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The book from which this Summary derives1 is underpinned by a vision of a world without hunger and poverty. As most poor people live in rural areas of developing countries and are dependent on agriculture for their livelihood, the key to eradicating current suffering must lie in the creation of dynamic rural communities founded upon prosperous farming. Analysis of the farming systems within which the rural poor live and work can provide powerful insights into strategic priorities for the reduction of the poverty and hunger now affecting so many of their lives. A Farming Systems Approach recognizes the diversity of the livelihoods of poor farmers, pastoralists and fishing families, and provides a framework to explore various pathways that may offer an escape from poverty in a changing world.

Rural development ultimately depends on the outcome of the daily decisions of millions of individual men and women. The challenge for governments, civil society organizations and the private sector is to provide the institutional environment and incentives that will enable farm households themselves to achieve agricultural growth and poverty reduction. Unfortunately, the best available existing projections2 suggest only a slow decline in hunger and poverty in developing regions. Accordingly, this Summary outlines key strategic priorities for action to accelerate this process - for different farming systems, for each developing region and for the developing world as a whole.

Hunger, poverty and agriculture

In the last four decades of the twentieth century, the population of the developing regions of the world3 has approximately doubled - to 5.1 billion in 1999. At present, about 60 percent of these people are classed as rural; of whom around 85 percent are agricultural. Over the next 30 years, it is estimated that the population of developing regions will continue to grow, albeit at a slower rate. However, as a result of increasing urbanization, the total rural population is actually projected to decline after 2020. Based on these projections, the agricultural population of developing countries in 2030 will probably be little changed from its present level. Among the factors causing uncertainty over future population trends, two are particularly noteworthy. First, the prognosis for the HIV/AIDS pandemic is uncertain, and the possibility still exists that it could significantly reduce rural populations in many farming systems in Africa and elsewhere. The second area of uncertainty concerns the migration of people engaged in agriculture to urban areas. Migration rates reflect, inter alia, relative poverty rates in urban and rural areas, and hence are affected by factors such as international commodity prices, urban employment growth, and real exchange rates.

Hunger is still prevalent in many developing countries, but the overall total has fallen since the late 1960s - from 959 million (m) in 1969-1971 to 790m in 1995-1997. Since total population has grown substantially, this represents a halving of the actual proportion of undernourished people - from 37 to 18 percent. Projections indicate a further fall in the incidence of undernourishment, to around 576m people in 2015 and 400m in 2030; but this decline could be accelerated if additional measures are taken to reduce hunger, as envisaged during the 1996 World Food Summit.

It is estimated that across the developing world, a total of 1.2 billion people live in poverty - as defined by the international poverty line of
average consumption equivalent to US$1/day/ capita. Although the relative importance of rural poverty varies substantially from one country to another, in developing countries as a whole more than 70 percent of total poverty is found in rural areas. Following major declines in East Asia in recent decades, poverty is today concentrated primarily in South Asia - where it has been increasing gradually during the 1990s - and sub-Saharan Africa, where it has been growing at an alarming rate.

The evidence is clear that broad-based agricultural development provides an effective means of both reducing poverty and accelerating economic growth. This arises not only from the increasing incomes of producers and farm workers, but also from the associated demand in rural areas for non-tradable goods - particularly services and local products. It is this indirect effect on demand, and the associated employment creation in the non-farm sector of rural areas and market towns, that appears to be a main contributing factor to the reduction of rural poverty.

Farming systems and their characteristics

Each individual farm has its own specific characteristics, which arise from variations in resource endowments and family circumstances. The household, its resources, and the resource flows and interactions at this individual farm level are together referred to as a farm system. A farming system is defined as a population of individual farm systems that have broadly similar resource bases, enterprise patterns, household livelihoods and constraints, and for which similar development strategies and interventions would be appropriate.

