The evidence and arguments in this and the accompanying papers demonstrate the value of the multi-functional perspective. In relation to the SARD approach, the MFCAL concept adds to our understanding of the factors crucial to achieving greater sustainability in agriculture. Appreciation of the inter-relations between and impacts of different functions builds on our understanding of the complexity and scope of agricultural and land-use systems and helps to identify potential synergies and trade-offs. The conceptual framework proposed incorporates the dimensions of space, scale and time, different geographical conditions and levels of institutional development, as well as trends in market development.
The taking stock process on achievements since adoption of the Den Bosch Declaration and Agenda 21 indicated that there are six key requirements for progress:
Given the above, the ability to distinguish the functions of agriculture in precise contexts offers insights into possible directions for future policy and activities. Contribution to the overall objective of sustainable development encompasses improving food security and strengthening the synergies between the environmental, economic and social functions of agriculture and related land use. National priorities, and processes for establishing these priorities will vary, and choices between options will depend on public decision-making processes. National bodies for governance and management will continue to shoulder the primary responsibility for arriving at and executing such decisions.
Residents of rural communities, in particular farmers, continue to play a central role as stewards of agricultural land and the environment. An appreciation of their vital contribution has progressively permeated government and private agencies in urbanised, industrialised and industrialising societies where decision-makers are increasingly divorced from direct experience with the land. There is growing recognition of the importance of decentralised governance, decision-making and empowerment. Building on the scope for multiple functions in rural areas may be a way of offering greater opportunity and confronting problems of equity - in relation to gender, age and social status, for example - and poverty. Choices between options would depend on an overall assessment of the likely consequences for the local environment and society. However, recognising the role of rural actors is neither a panacea for contemporary challenges to agriculture and land use, nor an alternative to the critical roles played by other actors.
The search for responses to these challenges is complex. Sustainability is contingent on local perceptions of livelihood security, strategies for risk minimisation and prudent assessment of available choices. There are high social and long-term economic costs of failing to confront some of the crucial problems facing rural areas, such as under-employment of youth and out-migration of young women and children to marginal, vulnerable service occupations. Perceptions of lack of security sometimes orient farmers towards unsustainable practices to maximise immediate benefit. Pursuit of short-term comparative advantages can also result in land-use choices in isolated or marginal areas that carry highly negative ecological and social costs (for example, some forms of intensive, irrigated cotton production, and production of narcotic crops).
Perhaps the greatest challenge to the development of sustainable agriculture and related land use is to reconcile the primary objective of achieving food security with the environmental objectives. Both have an inherently international character. Given annual fluctuations and comparative productive and distribution capacities, co-operation and collaboration between states and at local and sub-regional levels is needed to ensure food security. Many aspects of the environment are also supra-national, given the temporal and spatial scales associated with conservation of biological diversity, open bodies of water, watersheds and the atmosphere. Appreciation of the essential role of larger ecosystems - eco-regions - makes sustainability clearly a regional issue.
In the global arena, these issues are critical to international agreements. The social dimensions have been at the heart of the World Food Summit and a series of conferences regarding social development, population, women and poverty alleviation. The environmental dimensions of the MFCAL concept are highly relevant to the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention to Combat Desertification, the Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Wetlands (RAMSAR). The evident relation of the concept to these conventions offers an opportunity to build common - or at least mutually informed and articulated - approaches. There is also an opening to build mechanisms for monitoring contemporary land resources and evaluating the effects of agriculture to optimise the use of national and international resources, and ensure global sustainability. The immediacy of contemporary international decision-making processes and their impacts further compounds the need to confront emerging issues rapidly and with flexibility.
This examination of the strategic, indeed essential, importance of the multiple functions of agriculture and related land-use brings us back to basic issues of governance and participation. Ultimate responsibility to ensure the viability of agricultural systems and the environment remain in the public arena, and there must be effective mechanisms to co-ordinate action and to make decisions, collaborating with other actors at the local level and from civil society. Clearly, precise roles will have to evolve and be subject to periodic negotiation, with intense consultation and collaboration between stakeholders and, most notably, members of rural communities. The evidence in the case studies, surveys and commissioned papers illustrates some alternatives for improving forms of local and national transformation in agriculture and land use. Public responsibility will also cover areas such as professional education and applied research.
