's-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands
15-19 April 1991
The Den Bosch Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture and Rural
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:
- Agriculture, both in the developed and in the developing
world, should be restructured in such a way that demands of
sustainability will be met.
- 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
- 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.
- Population policies should be implemented in order to improve,
in the long run, prospects for sustainable development.
- 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.
- Fair terms of exchange should be established among
agricultural producers, industry and consumers.
- Farmers, particularly small-scale and resource-poor farmers,
men and women, should have better access to education and
training, appropriate technologies and resources.
- 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:
- food security by ensuring an appropriate and sustainable
balance between self-sufficiency and self-reliance;
- employment and income generation in rural areas, particularly
to eradicate poverty;
- 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
- 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;
- 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
- 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;
- relieving pressure on natural resources by investing in
improvement, rehabilitation and conservation of natural resources
so that they can be used intensively and safely;
- adjusting macro-economic and agricultural policies and
instruments to promote production systems and technologies that
can help attain the objectives of SARD;
- encouraging demand and providing incentives favouring the
crops and animals which can be produced and processed sustainably;
- 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
- 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
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.