4.Technical issues

While conducting their own reviews of their cooperation with NGOs, FAO's technical departments identified key areas in which they see NGO/CSO involvement as particularly critical in the medium term. This section presents only a small selection of these issues to illustrate in concrete terms the scope for enhanced partnership.

Agricultural trade liberalization

FAO has a major programme of technical assistance in Uruguay Round follow-up activities that is likely to be intensified in the next few years as the process of further trade liberalization in agriculture is pursued at WTO. NGOs have built up related capacity over the years, and this could be drawn on to address issues of the reform process and provide feedback from NGOs working in the field.

FAO has worked closely with some NGOs on Uruguay Round matters. This has proved to be very useful in keeping certain issues before public attention. Collaboration on trade matters between FAO and NGOs was intense during the process leading to the World Food Summit, especially in the context of the consultations organized by FAO at the regional level. The close collaboration continued at the NGO Forum during and after the Summit. For example, FAO reviewed and commented on the NGO position paper on trade issues, which was subsequently forwarded to the Singapore Ministerial Conference. FAO has also been closely associated with NGO initiatives related to ways and means of implementing the Marrakesh Ministerial Decision on Measures Concerning the Possible Negative Effects of the Reform on Least-Developed and Net Food-Importing Developing Countries.

In the future, FAO will continue this constructive collaboration with NGOs, in particular drawing on their assessments of the impact of trade liberalization on vulnerable groups in developing countries and their identification of issues of concern to these countries. As in the past, FAO will also take part in major NGO initiatives, providing them with information and analysis of ongoing trade issues and thus helping them to conduct well-informed campaigns to influence public opinion.

Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries

The Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries was negotiated over a period of two years with the active participation of many of FAO's member countries and important national and international fisheries NGOs representing environmental, industry and small-scale fisheries' and fishworkers' interests. It was adopted by the FAO Conference at its Twenty-eighth Session in 1995.

The Code is directed towards all states and fishing entities, organizations and persons concerned with the conservation of fishery resources and the management and development of fisheries. It establishes general principles and standards of conduct for responsible fisheries and specific criteria for the elaboration of national policies. It defines policy objectives such as the contribution of fisheries to food security and food quality, emphasizing the nutritional needs of local communities.

Activities in support of the implementation of the Code are the priority of the Fishery Department's current and medium-term work programme. NGOs must play a central role, since it is through these organizations that the contents of the Code can be effectively disseminated, especially to the millions of small-scale, artisanal and indigenous fishworkers whose active participation is essential to achieve responsible fishing practices and to protect their interests and livelihoods.

The Code was one of the important areas identified for future collaboration between FAO and NGOs in a meeting held in conjunction with the Twenty-first Session of the Committee on Fisheries in 1996. Consequently, an umbrella programme to support NGOs in the implementation of the Code was developed jointly by various NGOs and FAO. The programme's aims include enhanced awareness of the contents of the Code among all stakeholders, participation with governments in the elaboration of national strategies for its implementation, and the development of improved institutional arrangements for participatory fisheries and coastal area management regimes and the development of responsible aquaculture practices.

Access to land and natural resources

Access to land and natural resources is crucial to agriculture, food security and income generation and has been a key focus of FAO since its establishment in 1945. Land tenure and agrarian reform have always been concerned with efficiency and social equity, but the major methods for achieving these goals have varied over time, as have their precise sets of beneficiaries.

Whereas, in the past, emphasis was placed on providing access to those without land rights, more importance has been given recently to increasing the tenure security of those who already have some rights, but for whom unclear, short-term or insecure rights constrain investments. Because Member Governments often have limited human and financial resources, poor public awareness and the non-application of new reforms and policies have constituted major problems in many countries, particularly in rural areas. Given these trends, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of combining government-generated legislative, juridical and administrative changes, with support to more non-governmental and local-level processes, such as land markets and rural institutions involved in land and resource management.

Collaboration among government, rural producers, CSO/NGOs and FAO now appears essential for sustainable improvements in land tenure. Such collaboration would combine governmental legitimacy and farmers' knowledge with the field-based long-term perspective of NGOs/CSOs and the technical expertise of FAO.


