Seventeenth Session

Rome, 31 March-4 April 2003

Enhancing Support for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods

Item 7 of the Provisional Agenda

Table of Contents


A rural livelihood is defined as: “the capabilities, assets and activities that rural people require for a means of living." It is considered sustainable “when it can cope with and recover from stresses and shocks, and maintain or enhance its capabilities and assets-- both now and in the future-- while not undermining the natural resource base."


I. Introduction

1. Today, poverty is one of the main causes of food insecurity and civil conflict; it also represents a barrier for the achievement of sustainable economic and social development. It is characterised by large inequalities in wealth distribution between rural and urban areas, which restrict the growth of domestic markets and contribute to the stagnation of agriculture. This paper addresses some of the main challenges in combating poverty and analyses FAO actions and progress in implementing its Strategic Framework Objective A1 to enhance support for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods.

2. The next section of this paper explores the background, core definitions and links between livelihoods, poverty and agriculture. Section 3 analyses the challenges posed to the improvement of rural livelihoods in key areas of FAO involvement. Factors such as declining development assistance and public sector resources and weak local institutional capacities are explored. A review of FAO activities, programmes and initiatives aimed at enhancing rural livelihoods is contained in Section 4. This is followed by Section 5 that summarises the main challenges facing Sustainable Rural Livelihoods, the issues influencing them and priority action areas for mainstreaming a livelihood perspective. The last section requests guidance from COAG, on how to enhance the effectiveness of interventions to improve rural livelihoods in these action areas.

II. Background and Context

3. Rural men and women, especially in poor households, engage in diverse and multiple activities to improve their livelihoods by maximising income-generating activities, while minimising vulnerability and risk, and achieving other household objectives (improved health, nutrition and education, etc.). These activities may include farm and non-farm actions, many times linked with other activities carried out by rural, as well as non-rural households. The effectiveness and profitability of these diverse livelihood systems will vary depending on the general development environment, each household member’s access to and control of the asset base, their productive and reproductive roles and responsibilities, their capabilities and their linkages with other rural and urban actors.

4. Hence, improving rural people’s livelihoods in a sustainable manner involves:


5. These concepts are increasingly being addressed by governments and international organizations, such as the World Bank through its Community-Driven Development approach and recent Rural Development Strategy (2002), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) through its Rural Poverty Report 2001, and FAO through its Strategic Framework 2000-2015.

6. FAO, with its unique mandate on agricultural (including forestry and fisheries) and rural development, is in a strategic position to find ways and means to help improve the livelihoods of rural dwellers in a sustainable manner. For this purpose, it has gradually incorporated a more holistic perspective in its normative and operational activities that will help in identifying the complementarities, synergies and opportunities for cooperation in order to increase the effectiveness of development interventions aimed at enhancing rural livelihoods. In particular, its actions are aimed at improving food security through such initiatives as the Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS) and the Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information and Mapping System (FIVIMS).


7. According to the last FAO report on The State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI 2002), roughly 840 million people are undernourished, the great majority of them living in the developing world (799 millions), particularly in Asia (507 millions). However, the prevalence of undernourishment in this region is moderate (16 % of the region's population) as compared with the severe levels in Central, East and Southern Africa. In fact almost half (45 percent) of the 371 million people living in the 26 countries of these African sub-regions are undernourished. The SOFI report stated that if the current rate of hunger reduction of 2.5 million persons per year in the developing world were to continue, the modest WFS target of reducing the number of undernourished by half by 2015 would be reached more than 100 years late.

8. Poverty is the major cause of food insecurity. The rural sector includes a wide and diverse array of stakeholders including large and small landholders, landless workers, non-agricultural entrepreneurs, public institutions, private firms, providers of inputs and services, farmer organizations and Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs). Hence, rural livelihoods reflect this diversity and therefore comprise a mix of agricultural, fisheries, forestry, mining, tourism and a wide variety of non-agricultural enterprise activities involving interactions among several different classes of rural and urban economic actors. Improving rural livelihoods therefore needs to take rural diversity into account.


9. The recent decline in development assistance - specifically to agriculture and rural development - and the privatisation of public services have led to a sharp drop in the level of rural infrastructure investment and a fall in public services provided to the rural populations. These have unduly impacted on the rural poor and have raised growing global concern. This unease has been echoed in a number of international pronouncements, including those of the Millennium Summit, the World Bank’s new Rural Development Strategy, the rural development reports of IFAD, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) Initiative, the WFS:fyl and the recently completed World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), all of which have placed renewed emphasis on poverty reduction, rural and agricultural development issues.

