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Feeding the cities


People by the millions move to cities in order to improve their lives, find better jobs and have access to goods and services that are not available in rural areas. As they attract more people, cities assemble and provide the goods and amenities that these people need and want. Foremost among these is food. A common sight throughout cities of the developing world are carts piled high with food – maize cobs, heads of lettuce, crates of potatoes, baskets of fruit, etc. – which has been brought in from the countryside or periphery to keep the urban population fed.

A city of 10 million people may need to import at least 6 000 tonnes of food per day.
It is a huge task to feed a city of several million people, or even of several hundred thousand, who require many tonnes of food each day. For instance, a city of 10 million people – for example Manila, Cairo or Rio de Janeiro – may need to import at least 6 000 tonnes of food per day. This requires much coordination among producers, transporters, market managers and retailers in stores, on the street and in open-air markets. City officials and private operators must act together to achieve that coordination and provision cities adequately.

As cities grow in population and space, they require more extensive and more developed transportation and distribution systems for bringing food to consumers, including roads, vehicles and marketplaces that are accessible to all segments of the population. Similarly, as cities grow, the task of planning and managing the land area and infrastructure becomes more complicated and expensive. Frequently, city administrators in the developing world find themselves struggling to cope with burgeoning populations in a physical environment that is really only adequate for a fraction of the inhabitants. A shared understanding among city officials of common problems and potential solutions for feeding the cities, along with appropriate technical assistance and resource support from national and international agencies, can help pave the road towards sustainable cities in the twenty-first century.



Urban demographic trends

At one stage in history, the world’s entire population was “rural”, living a nomadic or pastoral life and providing for their own food needs. Over time, this way of life gave way to trade-oriented, specialized economic and social patterns in which people gain certain benefits from gathering together to live in towns and cities. The world’s current population of 5.9 billion16 is split more or less equally between cities and rural areas, with urban areas expected to surpass rural areas in population around the year 2005.17  At present, 75 percent of the developed countries’ population is urban compared with 38 percent in the case of developing countries (see Map 4).18

A majority of the population in North America and Europe has lived in cities since the middle of this century, while a majority of the population in Latin America and the Near East has done so since the 1960s and since 1980, respectively. Asia and Africa have remained predominantly rural: today their respective urban populations account for 35 and 36 percent of their total. Figure 17 shows the rural-urban distribution of people within countries, by region since 1950.

Over the next 20 years, 93 percent of urban growth will occur in the cities of the developing world.
It is more difficult to make projections on a more reduced scale, such as that of a city, than for an entire country. Many factors can change the trends that are causing cities to grow. However, the general tendencies will remain the same, as it is only the rates of change that are uncertain. Over the next 20 years, 93 percent of urban growth will occur in the cities of the developing world. Some of these cities are already huge: the world now has more than 20 megacities with a population of more than 10 million each, while 50 years ago only New York City could claim that distinction. Some of the largest cities are also growing very quickly. For example, Dhaka in Bangladesh has a population of 9 million and is growing at an annual rate of 5 percent, which means an additional 1 300 people per day.19
As the world’s population grows, the less urbanized regions, Asia and Africa, are growing the fastest, and their fastest-growing areas are the cities and peripheral zones.
As the world’s population grows, the less urbanized regions, Asia and Africa, are growing the fastest, and the fastest-growing areas both in these regions and within their countries are the cities and peripheral zones. Asian cities are currently growing at a rate of 3 percent per year compared with an overall growth rate in Asia of 1.4 percent per year, while African cities are growing at a rate of 4 percent per year compared with an overall growth of 2.6 percent per year. At the same time, smaller cities and towns are also expanding relatively rapidly – in some countries faster than the largest urban centres. Figure 18 shows regional population projections to 2020 for urban and rural population.

Factors determining food demand in cities

Population growth is an important element in the growth of demand for food in a city. A larger resident population naturally implies more food demand. The other demographic factors determining food demand in a city are related to the age structure of the population and the fertility rate. In addition to demographic aspects, economic trends and conditions greatly affect how much food people consume as well as how much there is available. The most important factor is income level: as incomes rise, people consume greater amounts and a greater variety of food.
Poor urban families can spend as much as 60 to 80 percent of their income on food.
Poor urban dwellers usually have trouble purchasing adequate amounts of food to meet their needs and preferences. Most of the food consumed in cities must be purchased, and poor families can spend as much as 60 to 80 percent of their income on food. One study showed that consumers in cities spend an average of 30 percent more for food than rural consumers, despite there being a lower average caloric intake in cities.20 Poor urban consumers sometimes have access to food outside market channels, for instance through home production, bartering or food assistance programmes.
PROJECTED POPULATION, 2000, 2010, 2020

Trends in urban food security

Food insecurity occurs when people do not have access to or the means to obtain adequate food supplies for their nutritional needs. Statistics on food insecurity are often sketchy, even at the national level. Thus, it is not possible to tell clearly where urban food insecurity is most severe or how it compares with rural food insecurity. One way to assess the degree of food insecurity in a city is to examine changes in poverty among the population.
As Africa and parts of Asia become increasingly urbanized, food insecurity will become more of an urban problem.
In some cases, the proportion of poor living in urban areas has surpassed that in the rural areas and, in the countries that are already highly urbanized, an increasing absolute number of poor live in cities. The World Bank has estimated that the number of urban poor will rise from 400 million to 1 billion during the 1990s.21 A study of eight Asian and four Latin American countries also shows that a rising proportion of the poor are living in cities. For instance, 18 percent of the Republic of Korea’s poor lived in cities in 1970, while 80 percent did so in 1990. At the same time, the country’s urban population share rose from 54 to 60 percent. In Brazil, while the urban population share rose from 55 to 75 percent, the proportion of the country’s poor living in cities rose from 39 percent in 1970 to 54 percent in 1990.22 Thus, cities at present may be home to more or less than a proportionate share of the total number of poor in a country, but as Africa and parts of Asia become increasingly urbanized, food insecurity will become more of an urban problem.

Factors affecting urban food insecurity

A number of factors affect the degree of food security in countries and cities, including low income levels, a lack of physical access to food, high relative prices of food and unfavourable weather patterns that reduce the food production in a country or region for a period. Such factors affect people living in rural areas as well as in cities.
Structural adjustment policies have reduced job opportunities, removed food subsidies and led to currency devaluations, making imported food more expensive.
Other factors affect city dwellers more severely or are directly related to the economic and physical conditions of urban life itself. In recent years, structural adjustment policies have reduced job opportunities, removed food subsidies and led to currency devaluations (which cause imported food to become more expensive). These changes have harmed the urban poor in particular. Because most of the food consumed in cities is purchased, household access to food is highly sensitive to prices. During the period of economic change witnessed in the 1980s and 1990s, urban food prices rose more than the general cost of living and more than incomes in a wide range of case studies.23

Physical conditions also pose unique problems for urban food consumers. For instance, poor urban consumers can be disadvantaged by: a lack of transport and/or having to travel long distances to and from markets; poor hygiene and food contamination resulting from crowded conditions; and having to rely more than the rural population on purchased food and supplies. Food supplies entering a city do not always reach the consumer. Food losses between the production and retail stages are estimated to range from 10 to 30 percent and are caused by a combination of on-farm, transport, distribution and spoilage problems which are greater in urban than rural areas.

The built-up urban areas in developing countries are expected to double in size over the next 10 to 15 years, with major implications for the environment, social relationships and commercial activity.
The built-up urban areas in developing countries are expected to double in size over the next 10 to 15 years, with major implications for the environment, social relationships and commercial activity.24 The physical expansion of cities is driven by economic growth and greater numbers of residents, which in most developing countries nowadays arise more from internal increases than from rural-urban migration. In many locations, the physical availability of urban land is relatively constrained, but good planning and appropriate policies can mitigate conflicts and congestion in most circumstances.

