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3.1. General

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, agricultural growth in the region was slow compared to the rates achieved in the past thirty years. Agricultural development in the recent past has been characterized by an extraordinary diversity both within and between countries. Many largely traditional farming systems that were sustainable with a low density of population are becoming increasingly strained by, and vulnerable to, the pressure of rising population. Spectacular environmental damage exemplifies the consequences of this pressure as land-hungry cultivators push into the tropical forests and up the hillsides. A growing prosperity among some groups contrasts with the deepening poverty among others less fortunate.

3.2. Agriculture typology

According to the report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (1987) there are three basic types of agriculture. These are:

Industrial agriculture has large farming units, is highly capitalized and relies on large inputs and subsidies. It is found mainly in the developed world or in specialized enclaves in the developing countries. Green Revolution agriculture is found in well-endowed areas of the developing world and in areas either irrigated or with reliable rainfall. It includes large and small farms and uses high-yielding varieties with complementary inputs. The third type of agriculture is associated with unfavourable or difficult areas that are mainly rainfed, often undulating and with fragile or problem soils.

Agriculture in Asia also falls in the above three categories. Industrial agriculture that was alien to the region emerged in the context of the political colonization by the European powers. Until World War II it was largely manifested in the region in the form of large plantations, particularly in the relatively land-rich areas of equatorial South-east Asia.

The traditional subsistence rice cultivation in the riverine lowlands of Asia could be considered to be a primitive form of Green Revolution agriculture. These systems are associated with irrigation, sometimes with local water lifting, and constitute the productive base for the indigenous civilizations, large and small. Not all the lowlands are irrigated, with the important exceptions of China and India.

Traditionally the third category of agriculture in Asia is practised by groups that reside in the hills and on the fringes of the deserts, at the edges of the main lowland civilizations. In South-east Asia these groups are mainly ethnic minorities; in the Indian sub-continent they are known as tribes. Some of these groups may have been the original inhabitants of the lowland areas, and may have been driven into the forested highland by more dominant civilizations. The type of cultivation associated with these areas is either rainfed or swidden cultivation (see also section 2.2) that involves the clearing of new forest plots every one to two years when the natural fertility on the old plots, derived from the burning of the forest, is exhausted.

3.3. Changes in traditional patterns

During the rapid population growth and economic development that have occurred in the region there have been considerable changes in these three basic types of agriculture. The functional separation of the industrial agriculture, which existed as enclaves at the beginning of the colonial period, has disappeared, and the spatial separation between the second and third categories of agriculture also has been eroded by the expansion of cultivation frontier into the forests.

3.3.1. Changes in industrial or plantation agriculture

Over the years, industrial or plantation agriculture in the region has become diverse. The assertion of economic nationalism, following independence, has brought about the break-up of many large estates into smallholdings. In Malaysia and Indonesia, the idea of the state plantation has emerged, not only through the take-over of former colonial estates but also through the establishment of smallholder settlement schemes, in which the landholders are closely tied to central processing facilities operated by government agencies.

In Thailand and the Philippines, industrial agriculture has taken the form of operations by private agri-business enterprises. These have rarely been able to secure large enough areas of land to operate at the scale required by their processing facilities, encouraging them to arrange production contracts with individual small farmers in the hinterland of their factories, in the style of the sugar quotas of the past. The range of crops that are grown under contract farming schemes has broadened to include several which do not need immediate processing, such as cotton, wheat, barley and cashew nuts (ESCAP 1994).

Today, plantation crops are the mainstay of several economies in the region, contributing substantially to their foreign exchange earnings and providing employment for a significant proportion of their population. Continued viability of these crops has been recognized as being important for sustaining the economies of these countries. However, for most countries, the existing plantings, notably of coconuts and tea, are characterized by low productivity, a consequence of the large age of the stands, their inferior varieties, the non-optimal plant density, minimal input use and poor agronomic practices. Optimization is being achieved through rehabilitation and replanting of the crop concerned, and through inter-cropping with other crops; it depends on available technological innovations, the crop’s responsiveness to improved practices and the extent to which the increased output will lead towards substantial income gains.

Land use considerations have played an important role in decisions to expand the cultivation of plantation crops. Many countries have areas with severe terrain constraints (steep slopes) and high rainfall, which will suffer extensive ecological damage if planted to annual crops. Consequently, plantation crops such as rubber, tea, coffee, cocoa, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom, which require minimal cultivation and provide continuous ground cover, have been successfully established in such areas. Expansion of certain crops has been based on their ability to overcome specific environmental constraints, e.g. cashews, mangoes and cinnamon in dry and sandy areas, cardamom at high altitudes, and pineapple and coffee in organic soils (peat).