In attempting to combat hunger and poverty, developing countries face the challenges of identifying specific agricultural and rural develop-ment needs and opportunities, and focusing investment in those areas where the greatest impact on food insecurity and poverty could be achieved. The delineation of farming systems provides a useful framework within which appropriate agricultural development strategies and interventions can be determined, as by definition, they group farm households with similar characteristics and constraints. Only a limited number of systems are delineated within each region (and in this Summary, only the most important of these systems are discussed), leading inevitably to a considerable degree of heterogeneity within any single system. However, the alternative of identifying numerous, discrete, micro-level farming systems in each developing region would detract from the overall impact of the analysis.

The classification of the farming systems, as specified herein, has been based on a number of key factors, including: (i) the available natural resource base; (ii) the dominant pattern of farm activities and household livelihoods, including relationship to markets; and (iii) the intensity of production activities. These criteria were applied to each of the six main regions of the developing world. The exercise resulted in the identification of 72 farming systems with an average agricultural population of about 40m inhabitants. Based on these criteria, eight broad categories of farming system have been distinguished:

Except for the dualistic systems, the systems within each category are dominated by smallholder agriculture. The names chosen for individual farming systems reflect the eight categories outlined above. They also reflect key distinguishing attributes, notably: (i) water resource availability, e.g. irrigated, rainfed, moist, dry; (ii) climate, e.g. tropical, temperate, cold; (iii) landscape relief/altitude, e.g. highland, lowland; (iv) farm size, e.g. large scale; (v) production intensity, e.g. intensive, extensive, sparse; (vi) dominant livelihood source, e.g. root crop, maize, tree crop, artisanal fishing, pastoral; (vii) dual crop livelihoods, e.g. cereal-root, rice-wheat (note that crop-livestock integration is denoted by the term mixed); and (viii) location, e.g. forest based, coastal, urban based.

Of the 72 identified farming systems, from three to five systems were selected within each region for in-depth analysis. Although the selection includes some farming systems with only limited opportunities for agriculturally based growth, a majority possess the potential for achieving significant hunger and poverty reduction if appropriate support is made available. Factors determining a system's apparent growth potential include: (i) suitable resource endowments, including underlying agro-climatic and soil conditions, a relatively high ratio of land and other resources (water, forest) to human population, and a currently low intensity of exploitation; (ii) favourable access to infrastructure and services, including markets; and (iii) the identification of broader development constraints whose removal is considered to be feasible.

In broad terms, five main farm household strategies were defined that could contribute to improved farm household livelihoods and escape from poverty. These strategic options are not mutually exclusive, even at the individual household level; any particular household will often pursue a mixed set of strategies. The options can be summarized as:

Intensification is defined, for the purpose of this discussion, as increased physical or financial productivity of existing patterns of production; including food and cash crops, livestock and other productive activities. Diversification is defined as changes to existing farm enterprise patterns in order to increase farm income, or to reduce income variability. Diversification will often take the form of completely new enterprises, but may also simply involve the expansion of existing, high value, enterprises, and will be driven by market opportu-nities. The addition or expansion of enterprises refers not only to production, but also to on-farm processing and other farm-based, income generating activity.

Some households escape poverty by expanding farm size - in this context size refers to managed rather than to owned resources. Beneficiaries of land reform are the most obvious examples of this source of poverty reduction. Increased farm size may also arise through incursion into previously non-agricultural areas, such as forest - often termed expansion of the agricultural frontier. Although this option is not available within many systems, it is of particular relevance in parts of Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa. Increasingly, however, such `new' lands are marginal for agricultural purposes, and may not offer sustainable pathways to poverty reduction.

Off-farm income represents an important source of livelihood for many poor farmers. Seasonal migration has been one traditional household strategy for escaping poverty and remittances are often invested in land or livestock purchases. In locations where there is a vigorous non-farm economy, many poor households augment their incomes with part-time or full-time off-farm employment by some household members. Where few opportunities exist for improved rural liveli-hoods, farm households may abandon their land altogether, and move to other farming systems, or into non-farming occupations in rural or urban locations. This means of escaping agricultural poverty is referred to in the following chapters as exit from agriculture.