It may seem paradoxical that the dismal urban conditions apparent in many developing countries have not stemmed the flow of migrants from rural areas, but urban consumers do benefit from city life in various ways. One of the main attractions is the expectation of an improved life compared with the opportunities offered in rural areas. While the improvement may not come immediately, perhaps not even for a generation or more, it is a strong motivator of rural-urban migration. In addition, throughout the developing world, urban dwellers have greater access to such necessities as piped water, sanitation and health care services than people living in rural areas.

In city planning and design, attention must be paid to essentials such as the location of wholesale and retail markets; modes and efficiency of transport, both for goods and people; parking space for trucks and cars around markets; access to utilities and waste disposal services; and accurate information – destined for buyers and sellers alike – on the prices, quantities and quality of food. Planners will also have to recognize where and how much urban food insecurity exists and address the problem with specifically formulated programmes. These are some of the issues faced by local and national authorities today as their cities head towards the twenty-first century.


Fictional story of a poor urban consumer – issues at stake
Now that I am living in town, I have to buy my food. With my small income, I have little choice but to buy the cheapest food I can find – once a day. Meat? The only chance I get to eat meat is when it has been used to make a sauce, which is once a week at the most. Consumption limited by low incomes
At times, I have so little money that I simply cannot feed my family. They have to fend for themselves, while I buy street foods or visit my cousin who has a job and who can go home for dinner. He will not deny me food. Street foods as a low-cost food source – extended family obligations leading to high-cost individual consumption
I hear from many people that my children should eat salad and vegetables, but I cannot afford them. Poor access to micronutrients, especially for children
If I had enough cash to buy a refrigerator, I could buy larger quantities of food and save money by making bulk purchases and storing fresh or cooked food – plus we would not have to eat everything immediately. The problem is that all my relatives and friends who visit me frequently would help themselves to my food stores. Poor people forced to buy food at higher prices – economies of scale are out of reach
When I want to buy fish, meat, vegetables or fruit, I must go to the market very early in the morning before the heat ruins the food and thousands of flies land on it. Markets as a source of consumer health problems
I don’t mind going to the central market because I meet people there and the food is often cheaper. But the market looks like a mud puddle, there are flies everywhere and the vegetables and fruit are sometimes rotten. I wish I could buy food for my family from a cleaner place, but there is no other. Inadequate market maintenance
I nearly had a fight recently with a market trader who tried to cheat me on the weight of the rice I was buying. I know they will try, but this time it was really too much. Only the other day, I bought a packet of biscuits but I felt sick as soon as I put one in my mouth. Checking the expiry date, I saw that it was two years ago! The problem is that consumers can do nothing against these frauds: no one listens. Commercial frauds and little consumer power
The market is always full of people. When they need to go to the toilet, they hide behind a wall or a heap of boxes. I have to do the same as well because there are no toilets to be found, and I very much doubt that people wash their hands before touching the food again. Poor hygienic conditions
When I want better quality or more choice, I go to the abattoir or fish market and to the special vegetable stall near the market gardens. If I had a market or a shop with cold storage next to my house, I could save on the cost of transport. Inadequate retail-level availability leading to higher consumer prices
Our local market burnt down last week and I now have to walk to another one on the other side of town. Not only has this market put its prices up since the fire at ours, but just getting there also means more money and time spent. Poor market operating practices leading to accidents – poor consumers particularly affected
There used to be an old lady at the market who was very knowledgeable about ways of preserving and cooking foods that do not keep long. She also knew when foods were good and safe to eat.  As one of her many customers, I learned to experiment with new dishes and vary my children’s diet, while also saving a lot of money. Unfortunately, she is no longer there. Private traders offering a useful service and advice to consumers
On certain occasions we like to prepare the dishes we used to eat in our village. It is important for us not to lose this part of our tradition but, because these dishes require specific ingredients that are not easily found in the city, I have to visit several markets in the town. Limited food availability impeding traditional, often healthier, consumption patterns
 Source: Programme on Food Supply and Distribution to Cities, FAO Marketing and Rural Finance Service.



In order to reach urban consumers, food passes through a variety of marketing, negotiation and organizational systems. A useful distinction can be made between the traditional steps involved in bringing food to consumers and the delivery systems developed more recently. The two differ both in the level of technological and financial capital required and in who has access to it.
Transport food to urban markets
A Sri Lankan man transports coconuts by bicycle to sell in the city.
Farmers use many methods to take food to urban wholesale and retail markets.

The traditional sector comprises wholesale merchants (wholesalers, transporters, dealers) and retail operators (small shopkeepers, market retailers, street sellers). The modern sector consists of large, vertically integrated distributors and agro-industrial supply networks (which deal especially with animal products) and national or international trading companies.

Most of those involved in transporting, marketing and distributing food in cities are private businesses and individuals. They bring food supplies into cities, conduct wholesale to retail transactions, negotiate prices and assure adequate quantities to meet demand. The role of the public sector in supply and distribution operations varies from country to country, but is generally declining across regions of the world because of privatization. The involvement of the public sector tends to be the provision of infrastructure: roads, storage facilities and public markets – both wholesale and retail. Sometimes the public sector provides credit for specific activities.

Most operators in the marketing and distribution of food in cities are private businesses and individuals. The role of the public sector is generally declining because of privatization.
Contamination creates health risks
A lack of clean water and washing facilities creates unsanitary conditions for streetfood vendors in urban areas.

Shortages of food occur in a city for many reasons, the most common being agricultural supply shocks and emergency conditions of civil unrest or war which interrupt food production and/or disrupt the channels for getting food to market. Under normal conditions, the marketing and distribution system in a city can supply food in a timely and regular manner to meet the needs of the population. However, inefficiencies and service breakdowns do occur with great frequency in many cities of the developing world. When they occur, even though the effects may be localized or temporary, it is the poor who suffer as they must spend more time or money to acquire the food they need.

Problems of food distribution at the wholesale level

The problems affecting urban food supply were identified years ago.25 Much of the food bought by urban consumers passes through wholesalers, who purchase food from producers and traders and deliver it to retailers. In many cities in developing countries, wholesale markets are not well maintained or managed, and are often too old and too small to meet the needs of the growing community. The problems range from lack of coordination among wholesale traders, to prices that vary widely across the city with little systematic information available, to very congested – and sometimes unsanitary – locations for conducting business.
Wholesale markets in Africa are often spontaneously formed groups of wholesalers who lack physical facilities and are dispersed across the city.
The situation is particularly alarming in cities where there is inadequate infrastructure, as is the case for many African cities.26 Wholesale markets in this region are often spontaneously formed groups of wholesalers dispersed across the city and lacking physical facilities. One can find concentrations of wholesalers close to, or even within, large central retail markets, at the discharge points of roads entering the urban fringe, or grouped within urban open spaces used as storage areas. In Dakar, the two main “wholesale markets” for fruits, vegetables and roots and tubers – Thiaroye Gare and Syndicat markets – are located in places where retail products of various kinds are being sold. About 400 000 tonnes of food are handled annually in these areas, mostly directly on the roads around the markets. Similar situations are found in Abidjan, Lagos and Accra.

In many Asian and Latin American countries, the creation and expansion of wholesale markets has lagged behind the growth in urban populations and merchandise flows, resulting in overuse of the existing markets. As a result, the storage facilities are not large enough to handle all the food brought in, the refrigeration systems are overtaxed and food cannot be conserved properly, there are far too many vehicles for the parking and loading spaces, and hygiene and safety problems ensue. The combination of all these conditions causes high food losses, the costs of which are imposed on consumers. The wholesale markets are still often located at the very centre of cities where they originated when the city was smaller. The heavy vehicle and foot traffic around them causes traffic jams, while the waste production and water use lead to environmental damage.

Following marketing liberalization in a number of countries, notably in Africa, former single-channel grain marketing outlets have been replaced by a multitude of small traders at both the wholesale and the retail level. Markets, which were already overcrowded handling only horticultural products, are now handling increasing quantities of grains without having the necessary space or facilities to handle them effectively, with the result that losses caused by exposure to the elements are at unacceptable levels.

