Policy and integrated management Environment

's-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands
15-19 April 1991

The Den Bosch Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development


By the year 2025, the world will have to feed an additional 3.2 billion people from a natural resource base which is already seriously threatened by unsustainable farming practices and environmental pressures arising from other human activities. Already now millions of people are caught in a poverty trap which forces them to eke out their livelihood at the expense of natural resources which are the sole means of their survival.

Moreover, for the coming decades, the needs for food, fibre and other agricultural products as well as energy have to be served, of a world population which is not only rapidly increasing, but also rapidly urbanizing and expecting improved living conditions. However, the resource base should be used rationally and sustainably to meet the needs of society but not for the greed of society.

Agriculture will have to meet these challenges, mainly by increasing the production on land already in use, and by avoiding further encroachment on land that is only marginally suitable.

It has been shown in the industrialized world that agricultural production can be greatly increased if the non-agricultural sectors of the economy provide, in return, the means to do so. However, intensification has often been accompanied by large demands on non-renewable resources, environmental pollution, problems of waste disposal, an accelerated rural exodus and the development of unsustainable production patterns.

The challenge for the world is to learn from past experience and to do better, in reconciling further development needs with environment protection requirements.

The pre-requisites for SARD

To meet the above challenges, at least eight pre-requisites have to be met:
  1. Agriculture, both in the developed and in the developing world, should be restructured in such a way that demands of sustainability will be met.
  2. The developed countries should recognize their role and responsibility for sustainable agriculture and rural development in developing countries by improving the international economic relations in order to increase and stabilize incomes for farmers and hence create incentives for appropriate investments in rural areas.
  3. The international community should accept the need to provide technical and financial assistance in specific fields to promote SARD; to review and improve rules governing international trade in order to provide better access to markets and ensure fair prices with a view to supporting strategies for SARD and to strengthen development financing to make the necessary resources available on terms that will make investment in SARD feasible.
  4. Population policies should be implemented in order to improve, in the long run, prospects for sustainable development.
  5. Governments and society at large should recognize that agriculture and rural people collectively play the vital role of ensuring food security and maintaining the renewable natural resource base. For most developing countries, this recognition must be reflected in the allocation of adequate financial resources, pricing policies, in the decentralization of institutions and in the empowerment of rural people with particular attention to the poor.
  6. Fair terms of exchange should be established among agricultural producers, industry and consumers.
  7. Farmers, particularly small-scale and resource-poor farmers, men and women, should have better access to education and training, appropriate technologies and resources.
  8. Campaigns to increase public awareness of the need for and approach to SARD should be undertaken.

Meeting these pre-requisites will stimulate the development and adoption of innovative forms of agriculture and rural development and lead to the choice of production systems, technologies and practices that associate both intensification and diversification.

The essential goals of SARD

In evolving towards more sustainable production systems, agriculture and rural development efforts should ensure the attainment of three essential goals:
  1. food security by ensuring an appropriate and sustainable balance between self-sufficiency and self-reliance;
  2. employment and income generation in rural areas, particularly to eradicate poverty;
  3. natural resource conservation and environmental protection.

The call for fundamental changes and adjustments

In many regions, the above essential goals are not readily attainable. Major changes and adjustments are necessary to create the conditions of sustainability. This is particularly the case in the rural areas with high population density and on marginal lands where small farmers and landless people can barely subsist and are living in extreme poverty with no alternative but to survive at the expense of the limited natural resources available to them. Therefore the major thrust of the strategy for creating the conditions for sustainability for the poor must aim at eradicating poverty.

The fundamental changes and adjustments to promote SARD should include:

  1. active involvement and participation of rural people through their organizations such as farmers organizations, cooperatives and informal groups in the research and development of integrated farm management systems compatible with maintaining the essential biological processes, and related training activities;
  2. decentralization by devolving more decision-making authority and responsibility down to the local level, by providing incentives and resources for initiatives by local communities, by enhancing their status and management capacity, including that of women, rather than relying on ìtop-downîadministrative mechanisms;
  3. allocating clear and fair legal rights and obligations with regard to the use of land and other natural resources, including land reforms where necessary; such allocation should pay particular attention to the important role of rural women as decision-makers, food producers and food providers;
  4. relieving pressure on natural resources by investing in improvement, rehabilitation and conservation of natural resources so that they can be used intensively and safely;
  5. adjusting macro-economic and agricultural policies and instruments to promote production systems and technologies that can help attain the objectives of SARD;
  6. encouraging demand and providing incentives favouring the crops and animals which can be produced and processed sustainably;
  7. promoting agronomic practices, production and processing systems that pay particular attention to safeguarding human health and environmental quality, especially in relation to the use of dangerous pesticides.
  8. promoting alternative off-farm livelihood opportunities in rural areas, such as food processing and other industries, and, where necessary, facilitating the accommodation of migrating populations in better-endowed areas.

The Conference recognized that the challenge of overcoming poverty and translating the SARD concept into an operational reality is the responsibility of the world as a whole. It also recognized that the achievement of the objective of SARD would require consistent commitment of policies and adequate resources over an extended period of time. Therefore it stressed that the considerable costs involved in implementing the strategy for SARD should be met in such a way that there is no undue burden placed on poor countries or on the poor people of the world.

The practical implementation of the principles and objectives of SARD enunciated in this Declaration will require action on a broad front supported by adequate resources. Such action should involve the local communities, NGOs, government institutions, the international organizations and financing institutions in a common concerted effort.

Towards this end, the Conference has given clear guidance as to the areas for which actions are required, which have been brought together in the form of an Agenda for Action.

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