The overarching theme of FAO's activities is "Helping to build a food-secure world for present and future generations". This guiding principle has ensured continuity of purpose as well as consistency with the mandate set out in FAO's Constitution. Effective development is achieved through improvements in the production and distribution of food and agricultural products, including greater access to productive resources, employment opportunities and supplies and higher nutrition levels and living standards of all people.
Poverty is a major cause of food insecurity. Efforts to increase food supplies and accelerate economic growth are sure to bring overall benefits to the country and society, but unless they are accompanied by complementary targeted measures, they are unlikely to completely eliminate poverty and food insecurity among vulnerable populations. Millions of human beings living in rural areas as well as urban centres are at great risk of being left behind.
More sustainable livelihoods and food security can be ensured for these populations only through efforts to increase individuals' opportunities and choices and improve resource productivity, thereby resulting in higher incomes and improved access to food. The promotion of equitable access to natural and economic resources and social services is crucial and will require specific action to address gender disparities. Since most of the world's poor live in rural areas, a major challenge is to improve rural livelihoods, farm incomes and food security, both in food-deficit and economically marginal areas and among the resource-poor in more favourably endowed areas.
The Strategic Framework for FAO 2000-2015 prominently includes an institutional strategy focused on poverty eradication and food security. Among its main components that Member Nations decided to indicate as fundamental are:
improving the opportunities available to the rural poor to strengthen, diversify and sustain their livelihoods by taking advantage of the potential synergies between farming, fishing, forestry and animal husbandry, including through pre- and post-production income-generating enterprises;
supporting efforts to strengthen local institutions and to enact policies and legislation that will provide for more equitable access by both women and men to natural resources (particularly land, water, fisheries and forests) and related economic and social resources;
improving the efficiency and effectiveness of public and private sector response to the multiple and differing needs of disadvantaged rural populations, notably of women and youth;
promoting gender-sensitive, participatory and sustainable strategies and approaches, based on self-help, capacity-building and empowerment, to improve the skills of the rural poor and local, civil society and rural people's organizations;
assisting in the targeting of investment in the agricultural, fisheries and forestry sectors - from public and private, domestic and international sources - that contributes to food security and poverty eradication.
Considering that poverty eradication is a major goal of FAO Member Nations, and that it has stimulated a UN system-wide response, the Organization's contributions focused on the rural sector are not provided in isolation, but are an integral part of the broader effort. Critical to the attainment of better rural living standards will be investment in improved access to safe water and sanitation, power supplies, health services and education. From this vantage point, FAO is seeking further integration of its actions within the UN system (notably with IFAD, ILO, UNDCP, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNIFEM, WFP and WHO) and closer cooperation with bilateral technical cooperation mechanisms and activities.
The Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC) Network on Rural Development and Food Security is an important means of promoting this at both headquarters and field level. Partnerships are also being reinforced with the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) system, the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) system and academic and national research institutions. Building on the longstanding cooperation with the World Bank, regional development banks and IFAD, attempts will be made to stimulate increased official development assistance flows in support of food security and sustainable agriculture and rural development.
New alliances, based on shared objectives and complementarity of action, are sought with organizations operating in the sphere of rural development and poverty alleviation, including specialized non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and community-based organizations and cooperatives (particularly those of farmers, rural people, women and youth), as well as with the private sector.
More participatory and flexible ways of working together to provide services and doing business need to be found. One lesson that FAO has learned in its 30 years of promoting sustainable participatory rural development approaches in member countries is that rural poverty alleviation is not just an income problem. It is a livelihoods problem involving rural people and their complex social and economics links with other stakeholders at community and higher levels that influence and determine their access to productive assets. It is also a problem involving the existing local capacity to foster integrated natural resource management.
Since rural household livelihoods activities are multiple, involving on-farm as well as off-farm actions, and since interhousehold links and relationships at community and macro levels are constantly changing as they adjust to new situations, rural development and food security approaches must also become more comprehensive, multisectoral and flexible. As mentioned before, the Strategic Framework for FAO 2000-2015 gives due attention to these factors by stressing the need to improve opportunities available to the rural poor so they can strengthen, diversify and sustain their livelihoods, increase their incomes and improve their food security.
It is therefore not surprising that FAO has been a strong supporter of the Department of International Development (DFID) initiative to promote broader use of sustainable livelihoods approaches and worked closely with DFID in organizing the Inter-agency Forum on Operationalizing Sustainable Livelihoods Approaches, held in Siena in March 2000.
This issue paper captures much of the richness of the discussion and debate that took place during the Forum. It highlights many of the useful lessons learned, and it identifies other areas that will need to be addressed. We therefore hope that it will be broadly disseminated and read.
Director, Rural Development Division
FAO Sustainable Development Department