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Half a century of food and agriculture

This is a historical overview of the main events and trends affecting food and agriculture over the past 50 years. It draws primarily on the annual series of The State of Food and Agriculture, which was first published in 1947. These past publications record more than half a century of achievements as well as failures in agricultural and rural development and food security. They show recurring themes and concerns but also major transformations that make world agriculture today very different from that of half a century ago. The economic and political environments have changed profoundly, technologies have progressed enormously and policy perceptions and priorities have evolved.

This section attempts to trace the changes as reported by FAO in The State of Food and Agriculture, particularly - since 1957 - in the special chapters on selected topics. Some events that, in hindsight, appear to be important, but have either been overlooked or reviewed in an incomplete or inaccurate way in contemporary issues of the report, have been inserted or supplemented by additional information in the present review. This is necessarily selective in its coverage, and FAO's many activities and initiatives that are widely publicized in other documents have not been included, except for selected important events in which the Organization has played a prominent role.

It is hoped that this retrospective overview will be of interest, not only as a reminder of past events, but also as material for reflection on how far we have come towards achieving world food security and promoting agricultural and rural development. It should also prompt us to consider how much remains to be done and, judging from past experience, what action is most likely to contribute to further improvements.


Devastation and reconstruction, Food shortages
Geographic concentration of wealth and food supply
Asia - the focus of concerns

The Second World War had a profound affect on world agriculture. According to early issues of The State of Food and Agriculture, world agricultural production at the end of the war was 5 percent - 15 percent in per caput terms - below pre-war levels. However, the impacts of the global conflict differed widely across regions.

Agriculture suffered massive war devastation throughout Europe, in the USSR, in large areas of Asia and the Pacific and in North Africa. Sharp falls in agricultural production in those regions,1 coupled with a widespread inability to finance food imports, resulted in acute food shortages even when hostilities ceased. These problems were compounded by a series of droughts during 1946 and 1947 in the USSR, North Africa and large areas of the Far East. Shortages were also acute in the fisheries sector, which was affected by the loss and requisition of fishing craft and equipment. Four fifths of world fish supplies had formerly been produced in the areas affected by the war. In forestry too, the impact of the war was severe. Direct damage to forests and forest industries was most serious in Central and Eastern Europe, including the western part of the USSR, and in some countries of the Far East. The war effort, combined with the cessation of coal trade, led to overcutting for fuel and to forest destruction in many parts of the world. In addition, there was generally less concern for forest management.

In sharp contrast, food supplies were abundant in a number of large producer countries that had been relatively spared by the conflict - Canada, the United States, Australia and Argentina. As in the First World War, those countries took on the role of food suppliers for their allies and made a special effort to stimulate output. In fact, especially for North America's agriculture, the war years were a period of expansion and prosperity. Agricultural production in this region increased by one third compared with pre-war levels, and net cereal exports rose from about 5 million tonnes in 1938 to an annual average of 17.5 million tonnes in 1946-48. Europe's net annual cereal imports rose from 9.5 million to 14 million tonnes during the same period. Among the developing country regions, both Asia and Africa turned from having a surplus to a deficit in cereals, with the shift being especially pronounced in the case of Asia (which registered a drop from +2.2 to -3.7 million tonnes between 1934-38 and 1946). Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, the Near East and Oceania only suffered from the indirect effects of the war (with shortages of production requisites, or loss of import supplies or export markets), and the war had relatively little effect on their agricultural performances at the regional level.

In reviewing such diverse regional performances, already in 1948 The State of Food and Agriculture (probably recalling the depression-induced agricultural surpluses of the 1930s) warned against the paradoxical existence of burdensome excess food supplies in some parts of the world while there were acute scarcities elsewhere. It expressed the fear that food production in countries with a surplus might exceed the import capacity of food-deficit countries - many of which were acutely short of foreign exchange - and that the excess capacity of large producers and exporters could become structural in nature. It also noted that demand, particularly for forestry products, would shrink when reconstruction needs were met, and that synthetics would displace several agricultural raw materials. In contrast with some economists who advocated measures to reduce supply, FAO advocated action to raise demand, given the very low nutrition levels to which the populations of even some industrialized countries had fallen.

Excess food supplies in some parts of the world coexisted with acute scarcities in others. An increase in demand was needed to improve nutrition levels.

Developing country regions

Early issues of The State of Food and Agriculture reveal a balance of regional concerns profoundly different from the situation today. The regional reviews devoted much attention to the problems of Asia, with relatively less coverage of other regions. Africa, in particular, was recognized as the least economically advanced region, but one for which economic and social development and improved welfare were just a matter of time (see Box 11). This perception of "African hope-Asian drama" was reversed only after an extended period of contrasting development experiences in the two regions.

For Asia, the report depicted problems of an almost unsurmountable nature. This region had about half of the world's population but only one fifth of the earth's land, yet its economy was still dependent on agriculture to a great extent. Furthermore, agricultural productivity in much of the region was very low. For instance, cereal production per hectare of harvested land in India was estimated to be, on average, 20 percent below that of developing countries as a whole; and cereal production per worker in India, Indonesia and China was significantly lower than the average for developing countries. Agricultural structures in South Asia presented a grim combination of extensive land use and a high person-land ratio. Not only was agricultural productivity low but almost three quarters of the labour force was tied up in the production of a meagre diet. Calorie intake was barely 2 000 kcal per caput/day and most people lived on small farms, producing most of what they ate and eating most of what they produced.

The war brought these long-term problems of Asia into sharper relief. The food sector suffered considerably from war, political instability and displacements of people. Per caput calorie intake declined during the war in all but three large rice-producing countries: Burma (Myanmar), Siam (Thailand) and Indochina (Viet Nam, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Cambodia). In India and Pakistan, Japan and the Philippines, it fell to around 1 700 kcal/day. The great fishing industries of Southeast Asia suffered heavy loss of fishing vessels and human resources. The region emerged in the postwar period as a net importer of food, a reversal of its traditional food surplus situation. This shift was perceived to be of great significance to world food trade and raised the question, still debated today in the case of China, of the extent to which food demand in densely populated countries in Asia would exceed their domestic production capacity and cause tightness in world
food markets.

A very different picture emerged in postwar Latin America. Throughout and after the war, the region continued the rapid economic expansion recorded during much of the 1920s and 1930s. Such expansion was achieved more markedly than in other developing country regions through development strategies based on industrial growth and import substitution, which engendered considerable growth in industrial activity. Between 1934-38 and 1947 industrial output almost doubled, while agricultural production expanded by only 20 percent. Industrialization also contributed to a massive expansion of urban centres where most of the manufacturing activity was located, a phenomenon that would be amplified in the following decades.

Box 11


"From the standpoint of the highly developed regions, Africa appears as a comparatively empty continent with large potentialities of production - a soft-currency area with possibilities of a much greater exchange of goods with Europe. Indeed, in the last half of the twentieth century, Africa may in some cases be to Europe what
`the West' was to the United States in the latter half of the nineteenth century". However short in foresight, this vision of the role and future of African colonial territories reflected the conventional view of the time. Despite recognized nutritional shortcomings, Africa was not a focus of concern from a food security standpoint. Rather, adequate domestic food supplies were taken for granted in a demographically "empty" continent, where population was growing at moderate rates (1.3 percent yearly between 1920 and 1950), and with rich agricultural resources which constituted the region's area of specialization.
The fact that early issues of The State of Food and Agriculture may have misjudged the gravity of Africa's human and natural resource constraints is also suggested by the comparatively light treatment of this region in the publication's developing country reviews. Ignorance of facts, rather than neglect, probably explained this shortcoming. The report repeatedly emphasized the lack of information available to allow an adequate assessment of Africa's agricultural situation and the great uncertainty surrounding its development prospects. The 1948 report states that "... it is the least well-documented continent, and until more work has been done by governments in ascertaining the facts in each territory, only a very fragmentary idea of the food and agriculture situation is possible". This appeal for improved systems of collection and analysis of information on the African situation as a prerequisite for efficient policy action was to become a recurring theme of the publication over the years.

Nevertheless, agriculture still dominated the region's economy, contributing about one fifth of total GDP and employing close to half of the labour force in 1950. A high level of employment and rapid increases in real incomes created a strong demand for food, especially in the cities. Indeed, yearly rates of population growth in the late 1940s were in the order of 2.7 percent, the highest of all regions, and per caput GDP growth was 2 to 3 percent. Despite the policy bias against agriculture, caused by the industrialization drive (partly compensated by direct public support in various forms), the sector performed remarkably well, with food production generally coping with expanding demand. The region also remained a net exporter of food and agricultural products, although several countries became increasingly dependent on food imports. Satisfactory agricultural performances and expanding incomes translated into improved diets. Regional food intakes, estimated to be about 2 400 kcal per caput/day in 1947 (up from 2 200 before the war), were relatively high in relation to those of other developing country regions. Levels were, however, uneven among countries (Argentina 3 100 kcal, Peru 1 900 kcal) and income groups.

The war years had generally been years of economic progress for much of Africa. Demand was strong for many of its agricultural commodities and minerals. Many territories were able to expand economic activity and agricultural production. Average income levels were reported to be significantly higher than before the war. Basic food production in Africa increased in response to strengthened demand but, in contrast with other regions, the production of industrial crops - notably cotton, sisal and tobacco - increased faster than that of food crops. Higher income levels, chiefly in the cities, intensified the demand for foodstuffs, many of which had to be imported, and this created growing financial difficulties for several countries. However, despite generally satisfactory food production performances and increasing effective demand, dietary standards remained low. The 1947 estimates pointed to per caput calorie intakes of 1 500 to 2 000 kcal/day in North Africa (significantly below pre-war levels, especially in Algeria and Morocco); and 2 000 to 2 300 in most other countries.

The Near East was depicted as a backward region that was undergoing, however, the most rapid economic transformation. The State of Food and Agriculture 1948 notes: "Only [recently] did this region emerge from a long period in which distances and time were reckoned on the speed of the dromedary caravan. Suddenly the Near East found itself a crossroad of world trade and traffic.... Mineral oil is now available in increasing quantities. Oil pipelines cross the once mysterious deserts. New ports, new towns, new activities are growing continually. Modern Turkey is vastly different from the Ottoman Turkey of 30 years ago, and this is also true [to a] degree of all other countries of the region." The report concludes: "It is difficult to appraise what sort of agriculture may come out [of] this economic transformation during the next generation." In fact, the region's agricultural systems were still dominated by environment and tradition. Water was, as it is now, a predominant concern. Only 4 percent of the land area was under cultivation. Farming systems were characterized by age-old practices and structures. Animal husbandry was divorced from crop farming and monopolized by nomads. Sheep, goats, camels and horses were the most important livestock, with beef cattle farming almost unknown.

Against this background, the war period had been generally one of expansion for agriculture in the Near East. This was true in particular for cereals, meat and other animal products, which generally supplanted cash crops such as cotton in order to satisfy the food demand of the allied forces present in the region. Domestic consumers did not appear to have benefited from this emphasis on food production, however, as available data (mainly concerning Egypt and Turkey) suggest a significant decline in per caput calorie, protein and fat intakes in 1947/48 in relation to levels in the period 1934-1938, especially in Turkey. Average daily intakes in 1947/48 were about 2 050 kcal per caput in Turkey and 2 390 in Egypt, down from about 2 500 prior to the war in both countries.