Aspects of the evolution of farming systems

In order to present the analysis of farming systems and their future development within a framework that is broadly comparable between systems and across different regions, key biophysical and socio-economic determinants of system evolution have been grouped into five categories:

Natural resources and climate

The interaction of natural resources, climate and population determines the physical basis for farming systems. During the early stages of development, increased population generally leads to an expansion in cultivated area and, in many cases, conflict between the different users of land and water resources. Once most good quality land is already exploited, further population increases tend to lead to the intensification of farming systems. As forests and woodlands come under greater pressure, biodiversity is threatened and there may be growing tension between development and conservation goals. In recent decades there has been a considerable reduction in the number of varieties cultivated, which has affected in particular the main cereal crops - wheat, maize and rice. A similar loss of biodiversity has occurred among domestic animals.

Box 1.1 Population Pressure on Annual and Permanent Cropland by Region - 1995-1997 (persons/ha)4
Region Agric. Total
Sub-Saharan Africa >2.2 3.6
Middle East & North Africa >3.1 4.5
Eastern Europe & Central Asia >0.3 1.6
South Asia >3.5 6.3
East Asia & Pacific >4.9 7.9
Latin America & Caribbean >0.7 3.2
Average 2.3 4.5

Rapid population growth has meant that the availability of cultivated land (annual and perennial) per capita in developing countries has declined by almost half since the 1960s, reaching an average of 2.3 persons/hectares (ha) among agricultural populations in the mid 1990s (see Box 1.1). At the same time, pasture and grazing land has expanded by a total of 15 percent in developing regions, to around 2.2 billion ha in 1994. Annual growth rates in cultivated area vary considerably between the regions, as shown in Box 1.2. Growth in output has resulted mainly from yield increases and area expansion rather than from higher cropping intensity.

Box 1.2 Average Annual Expansion in Cultivated Land 1961-19975
Region % per annum
Sub-Saharan Africa 0.73
Middle East & North Africa 0.42
South Asia 0.18
East Asia 0.91
Latin America & Caribbean 1.26
Average 0.67

More than 90 percent of the remaining land available for cultivation is in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, which means that further expansion is simply not an option for most of the developing world. Even in those areas where potential for expansion does appear to exist, over 70 percent of available land is estimated to suffer from one or more soil or terrain constraints. As a result of these factors, the projected expansion in cultivated area in developing regions to 2030 is only half the historic rate. Strikingly, however, by the year 2030, and despite the addition of well over 2 billion people to the population of developing countries, the average amount of cultivated land available for each person engaged in agriculture may actually increase due to the stabilization of agricultural populations.

There is little doubt that both agriculture and food security will be affected by climate change. Among the impacts predicted is a reduction in potential crop yields in most tropical and sub-tropical regions. Water resource availability is expected to diminish while, simultaneously, a widespread increase in the risk of flooding is anticipated, as a result of rises in sea level and increased severity of precipitation. Other catastrophic climatic events, including hurricanes, typhoons and drought, are also expected to increase dramatically in frequency, as climatic change results in greater variability in climatic conditions.

Science and technology

The historical focus by international and national agricultural research centres on food crop production technologies, with an emphasis on improved yields, has undeniably been successful. Nearly three-quarters of production growth since 1961 have been due to yield increases (see Box 1.3). Increased yields have contributed to greater food security within developing regions and to declining real prices for food grains.

Box 1.3 Average Cereal Yield (1961-1997) in Developing Countries (t/ha)6
  1961/63 1995/97
Wheat 0.9 2.5
Rice (paddy) 1.8 3.5
Maize 1.2 2.6
All cereals 1.2 2.5

However, many poor smallholder farmers in marginal areas have not benefited from these cereal yield increases, and investments in technology development for non-cereal crops have usually received a low priority. Although the private sector and large farmers' organizations have invested heavily in research for commercially important cash crops - examples include coffee, tea, sugar cane and bananas - many tropical staples and minor cash crops have received relatively little attention. Similarly, investment in livestock research has generally not been commensurate with the contribution of the sub-sector to household income or Gross Agricultural Domestic Product (GADP). A much greater range of new technologies is available for production systems and crops of interest to developed countries than for smallholder production systems in developing countries.

