May 2008  

Feeding the World

Sustainable Management of Natural Resources

Fact sheets

Recognizing that environmental degradation, poverty and food security are strongly linked, the FAO Strategic Framework (2000-2015) stipulated that one of its corporate objectives is to support the conservation, improvement and sustainable utilization of natural resources for food and agriculture. FAO ’s agriculture, natural resources, forestry, fisheries, social and economic, and technical programmes devote considerable portions of their resources and effort towards this objective and to meet the sustainable development targets set by the World Food Summit (WFS), the World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).


Chemicals and agriculture
Chemicals are used in every facet of life and are present in a bewildering range of products and applications. Growing knowledge of the wide distribution and impact of chemicals in the environment and the human body has underscored the need for their regulatory control and careful management. Agricultural pesticides are an important subset of chemicals and pose specific challenges.

Conservation agriculture
Conservation agriculture offers a powerful option for meeting future food demands while also contributing to sustainable agriculture and rural development. CA methods can improve the efficiency of input, increase farm income, improve or sustain crop yields, and protect and revitalize soil, biodiversity and the natural resource base.

Ecosystem services sustain agricultural productivity and resilience
Ecosystem services are defined as “the benefits provided by ecosystems to humans”. Many key ecosystem services provided by biodiversity, such as nutrient cycling, pest regulation and pollination, sustain agricultural productivity. Promoting the healthy functioning of ecosystems ensures the resilience of agriculture as it intensifies to meet the stress of growing demands for food production. Climate change and other stresses have the potential to make major impacts on key functions, such as pollination and pest regulation services. Learning to strengthen the ecosystem linkages that promote resilience and to mitigate the forces that impede the ability of agro-ecosystems to deliver goods and services remains an important challenge.

The global livestock sector – a growth engine
During the past three decades, a rapid global expansion in production and consumption of animal products has led to a so-called “livestock revolution”, driven by population and income growth coupled with urbanization. Cheap, often subsidized feed grain, cheap fuel and rapid technological change, particularly in poultry, pork and dairy production, have accelerated the sector’s growth to such an extent that it is expected to provide 50 percent of global agricultural output in value terms in the next ten years.

Land degradation assessment in drylands (LADA)
Assessing the status, causes and impact of land degradation

Land degradation is a serious problem that crosses national borders, ecological zones and socio-economic levels. It can be especially devastating for the world’s poorest people living in dryland areas. The Land Degradation Assessment in Drylands (LADA) project, executed by FAO with funding from UNEP, GEF and others, assesses the causes and impacts of land degradation at global, national and local levels in order to detect hot spots and identify remedial measures. LADA approaches land degradation as a biophysical, social, economic and environmental issue that must be dealt with through a combination of geo-informational, scientific and local knowledge tools.

Land tenure supports sustainable development
Throughout the rural world, land provides a primary source of income, food security, cultural identity and shelter. It also serves as a fundamental asset for the economic empowerment of the poor and provides a safety net in times of hardship.

Rural finance and investment
Investing in agriculture for poverty reduction

Increases in commodity food prices have not only raised awareness of the urgency to increase agricultural investment, they also have set up opportunities for profitable investments. The capital required to invest comes through debt or equity but both rely upon financial service providers such as banks and credit unions to facilitate the needed money flows for loans, deposits, money transfers, guarantees and other financial products. They provide access to the assets required to increase agricultural productivity and reach a scale that will lead to higher incomes and asset growth for the rural poor. However, providing financial services to agriculture and rural areas involves risks, high transaction costs and historically low returns on investment to agriculture. For small-scale agriculture, financial services are even more limited.

Supporting rural areas through agro-enterprise development
The vast majority of the world’s poor live in rural areas and most of them rely on agriculture for their livelihoods. Not only do they suffer from lack of resources and assets, they also are affected by major changes in the agricultural sector brought about by globalization and market integration. Within this context, agro-enterprise development emerges as a way forward for rural people to improve their lives.

Sustainable land management
One out of every three people on earth is in some way affected by land degradation. Latest estimates indicate that nearly 2 billion ha of land worldwide – an area twice the size of China – are already seriously degraded, some irreversibly. This includes large areas of cropland, grassland, woodland and forest areas whose degradation reduces productivity, disrupts vital ecosystem functions, negatively affects biodiversity and water resources, and increases vulnerability to climate change.

Ending hunger in Africa
At the 1996 World Food Summit (WFS), leaders from 186 countries pledged to reduce the number of hungry people in the world by half no later than 2015. This was reinforced by the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG-1) that specifically sets out to reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day and the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015.

Water and food security
During the second half of the 20th century, world population had a twofold increase, agriculture doubled food production and developing countries increased per capita food consumption by 30 percent. However, while feeding the world and producing a diverse range of non-food crops such as cotton, rubber and industrial oils in an increasingly productive way, agriculture also confirmed its position as the biggest user of water on the globe. Irrigation now claims close to 70 percent of all freshwater appropriated for human use.

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© FAO, 2008