Sixty-second Session

Rome, 12-15 January 1999

(ROME, 26-27 JANUARY 1998)

Table of Contents





Long-Term Challenges for the Future of Agriculture

1. Follow-up to the First Meeting of the Panel

1.1 Implementation of Recommendations of the First Panel

The Panel reviewed the recommendations of the First Panel (September 1995) which had examined the work of the then newly-established Agriculture and Economic Development Analysis Division. The Panel's conclusions and recommendations with regard to the implementation of the recommendations of the First Panel were:

Acknowledged the Division's efforts to implement the recommendations, in particular, the direct involvement of ESA staff in co-operative research with external partners, and confirmed the validity of the thematic orientation which the Division had since taken.

Noted that the filling of professional and higher-level posts was still a problem. Recognised the desirability of recruiting a full staff compliment as soon as possible and, in the meantime, of utilizing non-staff human resources particularly through the partnership programmes to undertake priority activities.

Considered however that, even when the Division was fully staffed, it would be difficult to achieve the critical mass of professionals necessary to conduct research for generation of new knowledge covering the broad mandate of the Division except on a narrow range of subjects, and that, under these circumstances, it would be difficult to establish ESA as a "centre of excellence" at the forefront of agricultural economic research. Stressed that higher priority should be given to the systematic identification of emerging issues, as revealed through FAO's unique presence in regions and countries with policy assistance and other economic advisory work, and their analysis in regular synthesis reports taking account of the current state of knowledge and research.

Supported innovative approaches for optimizing the use of established professional and non-staff resources that would enable the Division to better address its mandated programme areas including:

Stressed the necessity of shielding some of the limited available professional staff from competing duties of a more ad-hoc nature.

1.2 Major Achievements in 1996-97

The Panel reviewed the achievements of the Economic and Social Department in 1996-97, as presented in the briefing notes prepared for the Panel, and noted as particularly valuable the following:

2. Future Challenges for the Economic and Social Department

The Panel addressed the question of "What vision does the Panel have for agricultural development over the next 10-15 years", based on the section, "A Vision for the Future", contained in the briefing notes prepared by the Economic and Social Department.

The Panel agreed with the Department's perspectives on the principal external factors likely to have the most profound impact on agricultural development over the next 10-15 years. These included:

The Panel agreed with the five thrusts of the Department's vision:

Regarding perspectives towards the year 2015, the Panel agreed with the expectation that the global carrying capacity would be sufficient to produce enough food for all on a sustainable basis. The challenges would be to commit sufficient investment, including in agricultural research, and to recognise the primacy of agriculture and rural sectors in the policies of many developing countries. It agreed, however, that there was no reason for complacency since poverty and undernourishment persist with one of the main causes being the uneven distribution of the carrying capacity. Poverty elimination would only be possible, in many cases, through income generation based on increased agricultural production.

3. Response of the Economic and Social Department Programmes

The Panel focused on "How does the Panel see the Economic and Social Department implementing its mandate within the framework of that vision". It examined the existing programmes of the Department and came to the following conclusions and recommendations:

3.1 General

Recommended that the ES Divisions and the Policy Assistance Division (TCA) work more closely together in the areas of policy analysis, food security, nutrition and trade to ensure feedback from the field to the Department's normative work and to strengthen policy advice to member countries.

3.2 Nutrition

Commended the highly effective work on food quality and safety including Codex, on expert consultations to provide science-based recommendations in nutrition, food quality and safety, and the interaction and collaboration with trade-related organisations. Recommended that the Department play a active role in public debate concerning the quality and safety of food and interact with news media to promote transparency and achieve wider dissemination of relevant information. Recommended that work on food composition take into account changing dietary practices so that relevant data can be used to estimate nutrients in whole meals, as well as in single food items.

Commended the work done on the development and implementation of national plans of action for nutrition improvement in some 110 countries from 1993 to 1997 as follow-up to the ICN and the WFS, including promotion of community-based approaches to household food security and food-based strategies combating micronutrient malnutrition.