(a) Important plantation crops

(i) Rubber

Production of natural rubber is concentrated in a few developing countries, with Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India accounting for a substantial volume of the world’s exports. Rubber is easily grown in hilly terrain, and has been successfully established in degraded deforested areas, leading to improved land use and a reduction of erosion, siltation and flooding. Productivity has been enormously increased through improved varieties (including better quality rootstocks) and innovations in agronomic practices, including exploitation methods (e.g. low intensity tapping with chemical stimulation to optimize productivity), advanced planting material and micro-tapping (to reduce immaturity period), and other innovations such as high intensity planting.

(ii) Oil palm

Palm oil production in Asia amounts to more than half of world production, with Malaysia, Indonesia and now Thailand accounting for the major share. Much progress has been made, particularly in Malaysia, in the addition of value to their products through further processing of palm oil into semi-finished and finished products. Oil palm is the most efficient producer of vegetable oils (500 percent better than soya beans), giving it greater resilience to adverse price changes. There are prospects of even higher productivity now that improved varieties (clonal planting material) have been introduced, with a good possibility that oil quality characteristics will improve. Over the years there has been expansion of oil palm areas and intensification of downstream processing activities, largely with import substitution objectives.

(iii) Coconuts

Coconut is another major perennial oil crop in Asia, accounting for more than two-thirds of the world’s production. Major coconut producers are the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. Coconut plantations in the region are characterized by low productivity, though efforts were made in the 1980s to improve productivity gains through the introduction of improved varieties (hybrid planting material), better use of inputs, and inter-cropping (including livestock). In most countries, at present, marketing structures focus on oil extraction and by-product utilization.

(iv) Tea

Most of the tea grown in the region is black tea. India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia are the three largest producers of tea. Viet Nam, Malaysia and Bangladesh are other important producers. Total production of tea in Asia amounts to more than half of the total world production. Tea is grown as an estate as well as a smallholder crop. Tea production is labour-intensive and, consequently, total investment per job created is much lower than for other plantation crops. Tea is an important foreign exchange earner for some of these countries. Over the years, considerable initiatives have been made to enhance productivity through incorporating new tea clones, improved input use, expansion of processing facilities and support of extension and research institutions.

(v) Coffee

Coffee is produced in India, Indonesia and Viet Nam on a relatively large scale compared to other countries. However, the total production in Asia is not so significant when compared with the world production of coffee. The world market situation for coffee does not justify large-scale expansion of coffee plantations and processing facilities. Consequently the approach has been to plant coffee as an inter-crop in combination with oil palm or coconuts, with import substitution objectives. This mixed farming has helped to minimize the risk involved with single crop farming.

(vi) Spice crops

Perennial spice crops such as pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves play an important part in the agriculture of some of the countries in the region, particularly in smallholder agriculture. Spice crops are cultivated both in home gardens and as a mono-crop. Spices offer a small but extremely remunerative market and are considered for application in inter-cropping, e.g. cloves, nutmeg and pepper with coconuts, or cardamom with coffee; for diversification; and as an alternative to tea for specific environmental conditions, e.g. cinnamon in sandy soils and, cardamom at high altitudes; and for import substitution, e.g. cloves in Indonesia, pepper in India. Being labour-intensive, these crops and other spices also offer attractive prospects for generating employment.

(vii) Fruit trees

Almost all countries in the region cultivate a wide range of perennial fruit trees in small mixed farms, and, with the exception of bananas and pineapples, production is directed primarily at meeting local demand. Marketing of fruits, mainly at local level, has been constrained by the high seasonality in production. Processing to make juice, jam, pressed dried fruit and other confections) has helped to alleviate this, but more needs to be done.

(b) Major industrial field crops

Among annual field crops grown in the region, sugarcane, cotton and jute/kenaf are the main crops for industrial processing. All Asian developing countries except Korea grow sugarcane and have their own sugar industries, with Pakistan and Afghanistan producing sugar from both sugarcane and sugar beet. India, the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia are the main producers. The first three countries and the Republic of China are major exporters of sugar, whereas Indonesia is a substantial net importer. The total area under sugarcane in the region was about 8.2 Mha in 1995 and yield was 513.2 Mt.

