Education Knowledge

October 2001

World Food Summit Five Years Later: The Challenge of feeding and educating all

by Lavinia Gasperini
Extension, Education and Communication Service
FAO Research Extension and Training Division

This paper was presented at the Workshop on "Food Security and the World Food Summit", organized by FAO during the Global Consortium of Higher Education and Research for Agriculture and Food Systems in the 21st Century (San Francisco, July 14th 2001).

Challenges and progresses

Poverty is still a major cause of food insecurity and sustainable progress in poverty eradication is critical to improve access to food. These inter-related realities pose a global challenge that we are mandated to accept.

Consider the facts:

Moreover, big rural-urban gaps are not shrinking for, in 2025, most of the poor will be still be rural. The rural sector has largely remained neglected, despite its great concentration of poor people. The rural poor suffer an inequitably low share of schools, health care, roads, technology research and institutional and market access. Yet aid goes disproportionately to countries - and increasingly to non-rural sectors - where the majority of the poor do not live or work.6

Can education make a difference: renewed consensus …

The right to food, health, education, - as rights to capacity building - were fundamental blocks of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) reiterated in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and among others, by the Convention of the Rights of the Child. These rights were also highlighted by international conferences such as the Health for All in Alma Ata (1978), the Education for All in Jomtien (1990), the Social Summit in Copenhagen (1995), and the World Food Summit in Rome (WFS, 1996). A renewed commitment to basic education not only for its intrinsic worth as a basic human right, but also for its positive impact on human development and human capital, productivity and on capacity for participation and social cohesion has thus characterised the last decade. The need to invest in education, and specifically in basic education, might seem obvious to us, today, as obvious as the need to promote an active and visible policy of mainstreaming a gender perspective in all policies and programs aiming at the eradication of poverty. Or of promoting capacity building and facilitating access to and transfer of technologies and corresponding knowledge. All of these issues, however, where not recognized nor did they catalyze general consensus twenty or thirty years ago, when the prevailing discourse was mainly if not exclusively about "Growth"7.

Also, in addressing rural development, the international community has started placing basic education at the core of its agenda. It has moved from agricultural education for production, focusing almost exclusively on vocational education and training and higher education, to a systemic approach embracing a wide range and large number of stakeholders at all levels of the education system with priority given to basic education. This includes formal and informal education, including early childhood, primary education, literacy and basic skill training.

This new focus was based on evidence from research indicating, for example, that basic education affects the productivity of small landholders and subsistence farmers immediately and positively, and that a farmer with four years of elementary education is, on average, 8.7 per cent more productive than a farmer with no education. Moreover, farmers with more education get much higher gains in income from the use of new technologies and adjust more rapidly to technological changes8. The provision of more and better basic educational services in rural areas such as primary education, literacy and basic skills training can substantially improve productivity and livelihoods9. More and better health, education and nutrition normally stimulate each other, are complementary, and if acquired by parents, especially mothers, also benefit children. Moreover, many children will be the farmers of tomorrow, and educated children have a better chance of becoming more productive farmers.

In general, the recent changing paradigm in education for agriculture, rural development and food security was also a consequence of changing of international policies for education and development. Some of the main features of such policies were (i) a new concern for the poor and the disadvantaged; (ii) the priority given since Jomtien (1990) to basic education; (iii) the move away from training for the elites of developing countries in the north, to in-country capacity development embracing a wide range and large numbers of stakeholders at all levels of the education system; (iv) new support to long term strengthening of national systems of education, research and training (Sector Wide Reforms10 ) aiming at facilitating local ownership of national policies and programs, with a systemic approach, versus traditional isolated projects addressing very limited stakeholders in vocational training institutes or universities; and (v) the shift from supply driven projects and knowledge transfer to demand driven initiatives based on mutual learning and exchange of experiences.

The new priority given to education in promoting agriculture, rural development and food security is reflected in the policy of several important international events and organisations. For example:

…and ongoing dilemmas

Education issues are addressed differently by different agencies. One of them is the approach to basic education as a basic public good, which is shared by agencies such as IFAD, UNICEF, or UNESCO but not the World Bank. According to IFAD most human assets, notably primary schooling and health care, must be financed mainly by the public sector. These are seen as a public good, a basic need, and a basic human right. User fees in primary health and education are not considered the answer. IFAD claims that they have proved almost impossible to target correctly; have saved little public money and have discouraged use of services by the rural poor and therefore did little to increase their income14. In the era of fast developing profit making e-knowledge, free distribution of basic knowledge versus profit-making knowledge management and dissemination also concerns a growing number in the scientific community15.

