A Working Definition
Sustainable agriculture and rural development (SARD) refers to a process which is ecologically sound, environmentally sustainable, economically viable, socially just, culturally appropriate, humane, based on a holistic scientific approach and productive over the long term.
Evolution of the Concept
The concept of sustainable development was introduced in the 1987 report of the Brundtland Commission on Environment and Development as a means of shifting attention away from narrow sectoral interests and towards an approach that comprehensively embraced environmental, social and economic goals. The SARD concept emerged in the early 1990s as a framework for focusing greater attention on sustainability issues within agricultural and rural development processes in both developed and developing countries. Today, SARD is seen as both a paradigm for holistic development and an overarching goal, achievement of which would also bring success with respect to the Millennium Development Goals and related targets.
SARD at Rio and Johannesburg
The importance of the SARD concept was recognised and confirmed at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, with Chapter 14 of Agenda 21 setting out the programmes and specific actions needed to promote sustainable agriculture and rural development. The Johannesburg Plan of Implementation adopted at the conclusion of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in September 2002 provides a framework for action to implement the original Rio commitments, with special focus on Water, Energy, Health, Agriculture and Biodiversity (WEHAB). At WSSD, Chapter 14 was reaffirmed as a valid framework for action on SARD, and renewed international commitments were made to take concrete action to achieve this goal.
FAO and SARD
Following Rio, the UN established a Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) to monitor progress in implementing Agenda 21 and FAO was designated as TAsk Manager for Chapter 14. Besides contributing to SARD through its own programmes and projects, FAO fosters multistakeholder dialogues, facilitates two stakeholders platforms - the SARD Initiative and the Adelboden Group for SARD in Mountain Regions, and reports to the FAO Committee on Agriculture and to CSD on progress in the implementation of Chapter 14, on behalf of all the stakeholders.
Civil Society and SARD
A key feature of the preparatory process for the WSSD was the decision of CSD to give much greater emphasis to implementation processes involving stakeholder partnerships, with active participation of civil society. This led to a call for partnership initiatives to be developed as a primary instrument for implementing Agenda 21.
In response to this call, preparation of a SARD Initiative was facilitated by FAO in its capacity as Task Manager for Chapter 14, and launched in Johannesburg at a series of side events during the WSSD.
As part of the preparatory process for WSSD, participants of an International Conference on SARD in Mountain Regions, held in Adelboden, Switzerland in June 2002, called on interested countries and other partners to establish an Adelboden Group to serve as a platform for discussion of policies and initiatives specific to SARD issues in mountain regions. This group was established in 2003.