Overall, research has been focused principally upon production intensification, usually requiring purchased inputs. There has been far less research on increasing labour productivity or on integrated technologies for diversifying the livelihoods of small farmers and increasing the sustainability of land use. Similarly, there has been limited research in Integrated Pest Management (IPM) or in weed control. These are topics of little interest to the private sector, but also ones, which are in danger of neglect by public research institutions. The use of genetically modified crops appears to offer considerable potential for reduced input use and higher levels of production, but their development and introduction have been severely constrained by industrialized country concerns over food safety.

Despite these gaps, the global research agenda is gradually moving from a focus on individual crop performance to a growing acceptance of the importance of increased system productivity. This is viewed largely in terms of better-managed interactions among diversified farm enterprises, sustainable resource management, and improved targeting of technologies towards women farmers and poorer households. Perhaps even more importantly in the long-term, more emphasis is now being given to public-private partnerships driven mainly by the demands of clients. These changes are being accompanied by a growing understanding of farmers' problems and opportunities and a greater willingness to blend indigenous knowledge and modern information.

Trade liberalization and market development

Of the broad and all-encompassing processes included under the term globalization, the emphasis in this document is placed on economic reform and trade liberalization. By the end of the 1970s, the economies of many developing countries had become highly distorted as a result of excessive government intervention and control. Most were in serious economic difficulties, with GDP growth rates that were negative or failing to match the rate of population increase. To address these problems, international institutions initiated lending pro-grammes focusing upon structural reform. These structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) have resulted in liberalized trade and exchange rate regimes and radically reduced subsidies in many developing countries.

Although structural adjustment has generally failed to eliminate urban bias in developing country policies, many SAPs have embodied reforms specific to the agricultural sector. These include measures to: (i) end marketing monopolies; (ii) reduce parastatal involvement in the supply of inputs, marketing and processing; (iii) reduce or remove subsidies, price controls and impediments to private sector activities; (iv) remove restraints on foreign trade; and (v) promote the participation of the private sector. More recently, international agreements and the establishment of the World Trade Organization have further boosted trade liberalization. Not only is market development accelerating, but patterns of production and natural resource usage are also changing profoundly in response to market forces. The changes engendered by this transition have, however, had important negative effects for many small producers. Poverty increased in many farming systems during the 1980s and early 1990s, as a result of reductions in government support and declining prices for major smallholder products.

In the longer run, developing countries will be able to expand the production of products where they enjoy competitive advantages, including such products as sugar, fibres, fruits and vegetables and many tropical products. Nevertheless, progress to date has been slow, at least partially as a result of continuing protection by many industrialized countries for domestic agricultural producers. Broad social, economic and cultural trends will also contribute to a profound reshaping of market demand, as increased urbanization, rising incomes, improved communications and the diffusion of cultural preferences exert their effect. The availability of new production, post-harvest and transport technologies will also change demand patterns, by making possible the delivery of new products - or established products in new forms - to markets where they have been previously unattainable.

Policies, institutions and public goods

The development of dynamic farming systems requires a conducive policy environment. The greatest change in this environment during the past 30 years has been structural adjustment (see above), which accelerated the widespread decline of national food self-sufficiency as a dominant element in the shaping of policies for rural areas. Although national food self-sufficiency is no longer an overriding policy aim, household food security remains a key policy issue for developing countries and indeed for the whole world. This was particularly emphasized in the World Food Summit held during 1996.

More recently, policy makers have increasingly shifted their attention to the efficiency of service delivery through the restructuring of institutions. This has led to the transfer of many traditional public sector roles to civil society and the private sector; the decentralization of remaining government services; and reductions in government investment in the provision of public services. The first two trends fit well within the growing tendency to encourage more local participation in decision making and resource allocation. The third is largely an outcome of the shedding of many previous governmental responsibilities to the private sector. However, while offering significant benefits in terms of mobilization of non-governmental resources and a better alignment of public activities to local needs, these trends have also created difficulties. There has been a generally slow or only partial supply response from the private sector, which in many cases has lacked the incentives to replace public services in finance, research, extension, education, health and even in infrastructure development and maintenance. Smaller farmers and female-headed households have suffered disproportionately. Despite this critical omission, the strengthening of local institutions - involving decentralization and democratization at local levels - is noticeable in many countries. These trends have exposed rifts between central and local authorities in setting development priorities and budgetary allocations, as well as in developing oversight mechanisms.