3.3 Food and Agricultural Information

Endorsed the Department's work on the compilation, processing and analysis of food and agricultural statistics and on maintaining comprehensive data bases. Proposed that further efforts be made to improve consistency and quality of data which was particularly important in the light of its rapid dissemination through modern electronic media. Emphasised the importance of assisting member countries to improve the timeliness, quality and availability of statistical data and information related to food and agriculture. Recommended strengthening capacity building activities and technical support services to member countries. Commended the FAO/World Bank/USDA initiative on agricultural statistics in Africa and recommended that this initiative be used to develop a comprehensive approach for much needed development support in this region.

Commended the Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information and Mapping System as being of utmost importance for monitoring World Food Summit follow-up and the extent to which WFS goals were being met. Proposed that member countries should be involved in a process of revizing and improving the estimates of the number of undernourished (published in 1996 in connection with the World Food Summit), and should establish national benchmarks for monitoring progress in reaching the WFS goal of halving the number of hungry people by 2015. Supported efforts to make maximum use of all available household survey data on food consumption in addition to food balance sheet data to improve the estimates of the extent of hunger and malnutrition in the world. To assist countries in this field, recommended the development of guidelines for household food consumption/expenditure surveys which were simple, cost effective and easy to implement, particularly in developing countries. Advocated that FIVIMS be allocated adequate resources, and that follow-up to the ICN be viewed as part of FIVIMS.

Commended the high visibility of regular global information and early warning publications including Food Outlook, Foodcrops and Shortages, Food Situation in Sub-Saharan Africa and Special Alerts for countries facing serious food supply problems.

Endorsed the Department's commodity and trade work aimed at gathering and analysing up-to-date information on relevant statistics and policy changes, making policy recommendations to countries on cross-cutting issues through the Intergovernmental Commodity Groups, and reporting on short-term outlook in the annual Commodity Market Review, Cereal Policies Review and numerous special studies. Considered that the continuing work on commodity projections and assessments of the impact of alternative policy scenarios should be limited to the quantification of the effects on commodity markets and not include country-level assessments which was a much more difficult exercise and required considerably more information and inputs.

3.4 Agriculture and Economic Development

Considered that, even when fully staffed, it would be difficult for the ESA Division to achieve the critical mass of professional staff necessary to establish it as a "centre of excellence" at the forefront of agricultural economic research given the Organization's resource limitations. Recommended that further research prioritisation was necessary, focusing on the systematic identification of major current and emerging issues for policy and economic analysis, drawing in particular on TCA's work and experience at country level, and of related advances and gaps in the state of knowledge. Recommended a shift of emphasis from original data collection and research towards the production of regular synthesis reports based on existing research work by the scientific community on selected issues of particular relevance for FAO's policy advice and assistance to member countries.

Stressed the importance, in FAO's work on the role of the agricultural sector in economic development, of analysing the very important issue of off-farm income and, in particular, of the factors determining the supply of non-farm employment and income opportunities for rural communities. Noted the gap in the research literature on the microeconomics of off-farm activities, and advised that FAO could usefully contribute by formulating the relevant questions and synthesizing the scattered material that existed. Proposed a synthesis of studies analysing cases where off-farm rural activities have successfully been developed.

Expressed appreciation for the publication, State of Food and Agriculture, which provided useful analysis globally and at the regional level, and focused on in-depth analysis of specific current themes. Underlined the value of an analytical and critical treatment of issues. Noted that SOFA was an information document directed towards a general, educated readership rather than a document for policy advice for country-level analysts although it did give global and regional perspectives which were relevant to them.

Recommended that still further emphasis be placed on the identification and analysis of factors that determine successes and failures in food security strategies. Concurred with the importance of the agricultural project analysis work on emergency preparedness and response taking into account the progress that had been made in understanding the problems over the last twenty years. Commended the work on project constraint analysis in support of the Special Programme for Food Security. Recognised that there was generally a lack of analytical tools for addressing questions at the 'meso' level (i.e. between farm household and the aggregate national levels) which were critical for understanding constraints to agricultural development.