There is increasing recognition worldwide of the value of local knowledge systems in agriculture and rural development, and of the fact that rural people, with their detailed, holistic, integrated and interactive knowledge of local ecosystems, are experts in their own right. They are capable of classifying and structuring environmental data and knowledge using their own terminologies, understanding environmental processes and developing skills and strategies for natural resources management and sustainability. They have existing systems for transmitting knowledge both within their immediate cultural group and to outside groups. Local knowledge systems are, by nature, gendered. Men and women often have very different skills and knowledge which, together, create a knowledge system specific to local conditions, needs and priorities. Their social roles and relationships are also part of this knowledge system and its use, preservation and adaptation.

FAO has been supporting the work of national and regional NGOs in three regions: Latin America, South Asia and the region of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Activities include:

FAO will continue to work with NGO partners in following up and expanding on the above activities to promote implementation of gender-responsive strategies and programmes for building on local knowledge systems in the conservation, use and management of agrobiodiversity.

Organic agriculture

Because organic agriculture is emerging as a viable sustainable approach practised by a growing number of farmers around the world, FAO has recently included it on its agenda for future work. The potential contribution of organic agriculture to sustainable production and improved livelihoods, market opportunities for developing countries, and the need for market regulation and technical assistance are areas in which FAO can assist its member countries.

NGOs and farmers have been promoting this form of agriculture for more than two decades, in the absence of formal technical or policy support. NGOs are not in a position to perform some of the functions carried out by FAO; for example, advising governments on sustainable farming alternatives, settling disputes on international markets for organic labelling or systematically collecting and disseminating information to assist farmers in their decisions. On the other hand, FAO does not have the technical experience in organic farming techniques, or the field network, that NGOs have. Collaboration between the two, drawing on respective strengths and opportunities, can greatly assist advances in organic agriculture.

The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) and FAO have held a brainstorming seminar to share knowledge and identify areas of future cooperation. Plans are under way to implement field projects jointly. Regular consultations are held by e-mail on several initiatives. It is hoped that this joint venture will provide an example of how FAO can respond to the needs of farmers, in both its field and headquarters policy work, through collaboration with NGOs.

Integrated pest management

FAO projects work extensively in Asia with NGOs in implementing participatory integrated pest management (IPM). IPM programmes in Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Viet Nam carry out NGO-government, South-South, technical and farmer-to-farmer field exchanges as well as longer-term cooperative work with farmers' field schools. These cooperative initiatives have mutually strengthened local, national and regional IPM programmes in rice, vegetables, tea, fruit and other crops. Global, regional and national NGOs in Africa, Latin America and the Near East have sought and received technical and policy advice from FAO on IPM and pesticide risk reduction. NGOs have adapted the farmers' field school approach from IPM field training given in association with FAO for in situ conservation, selection, exchange and utilization of genetic resources in the Philippines and Viet Nam.

The Global IPM Facility, cosponsored by FAO, the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), works with NGOs in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Near East in identifying new opportunities and providing technical and financial support for IPM implementation and policy reform. Globally, FAO cooperates with policy-oriented NGOs - those affiliated with the Pesticide Action Network - especially in the implementation of the International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides. NGOs have been instrumental in national and international application of the Prior Informed Consent procedure, and activities concerning methyl bromide and persistent organic pollutants.

Genetic resources for food and agriculture

The Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture provides an international forum for the discussion of all aspects of the conservation and sustainable utilization of genetic resources for food and agriculture. The Commission is an intergovernmental body, but international NGOs regularly attend as observers and have contributed effectively to a number of debates and to the formulation of relevant policies. The Commission monitors and oversees the implementation of the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources, which is currently being revised by countries in the Commission in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity. The revised Undertaking is likely to be a binding instrument and probably a protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity, which will regulate multilateral access and benefit sharing in relation to plant genetic resources and will contribute to the realization of farmers' rights.

NGOs have also contributed to the discussions regarding the development of codes of conduct on the collection and transfer of genetic resources and on biotechnology as it affects the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources; the establishment of the World Information and Early Warning System on Plant Genetic Resources (WIEWS); the establishment of the International Network on Ex Situ Germplasm Collections, under the auspices of FAO; and the realization of farmers' rights. NGOs played an important role in the preparatory process for the Fourth International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources (Leipzig, 1996) which was overseen by the Commission; the Technical Conference adopted the Global Plan of Action on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.