10. The role of agriculture and linkages with other growth sectors (e.g. the service sector, small scale industry, tourism, among others) in stimulating decentralised local development is also gradually being recognised as a key factor in promoting a more balanced process of rural and national development, ensuring broader-based and more equitable socio-economic change, and in the long term, social and political sustainability. In fact, it has been estimated that every US$1 of growth in agriculture generates, in developing countries, US$2.60.1

11. Finally, there is growing consensus that sustainable agricultural and rural development objectives, and reduction in rural poverty, cannot be achieved just by increasing financial flows to the rural sector. The self-help capacities of rural people, and especially the poor, have to be strengthened so that they can become more active partners in the development process, through the use of more participatory, multi-sector and multi-stakeholder approaches to agricultural policy making and implementation.


12. Since 1999, the World Bank and IMF have been encouraging heavily indebted countries (HIPCs) to adopt new poverty reduction strategies as the basis for qualifying for concessional lending and debt relief. This approach has led to the preparation of Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSP) by country authorities to guide their development efforts and to provide a framework for donor assistance in accordance with country priorities. About 70 low-income countries worldwide are currently engaged in developing or strengthening the effectiveness of their poverty reduction policies and strategies.

13. FAO has worked closely with the World Bank and national authorities in developing these PRSPs in several countries. While all recognise that the PRSP process has played an important role in re-focusing attention on poverty reduction issues, a number of weaknesses have also been observed. Explicit mention of food security is often lacking. While the central role of agriculture in reducing poverty is acknowledged, critics note that the strategies themselves remain mostly focused at macro level, without sufficient attention being given to the sector policies required to reach the poor - most of whom are located in rural areas.

14. Moreover, PRSP strategies seldom define the explicit methods for encouraging and promoting access and active participation of the poorer sections of the population in these processes. Therefore, a need exists to recognise the sector implications of these macro strategic options by providing an appropriate policy framework, truly neutral towards agricultural development, that can mobilise the necessary investment funds to make this policy operational.

III. Challenges Facing FAO Member Nations


15. One of the major challenges facing FAO Member Nations today is food security, especially in Low-Income Food-Deficit Countries (LIFDCs). Though increases in agricultural productivity at the country level have led to improvement in the livelihoods and food security conditions of many urban consumers, they improved the livelihoods of rural producers to a much lesser extent. This situation is due to several factors, including internal urban policy biases against agricultural profitability, declining international terms of trade as a result of protectionist policies, and a general lack of understanding of the role of small-scale rural livelihoods.

16. Achieving sustainable food security requires actions at national, household and individual levels to enhance food security through rapid increases in food production and reduction in year-to-year variability in production on an economically and environmentally-sound basis, and improving rural people's access to food, land and natural resources, productive technology and markets. These multiple objectives can only be obtained by adopting more balanced approaches to sustainable food security that both satisfy the needs of urban consumers and reward small-scale rural food producers and rural investors for their efforts.

17. In order to solve this complex food supply-demand problem, a broader understanding and analysis of the capacity constraints and incentives of the rural livelihoods imbedded within this relationship is needed. For example, inadequate rights of access to land and other natural resources, and insecure tenure of those rights will surely limit the capacities of rural food producers to take advantage of economic opportunities to improve their productivity, profitability and livelihoods. Likewise, weak public institutional capacities for delivering services to farmers and weak private sector and civil society organizations limit small-scale food producers’ability to access information, new technologies and markets.

18. While understanding the causes of the above-mentioned obstacles to improving rural livelihoods is critical, field experience has demonstrated that building on more positive factors like the potential of small-scale rural food producers, consumers and investors to improve their own livelihoods often helps in identifying more realistic opportunities for income diversification and more cost-effective development interventions at the individual, household and community level.


19. The globalisation of economic life goes well beyond the boundaries of narrow trade issues and their suspected impact on rural poverty. The rapidity of international capital transfers and widespread utilisation of information technology all act together, generating a new environment for development with special implications for those living in rural areas. While globalisation provides significant new opportunities for improving rural livelihoods (opening of new markets, access to new technologies, improved social service coverage, etc.), it can also present significant threats, since its benefits can easily bypass those who are isolated and marginal like the rural poor, women, ethnic minority groups and other disadvantaged members of society.