Fisheries and forestry

The fisheries and forestry sectors were the object of only passing reference in early issues of The State of Food and Agriculture. It was then an accepted fact that the high seas belonged to everybody and that they contained inexhaustible stocks of fish. The FAO Conference in 1946 stated: "The fishing grounds of the world are teeming with fish of all kinds. Fisheries are an international resource. In underdeveloped areas, especially, the harvest awaits the reaper." A similar consideration applied to forestry. Early issues of this publication did mention the importance of conservation and long-term development of forests, but the focus of their attention was on the production of forest products. Conservation issues would only come to the fore decades later - in the 1970s - when the public in some countries began to worry about the destruction of tropical forests, forest fires and forest dieback.

THE 1950s

Recovery, Industrialization, Development planning
Food self-sufficiency, Surpluses
Reassessing Africa

Uneven recovery and bipolarism

Growing political and economic bipolarism characterized the 1950s. The "cold war" and ideological confrontation rendered international cooperation more problematic. At the same time, the gap between rich and poor countries and societies widened. The Marshall Plan and reconstruction activity contributed to a rapid economic recovery in war-affected countries in Western Europe while, by contrast, many economies in the developing world suffered from instability in agricultural markets, acute shortages of foreign exchange and, particularly in Asia, severe problems linked to the process of establishing newly independent political systems. During this period, the growing gap between rich and poor was mentioned repeatedly in The State of Food and Agriculture, which also emphasized the importance of agricultural development in improving the economic situation of countries and societies. For developing countries to raise their living standards significantly, it was estimated that their food production would have to rise to between 1 and 2 percent above population growth. Such an increase in output, however, was felt to be beyond the resources and technological capacity of many developing countries.

Developing countries lacked the resources and technology with which to raise their living standards.


Industry-driven growth, already the cornerstone of many Latin American countries' development strategies, became the orthodox development paradigm during the 1950s. Thus, the phenomenon of "urban bias-agricultural discrimination" gained ground. There was direct discrimination against agriculture through policies, widely implemented by parastatal marketing boards, which drove a "wedge" between prices received by farmers and border prices of tradable commodities; and indirect discrimination arising from currency overvaluation that tended to depress prices of exportables and import substitutes, together with policies that protected industry and favoured industrial import substitution, thereby raising the prices of non-agricultural goods while reducing farmgate prices.

The industrial bias was based on the thesis that for an economy to develop, it had to grow rapidly, and to do so it had to industrialize. This view was reflected in the ample coverage of developments in industrial production found in early years of this publication, which introduced a regular section on this issue in the 1950s. Other than the fundamental ingredient of development, because of its positive effects on income growth, industrialization was also seen as the "basic factor behind effective purchasing power for farm production" (The State of Food and Agriculture 1952). It was also recognized that, since industrialization involved urban migration, it would be necessary to keep food prices low in order to mitigate social hardship in the cities. Subsidies on agricultural inputs, such as fertilizers and machinery, and cheap credit were intended to compensate agriculture. However, these measures tended to benefit the larger commercial farms rather than small-scale peasant farming. "Cheap food" policies in favour of urban consumers heavily penalized the farm sector. Such policies endured in many countries until the 1980s when they were swept away in the process of structural adjustment.

Development planning

Partially as a result of the Great Depression of the early 1930s and the ensuing collapse of effective demand, which in turn led to calls for greater state intervention in the economy and in managing markets, development strategies involved a strong state role in the marketing of inputs and outputs and in the planning of production and the allocation of resources. The State of Food and Agriculture reported extensively on developments in programming and planning in agriculture, highlighting in particular the pioneering experiences of some Asian countries. It was felt that the vicious circle of low income, low consumption and stagnant production could only be broken by public sector planning and financing of agricultural and economic development. Planning typically involved the establishment of production targets, the programming of investment and even detailed schemes for land reclamation, irrigation and the provision of inputs.

India was singled out as a particular case for the degree to which it planned an integrated development of its mixed economy on the basis of self-help, yet without undue regimentation. State control was applied at strategic points in order to ensure that the pattern of development was in line with the objectives of India's first Five-Year Plan (1950/51-1955/56). The Plan envisaged important public financing of food and fibre production, with the objective of restoring pre-war levels of consumption and diverting any savings into investment for further economic development.

Another, more radical, example of state planning and intervention was that of China. Its first Five-Year Plan (1953-1957) was considered a success. Government investment in agriculture and industrial planning had reportedly increased GDP by 12 percent in real terms. In 1958, a new strategy was introduced, known as the "Great Leap Forward", in order to consolidate and reorganize rural agriculture and industry. The new strategy emphasized the adoption of new technologies in the countryside and the concomitant development of more rural-based light industry. It also involved the elimination of private rural property and the forced consolidation and collectivization of farms. The 1959 issue of this publication reported that, already by the end of 1958, more than 740 000 agricultural cooperatives in China had been transformed into 26 000 communes. Each contained some 2 000 families whose workload was divided between agricultural production and light industry.

However, although China's production increased significantly between 1957 and 1958, major problems emerged soon after. Production reports by the People's Communes were often overestimated, yet they served as a basis for the government's requests for increasing production quotas. Thus, government pressure on the peasantry to extract greater levels of output left rural communities with ever less of their production for their own consumption. The problem was compounded by the failure of rural industries to provide machinery, tools, fertilizer and other materials for agriculture as well as by widespread shortages of labour and the introduction of untested farming methods. These factors, coinciding with poor weather, contributed to a drastic reduction in agricultural production and led to food shortages.

The State of Food and Agriculture 1960 made some reference to the problems occurring in the communes and reported on measures used to counter them: "A reorganization of the communes was found necessary in August 1959, as food supplies for the commune kitchens had fallen below the previous year's level, and as overcentralization with the pooling of all income had meant that the more efficient `brigades' were supporting the rest. Small plots were handed back to families for the cultivation of vegetables and the raising of poultry to improve rural food supplies." The report also alluded to the easing of other regulations that were enforced within the commune system and to the organization of urban communes.


One common feature of many development plans was the emphasis on partial or total self-sufficiency in food, often motivated by strategic considerations. Wartime and postwar shortages had impressed on many countries the importance of assured food supplies and had made them mistrustful of too great a dependence on imports. These concerns were powerfully reinforced by payment difficulties and the reluctance to spend scarce foreign exchange on imports of agricultural products rather than on capital equipment needed for development. Food self-sufficiency (or "reasonable levels" of it) became a standard feature of most national development plans, even in cases where such an objective was clearly out of reach, except at extremely high costs and in situations of ample food supplies in world markets. The emphasis on increased food production and self-sufficiency, clearly at odds with the anti-agricultural bias of industry-driven development strategies, created ambiguous policy settings in many countries.

One important factor behind the emphasis on self-sufficiency in the early 1950s was the payments crisis that emerged in those years. This was a period of growing demand for goods of all kinds, especially from areas where imports had ceased during the war and where a vigorous process of recovery was under way. Because North America was the major supplier of industrial and agricultural goods, importers had to pay in dollars, which soon became scarce. Many deficit countries, even those receiving concessional payment terms and other forms of aid from the United States, were forced to curtail their overall and food imports. In particular, Latin American countries had to introduce severe import restrictions.

The problem of agricultural surpluses

The State of Food and Agriculture followed the problem of growing agricultural surpluses in some countries closely. It covered it extensively in 1954, referring in particular to the 1953 FAO Conference, which had discussed at length the complex issues involved. The central ones were: how to dispose of surpluses without disrupting world agricultural markets and what to do to ensure that production would expand in line with world requirements without adding to the surpluses. The Conference led to the establishment of a standing subcommittee of the FAO Committee on Commodity Problems (CCP) in order to provide a regular forum for intergovernmental consultations on these issues. The idea of using surplus food commodities to alleviate food emergencies and promote development - "surplus disposal" - gained ground and led to the introduction of food aid as a form of development assistance. This publication also discussed the price equalization schemes adopted by some exporting countries to attenuate price fluctuations, underlining the value of moving towards international commodity agreements to stabilize production and prices at a level that was satisfactory to both exporters and importers

Reassessing Africa

Africa began receiving ample coverage from this publication in the late 1950s. A special FAO study of food and agricultural development in Africa South of the Sahara was included in The State of Food and Agriculture 1958, which depicted a mixed record of agricultural performances since the conclusion of the war. In general, food production had kept pace with population growth, fish production had increased to three times its pre-war level, and dietary levels were considered by and large to be in line with requirements - despite cases of serious food shortages, especially in the periods preceding the harvests. While it was still regarded as an "empty" continent (with only 5 percent of the world's population and seven people/km2 overall), Africa had areas of population density that were too high for the maintenance of soil fertility under shifting cultivation and its forest cover was being ruthlessly destroyed, with serious consequences for its soil and water resources.


Chapter IV of The State of Food and Agriculture 1958 was entitled The growth of forest industries and their impact on the world's forests. It reviewed the development of forest industries from their early stages through to their enormous growth in the postwar period. For instance, wood pulp production had doubled in the ten years following the war to reach 56 million tonnes in 1956. Such expansion imposed enormous pressure on forest resources, the effects of which were, however, grossly understated ("Tabloid educators have familiarized most people with the fact that 50 ha of forest is consumed by a single Sunday edition of a New York newspaper"). The study emphasized that the world's forests were adequate to meet these demands and that the forest industry was in many cases the best friend of forests. It stated that "in many parts of the world, large-scale industrial exploiters of the forest are today setting a shining example of forest care and conservation". Opposing views were to come to the fore in the following decades.

THE 1960s

Technological progress
Concern about the poor and hungry - and famine in China Rediscovering agriculture
Trade - the Kennedy Round of MTNs and UNCTAD
Development assistance - the unsuccessful attempt to set targets

Technological progress

Of all of the past five decades, the 1960s could possibly be characterized best by the rapid advance of agricultural technology, although the first initiatives - including the establishment of the first international agricultural research centres (IARCs) such as the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) - had been taken in the late 1940s and the 1950s. There were high hopes that rapid gains in agricultural productivity would alleviate rural poverty and underpin economic and social development while reducing the incidence of hunger.

Box 12


The "green revolution" is referred to several times in this review. It refers to a spectacular improvement that took place in the yields of major food crops (rice, wheat, maize), mainly during the late 1960s and early 1970s, and most impressively in Asia. The improved yields helped turn heavily populated food-deficit countries into self-sufficient producers in the space of just a few years. It clearly averted a major food crisis

in Asia, and served as the foundation for startling economic growth in China and Southeast and South Asia.

The green revolution was characterized by the fast dissemination of high-yielding varieties, i.e. improved seeds resulting from science-based research, as part of a technological package that included irrigation or controlled water supply and improved moisture utilization, fertilizers and pesticides and associated management skills. Its development and dissemination among millions of farmers were possible thanks to enabling socio-economic and institutional environments where active market opportunities also played an important role.

Within 20 years, almost half the wheat and rice land in developing countries was being sown with the new varieties. In Asia, almost 90 percent of wheat fields were planted with modern varieties, and plantings of high-yielding rice had increased from 12 to 67 percent.

These developments enabled major increases in farm production and yields. The most rapid increases in output occurred during the 1963-1983 period of the green revolution. In developing countries, total production of paddy rice, wheat and maize rose by 3.1, 5.1 and 3.8 percent annually. During the next decade (1983-1993) annual production increases were reduced to 1.8, 2.5 and 3.4 percent, respectively.

The green revolution technologies were not without their problems: the need for a significant use of agrochemical-based pest and weed control in some crops raised environmental concerns as well as concern about human health; as irrigation areas expanded, water management required skills that were not always available; gender roles were shifted; and there were new scientific challenges to be tackled. Furthermore, lack of access to appropriate technologies remains a constraint for many farmers in areas with unfavourable conditions.