New markets sometimes fail owing to inadequate consideration of the wholesalers’ needs and a lack of coordination between the public sector and wholesale operators.
New wholesale markets were constructed in many growing cities during the 1980s in response to the problems described above. In Mexico City and Buenos Aires improvements were made in food marketing (better physical conditions and quality of products, more accurate information on prices, etc.) and in the traffic flow. However, new markets, at both the wholesale and the retail level, sometimes fail owing to inadequate consideration of wholesalers’ needs, and lack of coordination between the public sector and wholesale operators. Curiously, they may remain empty as merchants refuse to move to them. One reason is that they may be located in areas of town which are out of the mainstream. In Buenos Aires, for example, a new wholesale market for fruits and vegetables located far from the urban centre has created a new layer of transport intermediaries between wholesalers and traditional small shops. The retailers can ill afford the transport costs to the market, nor do they have the finances to buy in bulk to save on the number of trips needed.
It is not uncommon for a few large wholesalers to have oligopolistic power in pricing food to retailers.
In addition, the larger wholesalers may resist moving because they fear losing their dominant position established over years in the existing market configuration; and the rents charged in the new markets can be set too high for the smaller operators.

Even well-planned and well-located new markets do not resolve all the existing problems of wholesale food markets in cities. It is not uncommon for a few large wholesalers to have oligopolistic power in pricing food to retailers. Since the wholesalers often act as creditors to their retail customers who lack sufficient working capital, they can make different deals with each. The result is lack of transparency in transactions, often exploitative relationships and inefficiencies.

The management of wholesale markets, generally the domain of local authorities and public organizations, can be a particular problem. The market authorities lack professional training and may not have good communication with counterparts in other areas of the city, nor with supply channels from the peri-urban and rural areas. They generally fail to achieve the standards of efficiency obtained in the modern commercial sector.

Problems of food distribution at the retail level

The dichotomy between small shops and large supermarkets is most obvious in Latin America, where food distribution evolved during the 1970s in response to the urbanization of the 1960s.
Retail food distribution is highly adapted to serving the needs of different customers. The primary activity involves providing a convenient location where customers can go and select food with a variety of choices, where they have confidence in the availability and quality of food, and where they have the means of purchasing their food either through cash or credit. The poor generally purchase their food at local shops or marketplaces near their homes. Such shops consist of small family enterprises with very limited capital (generally self-financing) whose owners and managers have little qualification and training. Middle- and high-income consumers are shopping increasingly at modern supermarket facilities, identical to any that would be found in North American or large European cities, employing modern technology and having access to credit from banks and suppliers.
Urban retail food market
Organized, well-functioning retail food markets provide good jobs for urban dwellers and access to food at reasonable prices.

The dichotomy between small shops and large supermarkets is most obvious in Latin America, where food distribution evolved during the 1970s in response to the urbanization that occurred during the 1960s. By the early 1990s, large supermarkets accounted for about 30 percent of the retail sales of food in most Latin American cities. Because of their location in the central and residential areas, as well as the extensive variety of products offered, these stores offer high levels of service to middle- and high-income groups. The traditional retail sale systems have remained in the poorer zones and have responded to their constantly expanding needs. This polarization is typical of Latin American cities, but is found much less in other parts of the developing world.

In many cities, new retail markets have not been built fast enough to meet the needs of growing urban populations, nor has the capacity of existing markets kept pace with the increase in the number of vendors. These two factors together account for significant congestion, disorganization and unhealthy situations in the existing facilities. As a result, both new and existing markets are not often well equipped with basic infrastructure (water, electricity, drainage) and, when present, such facilities work inefficiently. Storage and refrigerated rental areas are rare. As with the wholesale markets, retail market management is often poor, and it is not uncommon for shopowners to face illegal taxation and collusion between market authorities and the larger businesses.

The strong reliance on street foods is driven by changes in the urban way of life as well as urban poverty.
One recourse of market vendors to compensate for lack of space has been to create “spontaneous markets” wherever possible near consumers. In Dakar, three-quarters of the retail markets are spontaneous markets, while in New Delhi this type of market accounts for 60 percent of all fruit and vegetable markets. In Lima, out of 306 markets surveyed, only 72 operate in established municipal market facilities, while the rest have arisen spontaneously, often near slums where there are scarce public facilities.

A strong reliance on street foods is another characteristic of urban food distribution systems, driven by changes in the urban way of life (the need to commute to a distant working place, the development of women’s work outside the home) as well as urban poverty. Thus, the importance of street foods varies according to social and economic patterns in the cities. For instance, street foods represent 20 to 25 percent of household food expenditure in Bogota and Caracas, but only 6 percent in Buenos Aires.27 In Africa, where there are fewer large restaurants or public facilities for eating, consumption of street foods is widespread and growing.

Higher costs and inefficiencies increase consumer prices

Several factors which add to the costs of delivering food commonly exist in developing country cities, thus raising consumer prices. These include market failures that can be corrected and actual increases in costs owing to the difficult conditions of urban food systems. Among the causes of additional costs are:

• an absence of market transparency combined with an oligopolistic control by a small number of wholesalers;
• a lack of scale economies along the distribution system, in particular limited financial capacity;
•  higher transport costs compared with locally produced food in rural areas;
• high physical losses at all levels of distribution;
• the common occurrence of corruption and bribes imposed on market sellers;
• compensation for the risks incurred by wholesalers as creditors to many retail operations.

As cities develop, modernized food distribution channels introduce new technologies and bring greater specialization among market intermediaries.
The general economic conditions within a city also affect the efficient functioning of wholesale and retail markets. Public authorities often claim that the multiplicity of intermediaries in urban food distribution is the main reason for the high prices of products. Yet, authorities are often reluctant to promote modernization of the distribution channels, since traditional systems are important sources of employment. As cities develop, modernization of this sector brings greater specialization among the market intermediaries, as well as the introduction of new technologies (refrigerated transportation and storage, information systems that track inventories, etc.). This evolution is most apparent in Latin America, where food marketing is often done by a more limited number of commercial enterprises.


General improvement of food supply and distribution systems has rarely been seen as a policy priority in most developing countries.
General improvement of the supply and distribution systems has rarely been seen as a policy priority in most developing countries. Policies have focused instead on subsidizing basic foodstuffs, and on direct food distribution programmes for poor populations. Specific steps can be taken to address the efficiency and equity of food distribution in the cities. They include:

• building facilities and physical infrastructure;
• establishing partnerships between the public and the private sector;
• improving credit availability and access;
• strengthening relationships with producers;
• improving the institutional environment;
• changing perceptions in the public sector.

Creating facilities for wholesale and retail markets

Improving food supply and distribution systems requires infrastructure for both retail and wholesale markets. New markets should be carefully planned to determine the location preferred, the products and operators involved, the types of installation and services required, etc. These aspects must take into account the financial capacity of the users in order to arrive at a realistic level of charges that will enable repayment and maintenance of the market facilities. Other key issues are the organizational rules, the management of the market and the criteria for allocating spaces. At the central level, urban planners must examine food supply flows. This information is crucial for assessing the amount and allocation of the financial resources required for building or improving large infrastructures (slaughterhouses, wholesale markets, truck stations, trunk roads, etc.).

Local food traders and their organizations have their own role to play in planning for growing urban areas. They must establish new retail markets especially in poorly served zones, modernize those already existing, increase their capacity, improve structures and services, reformulate the management rules, and reserve areas for the different commercial and transport activities involved in urban food distribution. Planning and organizational efforts are ineffective when their implementation is hindered by a lack of training and information, as well as the uncertainty of acquiring space for a specific function such as a commercial activity. Consumers and their representatives should be involved in developing imaginative solutions to distribution and access problems.