(i) Cotton

Cotton is grown on close to 16.8 Mha in the entire region. This crop requires dry weather during the boll-forming stage and is grown in countries and areas having pronounced dry seasons. India is by far the leading producer (8 Mha in 1995) followed by China (5.4 Mha) and Pakistan (3 Mha). Several other countries have commenced programs for cotton expansion, for import substitution and to provide domestic raw materials for their textile industries. Cotton is a labor-intensive crop and very suitable for smallholder cultivation; it can be cultivated on the lighter soils which are marginal for paddy, and can be grown under rainfed conditions.

(ii) Jute

Jute and jute substitutes (especially kenaf) were cultivated on about 1.7 Mha in 1995 although this area has decreased in recent years because of depressed prices and reduced world demand as a result of competition from synthetic fibres. India and Bangladesh are by far the largest producers of the fibres and of jute products, accounting for about 90 percent of world exports. Smaller but significant producers are Thailand, Myanmar, Nepal and Vietnam.

(c) Trends in plantation crops

The world’s largest producers and exporters of six major plantation and field crop commodities - rubber, tea, coconut, palm oil, cotton and jute - are in the Asian region.

Tea production in Asia increased by more than 50 percent between 1961 and 1990. Rubber production in Asia expanded by 96 percent in line with growth in world production. Coffee production in Asia during the period 1961-1990 expanded by as much as 200 percent. Cocoa production in Asia and the Pacific Region during the same period showed a similar expansion, although in terms of world production it was small.

3.3.2. Changes in Green Revolution agriculture

Three decades ago, the collective response to the spectre of hunger resulted in what became known as the Green Revolution. In Green Revolution agriculture, the major change has been the improvement of irrigation systems, with upstream storages allowing the extension of cultivation into the dry season. This has enabled intensification and specialization, typified by the introduction in the 1960s of improved high-yielding varieties that require large inputs of chemical fertilizer. At their most intensive, such systems have been producing two or three crops per year, often incorporating a short duration legume between cereals. Because of the excellent resource base of the Green Revolution agriculture, smallholders who have expanded their enterprises have achieved a size of operation difficult to distinguish from industrial agriculture.

The resulting expansion of food production has brought Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, India, the People’s Republic of China, the Philippines and others from the brink of starvation to the threshold of national food-grain self-sufficiency. It has stimulated industrial growth and fostered political stability. And, unlike many previous rural development efforts, the majority of the beneficiaries of the Green Revolution have been small-scale producers.

The Green Revolution has been based on a package of technological inputs - fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation - that have allowed the full expression of the yield potential of new crop varieties. The Green Revolution has indeed transformed the agriculture scene and provided the impetus for agricultural development in the region.

That the Green Revolution has resulted in productivity gains in Asia is obvious from the fact that between 1965 and 1990 cereal production increased by an average of more than 3 percent annually in many of the high-population countries. In some it was 4 percent or more (e.g. Pakistan and Indonesia), whereas some traditional agricultural systems had been able to sustain only 0.5-1.0 percent increases in production in the past.

For the most part, the high growth rates did not bring new land into production. With only a few exceptions, growth in area under agricultural production was less than 1 percent annually in most countries of the region. In fact land area under agricultural production actually declined in a few countries, such as People’s Republic of China and Japan. This implies that the productivity gains came from increases in yields per hectare, which is what the Green Revolution was all about. People’s Republic of China and Indonesia had yield increases averaging nearly 4 percent annually from the mid-1960s to 1990, and annual increases greater than 2.5 percent were achieved in several other countries including India, Republic of Korea, Pakistan and the Philippines (Doobs 1994).

As stated above, increased land under irrigation was part of the Green Revolution story. Several large countries (India, Indonesia, and the Philippines) increased their areas under irrigation by more than 2 percent per year. In addition, the effectiveness of irrigation was substantially enhanced on many already irrigated tracts when tube wells were installed to augment or replace irrigation supplies from traditional dug wells, tanks and reservoir fed canals. The real yield payoff, however, came from the combination of irrigation water, improved cereal cultivars, and fertilizer. Many countries in Asia experienced average annual growth rates in fertilizer use in excess of 10 percent in the last three decades. Increasing fertilizer use, often by subsidizing farm-level prices, was a major part of the agricultural development strategy in many of developing countries of Asia during the 1970s.

Productivity gains associated with the Green Revolution in Asia have been greatest in wheat and rice areas with well developed irrigation systems; productivity gains in the un-irrigated arid and semi-arid areas of Asia have been limited.