Our proposal for systemic action

FAO considers that education can effectively serve the needs of rural livelihoods by fostering interdisciplinary and new partnerships16 in a strong relationship with research and extension. Education (formal and non-formal) needs thus to be addressed in a systemic manner, encompassing all levels of the education system and giving priority to basic education. Agricultural and educational research would both focus on the specific needs of rural livelihoods in order to plan curricula, define education and training contents and methodologies, and prepare learning materials. These relationships are synthesised in the following figure (Figure 1), which is an adaptation of the Agriculture Knowledge and Information System (AKIS) concept17:

Figure 1:

Source : FAO 1999

In reality, often the interaction among extensionists, researchers and educators is not in a form of a triangle and farmers and rural livelihoods are not often the focal point of the relationship. Some times a stronger relationship is found between extension and the rural population, while less often such a relationship exists between agricultural researchers and educational researchers and rural population. The dotted line indicates that the links between research and extension are not always strong and that research findings are not being fed into the extension knowledge base. Research findings seldom benefit rural livelihoods through education and extension. This situation18 is diagrammed in Figure 2.

Figure 2

There is much work to be done in order to make the AKIS dynamic work. The FAO education group specifically sees among the following some priorities areas for systemic action:19


Within this general framework, new and enlarged partnerships are needed for addressing some of the main emergencies of the new millennium, and their specific impact in rural areas. Examples of these are:

The era of globalisation: the case for investing in education

As globalisation moves the world from technology based to knowledge based economies (K-Economies) education and training will become even more crucial and access to quality education for all will be the yardstick which will differentiate and govern the gap among rich and poor26 . The dramatic knowledge and food deficit of so many less developed countries calls for renewed efforts for building knowledge and capacity in the South, adopting strategies in which those most concerned are in charge. We consider, with others, that knowledge and capacity building are tools that not only serve to increase productivity but also build people's identity and enable them to participate fully in social and political life."27 These are crucial pre-requisites for successful strategies to address poverty reduction, rural development, natural resource management and food security.

It is thus necessary to ensure the complementarily among short-term training related programs towards systematic and long-term support to national systems of education and research, as the necessary basis for knowledge capacity building. Learning is at the heart of knowledge capacity. Learning should be looked on more as an exchange process than a simple transfer of knowledge from those who have to those who have not. We need to start from what exists and strengthen it. We need to help the poor in rural areas help themselves and only then can individuals, institutions and countries benefit from international knowledge bases. Our role needs thus to shift from being providers of expertise to that of dialogue partners and facilitators of mutual learning and exchange of experience.28

This conference has looked at the relationship between research and higher agricultural education and we believe that the global challenge outlined demands your attention. We firmly believe that without the support of higher agricultural education this critical challenge will go unanswered.