Involving the private sector and developing new partnerships

In most developing country cities, local traders’ organizations have assumed the role of building facilities and organizing markets which had formerly been performed by the public sector. However, large infrastructures such as wholesale markets or slaughterhouses can rarely be financed by private funds, given the very limited resources and conflicting priorities for the market. Therefore, other private sector actors and public agencies must be encouraged to participate in the financing and management of the facilities. Such support is often available to create facilities for export activities (storage, warehousing, transport equipment), and should similarly be extended to investment in infrastructure and services for urban food supply.

One of the most important aspects is harnessing the cooperation of all the relevant actors, including users, the public sector (authorities responsible for infrastructure and utilities) and the private sector (food collectives, trade associations, banks, traders, etc.).

Government involvement should be well defined. One mistake to be avoided is the former tendency to overbuild elaborate and expensive facilities instead of more usable and appropriate ones. The public sector role should assure the viability of markets (providing for transport networks, water, electric power, drainage) and should encourage participation of users (wholesalers) in the financing of superstructures (outhouses, storage facilities). One way to develop needed support structures might be to finance them with bonds that could be paid off over a long period through moderate charges to users. Similar measures can be applied to retail markets, in cooperation with trader associations.

Improving credit access

Lack of access to credit is a major constraint for all those involved in food supply and distribution. Bank credit is generally limited to the commercial sector involved in import and export activities. Greater liquidity and financial support must be made available for the commercial food sector through private bank participation. This will require giving attention to the special problems of agricultural markets (instability, risk) and adapting normal credit and collateral practices to them.
Urban food supply systems need to adopt modern technology as it becomes available, and this can be done while retaining the small shopkeeper orientation of the traditional sector.
The food supply systems of urban areas need to adopt modern technology as it becomes available. This can be done while retaining the small shopkeeper orientation of the traditional sector.  Sustained action is needed in the areas of credit and technical assistance with the participation of local chambers of commerce and business organizations. Among the potential approaches would be for public authorities to support private sector credit provision by guaranteeing loans for modernization in the sector, or by performing initial screening of loans or offering guidelines for applicants and thereby reducing the administrative costs of processing loan applications.

These experiences must be analysed and implemented through careful understanding of the local context and needs. An example is the new commercial centre opened in Nouakchott, Mauritania, in late 1997 by a women’s enterprise. Its creation was supported by a government effort to increase female access to credit for entrepreuneurship.28

Reinforcing upstream producer organizations

Competitiveness in the wholesale food trade is an important factor in achieving an efficient pricing system. One way to increase competitiveness is for producers’ organizations to use their negotiating capacity effectively in marketing their products to wholesalers. When they maintain a presence in the wholesale markets, they obtain market price and supply information efficiently and reliably.29 This helps them have some market power in dealing with wholesalers, as well as helping them adjust their planting, harvesting and pricing decisions appropriately to respond to the market requirements.

A favourable institutional environment

While local traders’ organizations can play a major role in the organization of food supply in their cities, the action of governments is decisive in creating an institutional environment conducive to the efficient marketing of food products. The sound organization and modernization of supply and distribution channels requires a coherent and transparent legal framework that clearly defines the rights and obligations of the various contractors.
One of the major roles for government in food supply and distribution is monitoring and enforcing food safety and quality requirements.
Regulatory authority for food supply and distribution is often scattered among different agencies which do not coordinate their efforts. These efforts need to be harmonized and reinforced. One of the major roles for government is monitoring and enforcing food safety and quality requirements.

Raising consciousness and changing perceptions in the public sector

Local authorities are still inadequately aware that improving food supply and distribution systems, from the physical, organizational and financial viewpoints, has an impact on the whole functioning of the cities and on the living conditions of their populations. Resources are scarce and the pace of urban growth increases the urgency of the task. Difficult policy choices and considerations confront local authorities: establishing priorities, justifying expenditures that may benefit a group of citizens in the name of the interests of all and assessing the political benefits of a given choice. Priorities are necessarily different from one city to another and one country to another, depending on the general level of development and the existing structures and facilities. Nevertheless, it is widely apparent that both public and private actors need increased awareness of the conditions and problems of food supply and distribution systems in these cities. Thus, they need both the information and the tools for decision-making.

Opportunities for greater coordination exist among national and municipal agencies. Agriculture ministries are not involved in urban activities and are inclined to see farm producers as their primary constituency. Yet, they should be aware that urban demand cannot act as an engine in agricultural transformation without adequate supply and distribution channels. They can play a fundamental part in organizing agricultural supply channels and improving marketing of the products through the provision of information and the assurance of an adequate basic infrastructure. Improved supply lines will also improve returns to farmers. National agricultural marketing services generally ignore the functioning of food markets as they are more interested in the modern import/export and distribution sectors. The converse is true of municipal authorities who are inclined to see food as an economic issue for rural interests and orient their planning efforts towards modernization and upper-class needs.

It is therefore necessary to make these different actors more aware of the importance of what is at stake in feeding the cities, to involve them in a global strategy and to determine the responsibilities of each of them. It is important to install or reinforce institutions for cooperation that involve politicians, administrators, traders, merchants and technicians at different levels (state, region, municipality).

Implementing a global strategy to address urban food supply and distribution problems requires an important public investment in information and reinforcement of technical competences at all levels. Donors and international organizations can assist this effort in several ways. For instance, improving information available to, and the competence of, urban managers can be a major field of intervention in support of decentralized development. Another example is support to improved policy formulation, strategy and programme development to improve urban food supply and distribution systems, such as that provided by the FAO subregional programme Food Supply and Distribution in Francophone Africa and that envisaged under the interregional Food Supply and Distribution to Cities programme.

Integrating fisheries and agriculture to enhance fish production and food security


Improved integration between fisheries and agriculture is an important means for enhancing fish production and food security.
There are manifold interactions between fisheries and agriculture through the common use of land and water resources and concurrent production activities to support rural village communities and supply urban areas with the needed quantity and variety of food. Such interactions extend to the institutional sphere, as fisheries and agriculture often fall within one government ministry. Improved integration between the two sectors is therefore an important means for enhancing fish production and food security. The term “fisheries” is broadly defined here to include the capture of wild fish stocks from inland and marine waters, the capture of fish stocks that have been enhanced through stocking and other measures and various types of aquaculture. The most direct interactions between agriculture and fisheries occur where these two sectors compete for the same kinds of resource, especially land and water, and where measures aimed at higher agricultural production can alter natural fish habitats.
In many Asian countries, over one-half of animal protein intake comes from fish. In Africa the proportion is 17.5 percent.
At present, the reported capture fisheries production from freshwater ecosystems, including rivers and lakes, is about 7.5 million tonnes. Actual catches, however, are believed to be significantly higher and could be as much as double the reported statistics.30 Except for some industrial commercial fisheries in the great lakes of Africa and North America, most inland capture fisheries are small-scale by nature and much of the catch is destined for local consumption. Inland fisheries activities are often undertaken by farmers during the agricultural lean season when they provide needed food and income. Thus, the significance of freshwater catches for food security far exceeds what recorded production figures alone might suggest. The importance of fish, particularly in the diet of rural communities, can be judged by its contribution to total animal protein intake. In many Asian countries, over one-half of animal protein intake comes from fish, while in Africa the proportion is 17.5 percent. Moreover, recreational fisheries in inland waters are gaining more economic importance in Asia, Europe and North and South America, where they serve as valued tourist attractions.

In spite of their nutritional and economic importance and their significant future development potential, inland fisheries landings relative to outputs from other fishery production systems have been waning over the past few decades.31 The diminished role of inland fisheries has to some extent resulted from physical and chemical changes in the aquatic environment, brought about by agricultural practices such as damming, wetland reclamation, drainage and water abstraction and transfer for irrigation. Recent experience has shown that these environmental changes are often reversible, in which case fisheries habitats can be restored without compromising agricultural production. In other cases, changes can be anticipated and planned for in a way that enhances fisheries potential beyond natural productivity. The full range of fisheries enhancement techniques – including stocking, the modification of water bodies, fertilization and the introduction of genetically improved species – can only be realized when human-induced changes are planned and implemented in an integrated manner that prevents harmful effects on fisheries resources and their habitats.