Consumers may be the greatest beneficiaries of the green revolution. Real food prices in Asia, indeed throughout the world, have steadily declined over the past 30 years through the application of yield-increasing, cost-reducing technologies built around improved seed-fertilizer-weed control components. Lower real food prices benefit the poor relatively more than the rich, since the poor spend a larger proportion of their available income on food. The green revolution technologies have also led to increased rural incomes.

Twice during the decade (in 1963 and 1968) special chapters of The State of Food and Agriculture discussed the issue of raising agricultural productivity and its underlying factors. With Asia the focus of development assistance efforts, it was logical that much attention and a large amount of development resources were directed at irrigation development, although the increased use of fertilizer (consumption by developing countries grew at record rates during this decade) and improved seeds were also key contributing factors to what was to become known as the "green revolution". FAO's own successful Fertilizer Programme, established under the aegis of the Freedom from Hunger Campaign, stems from this period.

The interlinked issues of science, technology, education and extension also received particular attention. It was noted that basic agricultural research, and still more its adaptation to local farm practice, was carried out predominantly in the developed countries with temperate climates. The crucial task ahead was to adapt the growing body of knowledge to the arid or tropical climates of most developing countries and to persuade farmers there to accept and apply this new knowledge.

The opportunities being opened up by new improved varieties and the good agricultural performances of a number of Asian countries in the latter part of the 1960s were the object of discussions in the 1968 and 1969 issues of this publication. To what extent were such improved performances a reflection of the conscious efforts to accelerate output, in particular through the more widespread use of improved cereal varieties and other inputs associated with them? While the reports offered no definite answer, they did point to a number of elements suggesting that something like a "green revolution" was in fact under way. The rate of adoption of the new cereal varieties had been much faster in Asian countries, where cereal crop yields had shown the greatest improvement. Improvements had been dramatic - the rate of growth in output in 1968 had doubled in those countries in relation to past trends - despite unfavourable weather conditions in many cases. It was suggested that government commitment, triggered by the urgency of the threat of food shortages, may have been crucial in this process. It was probably no coincidence that the fastest rate of adoption had taken place in the Far East, where the food situation had been particularly precarious, and that progress had been greater in food-importing countries than in exporting countries. It had been well perceived by the early 1960s that raising agricultural productivity was not simply a matter of developing and introducing new agricultural technologies.

In improving agricultural productivity, issues associated with land tenure and agrarian reform were the most difficult to address.

Land tenure and agrarian reform issues, reviewed in particular in The State of Food and Agriculture 1960, were seen as key aspects of agricultural development, but perhaps the most difficult ones to tackle. Moves towards agrarian reform had gained momentum since the end of the Second World War and, as the report stated, "in no comparable period of history were there such widespread efforts, affecting so many people, to establish systems of land tenure better adapted to the changing needs". However, achievements had been limited, agrarian structures continued to be dominated by extreme inequalities in most developing countries and, when actually implemented, schemes of agrarian reform met with uneven success. The report stressed the importance of providing adequate credit, marketing and technical services if measures of agrarian reform were to achieve the results intended.

World food conferences over the decades have emphasized that the solution to the problem of hunger lies less in seeking new remedies and more in implementing what is already known.

Addressing hunger and malnutrition

Despite growing optimism regarding the possibilities for raising agricultural productivity, a number of important institutional events in the first half of the 1960s indicated growing concern about the problems of hunger and malnutrition and the development prospects of poorer countries. The first was the creation in 1961 of the World Food Programme (WFP), initially introduced on an experimental basis as a joint responsibility of the UN and FAO. WFP was "to explore methods of using the surplus of food production of the more developed countries to aid economic development in less developed countries, and to combat hunger and malnutrition. Though small in relation to some bilateral programmes, it is potentially of great significance" (The State of Food and Agriculture 1962).

The World Food Congress, held in June 1963 in Washington, DC, drew world attention to the problems of hunger and malnutrition. It called on all governments and international and other organizations to take up the challenge of eliminating hunger as a primary task of that generation. It emphasized, however, that any sustained attack on the problem of hunger would have to come from a much more rapid growth of food production in the developing countries themselves. The Congress passed numerous recommendations to overcome the technical, educational and economic constraints facing agricultural development. These were often reiterated in such major meetings as the 1974 World Food Conference and the 1996 World Food Summit, and still remain fully relevant. They underline that the solution to the problem of hunger lies less in seeking new remedies and more in implementing, with the weight of political commitment, what is already widely known.

As emphasis to the prevailing concern about the prevalence of hunger, the 1960s opened with news that food shortages that had been developing since 1958 in China were reaching dramatic proportions. The State of Food and Agriculture reported disastrous harvests in large areas of the country, with more than half of the farmland affected by drought, typhoons, floods, insect infestation or other damage. The extent of the catastrophe in terms of human losses was to be known, however, only decades later. Estimates of the death toll vary but some point to tens of millions. Writing in 1993, Sen2 estimated that, during the period 1958-1961, between 23 million and 30 million people died as a consequence of this disaster, which marked the failure of the agricultural programme of the "Great Leap Forward".

Box 13


Significant increases in agricultural output occurred across geographic regions and products during the second half of the twentieth century. Figure A shows the growth in value of agricultural production between roughly 1955 and 1995, for all major products, as well as changes in land area planted. Figure B shows the agricultural output of the top producing countries in 1955 and 1995, in value and in proportion to the world total, along with per caput production and crop yields.

Major changes in total production

· Output value increased in every product category, in spite of a limited area expansion for most crops.

· There was a particularly strong expansion of cereal production, which almost tripled.

· Meat production value tripled and milk production value doubled - fed by the huge increase in cereals grown for feed use.

Major changes among the top ten producer countries

· China's total agricultural production surged, doubling as a proportion of total world output and more than quadrupling in value. China overtook the United States as the world's largest producer.

· China also doubled the per caput value of its agricultural output, which was far more than any other of the large producer countries.

· India retained its position as the world's third largest producer by tripling its agricultural output, although this was less than the increase achieved by China in the same period.

· In per caput terms, India only expanded its agricultural production by 35 percent, again less than China.

· Brazil gained several positions to become the world's fourth largest agricultural producer.

· Argentina maintained its position as the world's highest per caput producer, although per caput production actually declined, and France also substantially increased the value of its per caput output - inching past the United States.

Figure A

Figure B

Figure B (continued)

Figure B (continued)

Figure B (continued)

Agriculture and development

The surge in interest in problems of hunger, poverty and development coincided with an intense debate over distributional issues and the economic role of agriculture. The State of Food and Agriculture 1970 recalled the late 1960s when, after a long period of sustained economic growth, issues regarding distribution of income gains received increasing emphasis, to the point of making equity considerations an integral part of economic development policy. While earlier development theory had tended to stress the likelihood that rapid economic growth would lead to greater income inequalities between leading and lagging sectors, although the incomes of the poor would still rise, by the late 1960s quite the opposite perspective gained respectability. A "basic needs" approach took hold, stressing the alleviation of poverty as the central concern of economic development. The emphasis on distribution tended to benefit agriculture, since it was in rural areas that the majority of the poor were found and agriculture was often the lagging sector relative to industry.

The debate extended to other aspects of agriculture and development. On the one hand, there was a "rediscovery" of agriculture by neoclassic economists who claimed that freer markets, more liberal trade regimes and a growing agricultural economy were conducive to overall economic growth. They also claimed that export pessimism was largely unfounded and that agricultural production and exports did respond to incentives (and disincentives). This position was opposed by the "structuralists", including social scientists from the UN Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA). Strong supporters of import-substitution industrialization, structuralists had long contested the theory of comparative advantage, noting that it was not to the advantage of developing countries to specialize and to export primary and agricultural products when industrialized nations were exporting manufactured goods with greater value added. The thesis of a secular decline in the terms of trade of agricultural exports then evolved and has been the object of considerable literature since.

Although The State of Food and Agriculture did not enter directly into the debate, its position during this period - and thereafter - remained on the side of agriculture as an active source of development; equity as a sine qua non condition to development; and farmers as responsive economic agents who, however, require government assistance to improve their productivity. The importance attached by the publication to agricultural production, productivity and the international competitiveness of developing countries implicitly suggested its faith in an agricultural path to development, if not agricultural specialization, for many of them. The 1962 issue, in particular, emphasized the fact that many ongoing plans for agricultural development were, as they should be, closely integrated with those for general economic development. Although overambitious in many cases, these planning efforts were seen as signs of awareness of the importance of agriculture and its potential contribution to overall development.

Trade issues

Trade issues were prominent in The State of Food and Agriculture during the 1960s, especially in the latter part of the decade. Two main features marked this period: the conclusion of the Kennedy Round of trade negotiations in 1967 and the establishment of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in 1964 "to serve as an agent of accelerated development for all countries by means of formulating and carrying into effect new development-oriented trade policies ...",3 with the aim of raising the export earnings of the developing countries.

The Kennedy Round resulted in reductions of industrialized participants' tariffs with an estimated average of 35 percent. Although exports from developing to developed countries responded positively to the concessions made in the Round, the products that were most affected were those traded among industrialized countries. Agricultural trade was absent from the negotiations, but there was an agreement among the negotiating parties to contribute food aid to the extent of 4.5 million tonnes of grain annually.

The State of Food and Agriculture noted that the proximity of the World Food Congress and UNCTAD's establishment illustrated the close link between the problems with which they dealt. Freedom from hunger could come only from the economic development of the poorer countries. Even more than foreign aid, the key to development for these countries was their ability to earn foreign exchange from their exports.

The second UNCTAD session of 1968 in New Delhi was remarkable for the scope of its agenda, which covered issues that remain at the centre of developing country interests to this day. These included access of primary commodities to markets in industrialized countries; volume, terms and conditions of development aid; trade expansion, economic cooperation and integration among developing countries; and the world food problem, on which conclusions largely echoed the principles promulgated at the 1963 World Food Congress.

Considerable attention was given to the question of international commodity agreements, then at the height of their popularity. One visible result was the revival of the International Sugar Agreement, which had been inoperative since 1961. After negotiation under the auspices of UNCTAD, it was enforced for a period of five years from 1 January 1969. Agreements covering other food and non-food commodities were also negotiated with varying degrees of success. There were also discussions on the possibility of introducing schemes of compensatory finance and more comprehensive forms of world commodity agreements, although FAO itself advocated the commodity-by-commodity approach as the more practical method.

Development assistance

The last years of the 1950s and the early 1960s also saw the gaining of political independence by several former colonial territories, particularly in Africa. While in some cases this otherwise welcome development led to political instability and civil strife, it also opened the way for a broadening of development assistance flows, particularly from multilateral sources. The State of Food and Agriculture 1969 reported on the "Pearson report", published by an independent commission sponsored by the World Bank and chaired by Lester B. Pearson. The report reviewed the results of 20 years of development efforts by both donors and recipients and concluded that the aid effort was "flagging" at the very time that the drive for economic development was beginning to produce results. It called for a large increase in government aid, to 0.7 percent of the GNP of the industrial countries by 1975, and urged that 20 percent of the total be channelled through multilateral institutions, compared with the 0.4 percent and 10 percent, respectively, that had been committed in 1968. This objective was to prove unattainable by all but a few donor countries.

Calls for increased official development assistance failed to produce the desired results.

On a more positive note, the same issue of The State of Food and Agriculture also reported a much greater emphasis on agriculture in financing by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD). This policy shift was reflected by an expected fourfold increase in the level of loans to agriculture. One consequence of this development was the establishment in early 1964 of a new Cooperative Programme between FAO and IBRD to identify and help formulate many more agricultural and rural development projects for IBRD financing.