20. Some critics also argue that the liberalisation of domestic and international markets can reinforce differences in livelihood promotion opportunities and, in the context of improved and widespread information, actually exacerbate movements for violent change. Nonetheless, there is general agreement that globalisation tends to favour transnational economic initiatives, many times at the expense of small scale rural sources of farm and non-farm income-earning activities. Ironically, the removal of international barriers to trade may lead to the formation of regional trade blocks and cartels as groups of countries within a sector or region join up to take advantage of and/or counter some of these impacts. All these factors have significant impacts on global labour flows, domestic, regional and global migration, rural-to-urban migration patterns, remittance income flows, food security, linkages between rural and urban poverty, access to new technologies and information - all of which affect rural livelihoods. Regrettably, not enough is known about these non-trade impacts.

21. The challenge facing Member Nations is to better understand these inter-connected relationships and linkages so that policies and regulations can be developed at the local, national, regional and global levels to support improvements in rural livelihoods.


22. The impact of climate change on natural disasters should also be considered together with agricultural and social adaptation strategies to safeguard rural livelihoods. The IDWG on Climate Change, formalised by the last session of COAG, provides a useful entry-point.

23. Emergencies, whether caused by natural disasters, armed conflict, economic shocks or epidemics, like HIV/AIDS, often threaten the livelihood base of those living in rural areas, but especially more vulnerable groups, like the poor. Developing local institutional capacities to prepare for and mitigate these risks and vulnerabilities would lead to greater resilience of affected populations and enhanced sustainability of the development process.

24. New approaches to risk and disaster management now place more emphasis on strengthening community self-help and national capacities to cope with a variety of different types of risk (i.e. environmental, social and economic). They also tend to emphasise a four step cycle, beginning with preparation, then planning, reaction and recovery. Collective self-help action is encouraged at three levels: household, community and institutional. Gender perspectives and participatory planning methods are also emphasised.

25. There is a recognised need for greater efforts to link food security emergencies due to drought, HIV/AIDS, civil strife and other contingencies with holistic, long term development approaches. This requires mobilising resources for effective inter-disciplinary programmes and long term processes to reduce the impact of disasters on smallholder livelihoods and the environment.

26. In this regard the PAIA REHAB2 is sharing information and experiences among technical sectors and countries to identify how to enhance country preparedness and the capacity of smallholder farmers and herders to mitigate the effects of drought and other natural disasters on their livelihoods and food security. This includes on the one hand facilitating access to assessment, information systems, integrated and cross-sectoral planning and management, decision-making tools for policy makers, planners and project leaders, and on the other hand making available knowledge about appropriate technology, policy and institutional interventions to help reduce vulnerability and enhance coping strategies.

27. A longer-term but increasingly important factor is that agricultural intensification and survival strategies by poor rural populations are causing severe impacts through the degradation of natural resources and agricultural ecosystems, including soil nutrient mining and soil erosion, loss of biodiversity and resilient systems and declining water resources (stocks and quality). The issue is widely known and being addressed by various environmntal conventions, but the degree and extent and causes of degradation are not well known or understood. Land degradation affects directly the productive capacity and environmental health of the land upon which the rural populations and especially the vulnerable poor, depend for their survival and livelihoods.

IV. FAO Action Areas

28. In developing its Strategic Framework (2000-2015), FAO has sharpened its mandate to contribute to the eradication of food insecurity and rural poverty by increasing poor individuals’ opportunities and choices and improve resource productivity for an equitable access to natural, economic and social resources. Strategic Objective A.1 focuses on promoting more equitable access to resources and improved opportunities to raise rural incomes, and improve access to food and thus contribute to the enhancement of sustainable rural livelihoods. To achieve this objective, FAO will need to place greater emphasis on:

29. FAO has begun to adopt livelihoods goals and operative frameworks in a number of its field activities and can draw on the experience and tools developed by some of its inter-disciplinary programmes such as the Roles of Agriculture (ROA), SPFS, the Livelihoods Support Programme (LSP) and the Farming Systems Evolution Programme.