Aquaculture is one of the world’s fastest-growing food production sectors, providing an important substitute for stagnating yields from wild fish stocks.
 Aquaculture is one of the world’s fastest-growing food-producing sectors, providing an important supplement to and substitute for stagnating yields from wild fish stocks. The importance of aquaculture for future food security was acknowledged by the 1996 World Food Summit, which agreed “to promote the development of environmentally sound and sustainable aquaculture well integrated into rural, agricultural and coastal development”. Over the last decade, aquaculture production increased at an average compounded growth rate of nearly 11 percent per annum. By 1996, total annual production of cultured fish, molluscs, crustaceans and aquatic plants reached a record 34.12 million tonnes, valued at $46.5 billion. Of special importance is the fact that more than 85 percent of total aquaculture food production came from developing countries, and in particular from LIFDCs. Production within this group is concentrated in Asian countries, with China being by far the largest producer.
The efficient use of water and land resources is a crucial factor in sustaining high growth rates in production.
Annual aquaculture production is projected to exceed 40 million tonnes by 2010. Much of this increase is expected to come from the farming of fish and crustaceans in ponds, enhanced production in small and medium-sized water bodies and integrated fish and crustacean farming, primarily with rice but also with vegetables and other crops as well as livestock. Efficiency in the use of water (particularly freshwater) and land resources is becoming a crucial factor in sustaining high growth rates. In many areas where aquaculture has rapidly expanded over the last decade, there is growing pressure on limited land and water resources, and planning for integrated fisheries and agricultural development is therefore of the utmost importance.


The overall objective of integrating fisheries and agriculture is to maximize the synergistic and minimize the antagonistic interactions between the two sectors. The former are mainly derived from the recycling of nutrients arising in the course of agricultural, livestock and fish production processes, from integrated pest management IPM and from the optimal use of water resources.
Synergism between fisheries and agriculture mainly derives from the recycling of nutrients arising during production processes, from IPM and from the optimal use of water.
Antagonistic interactions arise from: the application of pesticides and herbicides that harm aquatic living organisms; the eutrophication of inland water bodies and near-shore coastal waters caused by nutrient runoff (after excessive or inappropriate chemical fertilizer application); soil erosion, which increases the sediment load of natural watercourses; alterations to the hydrological regimes of rivers, lakes and other natural water bodies; drainage of wetlands and swamps; and the obstruction of fish migration routes.

The benefits to be gained from maximizing and minimizing synergistic and antagonistic interactions, respectively, are examined in the next section. Following this is a discussion on how institutional constraints can be overcome at various levels to achieve a better integration of the two sectors.

Optimal nutrient use through by-product recycling

Agricultural by-products, such as manure from livestock and crop residues, can serve as fertilizer and feed inputs for small-scale and commercial aquaculture. After availability of freshwater, the existence of livestock and agricultural crop production systems is the principal factor influencing aquaculture potential in countries and regions.32

Resource scarcity is commonly the overriding incentive directing technical and institutional change towards higher levels of efficiency. Sophisticated techniques and institutional arrangements for managing resource use can be found in areas of both high and low population densities, depending on the abundance of resources. In arid areas with a low population density, for example, complex systems for the allocation of scarce freshwater resources are known to have existed for centuries.33

Integrated fish, livestock and crop farming in China dates back to more than 2 400 years ago.
Integrated farming in China dates back to more than 2 400 years ago, when it involved a complex complementary system combining fish polyculture with poultry, livestock and crop production and the integrated use of manure, grass and other crops as feed and fertilizer.34 While the scientific foundations of these systems, as well as their regional diversity, have yet to be fully understood, there is no doubt about their high level of efficiency, particularly regarding the use of natural resources.

Rotational farming of rice and shrimps has a long history in the intertidal zones of Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Viet Nam and other Asian countries.35 In the traditional system, natural stocking occurs as tidal water is let into the fields. Over the past 15 years, shrimp culture yields have been increased through stocking, the control of predatory species and limited feeding and fertilization. In well-managed systems, the rotational cultivation of rice prevents the accumulation of excess nutrients in pond soils while also increasing yields and reducing fertilizer costs. The simultaneous culture of fish and crustaceans with rice often increases rice yields, particularly on poorer soils and in unfertilized crops, probably because the fertilization effect of fish is greatest under these conditions.

In India, integrated rice-fish systems combined with vegetable or fruit crops have been reported to improve economic benefits twelvefold over traditional rice farming.
Globally, integrated farming systems are receiving increasing attention. In Argentina, Brazil, Haiti, Panama and Peru, the technical feasibility of rice-fish farming is being studied. Concurrent and rotational cultivation of fish and crustaceans with rice are also attracting interest in economically advanced countries: in Louisiana in the United States, about 50 000 tonnes of high-value crayfish are produced concurrently with rice; in Spain, current crayfish production in rice-fields is in the order of 5 000 tonnes and the potential of tilapia-rice cultivation is being explored; and in Italy, the University of Bologna is examining the revival of fish-rice cultivation for ecological and economic reasons after it had been discontinued during the Second World War.

The extent of potential efficiency gains from integrated farming systems may be gauged by a report of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research citing a twelve-fold increase in economic benefits from integrated rice-fish systems combined with vegetable or fruit crops grown on the bunds, as compared with traditional rice farming.36
 Globally, the area of irrigated rice-fields is estimated to be 81 million ha, 90 percent of which are in Asia. At present, only a fraction of this area is being utilized for rice-fish and rice-crustacean farming, especially in China (1.2 million ha), Egypt (173 000 ha), Indonesia (138 000 ha), Madagascar (13 400 ha), Thailand (25 000 ha) and Viet Nam (40 000 ha in the Mekong delta only). Particularly noteworthy is the case of China, where rice-fish area and fish production have moved from very low levels in the early 1980s to over 1.2 million ha in recent years (Figure 19). Precise area data are not available for a number of other countries where rice-fish/crustacean farming is known to be practised, such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, India and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (see Box 3). In addition to the stocking of hatchery-reared seed, the capture of wild species is common in many countries where seed is supplied naturally with water intake. In Thailand, for example, wild fish capture is carried out on nearly 3 million ha of rice-fields.37

 The cultivation of freshwater prawns in modified rice-fields, referred to as ghers, is a recent development in Bangladesh and one which was genuinely originated by farmers. Ghers are often constructed in beels, the local term for seasonal, open water bodies which often encompass low-lying agricultural land. They are also formed by adapting existing rice-fields. The fields are stocked around May with post-larval prawns, and these are usually harvested from November to January. Rice is generally cultivated in the central plateaus of the ghers during the dry season from February until May. Fish are usually farmed with the prawns but are harvested throughout the year.

 Prawns are a highly valued product on the international market and their production therefore has the potential to increase subsistence farmers’ incomes considerably. However, there are certain constraints that need to be overcome, including a lack of basic knowledge regarding prawn and fish cultivation methods in gher environments; an insufficient knowledge of IPM and rice cultivation techniques compatible with prawn and fish cultivation; the need for the development of lower-cost prawn feed to reduce the current, heavy dependence on natural, decreasing supplies of snails which have been the standard feed since the inception of prawn cultivation in gher systems; access to lower-cost and high-quality post larvae from prawn hatcheries to reduce what is almost a total reliance on wild post larvae at present; the development of methods to maximize use and income from dykes; and improved financial planning and management skills.

These and other issues will be explored by a CARE-funded project entitled Greater Options for Local Development from Aquaculture (GOLDA).


