Specials Environment
AGENDA 21 10 Land resources 11 Deforestation 12 Desertification 13 Mountains
14 SARD 15 Biodiversity Climate Energy

Progress Report
FAO, June 1997
Chapter 14
Sustainable agriculture
and rural development

The challenge

The aim of sustainable agriculture and rural development (SARD) is three-fold: first, to increase agricultural production in ways that ensure access by all people to the food they need; second, to help people satisfy their social and cultural aspirations; and third, to protect and conserve the capacity of the natural resource base to continue to provide production, environmental and cultural services.

Enhanced food production and food security are key components of the complex concept of SARD. The World Food Summit, held in Rome in November 1996 deplored the continued, widespread prevalence of hunger and pledged to halve current numbers of malnourished - estimated at more than 800 million - by 2015. Participating countries also committed themselves to implement Agenda 21, particularly with regard to Chapter 14. Initial proposals broadly for a World Food Summit monitoring system are being developed for discussion among concerned institutions and for subsequent consideration by the FAO Committee on World Food Security in April 1997.

Chapter 14 "unpacked" the concept of SARD into 12 programme areas: agricultural policy, including trade policy; people's participation and human resource development; improving farm production and farming systems; land use planning information and education, land conservation and rehabilitation, water resources for food production and rural development, conservation and utilization of plant and animal genetic resources; integrated pest management (IPM); sustainable plant nutrition; rural energy transition; evaluation of the effects of ultra-violet radiation on plants and animals.

Those areas are cross-linked, and related to several Agenda 21 chapters, including Chapter 10: Integrated planning and management of land resources, Chapter 15: Conservation of biological diversity, and others. Chapter 14 made it clear that achieving SARD is not a "big bang" process, but rather one of making necessarily slow, step-by-step progress over a wide range of social, economic and technical issues. It also recognizes and attempts to accommodate the implicit tensions between the production and resource conservation goals that lie at the core of SARD.

Progress since UNCED

If achieving SARD is a step-by-step process, then some progress has been made since UNCED, even if it has been uneven. There is growing awareness among both developed and developing countries and economies-in-transition of the need to integrate environmental concerns in agricultural policies, including trade policies. Indeed, the need to meet consumer demands and open new food markets makes agricultural trade issues an important factor in this process. Considerable progress, although from a small production base, has been made in introducing organic farming methods under a variety of certification schemes.

In the area of people's participation, there is a better understanding of civil society dynamics - the reciprocal relations both within and between formal and informal civil society institutions - and recognition of the need to strengthen their involvement in decision and policy making. Coalitions and networks have to be formed to assist the process of consensus-building. In practice, progress has involved institutional restructuring of agricultural cooperatives, and legislation reforms to facilitate the formation of organizations such as rural workers' and farmers' self-help organizations. These organizations are important intermediaries between the government, sources of credit and inputs, and farmers.

In land conservation and rehabilitation, meaningful progress has been at the micro-level (farm or water catchment), in response to decisions and efforts of the land users themselves. Large, top-down, government-inspired efforts have been largely abandoned. National programmes, such as under FAO's International Scheme for the Conservation and Rehabilitation of African Lands (ISCRAL), focus on developing integrated land use and management policies which often address issues beyond agriculture, such as waste disposal. Small island developing states, such as Jamaica, also have produced FAO/UNEP National Soil Policy documents. (See also report on Chapter 10.)

Considerable progress in institutional development has been made in the area of plant and animal genetic resources (see report on Chapter 15). Many countries in Asia now launched integrated pest management (IPM) programmes for rice and IPM has been introduced for other crops in other regions. An IPM Facility, combining the efforts of FAO, UNEP, UNDP and the World Bank has been created to link donors, co-sponsoring agencies, farmers' groups, national and local governments and NGOs. The major indicator of success, however, is that there is a far more concerted effort to introduce IPM methods when confronting new pest problems.

Similar success has not been noted in wide-scale adoption of integrated plant nutrition management systems. Some progress has been made in identifying and making country-level appraisals of current and potential sources of plant nutrients from organic and mineral sources. Concepts have been sharpened and experience shared.

Progress in achieving a rural energy transition depends crucially on economic factors. Some renewable energy sources, such as wind energy, have led to a sharp drop in energy costs, and solar photovoltaic (PV) systems are gradually becoming competitive with conventional fuels. The breaking-down of power generation monopolies through new legislation also has opened the way for private power generation using unconventional, renewable sources. (See report on Sustainable energy.)

Evidence suggests that ultraviolet (UV-B) irradiation resulting from stratospheric ozone depletion has little effect on photosynthesis or plant growth under field conditions. However, there may be longer term genetic damage. In contrast, increased tropospheric ozone levels arising from atmospheric pollution will have immediate adverse effects on most plant species. (See report on Climate change.)

Key issues

The role of FAO

As Task Manager for Agenda 21/Chapter 14, FAO is assisting many countries in key areas of SARD. It helps evaluate the compatibility of policies with SARD objectives, advises on incentives, develops indicators and guidelines for sustainable agricultural practices, and analyses the implications for SARD of GATT trade agreements.

It supports the sound use of agricultural resources by promoting conservation and sustainable energy use of animal and plant genetic resources, fostering sustainable production of energy for rural communities and agro-industry, and extending cost-effective technologies such as integrated pest management and integrated plant nutrition systems. It helps improve management of natural resources through ongoing programmes for land and water management.

In the area of human resources and institutional development, FAO is strengthening national research institutions, assisting in development of regional cooperative networks for research and technology, and helping ensure that SARD objectives reflect the views and concerns of rural organizations, local government, the private sector and NGOs.

FAO contacts

Tim Aldington
FAO Agriculture Department
E-mail: Timothy.Aldington@fao.org

Agenda 21 Progress: Introduction | 10 Land | 11 Deforestation | 12 Desertification | 13 Mountains | 14 SARD | 15 Biodiversity | Climate change | Energy

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