THE 1970s

Food and energy crises and a less stable development environment
the World Food Conference,
Famines in Africa
the World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development
Environmental concerns, Trade issues
Fisheries and the Law of the Sea

The early 1970s marked a turning point in the pattern that had characterized the postwar environment for development. A series of shocks introduced elements of instability to an international order under which steady economic growth, relatively predictable markets and prices and large international food stocks were taken for granted in the case of many developing countries. The new unstable environment resulted from the de facto devaluation of the US dollar; a sharp increase in the price of petroleum; and, in the area of agriculture, large grain production shortfalls and soaring prices of food, agricultural inputs and petroleum-based energy. This radical shift in the economic order brought large income gains to some countries (mainly petroleum exporters) and created export market opportunities for others but damaged the development prospects of many less developed countries.

Soaring petroleum prices had an adverse effect on most developing countries and the agricultural sector, although they brought large income gains to petroleum-exporting developing countries.

The world food crisis

In comparison with the previous ten years, the 1970s were marked by a series of relapses in world agriculture. Global food production declined in 1972 and again in 1974, reflecting in both cases unfavourable weather conditions in major food-producing areas. In 1972, world production of cereals was reduced by 41 million tonnes, shared equally between developed and developing regions, and by 30 million tonnes in 1974. These declines resulted in a sharp depletion of stocks, especially in the traditional cereal-exporting countries: world stocks of wheat were drawn down from 50 million tonnes in 1971 to 27 million tonnes in 1973, the lowest level for 20 years. Rice was also in short supply owing to falls in production in the major rice-consuming countries of Asia. Consumer prices of food items rose in all regions of the world, causing hardship for the poor and reducing the level of nutrition, particularly of vulnerable population groups. Hardship was more severe in sub-Saharan Africa, where per caput food production had remained stagnant during the first half of the 1970s.

Although world food production recovered in 1973 (cereal ouput increased by 100 million tonnes), the recovery was insufficient to prevent the depletion of cereal stocks in the main exporting countries, especially in North America, nor could it halt the steady rise in the prices of food. World agriculture was also afflicted by the energy crisis, inflation, monetary instability, the slowing down of economic growth in the industrialized countries and a general atmosphere of uncertainty.

This global relapse of agricultural production coincided with grave food shortage situations at regional and local levels in the first half of the 1970s. A dramatic food crisis erupted in Africa following two catastrophic droughts. One was the prolonged drought in the Sahel countries (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, the Niger and Senegal), which reached its peak in 1973. In that year, net food production per caput in the Sahel countries was one third less than the average for 1961-65 and some 100 000 people died as a result of the famine, which was also instrumental in the spread of epidemic diseases, especially in the relief camps. To save lives, a massive international emergency relief operation was started in early 1973. The creation of the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS) was the direct consequence of this prolonged drought.

The other drought caused the Ethiopian famine which lasted from 1972 to 1974. International aid arrived too late and between 50 000 and 200 000 lives were lost in a population of 27 million. The areas worst affected were the provinces of Wollo, Tigrai and Harerghe. The people who suffered most were the Afar community of nomadic pastoralists.

The Ethiopian famine and its causes and consequences have been extensively discussed within and outside FAO but contemporary issues of The State of Food and Agriculture were surprisingly silent about it. As for its causes, several years later Amartya Sen wrote: "The Ethiopian famine took place with no abnormal reduction of food output, and consumption of food per head in the height of the famine in 1973 was fairly normal for Ethiopia as a whole. While the food output in Wollo was substantially reduced in 1973, the inability of Wollo to command food from outside was the result of the low purchasing power in that province. A remarkable feature of the Wollo famine is that food prices in general rose very little, and people were dying of starvation even when food was selling at prices not very different from pre-drought levels. The phenomenon can be understood in terms of extensive entitlement failures of various sections of the Wollo population."4

Devaluation of the dollar and the energy crisis

The early part of the decade was marked by two other events with long-lasting effects on the world economy, including agricultural production and trade. The first was the decision by the United States Government in August 1971 to suspend the fixed-gold convertibility of the US dollar, which meant a devaluation of the US dollar vis-à-vis other internationally traded currencies. For the developing countries, the currency realignments had major negative repercussions because of the vulnerability of their economies to international price fluctuations.

The second event, which caused worldwide panic, was the sharp rise in the price of crude petroleum, decided in 1973 by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in response to the devaluation of the US dollar (since petroleum prices are based on the dollar). The world export price index of crude petroleum rose from 196 in 1973 (1970 = 100) to 641 in 1974. For agriculture, this implied a sudden increase in the cost of petroleum-based inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides as well as fuel and power, which are of crucial importance for irrigation and agricultural transport, marketing and processing. Fertilizer prices tripled and even quadrupled in the course of one year and, in 1974, the world consumption of fertilizer dropped by nearly 4 million tonnes, resulting in an estimated shortfall of
1 million tonnes of plant nutrients in relation to projected demand. The UN, at its Sixth Special Session (9 April to 2 May 1974) identified 42 developing countries as being most seriously affected (MSA) by the sharp rise in the prices of essential imports (food, petroleum, fertilizers). It established a Special Fund to assist these countries in mitigating their economic hardships. FAO established the International Fertilizer Supply Scheme, which provided 73 000 tonnes of fertilizers to MSA countries in the 1974/75 crop year.

The subject of "energy and agriculture" was covered in a special chapter of The State of Food and Agriculture 1976, which concluded that the rise in prices of fuel and fertilizers was causing sharp declines in the profitability of using energy-intensive inputs, particularly in horticulture and livestock production and capture and culture fisheries. It stated that there was much room for the economic use of domestic sources of energy for agriculture, raising efficiency in the use of imported inputs, recycling of plant and animal residues and being selective in the use of farm machinery.

Box 14


Amid profound changes in the structure, direction and composition of world agricultural trade, a number of paradoxical features have emerged during the past decades. While losing relative importance in total trade, agricultural exports have remained a key element in the economies of many countries. Nevertheless, those economies that depend less on agricultural trade have generally made the largest gains in agricultural market share, while economies that are more firmly based on agriculture have not only lost market share but, in many cases, have also seen their agricultural trade balances deteriorate in the face of persistently high or even increasing economic dependence on agricultural exports as well as dependence on imports for food security.

Other general tendencies have been a decline in the real international prices of agricultural products and the growing importance of value-added products compared with primary products in total agricultural trade.

Declining importance of agriculture in world trade

Agricultural trade has expanded significantly faster than agricultural production over the past decades, underlying the growing interdependence and integration of the world's economies. Despite its relative dynamism, however, trade in agricultural products has tended to lag behind trade in other sectors, particularly manufactures. An important factor behind this process has been the decline in agricultural prices relative to manufactures. On a global basis, agricultural exports now account for less than

10 percent of merchandise exports, compared with about 25 percent in the early 1960s (Figure A). The tendency for agricultural trade to lose importance in external trade has been common to all regions, but

in the developing country regions the process was particularly pronounced in the 1960s and early 1970s.

However, in Latin America and the Caribbean and in sub-Saharan Africa, agricultural exports still finance about one fifth of the total import bill. Economic dependence on agricultural exports has remained very high in many individual countries. In 1998, 12 out of 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa depended on agriculture for half or more of their total export earnings. In Latin America and the Caribbean, 10 out of 37 countries were in the same situation (four in the Caribbean). Extreme cases, where 70 percent or more of export earnings were agriculture-based, included Belize and Paraguay in Latin America, and Burundi, Côte d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kenya, Guinea-Bissau, Malawi, Uganda and the Sudan in Africa.

Contracting developing country share in agricultural markets

The regional distribution of world total and agricultural trade has undergone significant changes. While the developing countries gained market share for total merchandise exports between the early 1960s and recent years (from about 20 to more than 25 percent of the world total), their share for total agricultural exports has declined from more than 40 to about 27 percent (Figure B).

All the developing country regions, with the exception of Asia and the Pacific, progressively lost world market share for their exports. That Asia and the Pacific has actually increased its share in world agricultural exports since the mid-1970s is all the more remarkable given that this is also the region that has been most successful in diversifying its export base away from agriculture. In contrast, despite the persistently strong agricultural component of its external trade, sub-Saharan Africa's presence in world agricultural markets has tended to lose significance since the early 1970s. Latin America and the Caribbean experienced pronounced market losses after the second half of the 1980s, a period of slow growth in the volume of agricultural exports and of strong decline in export prices (Figure C).

Falling real agricultural prices

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s international prices of food and non-food products remained relatively stable and only lagged slightly behind those of manufactured goods. The 1970s marked a new period of greater price volatility and divergence between agricultural and manufactured goods prices, with the latter tending to rise significantly faster than the former (Figure D). As a result, the net barter terms of trade (or "real" prices) of agricultural exports deteriorated markedly (Figure E). The decline in real agricultural prices was more pronounced for the developing than for the developed countries, reflecting the commodity composition of their exports, with those of temperate products typically exported by the developed countries showing a relatively firmer behaviour than those of tropical products overall.

The volumes of exports, by contrast, showed a steady upward trend throughout much of the period. Nevertheless, because of the price increase differential, the current value of agricultural exports rose on the whole much faster in the developed countries than in the developing ones.

Shifting from primary to processed exports

An issue of considerable importance is the extent to which the developing countries have been able to shift from exports of non-processed primary commodities towards value-added products. The different developing country regions recorded varying degrees of success on this account. In both Asia and the Pacific and Latin America and the Caribbean the share of processed products in total agricultural exports rose from around 10 percent in the early 1960s to about one third of the total in recent years. This share has risen to considerably higher levels in the more industrialized countries in these regions. Thus, in Argentina and Brazil the comparable figure is about 50 percent, while in Malaysia it is more than 70 percent.

In sub-Saharan Africa, on the other hand, the share of processed products in agricultural exports has remained at about 15 percent throughout the past three decades. Behind this stagnating pattern some countries showed pronounced temporal variations. For most countries in the region, however, the general picture is one of a high and undiminished dependence on a limited range of primary product exports. In the Near East and North Africa, the high share of value-added products in the total generally reflects the strong weight of a few processed products in a relatively small agricultural export base. Processed shellfish and other sea products, as well as canned and preserved fruits and vegetables, accounted for much of the total.

Figure A

Figure B

Figure C

Figure D

Figure E

The World Food Conference

The world food crisis of the early 1970s and the difficulties created by the sharp rise in the cost of petroleum prices led to the convening of the World Food Conference in November 1974 under the joint auspices of FAO and the UN. The aims
of the Conference were to secure international consensus on policies and programmes to increase food production and productivity, especially in developing countries; to improve the consumption and distribution of food; to put in place a more effective system of world food security, including an early warning system, effective stockholding policies and emergency food relief; and to bring about a more orderly system of agricultural trade and adjustment.

The 1974 World Food Conference created institutions for agricultural development and the monitoring of agricultural and food supplies.

The building and maintenance of adequate levels of food stocks at national and/or regional and international levels were a central theme of the Conference. These stocks were expected to provide food security guarantees against local, national or regional emergencies and also to cover international relief needs. The State of Food and Agriculture reflected this concern by providing regular accounts of developments in national stock policies. Thus, the perception of food security in the first half of the 1970s was still firmly supply-side oriented. Nevertheless, the World Food Conference also stressed the need for lowering the population growth rate and reducing rural unemployment and underemployment by diversifying agriculture and expanding on-farm and off-farm income-generating activities. Of its institutional initiatives (see Box 15), three remain today - the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS) and the Committee on World Food Security (CFS).