 The Lao People’s Democratic Republic has extensive water resources in the form of rivers, lakes and wetlands. Fisheries and the collection of aquatic animals during the rainy season are major activities and fish is an important part of the national diet. Rice cultivation is widespread in rainfed, irrigated and terraced fields. Usually one crop is cultivated per year although, in irrigated areas, two crops are possible. 

In upland rainfed fields, bunds are often raised to increase water depth for fish culture. In some cases, a small channel is constructed to facilitate capture. In the Mekong River plain, rice-fish farming is practised in rainfed rice-fields where soils are relatively impermeable and in irrigated rice-fields that offer ideal conditions for fish culture. As is the case elsewhere, there are few reliable data available concerning production levels from rice-fish farming but annual production volumes of 125 to 240 kg per ha have been reported for upland rice-fish systems. Carp, tilapia and other species cultured in this system are mainly produced for home consumption. 

While rice-fish farming is popular with farmers, certain constraints need to be addressed: pesticide use needs to be reduced through IPM practices and the availability of fingerlings should be improved, as must farmers’ access to credit.



Integrated pest management

From the point of view of IPM, fish culture and rice farming are complementary activities because fish reduce pest populations.
Generally, integrated pest management (IPM) practices are recommended for rice-fish farming. The use of pest- and disease-resistant rice varieties is encouraged to minimize the use of pesticide. In rice monoculture, the chance of pests reaching a population level that economically justifies definite control action is usually low, and the potential income to be gained by integrating fish production shifts the economic threshold to a level that is even less likely to justify pest control. From the point of view of IPM, fish culture and rice farming are complementary activities because it has been shown that fish reduce pest populations. In Indonesia, evidence from the Inter-country Programme for Integrated Pest Control in Rice in South and Southeast Asia shows that the number of pesticide applications in rice-fields can be drastically reduced through IPM. Such a reduction not only lowers costs but also eliminates an important constraint to the adoption of fish farming. With savings on pesticides and additional earnings from fish sales, increases in net income on rice-fish farms are reported to be significantly higher than on rice monoculture farms – by widely varying margins of 7 to 65 percent.38

In Viet Nam, recent experiments have demonstrated the effectiveness of carp as a means of biological control of snails, both in rice-fields and communal water reservoirs. In the Republic of Korea, researchers are focusing on the impact that indigenous fish species have on malaria vectors in rice-fields.39

Efficient use of water resources

In economic terms, water use efficiency may be measured by the net economic benefits attained per unit of water. Fish and crustaceans are grown in artificial water bodies such as village tanks, reservoirs and channels whose primary purpose is water abstraction, storage and transport for use in agriculture and/or power generation and as drinking-water. Engineering details of construction as well as seasonal water abstraction and use schedules can influence the potential of these structures for fish xproduction. For example, rapid drawdowns in reservoirs may cause the loss of vital spawning habitat, thereby limiting fish production.

Under irrigated conditions, water losses associated with evaporation and seepage can be minimized by applying drip irrigation and by storing and transporting water in covered or underground structures. Since such measures impede fish production, however, the advantages of preventing water evaporation need to be compared with the economic and nutritional benefits derived from fish. Except for in arid and semi-arid areas, water scarcity and evaporation rates may be too low to justify the cost of installing closed systems and forgoing the opportunities offered by fish production.

Apart from the production of fish, the benefits gained through enhanced fish culture in reservoirs and channels often derive also from the maintenance of water quality and the physical functions of these bodies. Stocking with grass carp, for example, controls aquatic weeds in irrigation channels, thereby facilitating water flow and reducing evaporation rates during water transport. Stocking and fish culture can also reduce human health hazards caused by mosquitoes and other insects. Moreover, fish can be used to harvest certain plankton species and aquatic weeds, and thus indirectly reduce nutrient levels, thereby minimizing the harmful effects of eutrophication.

Use of biocides

The extent to which fish are able to tolerate pesticides and herbicides is an indicator of the potential human health hazards associated with the use of these products.
The extent to which fish are able to tolerate pesticides and herbicides, including their residues, is an acknowledged indicator of the potential human health hazards associated with the use of these products in agriculture. Significant advancements have been made in recent decades in limiting undesired harmful effects of chemicals applied for pest and weed control. In fact, the negative impact of biocides on fisheries is often caused not so much by their use but rather by their inappropriate application, which may have wide-ranging effects on fish and other aquatic organisms. Mortality is not the only negative effect; equally serious consequences of biocide misuse include changes in an organism’s reproduction system, metabolism and growth patterns, in food availability and in population size and numbers, etc. If biocides are applied according to prescription, the risks for fish and fisheries can be minimized. Many governments have established lists of recommended pesticides and herbicides and have laid down regulations on imports and domestic production, while extension programmes and training of farmers in their correct use have expanded. All these measures help to reduce the risks of pest and weed control for fisheries and human health.


Nutrient runoff from fertilized agricultural fields and urban and industrial sewage discharge are the two main causes of nutrient enrichment of inland waters, near-shore marine waters and semi-enclosed water bodies such as the Mediterranean and Black Seas. The fisheries potential of nutrient-poor water bodies may initially increase owing to the enhanced availability of nutrients associated with agricultural runoff and other effluent, as has most likely happened in the Mediterranean Sea, which historically has been a nutrient-poor water body. Overloading or excessive nutrient enrichment, however, can result in eutrophication, which may severely affect the reproduction, growth and survival of fish and other aquatic organisms by creating anaerobic conditions and by causing physical damage and intoxication associated with the occurrence of harmful algal blooms. Increasingly frequent occurrences and larger sizes of harmful, sometimes toxic, algal blooms in coastal marine waters have caused substantial losses to coastal fisheries and aquaculture over the last two decades.

Compared with human and industrial sewage discharges, the contribution of agriculture to nutrient loading may often be relatively small, but it is not insignificant. This seems to be illustrated by the experience with Lake Constance: the introduction of sewage water treatment systems in the Austrian, German and Swiss communities and towns around this lake over the past 20 years has led to a significant reduction in the lake’s nutrient loading. Over the same period, no significant reduction in agricultural runoff has occurred.

Alterations in hydrological systems

Artificial dams, reservoirs, embankments and channels have generated considerable economic benefits, yet modifications in hydrological systems have also reduced natural fish populations and hence catches and incomes from fishing.
Many of the world’s large and small river basins have undergone major human-induced changes in their hydrological regimes over the past 40 to 50 years. In some European river systems, such as the Rhine, control measures were taken as far back as 100 years ago or more. The construction of dams, reservoirs, embankments, barrages and channels for purposes of water abstraction and storage, flood control, power generation and irrigation have produced large economic benefits. In some cases, these changes have also yielded large gains for fisheries in reservoirs, such as in Lake Kariba in Africa, as well as in irrigated rice-fields whose full fisheries potential still remains to be realized in many parts of the world.

In many other instances, modifications in hydrological systems have caused drastic declines in natural fish populations and dramatically reduced fish catches and incomes from fishing. In some cases where fish migration routes and spawning and nursery areas have been lost, species have become extinct. In many rivers of Europe, for example, wild stocks of salmon, sturgeon and Allis shad no longer exist.

Agricultural ecosystems such as seasonal floodplains and coastal wetlands provide essential habitat for fish and serve as repositories of aquatic biodiversity.
Past experiences have greatly improved scientific knowledge regarding the short-term and long-term consequences of different designs and features of structural alterations to river basin hydrology. This expertise can now bear fruit by preserving the essential ecological features that sustain wild fish stocks and/or create optimal conditions for fish production in new reservoirs and channels. According to current ideas in the field of integrated water resources management (IWRM), agricultural ecosystems such as seasonal floodplains, coastal wetlands and estuaries provide essential permanent or seasonal habitat for fish and serve as  repositories of aquatic biodiversity.40 Wetlands are also important fish nurseries.