(a) Important field crops

(i) Cereals

The total area of all cereals harvested in the region in 1995 was about 279 Mha, of which almost half was accounted for by rice, followed by wheat at 25 percent, and maize at about 14 percent. The cereals together account for about two-thirds of the area under field crops. Cereals are the main food crop grown in the region: rice and wheat accounted for 40 and 16 percent, respectively, of the region’s total food crop production in 1995. At the country level, the contribution of rice to the total food crops production ranged from 25 percent in Pakistan to 90 percent in Myanmar, being more than 70 percent in Bangladesh and Laos. Only Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, India, Nepal and Pakistan produced sizeable quantities of wheat. Wheat is the predominant food crop produced in Pakistan (53 percent of all food crops); in India it makes up about 20 percent of food crops produced. Much of the potential area suitable to wheat in India and Pakistan has already been exploited. In Bangladesh around 40 percent of the potential wheat acreage is already under rice-wheat rotation and the area is expanding at an annual growth rate of 14 percent. Much of the potential area in Myanmar and almost all the potential area in Thailand, Viet Nam, Philippines and Indonesia has also been subjected to exploitation. The relative importance of wheat has grown in the region during the last decade, initially by increased acreage and subsequently by yield increases.

Maize is grown to some extent in all countries and is the preferred food in the hilly areas of some. Millet and sorghum, which cover a smaller area (about 18 Mha) than maize, are mainly confined to the dry areas of the Indian subcontinent, Thailand and Myanmar. Most of the growth in developing country maize production has been by area expansion, with yield increases averaging 3.5 percent per annum between 1985 and 1995. The release by CIMMYT of a high-yielding early maturing maize has heralded a quantum yield increase in this crop and allowed it to fit into a brief rainy season or more intensive cropping sequences. Production of early maturing drought and disease-resistant millets and sorghums by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has also resulted in increased production of these crops.

(ii) Root crops

Root and tubers constitute about 20 percent of the total production of food crops in the region and are a secondary source of carbohydrates in most Asian diets, after cereals. Potatoes (primarily in highland areas) and sweet potatoes (with main areas of concentration in India, China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam) each account for about one-quarter of the root crop areas. Cassava cultivation accounts for most of the remaining area, with Thailand and Indonesia being the major producing countries (over 1 Mha each in 1995) followed by India, the Philippines, and Viet Nam. During the period before the rice harvest, cassava consumption in Indonesia exceeds that of rice among the lower income groups. In contrast, most of the cassava produced in Thailand is exported to Europe as a component for animal feed. Cassava is also important as a potential source of fuel energy, both in terms of yield of carbohydrate, which is higher than for all other food crops except sugarcane, and in terms of carbohydrate production efficiency under marginal soil conditions.

(iii) Pulses

Pulses, i.e. various types of bean, pea, chickpea, lentil, etc., are cultivated on approximately 36 Mha of which about 70 percent is in India, and are generally cultivated as fallow and off-season crops with minimal inputs and little care. About 8 Mha of chickpeas are grown annually in India and Pakistan (where it is the major source of vegetable protein) mostly on soils of low fertility and under rainfed conditions. Production of chickpea has declined over the last few years in Pakistan because of the extension of irrigation facilities and the substitution of chickpea production by cereal production.

(iv) Annual oil crops

Annual oil crops (groundnuts, soya beans, rapeseed, sesame, linseed, seed cotton) account for roughly 30 Mha. Groundnuts and soya beans account for about 90 percent of this area. Like pulses, they receive minimal inputs from farmers and genetically low-yielding varieties are grown under rainfed conditions. Annual oil crops are mostly grown in countries with pronounced dry seasons where cultivation of perennial oil crops (oil palm and coconut) is not feasible. In years of low productivity, some countries spend large amounts of foreign exchange on imports of edible oil and fats to meet domestic requirements.

3.3.3. Changes in third world agriculture

It is probably in the third world agriculture that changes in the traditional systems have been most dramatic, both in the expansion of the area cultivated and in the diversification of cultivation systems. While the Green Revolution agriculture responded through intensification to demands created by increased population growth and rising consumption standards, increases in production have proved inadequate. Consequently, there has been movement of surplus population from such areas onto more marginal lands (ESCAP 1994).