A further policy area that is growing in importance is that of access to, and control of, natural resources - particularly land and water. As populations continue to grow and marginal lands suffer increasing levels of degradation, the demands of poorer, minority and indigenous populations for more equitable access to resources will continue to intensify. Although accelerating rates of urbanization will relieve some of the pressure, governments that are unable to develop and implement effective policies on land ownership, water management and taxation reform, will face the risk of serious social conflict.

Information and human capital

The need for better information and enhanced human capital has increased as production systems have become more intensified and integrated into market systems. Lack of education, information and training is frequently a key limiting factor to smallholder development. Many observers anticipate an information revolution that will provide large volumes of technological, market and institutional information to small farmers. However, it is unlikely that much of this information will reach the majority of poor producers in low-income countries in the near future; although commercial operations could benefit. Inevitably, issues of equitable access will arise as marginalized populations are bypassed.

Armed conflict, migration of men in search of
paid employment and rising mortality rates attributed to HIV/AIDS, have led to a rise in the number of female-headed households and placed a considerable burden on women's capacity to produce, provide and prepare food. Despite their increasingly prominent role in agriculture, women remain severely disadvantaged in terms of their access to education, training, advice and commercial services. Throughout the developing world women are still frequently denied the full legal status necessary to give them access to loans. This lack of access to key support services hampers women's efforts to improve their farm activities.

One of the major achievements in many developing countries during the past three decades, however, has been the extension of literacy training and primary education to the majority of the rural population. Given the high returns to primary education that have been repeatedly demonstrated, it is considered likely that rural education will expand considerably in those countries where gender discrimination is minimal, civil conflict is absent and economic stability can be maintained. Whilst in the past many development efforts failed women - because planners had a poor understanding of the role women play in farming and household food security - greater efforts are now being made to take account of their actual situation. A gradual improvement is also expected to result from improved primary education, as an increasing proportion of women farmers are able to communicate directly in the same language as extension advisors, bankers or agribusiness managers. These developments may leave the next generation better equipped to participate in knowledge-based agriculture and to utilize the expanding information base.

Reader's guide

This Summary document provides an outline of future challenges, opportunities and proposed agricultural development strategies for the developing world. The relevance of farming systems analysis has been discussed in this chapter, and particular attention paid to describing the key trends that are expected to influence farming system evolution over the next 30 years. Drawing on FAO projections, and utilizing a range of databases, the study delineates and analyzes the main farming systems of the six major developing regions of the world in Chapters 2 to 7. As a single region may contain as many as 16 identified farming systems, from 3 to 5 systems have been selected for brief description in each region. The regional analyzes each conclude with a discussion of overall strategic priorities for the region. Commonalities, challenges and crosscutting priorities emerging from these analyzes are presented in Chapter 8. Conclusions and Ways Forward are presented in Chapter 9. This document comprises a considerably abbreviated extract from the book of the same name, jointly published by the World Bank and FAO, in which the arguments presented here are developed in much greater detail and with considerably more supporting data.

6 FAO 2000, op cit.

1 Dixon, J. and A. Gulliver with D. Gibbon (2001) Farming Systems and Poverty: Improving Farmers' Livelihoods in a Changing World. FAO & World Bank, Rome, Italy & Washington, DC, USA.

2 Comprehensive projections to 2015 and to 2030 are summarized in FAO (2000) Agriculture Towards 2015/30. Technical Interim Report. Global Perspectives Unit. FAO, Rome, Italy. These projections by FAO are referred to extensively throughout the study.

3 The World Bank classifies developing countries into six developing regions, and this classification was adapted for the analysis. Annex 1 lists the country membership of each region.

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