Soil and groundwater salination

Shrimp culture has been associated with reduced agricultural yields where soil conditions allow saline water to seep into adjacent fields, although there have been numerous experiences of the beneficial coexistence of coastal aquaculture and agriculture, including rice-shrimp systems.
In general, most culture-based fisheries and aquaculture acitivities have no or few significant negative environmental effects and are highly complementary to agriculture. However, shrimp culture practices have been associated with reduced agricultural yields in certain localities where soil conditions allowed saline water to seep through embankments and pond bottoms into adjacent fields. In addition, excessive abstraction of groundwater for various purposes such as agriculture, domestic water supply, industrial activities and, in some cases, shrimp culture, is causing seawater intrusion into coastal aquifers. Appropriate planning and allocation of land and water resources in coastal areas can help minimize the degradation of groundwater and soil quality resulting from salination. Furthermore, there have been numerous experiences of the beneficial coexistence of coastal aquaculture and agriculture; for example, the rotational systems of rice-fish or rice-shrimp culture, where advantage is taken of saltwater-resistant paddy, an abundant freshwater influx in the rainy season and the opportunity to cultivate brackishwater aquaculture species.
Local children fishing from a rice-field in Madagascar
In Madagascar, 13 000 ha of irrigated rice-fields are used for integrated rice and fish production.


Extension and training are crucial for informed decision-making; if farmers have the right skills and access to the necessary inputs, they will adopt the farming and aquaculture system that is most suitable and advantageous for their specific case.
Human resource development and institutional strengthening are widely held to be the principal requirements for improving integration at the level of individual farms and communities, in river basin and coastal area management and at the level of sectoral and macroeconomic policies. At the farm level, attention needs to focus first on resource use efficiency and the economic incentives that influence farmers when they decide on cropping patterns and the use of water, fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides and other inputs. Next, the emphasis should be on farmers’ knowledge of available production and pest management options as well as on their ability to apply these. Agriculture and aquaculture offer a large variety of cropping patterns under different climatic and soil conditions. If they have the right skills, together with access to the necessary inputs, farmers will adopt the farming or aquaculture system that is most suitable and economically advantageous for their specific situation. Extension and training are crucial for informed decision-making, and physical infrastructure, efficient input markets and credit facilities are indispensable for the optimal development and integration of farming and aquaculture systems.

Markets for certain important natural resource inputs, such as water, and the environment’s capacity to assimilate effluent are often entirely non-existent or distorted because of their common property or open-access nature. The levying of use fees and/or the introduction of tradable rights have been suggested to achieve a higher level of efficiency in the use of water and other natural resources such as wild fish stocks. Resource management through such market-based instruments can entail high administrative costs because of the need to monitor individual farmers’ resource use and to institute well-defined and enforceable individual user rights. Where tradable rights are applicable, they may reinforce an inequitable distribution of incomes and assets, especially where other services (e.g. for credit) are inefficient.

The alternative approaches of comanagement and community-based management of common property resources have received increasing attention in recent years because of their assumed greater efficiency and prevention of undesired distributional implications. Factors that users themselves have identified as being important for successful resource management include: small group size, which facilitates the formulation, observance and monitoring of a collective agreement; social cohesion; resource characteristics that facilitate the exclusion of outsiders; and visible signs of successful collective management.41 These factors could well apply to a number of fisheries in reservoirs and other small water bodies, where the potential for self-management, however, is not utilized because responsibility is not delegated to the local level and collective rights are not sufficiently protected. Similar favourable conditions exist in many other situations, for example for resources such as water and mangrove forests where, again, the potential for effective management has yet to be realized. In addition to the recognition of common rights, community-based and joint management need support through extension and training services and scientific assessments of resource abundance.

At the level of river basins and coastal areas, management needs to focus on human behaviour, not physical stocks of natural resources such as fish, land or water.
At the level of river basins and coastal areas, integration is aimed at managing sectoral components as parts of a functional whole, explicitly recognizing that management needs to focus on human behaviour, not physical stocks of natural resources such as fish, land or water. Integrated river basin and coastal area management employs a multisectoral strategic approach to the efficient allocation of scarce resources among competing uses and the minimization of unintended natural resource and environmental effects.42 Land use planning and zoning, together with environmental impact assessment procedures, are vital tools for preventing the occurrence of antagonistic intersectoral interactions and for fostering synergistic and harmonious development while preserving ecosystem functionalities. The involvement of fisheries agencies in these activities therefore is absolutely essential.
The participation of all resource users and other stakeholders at an early stage of land use planning is indispensable, not least because of their knowledge of local socio-economic conditions and natural resources.
The participation of all resource users and other stakeholders at an early stage is indispensable for effective land use planning and zoning, not least because of their intimate knowledge of local socio-economic conditions and the state of natural resources. At the government level, the functions of the various agencies with regulatory and development mandates need to be well coordinated. Two broad distinctions can be made in the wide range of possible institutional arrangements for integrated river basin and coastal area management:

Multisectoral integration. This involves coordinating the various agencies responsible for river basin and coastal management on the basis of a common policy and bringing together the various government agencies concerned as well as other stakeholders so that they can work towards common goals by following mutually agreed strategies.

Structural integration. Here, an entirely new, integrated institutional structure is created by placing management, development and policy initiatives within a single institution.

 Multisectoral coordination tends to be preferred, since line ministries are typically highly protective of their core responsibilities which relate directly to their power base and funding. The establishment of an organization with broad administrative responsibilities overlapping the traditional jurisdictions of line ministries – as would be the case if management, policy and development functions were integrated within a single institution – is often likely to meet with resistance rather than cooperation. Integration and coordination should be thought of as being separate but mutually supportive.43

However, a caveat has arisen from experiences to date. Integrated planning and institutional coordination are often difficult to achieve and can entail significant costs. The difficulties and costs relate to the often cumbersome bureaucratic structures and procedures of government agencies; the complexity of the scientific, technical and economic issues involved; and the potentially large number of informed decisions that need to be taken. In addition to high administrative costs, the decision-making process could be protracted and may slow down economic development.

Many river basin and coastal management issues can be addressed through sound sectoral management, but taking into full account the impacts of and interdependencies with other sectors and ecosystem processes;44 the provision and enforcement of environmental legislation; the need for a transparent and consultative process of land use planning and siting; and the design of major infrastructure projects such as dams. The costs of a formal process for the preparation of a river basin or coastal area management plan are always likely to be justified in areas where intense multisectoral resource utilization either exists or is planned.

The advantages of subsidizing chemical inputs need to be weighed against the harm they can do to aquatic environments and to fishery resources, which provide food for fishers and fish consumers alike.
At the macrolevel, economic policies such as subsidies for production inputs and import and export duties can have profound impacts on the characteristics and level of resource use as well as on the occurrence of undesirable environmental effects. The advantages of subsidizing chemical inputs such as fertilizer and pesticides need to be weighted against the potential harm they can do to aquatic environments and to fishery resources, which provide food for fishers and fish consumers alike.


Modern advances in information and data processing technologies have dramatically increased the capacity of humans to analyse complex multiple resource-use options and to link up large numbers of people into integrated decision-making structures. At the same time, new research findings have greatly broadened the understanding of local communities’ ability to coordinate common property resource use while maintaining their essential social and cultural attributes. Finally, governments have become more aware of sectoral and environmental interdependencies. Such all-round progress has created conditions favourable to the full realization of benefits resulting from the enhanced integration of fisheries and agriculture as well as their integration with the rest of the economy.


1  The term “undernourishment” is used throughout this section to define a situation of inadequate food availability. It should not be equated with “undernutrition” which is the result not only of an inadequate food intake but also of the insufficient utilization of food by the body, particulary as a result of health disorders.

2 For the period 1990-92, the new estimate of undernourished people worldwide is 822 million. This differs from the earlier estimate of 840 million reported for the same period at the World Food Summit and in The State of Food and Agriculture 1997, mainly because of retrospective downward revisions in the UN estimates of total population figures for some critical countries. These revisions also made it necessary to revise estimates of the number of undernourished for past periods, leading to slight adjustments for a number of countries. It should be noted that the changes shown for the early 1990s are based on the assumption that the coefficient of variation of intracountry food distribution remained constant between 1990-92 and 1994-96.