30. It is now acknowledged that the development needs of rural people are diverse and multi-faceted. In order to better address these diverse needs, FAO rural development approaches have moved away from an exclusive production focus in recent years. This is true at national, regional, community and household levels. FAO has also come to realise that the small rural producers and entrepreneurs and other disadvantaged sectors of the rural population - male or female - have the potential to become successful economic actors. But in order to translate their potential into practice, there must be a clear focus on a number of areas:

31. FAO has been helping to identify new livelihood opportunities for the poor and their market requirements and has helped in strengthening the assets of small-scale farmers, herders, and fishing communities. Increasingly, other more vulnerable stakeholders (women, poorer households, and specific groups) are included and/or targeted in its projects and programmes. For example, the FAO Investment Centre has recently been involved in designing a World Bank- funded project in Mongolia, which has a strong livelihoods perspective. The project is aimed at addressing people’s vulnerability context through strengthening the beneficiaries’ resilience in the face of shocks. The project is centred on household livelihood systems and has developed project strategies that aim to strengthen and further diversify existing livelihoods’ systems and assets. The Forestry Policy and Institutions Branch (FONP) has developed a methodology on market analysis and community-based enterprises to address the key area of livelihood opportunities and market requirements, The Integrated Production Systems PAIA targets livelihoods activity diversification, small rural enterprises, and many other aspects of support, technology, income generation and market opportunities.


32. The process of decentralisation underway in the majority of developing countries has had a tremendous impact on public and local government capacities to deliver public services with deep and far-reaching implications for rural areas and their livelihoods. These have been both positive and negative and there is significant scope for agencies like FAO to play a role in assisting Member Nations to transfer authority, resources and control in ways that do not harm the poor but instead foster better representation mechanisms and stricter accountability at the local level. From its extensive experience in this field, FAO has developed a better understanding of the actual (as opposed to presumed) effects of decentralisation at local level.

33. The most significant constraints in this process are represented by the following questions:

34. One precondition for the effective mobilisation of resources and provision of collective goods and services at local level is the existence of an enabling policy environment of political and economic incentives that encourages such efficiency plus the existence of upward and downward public accountability mechanisms that reward efficiency and discourage waste.3 By focusing on the horizontal and vertical linkages between institutions and the policies, processes and practices shaping them, it is possible to have a positive impact on the incentive and accountability conditions under which rural individuals, households and communities can maintain and improve their livelihoods.

35. Within FAO, the Livelihoods PAIA (LHOO) should provide a useful institutional framework for improving the normative effectiveness of FAO actions aimed at strengthening local institutional capacities to assist vulnerable populations, foster local institutions and attendant organizational capacity for improving rural livelihoods and ensuring equitable access to resources, and strengthen links of local institutions where appropriate to regional, national and international institutions.

36. Closely related to the Livelihoods PAIA objectives, the programme entity 253A4, “Participatory approaches and methods to support sustainable Livelihoods and Food Security”, has acquired quite substantial extra-budgetary support for LSP, one of its major outputs. Some of the activities from this output could grow into one of the cross-sectoral task groups forseen as the implementing mechanisms for the Livelihoods PAIA. For example, one of LSP’s presently active task groups, “Participatory Policy Reform in Support of Sustainable Livelihoods for the Rural Poor”, is working to provide analysis, comparisons and lessons on how to operationalise support in the area of strengthening local institutions and policies. This work draws on the relevant experience of FAO technical departments in policy and institutional capacity both by sector (agriculture, livestock, fisheries, forestry, nutrition) and by theme (decentralisation, land tenure, gender, marginal/vulnerable groups, emergencies).


37. Governments need to focus on helping disadvantaged groups improve their own livelihoods. The urgency of ‘helping disadvantaged groups help themselves’ is reinforced by the recognition that direct support from social safety networks and/or dedicated agencies is not in itself sufficient to improve the long-term livelihoods of these groups. In order to create better opportunities and sustainable virtuous cycles, a number of stakeholders and actors at different levels and of different kinds, need to be involved. FAO has considerable experience in facilitating partnerships and strategic alliances with different stakeholders (governments, local institutions, donors and international agencies, NGOs/CSOs, local users groups and local communities and a range of private sector stakeholders) on mutual issues of concern.

38. Two concrete examples of this were FAO’s role in hosting the special Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue Session held as part of WFS:fyl and the active role in working with NGOs/CSOs and governments at the recent World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg. Three main areas that FAO has decided to focus on to help strengthen these self-help capacities of disadvantaged groups are:

39. Experience has shown that building the individual and community self-help capacities of rural people to improve their own livelihoods takes time and that paternalistic, cheap credit- or grant-driven approaches often undermine this effort. Assistance must be focused on creating the incentives that build a sense of local ownership and encourage self-help initiatives.