Possible domains of actions include strategic and applied research, promotion of better policies, and the use of market forces:
Success will rely in part on improvements in understanding and knowledge of evolving transformations in agriculture and land. Progressive developments in the fields of biotechnology, "green" techniques and technology, energy sources and efficiency, field technologies (for example, to optimise water use), communication, and information processing and delivery are all likely to increase in importance.
Participation of the various stakeholders and principal actors would take place through mechanisms established for communication, negotiation, decision making, enforcement of decisions, and adjudication in case of contested decisions or actions. In order to stimulate participation and innovation, this would involve:
Mobilising explicit, public commitment to fashioning the land for shared social and environmental goals for sustainability in the next century will be the first step. The subsequent steps for an assessment and decision-making process using the concept of MFCAL at the national level are set out in the box below.
BOX 5: MOVING TOWARDS SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE
Progress in optimising the multifunctional character of agriculture and land as a contribution to sustainability would require, in sequence:
The legitimacy of pursuing national values and objectives by taking full advantage of the MFCAL concept does not exempt the internalisation of any associated costs in national policies. However, benefits shared with the international community, as recognised by relevant international agreements, may constitute an exception under specific conditions.
The sequential process at the national level suggested above may meet with converging acceptance and agreement at the international level. FAO, the CGIAR and other international agencies active in the agricultural arena should certainly prepare to help these national efforts to crystallise successfully. Heightened awareness of the trade-offs and synergies among functions may lead to proposals for novel initiatives, as well as new policies and priorities for the agricultural sector.
On the brink of the 21st Century, the challenges of global transformations and emerging trends in agriculture are immense. Pressures to feed humanity, competition for use of arable space, and the cumulative effects of further industrialisation and urbanisation will be basic components of debate and decision in every nation. Priorities for action will still be defined initially at the local, sub-regional and national levels. Nevertheless, regional and international bodies can play an increasing role in formulating joint policies that focus on comparative advantages for trade and development, with explicit social goals affecting equity, gender and access to resources. The commitments of the Rome Declaration consecrate the necessity of encompassing the breadth of these questions in order to achieve sustainability in all societies.
The concept of MFCAL can contribute to discussions at the Committee on Agriculture (COAG), the FAO Council and Conference, other food-related agencies, as well as to other mechanisms. The process of informing and motivating discussion has already started and can be continued at several of these forums. In addition, increasing precision in distinguishing the multiple functions and their inter-relations has implications well beyond the agricultural sector.
The Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) is well placed to play a catalytic role on general issues of sustainability at the global level. The CSD process offers an opportunity to recognise the enduring and irreplaceable role of agriculture for the future, building on possible synergies between the environment and different sectors of economy and society. The participants and contributors to CSD - 8 should be able to consider the profile of the overall international community in order to move forward in addressing the most important issues relating to agriculture, including food security, rural poverty and access to resources.
However, this may not be sufficient. What else can pave the way to facing the agricultural challenges of the next century ? The variety and importance of the environmental, economic and social functions of agriculture and land add significantly to the continuing importance of the provision of food and the other services directly related to agriculture. There is therefore a need to collaborate on ways forward that combine mechanisms and institutions that are already relevant to and responsible for all dimensions of land use, as well as for the macro-economy, public policy and overall planning. Initiatives must also be developed in the context of the many relevant conventions and the existing platforms regulating international concerns about the environment, commerce and society.
The six key requirements for progress identified at the beginning of this chapter constitute a starting point for formulating a common international agenda for the future. Particular areas of persisting world-wide attention will include:
As a neutral platform for international debates, FAO will continue to dedicate its efforts to issues critical to the future of food and agriculture.