3  For certain indicators, data are not available for all 98 countries.

4 Increasing numbers of people in rural areas are involved in economic activities outside agriculture, as discussed in Part III of this issue, entitled Rural non-farm income in developing countries.

5 This report is based on information available as of May 1998. Current information on the global cereal supply and demand situation can be found in FAO’s bimonthly Food Outlook.

6 The broad definition of agriculture includes agriculture, forestry, fisheries, land and water management, agro-industries, environment, manufacturing of agricultural inputs and machinery, regional and river development and rural development.

7 The narrow definition of agriculture includes only agriculture (crops and animal husbandry), forestry, fisheries and development of land and water resources.

8 Based on information available from the World Food Programme (WFP) as of May 1998.

9 While cereal shipments are monitored on a July/June basis, shipments of non-cereals are monitored on a calendar year basis.

10 This report is based on information available as of May 1998. Current information on cereal prices can be found in FAO’s bimonthly Food Outlook.

11 Unless otherwise specified, economic estimates and forecasts in this section are from IMF. 1998. World Economic Outlook. Washington, DC.

12 Such a positive overall view of global economic prospects is shared by most major specialized centres and agencies, which had forecast the current economic slowdown to be less pronounced than those of the mid-1970s, early 1980s and early 1990s. However, the highly tentative nature of any economic forecast in the current fluid situation must again be emphasized.  The same caveat holds with regard to agricultural market assumptions, which are notoriously subject to uncertainty.

13 These agricultural forecasts were prepared for FAO by the Institute for Policy Analysis, University of Toronto, Canada, associated with the Project LINK economic forecast model.

14 Food imports account for 25 percent or more of total export earnings for each of these 31 countries, which are a subgroup of the traditional FAO-defined group of LIFDCs. The subgroup includes:  Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Comoros, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Ethiopia, the Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, The Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lesotho, Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nepal, Nicaragua, Rwanda, Samoa, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka, the Sudan, Togo and Yemen.

15 The limited impact of the crisis on these economies reflects their lack of integration with the world economy and, in particular, the small role played by private capital flows in many of them (Egypt, where high growth rates in recent years were fuelled by private investment, being an exception). In sub-Saharan Africa, where a majority (17 out of 31 countries) of this group are located, private investment only accounts for about two-thirds of total investment. This region only attracts 2 to 3 percent of total world foreign direct investment.

16 US Bureau of the Census. (April)1998. International Programs Center.

17 UN. 1997. World urbanization prospects: the 1996 revision. New York, UN Secretariat Population Division.

18 Strictly speaking, “city” is not the same as “urban”. An urban area is defined differently from one country to the next, but usually by the number of its inhabitants. In Senegal, an urban area must have 10 000 inhabitants, while in Peru an urban area is an agglomeration of at least a few hundred people. A city is an urban area, usually defined by the size of its population, but it is also a complex of economic, social and other activities implying a different mode of living than that typical of the countryside.

19 All population and urbanization projections have been drawn from UN, op. cit., note 17.

20 Asaduzzaman. 1989. Cited in D. Drakakis-Smith. 1992. Food production and under-nutrition in the Third World. Hunger Notes, 18(2): 5-6.

21 World Bank. 1991. Urban policy and economic development. Washington, DC.

22 IFPRI. 1996. Urban challenges to nutrition security: a review of food security, health and care in the cities (unpublished manuscript). Washington, DC.

23 Tabatabai (1993), Gebre (1993), Maxwell (1995) et al. Cited in IFPRI, op. cit., note 22.

24 UN. 1995. The challenge of urbanization. New York.

25 According to IFPRI, op. cit., note 22, urban food distribution problems have been identified in Mittendorf and Abbott (1979) and Lourenco-Lindell (1995), but most research on urban food systems has been location-specific and viewed from the narrow perspective of certain actors. FAO’s Programme on Food Supply and Distribution to Cities is contributing to a deeper understanding of the issues through case studies (in progress).

26 Exceptions are the wholesale market of Bouaké, a city of about 300 000 inhabitants in Côte d’Ivoire, and the wholesale fresh fish market of Dakar, Senegal.

27 FAO.  Analysis of food marketing in the large cities of the developing world (forthcoming).

28 National Report on Implementation of the World Food Summit Plan of Action. Mauritania, January 1998.

29 See, for example, a review of Indonesia’s interesting price information system, by A. Sheperd and A.J.F. Schalke in FAO. 1995.  An assessment of the Indonesian Horticultural Market Information Service. Rome.

30 A household food consumption survey undertaken in northeastern Thailand, for example, has revealed that fish consumption was five to six times higher than reported fish catches from the Mekong River. See Mekong Fisheries Network Newsletter,  August 1996, 2(1).

31 FAO. 1997.  Technical guidelines for responsible fisheries. No. 6. Inland Fisheries. Rome.

32 The development of agriculture implies that at least a minimum amount of physical and institutional infrastructure has already been developed, Kapetsky and Nath conclude that, in general, the conditions encouraging agriculture favour aquaculture development and vice versa. This fact has been used by these authors and by Aguilar-Manjarrez and Nath in their estimates of aquaculture potential in Africa and Latin America. See J.M. Kapetsky and S.S. Nath in FAO. 1997.  A strategic assessment of the potential for freshwater fish farming in Latin America. COPESCAL Technical Paper No. 10. Rome; and J. Aguilar-Manjarrez and S.S. Nath in FAO. 1998.  A strategic reassessment of fish farming potential in Africa. CIFA Technical Paper No. 32. Rome.

33 Many examples of traditional management of water resources and other common property or common pool resources can be found in National Academy Press. 1986. Proceedings of the Conference on Common Property Resource Management. Washington, DC.

34 Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia and the Pacific (NACA). 1989. Integrated fish farming in China. Technical Manual No. 7.

35 A recent review of the trends in rice-fish farming is provided by M. Halwart. 1998. Trends in rice-fish farming. In FAO Aquaculture Newsletter, 18: 3-11.

36 K.C. Mathur. 1996. Rainfed lowlands become remunerative through rice-fish systems. Indian Council of Agricultural Research News, 2(1): 1-3.

37 Halwart, op. cit., note 35.

38 Ibid.

39 Ibid.

40 A comprehensive discussion on this issue took place during the Expert Group Meeting on Strategic Approaches to Freshwater Management, organized by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs and held in Harare, Zimbabwe, 27-30 January 1998.

41 See E. Ostrom. 1990. Governing the commons. The evolution of institutions for collective action. Cambridge, UK, Cambridge University Press; and J.-M. Baland and J.-P. Platteau. 1996. Halting degradation of natural resources. Is there a role for local communities? Published for FAO by Oxford University Press (Clarendon academic imprint), UK.

42 Scura Fallon. 1994. Typological framework and strategy elements for integrated coastal fisheries management.  FAO/UNOP Project INT/91/007.  Field document 2. Rome.

43 For this and other aspects of integration, such as conflict management and economic valuation of natural resources, see the detailed discussion in FAO. 1998. Integrated coastal area management and agriculture, forestry and fisheries. Edited by N. Scialabba. Rome.

44 This has been named “enhanced sectoral management” in a recent survey of coastal management programmes. See S. Olsen, K. Lowry, J. Tobey, P. Burbridge and S. Humphrey. 1997. Survey of current purposes and methods for evaluating coastal management projects and programs funded by international donors. Coastal Management Report No. 2200. Coastal Resources Center, University of Rhode Island, USA.  A detailed discussion of integration aspects with respect to inland fisheries is provided in U. Barg, I.G. Dunn, T. Petr and R.L. Welcomme. 1996. Inland fisheries. In A.K. Biswas, ed. Water Resources - Environmental planning, management and development. New York, McGraw-Hill.

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