Box 15


The 1974 World Food Conference called for:
1. A World Food Council to be established "to serve as a co-ordinating mechanism to provide overall, integrated and continuing attention for the successful co-ordination and follow-up of policies concerning food production, nutrition, food security, food trade and food aid, as well as other related matters....";
2. An International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to be established immediately "to finance agricultural development projects primarily for food production in developing countries," focusing in particular on poor peasant farmers;
3. A Consultative Group on Food Production and Investment in Developing Countries to be established and "be composed of bilateral and multilateral donors and representatives of developing countries....";
The Conference:
4. Endorsed the objectives, policies and guidelines of the International Undertaking on World Food Security1 and welcomed the creation by FAO of GIEWS.
5. Urged FAO to establish the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) as a standing committee of the FAO Council to, inter alia, "keep the current and prospective demand, supply and stock position of basic food stuffs under continuous review, ... to make periodic evaluations of the adequacy of current and prospective stock levels, in aggregate, in exporting and importing countries....";
6. Recommended the concept of forward planning for food aid and called on donor countries "to provide commodities and/or financial assistance that will ensure in physical terms at least 10 million tons of grains as food aid a year, starting from 1975, and also to provide adequate quantities of other food commodities".

1 The International Undertaking on World Food Security, launched in 1974, called on countries to participate voluntarily in programmes to secure adequate food reserves for use in times of shortages and emergencies and for reducing fluctuations in production and prices.

The World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development

The disproportionate emphasis on industrialization resulting from the policy of import substitution, and the consequential migration of rural people to urban centres, brought to the surface the need for greater attention to rural development.

A number of studies carried out by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) stressed that economic growth alone was not enough to ensure balanced and sustained development. The distribution of wealth and political power also had to be taken into account. In this respect, access to land and the reform of tenancy laws were given special attention. The United Nations Second Development Decade (1970-1980) also underlined the need for treating rural development as an integral part of the development strategy in combating poverty and narrowing the income gap between rural and urban families. The Second Development Decade had further stressed the importance of establishing national employment objectives and the need to absorb an increasing proportion of the national working population in modern types of non-agricultural activity. The State of Food and Agriculture 1973 conducted a survey of employment in agriculture covering the period from 1950 to 1970, with projections for 1980, 1990 and 2000. The survey revealed that, in the developed countries as a group, the share of agriculture in the total economically active population declined from 38 percent in 1950 to 21 percent in 1970 and was projected to drop to 5 or 6 percent by 2000 (a fairly accurate projection). The corresponding ratios for the developing countries as a group were 79, 66 and 43 percent, respectively (currently it is around 55 percent and so the flow of labour out of agriculture has been slower than expected).

An earlier contribution of The State of Food and Agriculture to the development debate was a special chapter in 1972, entitled Education and training for development. This provided a bird's-eye view of rural education in the developing regions and outlined the strategy for human resources planning, the process of priority setting in rural education and training and the identification of special areas of concern such as the training of trainers, extension workers, capacity building for the young, teaching aids and communication media.

The deepening appreciation of these and other social issues concerning rural development resulted in the 1979 World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (WCARRD), which was a landmark in the search for ways of alleviating rural poverty. WCARRD, which was sponsored by FAO, adopted a Declaration of Principles known as the "Peasants' Charter", involving 17 major areas and a Programme of Action that included national programmes of action in developing countries and international policies for agrarian reform and rural development. The latter covered the monitoring of agrarian reform and rural development; the analysis and dissemination of knowledge; the provision of technical assistance; and support for the mobilization of resources.

The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment

Growing concern for the environment was aroused by the publication of The limits to growth by the Club of Rome in 1971. The publication raised alarm about the deterioration in the status of the world resources in relation to population growth and mounting economic waste. The collapse of the Peruvian anchoveta fisheries in the early 1970s was a reminder of the fragility of what had been perceived to be a virtually inexhaustible resource.

The question of environmental deterioration and means of combating it was the subject of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm from 5 to 16 June 1972. The Conference approved the Stockholm Declaration and a Plan of Action including 109 resolutions on the environmental aspects of all sectors of the economy, 51 of which related to natural resources management. The majority of the resolutions were specifically addressed to FAO and covered such diverse areas as rural development, environmental planning, soil management and fertility, pest control, recycling of agricultural waste, genetic resources, monitoring of forests and aquatic resources and the management of fisheries. The Stockholm Conference expedited the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi in 1973. Yet its far-reaching recommendations were probably in advance of contemporary public thinking. It was to take another decade or more for the accumulation of evidence of profound environmental deterioration on a global scale - forest destruction, ozone depletion, increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, marine pollution, etc. - to raise public support for the initial remedial steps to be taken.

Concern for the environment had been high on FAO's agenda since its establishment. In a special chapter in 1971, The State of Food and Agriculture reviewed the effects of water pollution on living aquatic resources and fisheries. It identified the major characteristics of water pollution and traced its biological and ecological effects on fisheries. The chapter drew attention to the regional differences in aquatic pollution and proposed criteria and systems for monitoring this phenomenon as well as proposing legal and institutional measures required to reduce water pollution as part of the larger effort in pursuit of sustainable development.

As follow-up to the 1972 Stockholm Conference, The State of Food and Agriculture 1977 included a special chapter on the state of natural resources and the human environment. The assessment covered soil, water, grazing land and forage resources, forests, wildlife, fisheries and genetic resources. It provided an analysis of the impact of agricultural intensification on the environment and the legislative aspects of avoiding natural resource degradation and environmental pollution. It attributed the major causes of pollution in the developed countries to the high level of industrialization and reliance on energy-intensive agricultural systems. On the other hand, the major environmental problem in the developing countries was not pollution but the degradation and depletion of natural resources. The chapter proposed a better and more coherent method of data collection; multidisciplinary research in assessing the impact on the productivity of natural resources of the application of different land use planning; adaptation of local knowledge for raising the efficiency of natural resource use; and developing the appropriate institutional and legal systems in the management of natural resources.

Population and food supply

The pervading concern about the possible imbalance between the natural resource base and the demands placed on it from
a rising rate of population growth underlay the United Nations World Population Conference, held in August 1974 in Bucharest.

The Conference adopted the World Population Plan of Action, which paid special attention to the importance of increasing food production and productivity so that food could be made available at reasonable prices for the developing countries. FAO's contribution to the Bucharest Conference was contained in a special chapter (Population, food supply and agricultural development) in The State of Food and Agriculture 1974. The chapter took stock of the trends in population growth and food supply for the period 1952-1972, noting possibilities for increasing food production. It stressed the dimension and causes of hunger and malnutrition and the factors affecting the long-term demand for food.


The third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III) took place in Geneva from 17 March to 9 May 1975 but ended without any definite agreement on the major issue of exploitation rights over the sea and seabed. Nevertheless, an increasing number of coastal states were extending their jurisdiction over fisheries beyond the 12 nautical mile limit, which had broadly prevailed for the previous 300 years. In 1979, the adoption of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) by the FAO Conference added a new dimension to FAO's work in fisheries. As a result of the new legal regime of the oceans, fishery resources of coastal states were brought under their direct national jurisdiction in the form of EEZs.

Marine fisheries in the new era of national jurisdiction was covered in a special chapter in The State of Food and Agriculture 1980. The chapter reviewed the opportunities and challenges to coastal fisheries arising from the international community's acceptance of the EEZ-based jurisdiction. It explained the consequences of the changes in the Law of the Sea on fish catch of the coastal states, the effects of open access, problems of adjustment for coastal states, repercussions on countries with large distant-water fleets, the effects of EEZs on international trade in fish and the management of coastal fisheries under this new system.

Expansion in trade: the Tokyo Round of multilateral trade negotiations

The 1970s witnessed a vast expansion in international trade, spurred by the rise in the price of petroleum and the radical redistribution of national wealth that this entailed. Agricultural trade also increased, although the benefits were not shared by all countries. The less developed exporters of mainly tropical agricultural commodities suffered from severe declines in their income terms of trade as price inflation of their industrial imports and higher energy bills more than offset increases in the value of their mainly agricultural exports.

The Tokyo Round of multilateral trade negotiations (MTNs) under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was launched in 1973. Attempts to extend interventions in domestic agricultural markets into international trade through a series of international commodity agreements covering grains, oilseeds, dairy products and meat failed to materialize, and the Round, which concluded with only a modest agreement on agriculture, marked a turning point in the extent of government involvement in international agricultural markets - a trend that was to continue in the turbulent decade that followed.

THE 1980s

A "lost decade" for many countries in Latin America and Africa Economic stabilization and structural adjustment Famine in Africa, Environment and sustainable development Trade tensions and the launching of the Uruguay Round

Economic crisis and adjustment

The decade of the 1980s was largely dominated by the protracted economic recession that affected many countries - developed and developing - at various times, with negative effects on their overall and agricultural development. The State of Food and Agriculture reported, year after year, a seemingly endless process of deteriorating conditions in many developing countries, despite strenuous efforts to stabilize and recover their economies and the introduction of harsh policy packages. The 1990 issue drew a number of conclusions regarding this crisis period in a special chapter entitled Structural adjustment and agriculture.

A spiral of deteriorating macroeconomic conditions in developing countries impeded progress in agricultural trade, food security and development assistance.

The crisis emerged in the early 1980s following a sudden and unexpected change in the international economic environment, formerly characterized by abundant liquidity in financial markets and expansionary fiscal and monetary policies in many developing countries. The second oil shock of 1979, unlike that of five years earlier, led many developed countries to tighten their monetary and fiscal policies, causing a severe slowdown in their economic activity. This slowdown caused a reduction in those countries' import demand, which coincided with and reinforced a sharp decline in international commodity prices. International credit suddenly dried up and capital inflows into developing countries all but ceased. Many countries that had borrowed heavily in the 1970s but had invested the funds in low-productivity projects could no longer repay their external loans. The admission by Mexico in 1982 that it lacked the necessary funds for debt repayment unleashed a global financial crisis that evolved into a deep recession in much of the developing world. Countries in Latin America that were particularly dependent on external trade and heavily indebted were especially affected. Asia was the only region that experienced no declines in per caput incomes during the decade. The crisis also led to a contraction in trade in 1982, the first in 25 years, and to low growth in trade for the rest of the decade. There was an alarming rise in the burden of external debt of the developing world.

This publication noted on various occasions that the policy response to the crisis in the developing countries had recessive elements which, at least initially, further aggravated the crisis. Countries were to stabilize their economies in the shortest possible time, and this could only be achieved through cuts in budgetary expenditures and imports. Structural adjustment programmes (SAPs), which were imposed on many countries by international lending institutions, became the means by which governments were forced to restore health to their economies. SAPs, including access to their lines of credit, entailed "conditionalities": reductions in state spending, currency devaluations, market liberalization and the privatization of public enterprises. They came as a severe economic and social shock to many developing countries. Real wages were reduced together with the provision of public social services, and unemployment increased, so the urban sector was also affected. Government intervention, including social programmes, was eschewed in favour of liberal markets. The State of Food and Agriculture made the point that if stabilization was inevitable (to restore economic balances) and adjustment advisable (to create a sounder basis for growth), the immediate social cost of these measures was unacceptable and required particular consideration ("adjusting adjustment") by governments and financing institutions.