40. The main priority area comprises groups of people who are disadvantaged because of poverty - in all its forms. FAO technical departments are now increasingly incorporating elements of sustainable livelihoods perspectives in their normative approaches with the concrete aim of helping people re-integrate themselves into the rural economy, contribute to their household’s welfare and to the development of their communities. A good illustration of this is the popular and practical resource books and manuals on group self-help approaches, women’s access to land, Integrated Pest Management, participatory nutrition and community forestry methods, which have been widely distributed in many countries to governments agencies, field projects and NGOs/CSOs.

41. FAO action has also been focused on strengthening the risk management capacities of more vulnerable sectors of the rural population. For example, the Crop and Grassland Service (AGPC), Rural Institutions and Participation Service (SDAR), and the IFAD/UNDP/UNCDF Cooperative Programme Service (TCII) work with agro-pastoralist groups has shown that local institutions often have limited capacities for risk preparedness or response to disasters. Adopting a broader livelihoods framework was particularly useful in understanding existing institutional mechanisms and designing more participatory approaches for sharing responsibility and resources at decentralised government levels.

42. A particularly challenging task facing Member Nations is that of improving the livelihood situations of the rural disabled since they represent a significant portion of the rural population in many post-conflict and HIV/AIDS-affected countries. In terms of priority sectors for intervention, HIV/AIDS is an area of major concern, in particular the dramatic links between the impact of the epidemic on rural livelihoods. FAO work on HIV prevention and AIDS mitigation uses a livelihood perspective to better address all aspects of this very complex and multi-faceted epidemic which contributes to a range of effects, from migration, to depletion of human resources, to downward trends in agricultural production.


43. One of the main lessons drawn from FAO experience in Sustainable Rural Livelihoods is that of building on the strengths and potential of the poor rather than viewing them as a liability. In order to do this, it is important to concentrate on the following areas:

44. When governments, development agencies and NGOs intervene in these areas, special attention must be paid not to create dependency relations but to promote more self-reliant capacity. Sustainability can only be reached through well-developed participation mechanisms that foster a sense of ownership and provide clear incentives for beneficiaries to sustain their self-help actions. In order to ensure sustainability, two issues that hinder correct participatory mechanisms must be resolved:

45. FAO has a number of programmes, including the Integrated Pest Management Programme, People’s Participation Programme, Pro-Poor Livestock Policy Facility Programme and the Integrated Support to Sustainable Development and Food Security Programme, which deal with the promotion of participatory and sustainable strategies, mechanisms, activities and material for improving the skills of the rural poor and strengthening their local associations and organizations.

46. These approaches are adaptive and flexible, learning and building on experience with the diversity and complexity of rural people’s livelihood and organisational needs. FAO Divisions and Programmes provide assistance through training, technical backstopping and sector guides, knowledge and information systems, and networks. These tools and methodologies assist bottom-up organizational strategies supporting diversification and strengthening of rural livelihoods at community level and household level .


47. Declining investments in rural infrastructure and social and economic services are having a negative impact on poverty and food insecurity. Several international fora such as the WFS:fyl as well as the World Bank Strategy on Rural Development and the IFAD Rural Poverty Reports have highlighted the urgency of increasing investments for rural support services and infrastructure. In principle, there is a political commitment to mobilise funds and a drive to employ them more rationally. The role of agencies like FAO is to assist in the targeting of investments and ensure that they reach effectively the end beneficiaries, having a direct and tangible impact on rural livelihoods. Tools such as the PRSPs, which governments are required to conduct with multi-stakeholder involvement, may prove to be useful mechanisms to target investments more effectively.

48. As the UN System’s specialised agency on agricultural development, FAO has a comparative advantage in this field since it is not a direct donor, and by virtue of its well-known technical capacity and politically neutral position it can play a significant advisory, advocacy and backstopping role. It can also help mobilise investment funds for agriculture and rural development and help monitor their effective delivery aimed at achieving food security and poverty eradication objectives.4

49. SPFS, operating under the invaluable guidance provided by its Oversight Panel, is a good illustration of how effective FAO can be in mobilising such investment support. Not only does it have a quick response capacity but the development of SPFS initiatives is often linked to other FAO projects (especially during the identification/preparation phases) to maximise synergies and cost-effectiveness. The SPFS has been unusually successful in raising awareness on food security issues, creating a sense of national ownership in programmes that address food security needs, and mobilising donor and government support to meet WFS objectives and Millennium Development Goals, in close coordination and linkage with related activities and programmes.