Third world agriculture refers to subsistence farming that includes swidden cultivation and rainfed farming. Rainfed areas constitute over 70 percent of the cultivated land in the region and support nearly two-thirds of its farmers. Yield increases still depend on the subtle interaction between soil, water, seeds, and sunlight, but the process is not as well understood in rainfed conditions as it is for irrigated land. Local conditions vary so much that to find solutions is often costly, and they can seldom be replicated elsewhere. Even with the current state of knowledge, however, there is scope for growth. New methods of tilling, new crop rotations, increasing use of fertilizers and pesticides, soil conservation and drainage all have a part to play. Soil erosion and declining fertility are the main threats to rainfed agriculture in the humid and sub-humid areas.

The tackling of these challenges has required protection of the soil by continuous crop coverage and minimum tillage, as well as by drilling seeds and controlling weeds. This has been considered to provide a systematic approach that is being promoted in most countries. Increases in yields from rainfed land will therefore be relatively slow, and concentrated in regions with better rainfall and soil, but the gains could be considerable. If rainfed land could increase its yield by 500 kg/ha, the total increase in production would exceed what could be achieved by a rise of 2 t/ha in the yield of all irrigated land.

Some formidable obstacles, such as flooding, stand in the way of such achievements: in many parts of Asia, normal rains cause widespread floods. Standing water often more than 30 cm deep makes many paddy fields of Asia unsuitable for high-yielding dwarf varieties of rice. Small-scale flood protection and effective drainage have enabled modern rice technology to expand into parts of Bangladesh, Myanmar, India and Thailand.

3.4. Per capita food production

The region annually produced 50 percent of the world’s total food crops, comprising cereals, roots and tubers, oil-crops and pulses, and almost 50 percent of the cereals (911 Mt) during the period ending 1995. Further, it produced as much as 91 percent (502 Mt) of the world’s rice paddy in 1995. The overall food production indices in 1997 were 137 for Asia and the Pacific Region, and 117 for the world. The irrigated area in the region accounts for 60 percent of the world’s total irrigated area.

Food production in the region climbed steadily after 1960-1970. The annual rate of growth for the decade ending 1990 was 3.5 percent, compared to 2.5 percent for the world, being second only to the Latin American region, which recorded an annual growth rate of 3.9 percent.

Performance of the countries varied considerably. All of them, except Mongolia and Japan, produced more food in 1996/97 than in 1989/1990. The increases ranged from 2 percent to 50 percent. Table 2 contains data on changes in per capita food production in the region during the period 1988-1990 relative to 1979-1980. As the table shows, two-thirds of the Asian countries had increases in per capita food production during that period (indices greater than 100). All the countries with populations of more than 50 million people had increases, except for Bangladesh and Philippines. People’s Republic of China, and India, with a combined population of nearly 2 billion persons, both achieved gains.

This record of success in the recent past could be a reason for modest optimism about future food supplies in relation to population. However, there are also areas for major concern. The region’s farmers have already adopted the Green Revolution packages of inputs in the agro-climatic areas to which they are well suited. Thus productivity gains in the years to come are likely to be much harder to achieve than the gains since the mid-1960s. Moreover, it has been estimated that food demands over the next 15 years will require substantial increases in agricultural production. People’s Republic of China and India, in particular, face immense challenges, with only 0.08 and 0.02 ha of cropland per capita, respectively. Several other large Asian countries also have quite low per capita availability of cropland, including Indonesia (0.12 ha), the Philippines (0.13 ha), Bangladesh (0.08 ha), Pakistan (0.17 ha), and Japan (0.04 ha). The world average is 0.28 ha and in the USA it is 0.76 ha (World Resources Institute 1992). With growing populations, cropland per capita will fall even further in these large Asian countries (Doobs 1994).

In addition to continued growth in population, rising income levels in much of Asia will increase the demand for food. These growing food demands associated with rising population and income in the years ahead will present major challenges to the achievement of the requisite yield increase in Asia.