The crisis and measures to cope with it had direct effects on agriculture. Many farmers, especially in countries where agriculture was more exposed to market forces, were caught in a price squeeze with lower commodity prices coinciding with high real interest rates. Public support schemes in favour of agriculture were downscaled or abandoned. Programmes that helped the politically weak poor people were often among the first to be cut back. Economic priorities postponed the improvement of farming, marketing and input supply systems. Income losses and credit restrictions forced many farmers to reduce employment as well as the purchase of fertilizers and other production requisites. All these factors translated into deteriorating agricultural performances and rural hardship in many countries. In Latin America and the Caribbean, agricultural production growth declined from an annual average of 3.5 percent during the 1970s to 2.2 percent during the 1980s. For the other regions the impact of the crisis on agricultural output growth was less discernable in the aggregate but, in the case of Africa, the expansion in food production remained below population growth.

Agricultural trade was also badly hit. For the developing countries as a whole, agricultural export growth slowed down from 15 percent yearly during the 1970s to less than 3 percent during the 1980s. This was largely due to a dramatic decline in commodity prices. In real terms, the general level of agricultural export prices in the developing countries was one third lower in 1989 than in 1980, despite a short-lived price boom in 1987/88. The collapse of commodity prices stemmed from various causes: massive indebtedness in many countries - forcing them to expand production for export while reducing imports - combined with a slack demand for agricultural exports and inadequate access to developed country markets.
At the same time, the ability of developing countries to compete for the markets of several commodities had been seriously weakened by the farm protectionist policies of industrialized countries, including heavy export subsidization. The adverse economic climate exacerbated protectionist pressures and heightened trade tensions while also impeding international efforts to strengthen multilateral arrangements related to agricultural trade, food security and development assistance. International commodity agreements, already languishing, collapsed during this period.

Far-reaching reforms in China

Yet not all programmes of radical shifts in economic and agricultural policy were to have such negative connotations. In the late 1970s, China's policy-makers introduced a series of rural sector reforms aimed at overcoming what were seen as unsatisfactory performances of agriculture. The measures introduced in 1978 initially focused on increasing agricultural production by providing farmers with improved price and income incentives, but they were quickly followed by a complete restructuring of the agricultural sector. In less than five years, policy changes shifted the control of resources and production from the collective farming system to a household-based farming system. By the early 1980s, the government had dismantled the commune system, embraced the household responsibility system and allowed prices and markets to determine input use and production decisions.

Contemporary issues of this publication did not refer to these reforms, which it first discussed in 1985 in the context of a global mid-decade review. The State of Food and Agriculture 1985 largely credited the policy reforms in China for extraordinary improvements in its farm productivity and rural incomes. It reported an acceleration in the annual rate of growth in food production (from an average 3 percent in 1971-80 to nearly 8 percent in 1980-84) and per caput farm incomes (from 0.5 to 5 percent per year during the same period). Yet, with the benefit of hindsight, we can now understand that these remarkable productivity gains were also based on a period of investment in agricultural infrastructure, extending from the 1950s, that the prevailing centralized agricultural marketing and procurement policies had failed to exploit. This experience of adjustment underlined the importance of agricultural development policies being appropriate across a range of policy aspects, and not just with respect to one aspect.

Food security

In the mid-1980s, concern about the gravity of the economic crisis and its widespread effects on the poor led FAO to reappraise the concept of food security. The new concept focused on three pivotal elements: food availability, stability of supplies and access to supplies. Former approaches to food security emphasized the supply side - food availability and supply stability - in particular through the building and maintenance of adequate levels of food stocks at the national and/or regional and international levels. The new concept added demand-side considerations relating to access to food through own production or exchange for earnings from agricultural or non-agricultural activities.

The first half of the 1980s also witnessed another major shock: famine in Africa. In January 1983, FAO's GIEWS reported for the first time on the catastrophic consequences of drought in southern Africa. This was followed by increasingly alarming news from this and other regions of the continent. In the course of 1984, one of the region's worst droughts of the century reached its peak, searing countries mostly in the Sahel and in southern and eastern Africa. In some cases, the disruptions caused by crop failures were exacerbated by civil strife. Famine engulfed an estimated 20 percent of Ethiopia's population, and entire traditional cultures in the Sahel were on the verge of collapse. Hundreds of thousands of people died in the countries affected.

The response to the crisis in Africa was generous and prevented an even greater catastrophe. The existing systems of information, including GIEWS, functioned much more efficiently than at the time of the previous major African food crisis, 12 years earlier. A historically unprecedented outpouring of food aid - about 7 million tonnes of cereals in 1985 and 1986 - arrived in stricken areas. The lessons of the emergency prompted FAO to propose the adoption of a World Food Security Compact, whereby member countries were called on to make every effort to uproot the causes of hunger. Although the Compact had special relevance to the food crisis in Africa as well as to the situation in many countries in other regions where agriculture had long been neglected and where the economy was vulnerable to external shocks, it was not widely supported. Possibly, the idea of a "Compact" was too legally binding at a time when governments were avoiding commitments.

Financing agricultural and rural development

Flows of financial resources to developing countries, often under concessionary terms, increased rapidly from the early 1970s and continued into the 1980s. Such external flows rose by between 5 and 6 percent per year in real (i.e. constant price) terms during this period. Flows from domestic sources, often arising from loose fiscal policies and resulting in rising budgetary deficits, also increased. This trend was possibly spurred by the Pearson Report of 1969, but also by the widely held belief that government-sponsored investments funded by increasing flows of financial resources would accelerate economic growth and agricultural and rural development. However, following the financial crises of the early 1980s and the process of economic stabilization and structural adjustment noted above, these flows stagnated and even declined from the middle of the 1980s as aid fatigue on the part of bilateral and multilateral donors, together with harsh economic realities, took their toll - private foreign direct investment (FDI) virtually ceased, except to a few privileged countries, mainly in Asia. The State of Food and Agriculture 1986 dedicated a special chapter to this issue. Entitled Financing agricultural development, the chapter's analysis drew attention to the unsustainable financial imbalances faced by many developing economies. It also noted the shift that had taken place in conventional thinking, after 30 to 40 years of development efforts based on belief in the primal role of the public sector, and particularly its fiscal policies, in promoting economic growth.

Another line of thinking that had supported the major role of external assistance in this effort was based on the "two gap" thesis: chronic shortages of capital and foreign exchange posed severe constraints to development. The experience of the first half of the 1980s raised serious questions regarding such thinking. Balanced government budgets and investment project quality became overriding concerns. The chapter drew attention to ways of mobilizing domestic rural savings for investment, instead of relying excessively on external assistance or loose fiscal policies, and to the need to search for policies that would attract private funds that did not create external debt, i.e. equity.

It may now be noted that this period marked a shift in the ongoing analysis of the development process towards a deeper appreciation of the importance to development of institutions, including markets forces, transaction costs, property rights, etc., and hence it signalled the emergence of the "new institutional economics" in the 1990s.

A new emphasis on effective institutions for development led to new policy recommendations.

Environmental protection, natural resource management and sustainable development

Public concern in these areas evolved considerably during the 1980s. Concern was mobilized by ever increasing alerts against forest devastation, depletion and waste of fisheries resources, the greenhouse effect of increased emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases on global temperatures, or the long-term damage being done by some industrial gases to the world's protective ozone layer.

The year 1987 marked an important step in the publication of two reports: the Report of the World Commission on the Environment and Development ( the "Brundtland Report"), which was submitted to the UN General Assembly that year; and UNEP's Environmental perspective to the year 2000 and beyond. These reports drew widespread attention to the concept of sustainable development, a concept that evolved further in the following decade.

The State of Food and Agriculture 1989 revisited the issue of sustainable development and natural resource management, already partially addressed in 1977. It sought to make the concept of sustainable development operational and identified a number of areas for concrete action along the following lines:

Several important events took place addressing issues of concern to the fisheries and forestry sectors. UNCLOS III completed its work at the end of April 1982 when it adopted the International Convention on the Law of the Sea, which was opened for signature in December 1982. This Convention, together with state practice, resulted in the expansion of the coastal state authority over fisheries resources to a distance of 200 nautical miles from the shore. Many coastal states thus acquired not only new opportunities but also weighty problems, responsibilities and challenges.

In mid-1984, FAO organized the World Conference on Fisheries Management and Development, which was the first international initiative to confront the practical realities of the new legal regime of the sea, signed in 1982. The Conference was an important occasion in the evolution of governance of the world's fisheries. It was the first time that nearly all nations came together to reach agreements on comprehensive action to confront the practical implications of the new ocean regime and to improve management of the potential of fisheries as a vital source of food, employment and income. To assist developing countries in boosting the productivity and conditions of fishers, the 1984 Conference endorsed a strategy and an integrated package of five programmes of action on: the planning, management and development of fisheries; the development of small-scale fisheries; aquaculture development; international trade in fish and fishery products; and the promotion of the role of fisheries in alleviating undernutrition.

In Mexico in July 1985 - the International Year of the Forest - under the theme "Forest Resources in the Integral Development of Society", the Ninth World Forestry Congress focused in particular on forest degradation and destruction arising from poverty in tropical and arid regions. The Congress emphasized the importance and urgency of the Tropical Forestry Action Plan, adopted by the FAO Committee on Forest Development in the Tropics earlier that year.

It was also in 1985 that the FAO Conference adopted the International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides. This code constituted the first step towards the establishment of international rules for the safe handling and use of pesticides and their trade.

Trade negotiations and issues

An important event in international trade, which took place against a background of increasing tension among agricultural trading nations, was the launching in September 1986 of the Uruguay Round of MTNs. For the first time in a GATT round of MTNs, special prominence was given to agriculture. In the Declaration that formally announced the launch of the Uruguay Round, ministers agreed that "there is an urgent need to bring more discipline and predictability to world agricultural trade by correcting and preventing restrictions and distortions, including those related to structural surpluses so as to reduce the uncertainty, imbalances and instability in world agricultural markets".

There was a marked turnaround in the world agricultural market situation in 1987/88. Some important agricultural commodity markets shifted from a situation of surplus to one of relative scarcity and, after having fallen to their lowest levels in many years, international prices increased significantly.
World stocks of many commodities were sharply reduced from previous high levels. The first significant year of recovery for agricultural commodity prices in the 1980s was not until 1988, and this recovery was mainly confined to sugar, cereals and oilseeds and their products. Tropical beverage prices remained depressed. In the case of cereals, a dramatic rise in prices was the result of two years of reduced production, with the 1988 drought in North America being of particular significance. However, for many commodities, prices during this boom period still did not reach the levels of the early 1980s, even in nominal terms. In real terms, export prices of agricultural commodities in 1988 averaged only three quarters of their 1980 levels.

Box 16


The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) came into force in 1947 as a framework for negotiating tariff concessions and for regulating international trade. GATT was initially envisaged as part of an International Trade Organization (ITO) designed to deal with a broad range of trade-related issues (e.g. employment, development, restrictive business practices and commodity policy) in addition to the specific subject of tariffs and trade (commercial policy). However, Member Governments never ratified the ITO Charter. As a result, GATT came into being as a "provisional" or "interim" arrangement, and remained without a formal organizational framework until the conclusion of the Uruguay Round Agreement in 1994. At this point, it was subsumed under the World Trade Organization (WTO) - which took effect on 1 January 1995 - as GATT 1994.

When GATT began in 1947, there were 23 contracting parties (countries) and the value of world trade was US$10 billion. By the end of the Uruguay Round, the 8th trade negotiating round under GATT, there were 128 contracting parties and the value of world trade had reached US$5 000 billion, of which 12 percent was trade in agriculture.

