establishment of the North American Free Trade Agreement have been milestones in this process. I must, however, emphasize the importance of extending the benefits of integration schemes to all countries, particularly the least advantaged, and of allowing participation in such schemes by all countries willing to join.

The 1993-1994 period has also seen its share of distressing events and human tragedies, which have directly or indirectly affected global food security. Among the developed countries, the European region has seen the continuation of the devastating conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, severe and mounting unemployment and problems of fiscal and monetary consolidation that cast doubts on the extent and timing of the current recovery. In Central and Eastern Europe, several countries have strengthened the pace and depth of market-oriented reform and seem set to enter an expansionary phase. Others, however, particularly in the former USSR, are still struggling to break a vicious circle: deep recession and related political and social problems render reform increasingly difficult to pursue, yet extensive and systematic reform constitute a precondition for recovery.

Agriculture, a central element in the process of reform in the economies in transition, has been fully exposed to the disruptions and initial recessionary effects associated with the breakdown of the old organizational structures. Sharp drops in production have resulted in declines in per caput food consumption, and large population groups are actually facing the problem of malnutrition.

Turning to the situation in Africa, I should first refer to what is perhaps the most momentous political event of 1994 - the demise of apartheid and the introduction of majority rule in South Africa. Also welcome is the cessation of a number of armed conflicts that had long afflicted various parts of the region. Against such positive developments, however, the recent past has seen the tragedy of civil war in Rwanda, with a dramatic sequel of human suffering, large-scale refugee problems and famine; the disappointing turn of events in Somalia, where civil conflicts have stalled the process of national reconciliation; the continuation of a seemingly unstoppable process of economic and social regression in much of the region; the emergence or aggravation of food emergency situations in numerous countries, chiefly in East Africa; and, as discussed in this publication, the alarming spread of AIDS throughout the world which, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, has come to represent not only a major health problem with long-term demographic and economic implications, but also an additional threat to food security.

A few indicators suffice to illustrate the explosive nature of the food security problem in the sub-Saharan Africa region and point to the direction of policy action required. With per caput food production falling by more than 20 percent over the past two decades, sub-Saharan Africa has progressively become a net importer of food. The region's per caput calorie intake two decades ago was above the average for developing countries as a whole, whereas it is now 18 percent lower. It appears obvious, therefore, that the achievement of food security in Africa is to be realized first and foremost through a revival of food production in the years ahead. This task, which involves huge investments in key areas such as irrigation, productivity-enhancing technology, environmental protection and the formation of a skilled, highly productive labour force, requires decisive and immediate action by African countries themselves. The establishment and preservation of a policy environment that is conducive to agricultural growth is a prerequisite for achieving this task. However, it also requires the international donor and development community's awareness that the food problem in sub-Saharan Africa is arguably the most pressing problem for the contemporary world. Humankind would suffer an incalculable cost in allowing Africa to be further marginalized in the areas of trade, development assistance and international capital flows.

Jacques Diouf


The State of Food and Agriculture 1994 has been prepared by a team from the Policy Analysis Division led by F.L. Zegarra and comprising P.L. Iacoacci, G.E. Rossmiller, J. Skoet, K. Stamoulis and R. Stringer. Secretarial support was provided by S. di Lorenzo and P. Di Santo; computer and statistical support was provided by T. Sadek, G. Arena and Z. Pinna.

Contributions and background papers for the World review were prepared by B.J. Brindley, J. Greenfield, S. Langley, M. Palmieri, M. Spinedi, S. Teodosijevic, P, Wardle, R. Wingle and G. Zanias.

Background papers for the Regional review were prepared by A. Buainain, O. Cismondi, H.B. Huff, M. Kurtzig, D.J. Sedik, S.S. Sheffield and F. Zhong.

The special chapter, Forest development and policy dilemmas, was prepared by R. Stringer with assistance from P. Wardle and I.J. Bourke. It was based on contributions from J. Romm, E.B. Barbier, R. Mohamed Ali, R. Turner, U. Banerjee, W. Stewart and J. Carvalho. Many officers from the World Bank, World Resources Institute, Worldwatch Institute and the World Wide Fund for Nature provided helpful comments and suggestions.

The State of Food and Agriculture 1994 was edited by R. Tucker. The graphics were prepared by M. Cappucci and the layout by M. Criscuolo with C. Ciarlantini. The cover and illustrations were produced by Studio Page.

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