Table 2. Per capita food production for selected Asian countries*



Gross National
Product per capita
(US$, 1990)

Average Index of Food
Production per capita
in 1988-1990
(1979-1981 = 100)









People’s Rep. of China


















25 430






Rep. of Korea




























Sri Lanka








Viet Nam




* World Development Report, 1992

3.5. Policy reforms

3.5.1. Evolving national policies

Economic policies in most developing countries up to quite recently gave priority to industrialization as the core development strategy. However, there was insufficient appreciation of the need for vigorous agricultural growth as an essential condition for industrialization to firmly take root. The consequences for agriculture were serious. On the one hand, national agricultural policies frequently gave favourable treatment to farmers through such means as support prices, subsidized credit and fertilizers and substantial public expenditures for agricultural infrastructures. On the other hand, however, policies such as high levels of tariff and quota protection to local manufacturing, and over-valued exchange rates, worked against agriculture and reduced or completely offset the price and profitability incentives to increase production that were objectives of the agricultural sector policies. The process of policy reform favouring the tradable sectors, including agriculture, has assumed added momentum in recent years under the programs for macroeconomic stabilization and adjustment following balance of payments crises and needs for debt servicing. This recognition of the essential role of agriculture in the economic growth of developing countries has represented a fundamental change of emphasis in the policies of many developing countries.

The thrust of agricultural policies in the developed market economies has essentially been to improve farm incomes and raise self-sufficiency or expand exports. These basic objectives have been sought by facilitating growth in productivity and by supporting producer incentives in various ways.

3.5.2. Closer integration of agriculture in the overall economy

A change of considerable importance which has gathered pace over the past two and a half decades is the increasing integration of agriculture in domestic economies and in the international economy. Farm families’ sales and purchases of their food production or requirements have steadily encroached on largely subsistence agriculture, although production for home consumption still remains a basic part of developing country agriculture. The importance of off-farm inputs to production has grown steadily in developing countries. Institutional credit has become more important in the financing of farm operations. Off-farm sources of income have provided a rising share of the total income of farm families, reaching some 40-50 percent for very small farmers and landless labourers in developing countries in the early 1980s and later.

As developing country agriculture has become more monetized, its linkage with industry also has become more prominent. Rural purchases have provided a significant - often the largest part - of the market for goods produced by domestic manufacturing industries, while the processing of food and agricultural raw materials has typically been the basis of developing country industrialization. At the same time, the food and agricultural sector has become more closely integrated in the international economy, following the rising share of output which is traded internationally and the increased links to the monetary economy. Exchange rates, interest rates and the availability of capital are strongly affected by the international environment. The latter, therefore, influences directly or indirectly the cost of finance to the sector, the prices of imported inputs and those of the commodities exported or competing with imports in the domestic market. Economic and financial developments, especially in recent years, have thus meant that agriculture, too, has became more affected by macroeconomic policies and general economic conditions, both within the country and internationally. However, the full bearing of this increasing interdependence has not been widely appreciated until recently.

3.6. Need for sustainable agricultural development

Sustainable development is now widely accepted as an imperative for continued prosperity in the region. It implies making strenuous efforts to meet the needs of a third of the world’s population without reducing the options that the next generation will have for meeting its own needs.

In agriculture, this has meant safeguarding national food security and improving the quality of life of people who depend on farming for a living, while ensuring that the natural resource base is not further depleted or degraded but is regenerated instead.

In the last three decades there have been radical changes in thinking concerning agricultural development, both in free-market and in centrally planned economies in the region. The development models in favour at various times have covered technology transfer, integrated rural development, improved support services, farm systems research and development, price policies and sustainable agriculture. The post-Green Revolution development strategies have included comprehensive sectoral objectives instead of the simple search for productivity improvements. Strategies have tended to evolve in a piecemeal manner. In the shift from a narrow obsession with yield and productivity, poverty reduction was introduced as a new focus, only to be complemented in quick succession by equity, gender issues, food security and sustainability. What continues to be overlooked is concern for the human condition at the farm-household level and, beyond that, innovation that captures agro-ecological opportunities and that accommodates constraints.

It has to be recognized that sustainable agriculture development will not take place merely by introducing better crops, new cattle breeds, more credit or rural cooperatives, as important as these may be. Rather, it will have to be achieved by farmers working in very specific farm-household systems. It must be based on the tasks, needs and aspirations of the farmers themselves and on the dynamics and constraints they face, not only in farming but also in their domestic and non-farm activities. It must take account of their whole rural life situation, including factors beyond the control of the household: the ecology and natural resources, the social-cultural environment of the community, and the policies, prices, services and infrastructure that affect rural prospects. Hence the need for introduction of a farmer-led rather than a top-down approach.

Therefore, to ensure the development of sustainable agriculture, the countries in the region have to protect the natural environment, create an enabling policy environment for sustainable agriculture, generate and disseminate appropriate technology, target disadvantaged groups, improve support services and encourage community participation, improve physical infrastructure and social services, and develop non-farm income-earning opportunities.

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