Trade rules established under GATT were based on four general principles: reciprocity, i.e. one country grants tariff concessions in exchange for similar concessions from other partners; non-discrimination, embodied in the "most favoured nation" (MFN) clause, which says that any concession granted to one contracting party is to be automatically extended to all; national treatment, which prohibits discrimination in importing countries between imported and domestically produced products; and a "tariff only" regime, whereby only ordinary tariffs - bound in schedules of concessions - are to be used for regulating imports.

GATT 1947 contained 38 Articles or rules to give effect to these basic principles as well as to address several other issues, particularly the settlement of disputes and remedies (trade measures) against, for example, unfair trade practices (dumping, export subsidies) and sudden surges of imports (safeguards). In the case of trade in agricultural products, some of these articles also provided exceptions to the general GATT rules.

The treatment of agriculture in GATT

Although the original GATT did not have an explicit set of rules for agriculture (e.g. as under the current WTO), there were two notable exemptions for agricultural products from the general rules. One exemption was from the general prohibition on the use of quantitative import restrictions, and the other was from the prohibition on the use of export subsidies.

These exceptions for agriculture were partly due to the existence of extensive price and income support programmes in the leading countries of the postwar era. Many of these policies had been introduced in response to the Great Depression of the 1930s and the associated collapse of agricultural incomes, and also as part of the wartime regulation of the agrifood sector in many countries. It was expected that many of these measures would have to continue for some time to promote agricultural recovery and to offset the expected slump in postwar agricultural prices.

By 1947, there were only a small number of countries where agricultural policies were being implemented in a systematic manner. Among these countries, the United States was the only major agricultural exporter, followed by Australia and some others, notably Canada, Argentina and New Zealand. The United States Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, with its extensions and amendments, permitted the United States authorities to utilize tariffs and quantitative import controls as well as export subsidies to stabilize domestic producer prices, and the concept of "parity" between farm and non-farm incomes continued to command strong support. For its part, Europe was just recovering from the war and food security was a critical issue - although the formation of the European Economic Community and its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) came much later with the Treaty of Rome in 1956. A great majority of the developing countries were still under colonial rule or had just gained independence.

It was against this background - the widespread food insecurity problems in most parts of the world, including Europe, and the declining ratio of farm to non-farm incomes in some countries - that the exceptions for agriculture were written into GATT.

The original GATT rules did not prohibit export subsidies initially, nor did they prohibit domestic subsidies. However, in 1955, a Protocol to the General Agreement added the prohibition on export subsidies on all but primary products, subject to the condition that a subsidizing country does not capture "more than an equitable share" of world export trade in the subsidized agricultural product.

As regards the prohibition of quantitative import restrictions, initially GATT rules exempted agricultural and fishery products from this rule only when such restrictions were used in order "to implement domestic policies that operate to restrict the production or marketing of the like products, or to remove a temporary surplus". However, in 1955, the United States obtained a GATT waiver to apply import restrictions even where there were no production-limiting or marketing policies in place. This affected in particular the imports of sugar, groundnuts and dairy products. This waiver lasted until the Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture came into effect.

In retrospect, many emerging agricultural trading nations took advantage of this precedent as well as the other exceptions for agriculture from the general GATT rules. These, together with a proliferation in the use of "grey area" measures (e.g. voluntary export restraints, minimum export prices, variable levies) in the 1960s and 1970s, effectively kept agriculture out of GATT. It was thus on the three areas of quantitative restrictions, domestic support and protection and export subsidies that much attention was focused during the Uruguay Round negotiations on agriculture and in the resulting Agreement on Agriculture.

The Uruguay Round - what it achieved and what remains to be done

By the early 1980s, as a result of increasing frictions in trade relations in the agricultural sector, it became widely recognized that world agricultural trade was in "disarray", a term used to characterize distortions caused by the lack of effective GATT disciplines. These distortions were widespread mainly in the "temperate zone" food products. The Uruguay Round was thus launched in 1986 against the background of very high levels of domestic support to producers (about 60 percent of the value of agricultural production in OECD countries in 1986-88), which necessitated export subsidies to dispose of the surpluses on world markets; growing trade tensions including export subsidy wars; and, high budgetary costs of farm policies of the industrialized countries. An important factor during the negotiations was the explicit recognition that domestic agricultural support policies mattered for trade and also needed to be disciplined.

The key results reflected in the Agreement on Agriculture may be summarized as follows:

  • On domestic support measures, rules were laid down to stipulate which measures have the potential to distort trade, and so need to be disciplined, and which should be permitted. The outlays on the former were benchmarked for the base period and were to be gradually reduced over the implementation period. WTO members must not exceed their support outlays over the set limits.

  • On market access, it was agreed that all non-tariff import restrictions should be prohibited and that trade should be regulated with ordinary tariffs only. Most of the agricultural tariffs were bound for the first time, and agreed percentage cuts were to be phased in over the implementation period. Given the high level of tariffs resulting from the conversion to a tariff-only regime in agriculture (tariffication), "minimum" and "current" access tariff quotas were introduced.

  • On export competition, an agreement was reached on what constitutes export subsidies and, as with domestic support outlays, benchmarks were established for the base period and were to be reduced over the implementation period. WTO members may not exceed the subsidy limits thus determined.

  • Provisions were made for special and differential treatment for the developing countries, which were allowed a longer implementation period, lower rates of reductions, exemptions from certain disciplines that applied to the developed countries and promises of technical and financial assistance.

  • The Agreement on Agriculture was also complemented by a number of other Uruguay Round Agreements and Decisions, such as the Decision on Measures Concerning the Possible Negative Effects of the Reform Programme on Least-Developed and Net Food-Importing Developing Countries, which addresses some remedial measures in the event of food import difficulties related to the reform process in agriculture.

  • The Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures and the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade were formulated to ensure that regulations that have a trade-restrictive effect are applied only to the extent necessary to protect human, animal or plant life.

In conclusion, the most important contribution of the Uruguay Round was to bring the rules governing agricultural trade "much closer" to but not fully in line with the GATT rules because current rules still permit certain measures that are not allowed for non-agricultural products, notably export subsidies. As a result, the Uruguay Round Agreements may not have significantly reduced distortions in world agricultural trade. Nevertheless, the Agreement on Agriculture provides a framework for further reforms and Article 20 of this Agreement provides for further negotiations to continue the reform process through substantial and progressive reductions in support and protection. These negotiations were started in March 2000.

Social issues

In anticipation of the 1985 World Conference to Review and Appraise the Achievements of the United Nations Decade for Women, which was launched in 1975, the special chapter of The State of Food and Agriculture 1983 aimed at raising wider awareness of gender issues in the field of food and agriculture. Entitled Women in developing agriculture, it discussed the particular problems of women on farms and in rural areas, as well as their important contributions to food production and marketing and to rural entrepreneurship. It also discussed current issues relating to the difficulties and inequities encountered by women, the effects of agricultural modernization on their condition and the need for development projects to reach them. A further aim was not to have development activities and institutions set aside for women but to "mainstream" gender issues within the overall development effort.

Also in line with the rising concern shown for social issues during the 1980s, the 1984 issue had a special chapter on Urbanization, agriculture and food systems. It examined the problems and opportunities created by urbanization in developing countries as they relate to the production of food and its distribution to urban populations. It made the point that urbanization and migration were not self-adjusting processes and, if not controlled or directed to some degree, could result in deteriorating living conditions for both rural and urban people. It concluded that rural-urban migration, rapid urbanization and the excessive rise of major cities could be modified by government actions so that the negative effects of overly rapid modernization on agrarian societies could be eased. Such measures might consist simply in the removal of an urban bias in agricultural policies or the coordination of such policies. In other cases, more specific measures might be required, involving movements of people from one area to another or the transfer of jobs to rural people. These measures could range from assisting spontaneous rural-rural migration to more elaborate and expensive government-sponsored settlement schemes and rural industrialization programmes. Policies designed to control the overall rate of population growth over the long term would make the situation easier to manage.

THE 1990s

Emergence of a new political, economic and trade order
Liberalization, globalization and financial upheavals
Food security - the World Food Summit
UNCED - sustainable agricultural and rural development
Trade - conclusion of the Uruguay Round

The years bridging the 1980s and 1990s marked what were possibly the most momentous political changes since the end of the Second World War. An extraordinary sequence of events heralded the effective end of communism in the USSR and Eastern Europe and raised expectations of a new era of closer collaboration in international relationships to replace the former political and ideological confrontation.

The end of the cold war brought optimism regarding international collaboration and greater attention to countries in transition.

The subsequent transformation of formerly centrally planned systems into market-based economic systems took place in the context of serious economic, social and institutional problems and, in some countries, dramatic political events. Ethnic and political tensions also developed and degenerated into devastating ethnic confrontations in former Yugoslavia as well as in some countries in central Africa. The dismantling of previous economic and trade structures and the ensuing disruptions in production and distribution systems did not spare the agrifood sector in Eastern Europe. Severe shortages of even the most essential products arose in some of these countries, creating a new focus of attention for international assistance, including food aid. Nevertheless, several countries of Eastern Europe showed a growing capacity to adjust to the new circumstances and entered into a process of greater economic and political integration with the rest of Europe. Several of them began to show convincing signs of recovery.

The 1990s showed an uneven pattern of economic activity among the major industrialized countries. Integration gained momentum in the EU, despite complex political issues and difficulties linked to slow economic growth, pressure to adhere to fiscal and monetary discipline and a seemingly intractable unemployment problem in much of the EU. Japan, formerly a star performer in the industrialized world, was hit by a serious recession from which it is still struggling to emerge. In contrast, in 1992 the United States entered into an unprecedented process of economic growth, accompanied by low unemployment and inflation and dynamic trade.

For many developing countries the 1990s were a period of recovery from the disastrous performances of the 1980s. Their overall GDP growth averaged more than 5 percent during the period 1991-1999 and exceeded 6 percent for five consecutive years (1992-1996) despite the global recessionary conditions prevailing during the early part of the decade and pronounced swings in growth rates. These were caused by conflicts, unusually severe climatic disasters (including a particularly destructive El Niño phenomenon ) and a series of financial shocks. The general environment for growth and food security was improved by a move towards democratic regimes, particularly in Africa, and a consolidation of economic reforms that began to yield long-awaited results. Many developing countries, including some of the largest and most populous, benefited from this process and made further inroads into the longstanding problems of hunger and malnutrition. This was particularly the case of Asian economies, seen for a long period as archetypes of dynamism and stability. However, the Asia region had its exceptional growth performances interrupted in 1997, following a severe financial crisis that erupted in Southeast Asia. Initially affecting several fast-growing economies in the subregion, the crisis transmitted destabilizing and recessionary shockwaves to other countries within and outside the region as a whole. By the end of the decade, however, economic recovery was rapidly gaining ground in Asia.

The Asian financial crisis also affected countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, which had already been hit by an earlier crisis of a similar nature (the Mexican crisis) in 1994, from which they had shown an unexpectedly firm recovery. Recent developments suggest that most of the region is absorbing the new crisis relatively well, a feat that can be attributed to improvements in economic fundamentals and lessons learned over the past decade. Nevertheless, the crisis has already involved considerable costs, particularly in Brazil, in terms of reduced economic growth and social stress, while it has also slowed the momentum of reform and regional integration. In Africa, much improved economic performances were recorded by a large number of countries since 1995, sustained in particular by a dynamic agri-export sector. While much of the turnaround was related to transient factors, in particular higher commodity prices during 1996/97 and the successful currency devaluation of countries in the CFA franc zone, The State of Food and Agriculture stressed that the unusual length of the improvement and its breadth across countries suggested that other more fundamental forces, in particular reform policies and progress in debt cancellation, may also have played a role. The still relatively high growth rates expected for 1999 and 2000 (more than 3 and 5 percent, respectively, according to IMF) tend to support this view. This publication also noted, however, that the improvement in Africa had to be seen in the context of a long period of regression that had brought many countries in the region to extreme levels of economic and social hardship.