50. Other noteworthy FAO initiatives aimed at mobilising increased investment support for food security, poverty reduction and improved rural livelihoods, include the Anti-Hunger Programme, which at the recent WFS:fyl proposed a twin track approach to food security, comprising food production and focused food provision interventions and the FAO Investment Centre-led LSP sub-programme on mainstreaming livelihoods perspectives in the FAO Field Programme.

V. Emerging Issues and Insights

51. As illustrated in the previous section, many FAO projects and programmes already incorporate elements of this livelihoods perspective. Nevertheless, there is a need to better operationalise these concepts so that they can be applied at country level in concrete interventions. In so doing, there is a need to draw on the principles of sustainable livelihoods approaches, while at the same time incorporating principles of other approaches such as Nueva Ruralidad, Gestion de Terroir, Farming Systems, Watershed Management, Participatory Rural Appraisal and others. It is also necessary to incorporate the lessons learnt from the wealth and complexity of FAO past experience.

52. The rural methodological frameworks used within FAO in recent years as well as other innovative directions (in agriculture, forestry, fisheries, sustainable development, gender, emergencies, and nutrition) have adapted and included the fundamental concepts and practices shaping both ‘livelihoods’ and ‘sustainability’. The challenge now is to catalyse discussion and exchange within FAO to better mainstream and institutionalise the experiences, lessons and concerns from all this work.


53. The livelihoods perspective builds upon linkages between levels, institutions and sectors active in the rural context, including rural-urban linkages. These micro and macro relations are not static, but change in response to internal and external factors as well as being affected by programme and project activities. In this context, processes can be as important as outputs, and horizontal linkages as important as the vertical ones. Internal or inter-country regional integration issues may also affect these linkages and outcomes. Since much of FAO’s work is involved with rural livelihoods, it is important to understand these linkages and how they affect livelihoods - and so, be able to chose the best “entry points” of development assistance intervention (in terms of agricultural sub-sector, problem focus, administrative level and geographic location).

54. Yet, being able to understand these complex relationships requires interdisciplinary thinking and action, which is a difficult undertaking in large and complex organizations and ministries where administrative and technical barriers discourage such actions. The challenge, to make this happen, is in finding the right kind of professional incentives and institutional arrangements.


55. Although in principle the need for inter-agency collaboration is widely accepted, in practice there is a lack of mechanisms and incentives. This dilemma could potentially be dealt with (and all major aspects of livelihoods covered, respecting agency mandates) if inter-unit cooperation and multi-organization partnerships are fostered and the proper incentives given.

56. Within FAO, the PAIAs provide one type of formal institutional mechanism for promoting such action; nevertheless, informal technical cooperation networks like the Informal Working Group on Participatory Approaches, organized around topics or issues of mutual concern and bringing together technical staff from various units, may be equally useful.

57. As one echo of this kind of development, there is presently within FAO an emerging pattern of much closer inter-departmental collaboration, exemplified by such inter-departmental programmes as the SPFS, the Integrated Pest Management Programme, LSP and the Integrated Support Programme to Sustainable Development and Food Security. The institutional lessons being learned by FAO during this process could be of use to other organizations which are trying to resolve similar difficulties.

58. Similar examples of inter-disciplinary cooperation of a formal and informal nature also exist in Member Nations and should be encouraged. FAO, as a neutral inter-governmental agency, with growing experience in developing private sector, government-NGO/CSO partnership would seem to be uniquely positioned to facilitate such partnering at country level.

59. The Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information and Mapping System (FIVIMS) supports sustainable livelihood approaches by providing formal links to food security information systems such as the famine early warning information systems, contributing to the development of a complementary and integrated perspective that incorporates a range of time horizons. FIVIMS ensures that food security and the rural/agricultural dimension of vulnerability are fully considered in the development of sustainable livelihood approaches and interventions. The development of vulnerable group profiles through FIVIMS helps national and sub-national decision makers to better target interventions and policies addressing the causes of these vulnerabilities, and can increase awareness and political will to mobilise the resources needed for these interventions.


60. Creating a favourable policy environment at national level for improving sustainable rural livelihoods is not easy. Conflicting political pressures and urban policy orientations in many countries often work against rural dwellers, especially the poor. Consequently, there is a need to continually monitor policy-making processes to ensure that they do not discriminate against the rural sector and the disadvantaged. Here, international organizations, like FAO, have a crucial role to play in signalling such biases and promoting more participatory rural development policy making processes involving multiple rural stakeholder groups.