1World Food Summit, Rome, 13-17 November 1996
2IFAD, Rural Poverty Report 2001: the challenge of ending rural poverty. Oxford University Press, New York, 2001, page 1
3Many rural farm families are also involved in non-farm economic activities. Non-farm income is becoming an increasingly important share of total rural income, averaging 42 % in Africa, 40% in Latin America and 32%in Asia. These types of enterprises include handicraft production, simple agro-processing operations, vending and marketing, rickshaw driving and, in some cases, the acquisition of improved farm inputs. ( FAO, The State of Food and Agriculture, lessons from the past 50 years. FAO, Rome, 2000, page 52)
4IFAD 2001
5UNDP, Human Development Report 2000, UNDP, Oxford University Press, 2000, page 34-35
6IFAD 2000, page 2
7"There is no question that there is now broad agreement on education and health outcomes being on par with income in assessing poverty and the consequences of economic policy. This is now so common place that it is easy to forget that is was not always the case, that twenty -five years ago great intellectual and policy battles were fought in the World Bank on broadening the conception of development and poverty reduction. Perhaps today's new proposal that empowerment and participation should in their turn be treated on par with education and health and income, will equally become tomorrow's foundations" (in Tavi Kanbur, "Economic policy, Distribution and Poverty: the Nature of Disagreements" IFAD, 19th January 2001, Rome)
8Martin Carnoy: The Case for Investing in Basic Education. UNICEF, New York 1992, p. 26, 34 and 41
9Beatrice Edwards, Rural Education and Communication Technology, paper presented at the First Meeting on the Integration of Agricultural and Rural Education in the Americas; Washington D.C. August 25
10for "Sector Wide Approach" see, for example: Lars Rylander and Martin Schmidt: SWAP Management, Experiences and Emerging Practices, SIDA, Stockholm, 2000
11See for example, the following excerpts from the Rome Declaration on Food Security, and the World Food Summit Plan of Action: "Our sustainable development policies will promote full participation and empowerment of people, (...) access to education and opportunities for youth"(…). Commitment one, objective 1.4 : "(…) Governments, in partnership with all actors of civil society will (...) support investment in human resource development such as health, education, literacy and other skills training, which are essential to sustainable development."(…). Commitment two, Objective 2.1 "(…) develop human skills and capacities through basic education and pre and on-the-job training"; objective 2.3 "encourage school gardens (...)"; objective 2.4: Promote access for all, especially the poor and members of vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, to basic education (...) Promote access to, and support for, complete primary education, including, where appropriate, school feeding programmes, with particular attention to children in rural areas and to girls.(…). Commitment three, Objective 3.3 "(…) strengthen agricultural fisheries and forestry education, training, skills development and education systems (...)"; Objective 3.5 "Develop the technical and educational infrastructure in rural areas. Commitment six "give priority to people-centred investments in education (...)"
12Moulton, Improving education in rural areas: Guidance for rural development specialists, The World Bank 2001
13FAO, The State of Food and Agriculture, lessons from the past 50 years. FAO, Rome, 2000, page 311
14IFAD, page 6 and 111-114
15see, for example, M. Carton, The rise of the knowledge management fashion: a consequence of the decline of the development ideology? IUED, Geneva 2001; Kenneth King, Towards Knowledge-based Aid: a new way of working or a new North-South divide? Center for African Studies, University of Edinburgh, 2001. (papers presented at the DSE- NORAG Seminar on "Development Knowledge, National Research and International Cooperation", 3-5 April 2001, Bonn, Germany)
16Two basic principles of The Strategic Framework for FAO, 2000-2015. Paragraph 31. FAO, Rome, 1999
17AKIS/RD: Strategic Vision and Guiding Principles, FAO and The World Bank, Rome, 2001
18this is and adaptation of an FAO AKIS/SR report on Malaysia, yet unpublished
19From agriculture education to education for rural development and food security: all for education and food for all. In SD Dimension, FAO web site, October 2000
20UNDP, Human Development Report 2000, UNDP, Oxford University Press, 2000, page 35
21UNICEF, The new plague: HIV/AIDS, Development and Child Welfare, UNICEF, Florence, 2000
22J. du Guerny, AIDS and agriculture in Africa: can agricultural policy make a difference? In "Food Nutrition and Agriculture. The challenges ahead." N. 25, FAO Rome, 1999, p15-16
23Libor Stloukal, Rural population ageing in poorer countries: possible implications for rural development. In FAO, SD Dimension Web site, May 2001
24FAO 2000 pages 74 and 71
25FAO 2000, page 91
26"In this new millennium the creation and development of a "learning society" in which all children and adults are provided through basic education with the capacity of written and numeric communication, for people to be able to further learn ("trainability" and learnablity") and make improvements in their own lives and sustain development in the information age is especially important in poor countries where relatively few jobs are available and development has to come from widespread ability in the population to improve their livelihoods". In Martin Carnoy: The Case for Investing in Basic Education. UNICEF, New York 1992
27SIDA's Policy for Capacity Development as a Strategic question in Development Cooperation, SIDA Methods Development Unit, Stockholm, November 2000
28This paragraph is inspired by Ingemar Gustafsson, Building North-South knowledge capacity, SIDA 2001, paper presented at the DSE- NORAG Seminar on "Development Knowledge, National Research and International Cooperation" , 3-5 April 2001, Bonn, Germany)



SD Homepage Back to Top FAO Homepage