As regards the Near East, The State of Food and Agriculture also noted generally improved economic conditions during the 1990s and progress by practically all countries in raising the nutritional standards of their populations to more satisfactory levels. This occurred despite considerable problems: a mediocre growth of the agricultural sector, pronounced swings in performances linked to climatic factors and fluctuations in petroleum and other commodity prices as well as conflicts in the region. The State of Food and Agriculture also noted, however, the increased efforts made towards achieving regional peace and cooperation and the comprehensive economic and agricultural reforms carried out in several countries.

Against this general background, the publication also reviewed a number of unsolved problems and risks for the developing world, with direct implications for food security: recurrent food emergencies and civil strife, which appeared as frequently and severely as in previous decades; unabated poverty and social stress in many countries, not least in rural areas, and even in countries registering a significant macroeconomic improvement; a process of liberalization that promised a sounder basis for growth but also involved clear risks of accentuating inequalities in incomes and opportunities among and within countries; a largely unresolved external debt burden affecting many countries; and increasing risks of financial upheavals arising from the liberalization of financial markets.

Nutrition and food security

The International Conference on Nutrition, jointly sponsored by FAO and the World Health Organization (WHO), was held in Rome in December 1992. The initiative arose from the realization that about 800 million people in the world were undernourished and that the incidence of malnourishment was worsening rather than receding in many countries; the need for closer identification of the causes, nature and magnitude of the problem so as to define coordinated strategies and realistic objectives; and the need to enhance international solidarity and mobilize the necessary resources. The Conference issued the World Declaration on Nutrition, affirming the commitment of the participant states to work together to ensure sustained nutritional well-being for all people; and a global Plan of Action for Nutrition, containing recommendations for policies, programmes and activities aimed at the achievement of these objectives.

The awareness that the International Conference on Nutrition and other events and initiatives had not mobilized sufficient political commitment at the highest levels to remove the stigma of widespread hunger from the world prompted the convening of the World Food Summit in 1996. A major institutional event, it brought together delegations from 185 states and the EU, many of which were represented at the highest political level, as well as international institutions, religious leaders and more than 1 000 NGOs from 80 countries, totalling close to 10 000 participants. The Summit conveyed the fundamental message that, although more than 800 million people around the world still suffered from undernourishment, world food security was an achievable goal.

The Plan of Action adopted by the Summit participants reaffirmed the commitment of the international community to eradicating the hunger and malnutrition affecting about one fifth of the developing world's population, and specifically to halving the number of undernourished people in the world within a period of 20 years. The Summit also confirmed a consensus on several important points: that the problems of hunger and malnutrition are associated primarily with poverty and are intensified by conflict or political instability; and that food security is not just a matter of ensuring food supplies, but also of ensuring their availability and stability as well as access to them. To accomplish the complex task of halving the incidence of hunger by 2015, combined efforts were to be made at all levels of society: international, national and community.

The Rome Declaration on World Food Security reaffirmed the "right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food, consistent with the right to adequate food and the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger"; and the World Food Summit Plan of Action included seven commitments (see Box 17).

Environment, natural resources and climate change

A number of meetings of major importance to these issues took place in the 1990s: the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), in Rio de Janeiro in 1992; the Convention on Biological Diversity, in the Bahamas in 1994; the creation by the UN Committee on Sustainable Development of an open-ended, ad hoc Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF), which held its first session in New York in 1995; the first session of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, in Rome in 1997; and the Third Conference of the Parties (COP-3) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, in Kyoto in 1997.

Although UNCED attracted considerable attention, the results fell short of the high expectations. Major differences persisted on such key issues as the time scale for reducing carbon dioxide emissions; the sustainable and equitable use of biodiversity; and the establishment of a Special Fund to assist developing countries in the implementation of its Agenda 21, the "plan of action for the twenty-first century". Nevertheless, UNCED did alert world opinion and policy-makers to the high stakes involved, and it provided operational guidelines for future action. It also contributed substantially to the forces advocating a change in the way natural resources are utilized. Apart from

Box 17


1. Ensuring an enabling political, social, and economic environment.
2. Implementing policies aimed at the eradication of poverty and inequality and improving physical and economic access to food by all.
3. Pursuing participatory and sustainable food production and rural development policies and practices in both high- and low-potential areas.
4. Ensuring trade policies conducive to fostering food security for all.
5. Preventing and forestalling natural and human-induced disasters and meeting transitory and emergency food requirements.
6. Allocating public and private investments to foster human resources, sustainable agricultural systems and rural development in high- and low-potential areas.
7. Implementing, monitoring and following up the Plan of Action.

Agenda 21, the main products of UNCED were: the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, laying down the guiding principles concerning the rights and duties of states to achieve a global partnership in sustainable development; two framework conventions - on climate change and on the conservation of biodiversity; a statement of non-legally binding principles for the management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forest; a decision to start a negotiation process for an international convention to combat desertification; and an agenda for action on freshwater resources, arising mainly from the Conference on Water and the Environment, held in Dublin in 1992.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992 recognized the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and agreed that developed countries in the first place should aim at reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2000 and beyond, although caveats provided exemption for some countries.

The 1997 conference in Kyoto pursued these issues further and agreed that industrialized countries as a whole should decrease their emissions by an average of 5.2 percent by 2005. A "flexibility clause" was built into the agreement, allowing countries to trade emissions quotas among themselves to encourage reductions where they were most "cost effective". The issue of global warming was also discussed in The State of Food and Agriculture 1997, which focused on the implications, positive and negative, of greenhouse gas abatement policies for the developing countries and their agriculture.

In the field of resource management and environment, problems relating to freshwater availability and use also attracted global attention - UNCED and the Dublin Conference on Water and the Environment in 1992 and the 1990 Montreal meeting "NGOs Working Together". In 1993, the special chapter of The State of Food and Agriculture, entitled Water policies and agriculture, examined the problems and policy options behind agricultural development and water use. It noted that water was already in short supply in many areas of the world; that agriculture was by far the largest user of freshwater and that it was a relatively low-value, low-efficiency and highly subsidized user of the resource.

The 1992 special chapter, Marine fisheries and the law of the sea: a decade of change, focused on sustainability and economic issues in the area of fisheries. It discussed developments that had occurred in the previous ten years and their implications for the future management of fisheries.

The chapter discussed the massive waste in fisheries under conditions of open access. For the first time, it presented tentative global estimates of fishing costs and revenues, reaching the remarkable conclusion that the annual operating costs of the global marine fishing fleet in 1989 were approximately US$22 billion greater than the total revenues obtained. This chapter provoked a lively debate.

UNEP opened the first session of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in November 1994. The objectives of the Conference were "the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of genetic resources". For the first time, an international legal instrument described the rights and obligations of the parties involved with regard to scientific, technical and technological cooperation.

During its third session in April 1995, the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) established the IPF to continue and stimulate the intergovernmental forest policy dialogue that had been initiated at UNCED.


Land cleared by fire for agricultural production
Deforestation has been a major means of increasing arable
land, with dramatic environmental consequences

- FAO/13925

The UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), in its annual substantive meeting in Geneva in July 1997, established the ad hoc, open-ended Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF) to continue the dialogue on a number of outstanding issues left by the IPF at the end of its mandate. Since then, the IFF has held four organizational meetings - the latest took place in New York from 31 January to 11 February 2000.

The first session of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification was held in Rome in 1997, with the intention of promoting a "fresh approach" to managing dryland ecosystems, as well as managing development aid flows which, in the past, have been a point of contention between aid agencies and recipients. The Convention was to address the major problems of dryland degradation, now caused by economic or social factors including overcultivation, overgrazing, deforestation and poor irrigation as well as violent national or international conflicts. More than 250 million people are directly affected by desertification and nearly 1 billion people are at risk. Programmes to help prevent or reverse the process of desertification were at the core of the Convention, which was signed by 110 countries. Action programmes at the national level were developed to "address the underlying causes of desertification and drought" and to identify appropriate prevention measures. The national action programmes are to be supplemented by regional and subregional programmes for more accurate assessments and implementation.

The changing international trade order

In April 1994, the Final Act of the Uruguay Round of MTNs was signed in Marrakesh. Launched in 1986, the Round concluded with an agreement to create the World Trade Organization (WTO) to replace GATT. The State of Food and Agriculture 1995 reported that, given the importance of the issues and the seven years of strenuous negotiations involved, the outcome of the Uruguay Round in terms of market access and reductions in domestic support and export subsidization fell short of what might have been expected. Agricultural protectionism remained high and was likely to continue to plague agricultural markets in traditional and new forms in the future.

The special chapter of the 1995 issue (Agricultural trade: entering a new era?) analysed the achievements and shortcomings of the Uruguay Round, with particular reference to the Agreement on Agriculture, and raised a number of questions that remain pertinent in the current context of preparations for a new round of MTNs. It suggested that a "new era" may be emerging with the deregulation of the world economy; the increasing presence of the developing countries in world markets, new trade patterns arising from the transformations in Eastern Europe and the CIS and Baltic states, and changes in world markets and trading rules following the conclusion of the Uruguay Round and the creation of the WTO. The chapter said there were risks, however, that this open trade regime would remain unjust, with an asymmetric distribution of opportunities and gains, risks and losses among countries.

The open trade regime promises the increasing integration of agricultural trade markets but threatens to exclude some countries from the gains.


The past half century has seen changing perceptions of what constitutes the main developmental challenges, shifting policy priorities and a dramatic transformation of the perceived role of the state in fostering welfare and social progress. In this evolving policy context, agriculture and food security have not always occupied a priority position, suggesting an inadequate awareness of the irreplaceable role of the agricultural sector in economic and social development. Such relative neglect on the part of the authorities has mirrored a similar neglect by the media and, therefore, by public opinion at large. Although recent decades have increasingly become known as the "information age", hunger and food insecurity have tended to attract media coverage and priority attention only when exceptional events bring to light their most dramatic manifestations. The same holds true for positive developments, which have "made the news" to a lesser degree still. Indeed, surprisingly little attention has been paid to what can be seen as the most significant achievement of humankind over the past 50 years: the major retreat of world hunger, particularly in densely populated Asian countries - demonstrating that even massive and extreme food insecurity situations can be overcome.

World hunger has been substantially reduced over the past 50 years as a result of a greater understanding of the problem as well as improved institutions and increased agricultural productivity.

Now that we have entered the new millennium, there is a growing consensus at the international level on the need to address poverty and food insecurity as critical factors in achieving a more just and safe world for all. This tendency is gaining ground in a context of international economic integration and interdependence, with a convergence of views on the potential benefits of freer and more open markets. The international order that will emerge from this complex interplay of factors and influences is difficult to foresee. One major challenge, discussed in the following sections of this chapter, will be to integrate marginalized and disadvantaged countries and populations into world economic and social progress and to ensure that the benefits of liberalization and globalization are shared by all.


1 In both Europe and Asia, it was not until the early 1950s that cereal production reattained the average levels of 1934-38.

2 A.K. Sen. 1993. Scientific American, May 1993.

3 UNCTAD document TD/L 37. April 1968.

4 A.K. Sen. 1981. Poverty and famines: an essay on entitlement and deprivation, p. 111-112. Oxford, UK, Clarendon Press.

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