61. At the inter-agency and country levels, the UN System Network on Rural Development and Food Security coordinates activities of some 70 national Thematic Groups worldwide, which include UN Agencies, governments and NGOs/CSOs. For instance, in Africa, several Thematic Groups have assisted governments in their preparation for the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) and the Common Country Assessment (CCA) processes, by providing advocacy for food security, collecting information, developing indicators, and coordinating written inputs.

62. The main challenge, however, is to build on successful practices at the local level, then scale them up to meso, national and macro levels, while still maintaining participatory processes and linkages between institutions, sectors and levels. This will both need and give sharper tools and more effective rules. At least one major FAO programme has already started moving in this direction. The operating philosophy of the Sustainable Fisheries Livelihoods Programme (West Africa) is to enter at local level through a series of community-based and demand-driven projects formulated and initiated by fishing communities themselves. The idea is that this may be able to beneficially influence and reorient overall policies affecting fishing communities.


63. The principles and tools used in Sustainable Livelihoods apply to any context and actors, whether poor or wealthy, urban or rural. This can have benefits, since poverty can be seen more in context, not as necessarily ‘hopeless’ but rather in terms of poor people’s opportunities and their potential for finding a sustainable way out of their vulnerability. FAO should work broadly to improve and sustain the livelihood opportunities of all rural dwellers and stakeholders, since all of them are its clients and most have the potential capacity of becoming successful economic actors. It can equally have an indirect impact on the livelihood opportunities of urban dwellers through the achievement of improved and sustainable livelihoods of rural people. At the same time, it is crucial that FAO also maintains a poverty orientation in terms of targeting the more marginal and the more excluded groups in rural areas.

64. Livelihoods actions which benefit the poor do not require working on all issues. Rather, a broad-based diagnosis undertaken through a livelihoods perspective provides the basis for selecting specific entry points that match FAO comparative advantages with identified opportunities for the poor (e.g. in such areas as nutrition, seed production, diversification of cropping systems, livestock development, fisheries code of conduct, Integrated Pest Management). The main challenge is to produce benefits that are defined by the poor themselves and are not imposed by rigid sector priorities.

VI. Request for guidance from COAG

65. Should the FAO role be limited to neutral monitoring, analysis and reporting on the impact of changes in this enabling environment? Or should it play a more active role? If the latter, should it concentrate on all relevant livelihood aspects of rural populations or should it focus on a few critical ones affecting the poorest and most disadvantaged?

66. What assistance from FAO would be most desired by governments and ministries of agriculture in their efforts to implement sustainable livelihood enhancing policies and programmes? How could FAO best collaborate with related agencies dealing with other aspects of sustainable livelihood enhancement?

67. The SPFS has been evolving rapidly and remains a major vehicle of FAO to help support improved rural livelihoods. While retaining its focus on improving small farmer access to simple and low-cost technologies, the SPFS has become more flexible, more people-driven and more deliberately focused on deprived rural and peri-urban communities. However, recent FAO livelihoods country experience could assist SPFS efforts to upscale its successes from the micro to the macro level. Guidance is requested on how to further integrate livelihoods concerns into the SPFS.


1 Vogel, S.J. 1996, “Structural changes in agriculture: production linkages and agricultural demand-led industrialization,” Oxford Economic Papers, 46(1).

2 Disaster Prevention, Mitigation and Preparedness and Post-Emergency Relief and Rehabilitation

3 Evaluation of FAO policy assistance 1994-1999.

4 Strategy Papers on National Food Security and Agricultural Development – Horizon 2010 for developing and transition member countries, based on multi-stakeholder participation; the 2002 Initiative to Review Agricultural Policies and Update National Food Security Strategies promoted in view of the concern that, in spite of the formal endorsement of the Strategies, there is still little evidence that they are having an impact on national priority setting and the allocation of domestic funds and donor resources; Regional Strategies for Agricultural Development and Food Security based on findings and key policy recommendations emerging from the Strategy Papers for National Agricultural Development prepared by the Member Nations; Regional Programmes for Food Security (RPFS), designed to implement the key elements embodied in the Regional Strategies and taking into account the specific conditions of each country. The Regional Programmes for Food Security are now being submitted to the Regional Banks for discussion and funding.