3.5 Food and Agricultural Policy

Supported the three main areas of on-going work on follow-up to the Uruguay Round, namely: assessment of effects of policy changes on world commodity markets; interpretation of Uruguay Round commitments and adjustments that may be needed to meet these commitments; and, helping developing countries to become equal partners in future trade negotiations on agriculture. Endorsed the gradual shift of emphasis towards the last-mentioned area. Stressed the importance of the integration of trade policy into the agricultural policy-making process at the country level pursuant to countries' Uruguay Round commitments, and considered that there was a need for close integration of the trade and commodity policy assistance provided by ESC with the national agricultural policy advice provided by TCA.

Recognised that providing Uruguay Round related technical assistance was a huge task in view of the complexity of the issues (including linkages with environmental issues, biotechnology and the growing incidence of science-based non-tariff restrictions) and the rather heterogeneous country situations. Commended the inter-disciplinary approach adopted within FAO for follow-up to the Uruguay Round involving not only ESC but also ESN/AGP on SPS issues and AGP/Legal Office on TRIPS as well as TCA and its decentralised branches in agricultural policy assistance to member countries. Questioned whether the Department had sufficient human and budgetary resources to respond adequately to the great demand for trade-related policy assistance. Supported efforts being made to continue to play a catalytic role in seeking further collaborative arrangements with other organisations and mobilizing all possible resources within the Organization and outside. Recommended that the Organization make a long-term commitment for technical assistance in this area to be effective.

Commended FAO's long-term global perspective studies towards 2015/30 for its unique approach characterised by comprehensive commodity coverage, individual country treatment, and reliance upon both interdisciplinary expert-judgement and formal techniques. Recommended that the long-term projections be updated periodically, as needed and appropriate, and that estimates for intermediate years be evaluated against available empirical evidence. Suggested the possibility of (a) drawing up alternative scenarios for achieving World Food Summit objectives, (b) developing simple analytical tools for quick evaluations of the impact of changes in major exogenous variables (e.g., population), and (c) flagging and focusing on countries and regions for which uncertainty of data reliability and of prospective developments was highest.

4. Strengthening Programme Implementation

The Panel discussed the remaining three agenda items within the context of response of the Economic and Social Department programmes to the future challenges. These items were:

4.1 Comparative Advantages

Examined the role of the ES Department based on its comparative advantages and considered that these lie in its:

Concluded that the Department's strategic objectives were valid and that its programme of work reflected its comparative advantages.

Advised that the Department should intensify its efforts, especially in addressing the challenges of world agriculture over the next 10-15 years, to build upon and sustain these comparative advantages through such measures as:

Considered it important that the Department has an open approach towards a wide range of views and observations as well as to sound scientific evidence when establishing its own positions.

4.2 Relations with Universities and Other Institutions

Commended the Director-General for opening up the Organization to outside partners and for instituting innovative programmes for fostering collaboration (of which this High-level Panel was one such example).

Noted the very extensive and diverse collaborative relations which already exist between units within the Department and universities and other institutions engaged in economic and social aspects of food and agricultural development. Characterised these collaborative relationships in several ways:

Observed that the Partnership Programme agreements had offered a means for formalizing collaboration which, as a result, had expanded considerably during the recent biennium. Proposed a "reciprocal partnership" arrangement, complementing the existing programme with academic institutions, whereby professional staff could conduct some of their work at outside centres of excellence which would thus benefit from intensified interaction with the scientific community.

Recommended that the Department continue to explore further means for promoting collaboration with external institutions such as utilizing opportunities for technical officers to participate in joint missions/programmes with other Departments (e.g., TCI) and other institutions (e.g., the World Bank), and creating networks with other institutions concerned with topics in which the Department had a leadership role, i.e., comparative advantage (the joint ESS/World Bank/USDA programme for the development of statistical systems in Africa and other regions was cited as a good example).

4.3 Funding Opportunities

Noted that, by virtue of the nature of the mandate of the Department, much of its work was normative and that extra-budgetary funding was currently supporting several normative programmes including:

Advocated that the Department adopt a more active approach to obtaining additional extra-budgetary resources for high-priority programmes including:

Recommended that the Department explore innovative approaches to undertaking additional programme activities (with or without additional extra-budgetary funding), and commended several initiatives underway within the Department such as :

Noted that, despite the potential for developing innovative sources of funding, the role of the traditional sources for financing normative programmes, i.e., bilateral, and for field programmes, i.e., bilateral, UNDP and TCP, would remain important.