ROME, 17 September 2002 -- The State of Food and Agriculture 2002 (SOFA 2002), released today by the FAO, includes sections that review the current global and regional agricultural situation and look at the world economy and agriculture, including world trade, commodity prices and the implications of the fourth World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference for agriculture.

The report features two special chapters on timely issues: The Role of Agriculture and Land in the Provision of Global Public Goods and Harvesting Carbon Sequestration Through Land-use Change: A Way Out of Rural Poverty?

In the special chapter on harvesting carbon sequestration through land-use change, the report says that agriculture is of key importance in the issue of climate change - both as one of the sources of the problem and as a recipient of its impacts.

Scientists estimate that about 80 percent of global carbon stocks are stored in soils or forests and that a considerable amount of the carbon originally contained in soils and forests has been released as a result of agricultural and forestry activities and deforestation. Agriculture and forestry practices sequester and fix carbon into the soil, plants and trees through photosynthesis, reducing atmospheric greenhouse gases.

According to the report, agriculture and forestry activities have the potential to counteract the impact of emissions made elsewhere by reducing deforestation, generating increased forest stocks by expanding forestry plantations, adopting agroforestry schemes, reducing soil degradation and rehabilitating degraded forests.

Whether poverty alleviation would improve the environment, or improved environment could reduce poverty is unclear. The report cautions that research and experience over the past ten years have shown that there are no clear and unambiguous correlations or causal links between poverty and resource degradation. However, according to the report, paying farmers to adopt carbon-sequestering land-use methods can play a role in promoting sustainable development among the poor. It may also represent an important new way to finance such efforts. "On the other hand, it would be wrong to believe that poor land-users will necessarily benefit from such payments unless programmes and policies are carefully designed to ensure they do," said Hartwig de Haen, FAO Assistant Director-General, Economic and Social Department.

"For example, the report cites a project in Chiapas, Mexico aimed at promoting forestry activities by communities of small farmers. Other forestry projects in Ecuador and Tanzania have also had some success in reducing poverty. I think it comes across loud and clear in SOFA 2002 that both equity and efficiency criteria should be fundamental in designing mechanisms to provide environmental goods and services such as carbon sequestration."

Examining the role of agriculture and land in the provision of global public goods, the report says that agriculture, fisheries and forestry have an importance beyond that of providing the world with food and raw materials necessary for our survival and well-being and ensuring the livelihoods of farmers, fishermen and foresters worldwide. People employed in these sectors of the economy play a role in managing resources that benefit the world at large. "Through proper management of these resources, farmers, fishermen and foresters provide a range of benefits to others, such as landscape conservation, watershed protection, biodiversity conservation, ecosystem stability and maintenance of fish stocks."

While these public goods are widely recognized as benefiting large numbers of people, they cannot be expected to be provided for free, the report says. Some public goods are global in nature, benefiting all humanity, like biodiversity conservation and carbon sequestration provided by forests and agriculture through the adoption of more sustainable land-use practices. Because so many people benefit from these public goods without paying, the report concludes that "mechanisms for compensating the providers are necessary to ensure that socially desirable levels of the good will be provided."

According to the report, "One important means of increasing political will and financing commitments to agriculture and rural development would be the recognition of the important potential role of agriculture and rural areas in the provision of global public goods."

Though the report calls for increased international financial flows towards agriculture and rural areas in order to promote the provision of global public goods, it questions whether such increased financing can also contribute to global poverty alleviation, saying this depends on specific circumstances and on "the design of the mechanisms compensating the providers."

One option, says the report, would be to link additional Official Development Assistance flows to the effective mobilization of domestic resources for the provision of global public goods. "A particular challenge is to design mechanisms in such a way as to also ensure an important contribution to poverty alleviation."

SOFA 2002 also contains a CD-ROM, with time series data for about 150 countries, country groups and regions in English, French and Spanish, with FAOSTA TS, the necessary PC DOS-based software to run it.