CL 116/INF/17



Hundred and Sixteenth Session

Rome, 14-19 June 1999

(Maastricht, Netherlands, September 1999)


Table of Contents

I. Introduction

1. FAO is actively supporting the initiative taken by The Netherlands to organize an international technical Conference on the Multifunctional Character of Agriculture and Land. The Conference will take place in Maastricht in The Netherlands from 12 to 17 September, 1999. FAO's support is being channelled mainly into the provision of technical and conceptual inputs into the preparatory process. A growing number of other countries and international organizations are collaborating in this process, providing a range of valuable and assorted inputs. The purpose of this Information Document is to provide Members of the Hundredth and Sixteenth Session of FAO Council with an overview of the forthcoming 1999 FAO/NL Conference and its objectives, a brief summary of the preparatory process and outline linkages with CSD-8.

2. FAO's interest in the 1999 FAO/NL Conference on the Multifunctional Character of Agriculture and Land is two-fold. Firstly, the Conference will provide a high-level technical forum for increasing international understanding on the complex issues surrounding the multifunctional character of agriculture and land and its crucial linkages with environmental sustainability. Secondly, the Conference will contribute significantly to FAO's inputs to the Eighth Session of CSD.

3. FAO is coordinating the preparation of the two main technical inputs to the Conference: 1) the Stock-Taking Paper and 2) the Issues Paper. The two documents are inter-locking partners, that together, constitute the basis for discussion at the Conference. They share many of the same themes and concerns, but possess fundamentally different objectives: the Issues Paper is concerned mainly with outlining concepts, issues and policies and the Stock-Taking Paper provides a comprehensive empirical review of processes, patterns and trends at multiple levels and scales. Together, the two papers provide a broad, integrated and thematically coherent examination of the issues surrounding the multifunctional character of agriculture and land, which ensures that both papers add value to policy-makers, technicians and practitioners alike and minimises the risk of either duplication or contradiction.

4. The overall objective of the Conference is to identify both the new practices and the necessary enabling environments that will lead to increased sustainability. Particular emphasis will be placed on raising international, national and local awareness of the range, diversity and positive potential of the multiple contributions that can be made by agriculture and related land-use in specific contexts and at different scales in terms of heightened sustainability and food security. The Conference will focus on two principal tasks:

  1. reviewing progress towards the principles contained in the "Rio Declaration on Environment and Development" and "Agenda 21: Programme of Action for Sustainable Development".
  2. identifying the main issues to be addressed, taking into consideration the continually evolving nature of agriculture.

II. Building on History

5. The Eighth Session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (henceforth CSD-8) will take place in April, 2000. The CSD was established by the General Assembly in response to a request of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), known as the Earth Summit. The CSD's Mandate is to examine progress made in implementing Agenda 21 globally. CSD-8 will report specifically on progress related to the sectoral theme of Integrated Planning and Management of Land Resources; the economic sector of Agriculture; and the cross-sectoral theme of Financial Resources/Trade and Investment/Growth.

6. The forthcoming 1999 FAO/NL Conference is the third in a series of related collaborative efforts. In 1991, FAO and The Netherlands organized the Conference on Agriculture and the Environment, which was held in Den Bosch in 1991. It provided the basis for Chapter 14 "Promoting sustainable agriculture and rural development" of Agenda 21. Likewise, the 1995 International Workshop on Integrated Planning and Management of Land Resources, held in Wageningen in 1995, provided important inputs to the discussions at CSD-3.

7. The 1999 FAO/NL Conference follows these two earlier initiatives, but importantly, refers directly to the message contained in Commitment Three of the "Rome Declaration on World Food Security", adopted by acclamation by Heads of State and Government at the 1996 World Food Summit in Rome, which states that:

"We will pursue participatory and sustainable food, agriculture, fisheries, forestry and rural development policies and practices in high and low potential areas, which are essential to adequate and reliable food supplies at the household, national, regional and global levels, and combat pests, drought and desertification, considering the multifunctional character of agriculture".

8. The 1999 FAO/NL Conference will build directly on this Commitment and link it directly to the implementation of Agenda 21 and the broader and more global challenge of enhancing sustainability.

III. Conference Rationale

9. People everywhere are "Cultivating our Futures". Producers worldwide use land not only to produce basic crops and fibres and forest products, but also to contribute to improved social, economic, biological, and physical conditions of their production units, communities, countries, and regions.

10. Recent large-scale international fora have directed international attention towards the vital challenges of food security, poverty alleviation and sustainable environmental management. International understanding on the related issues of promoting sustainable agriculture and rural development and integrated land resource management has grown dramatically as a direct consequence of the implementation of Agenda 21. During the course of the last decade for example, a traditional view of sustainable agriculture as a means of producing food and generating income whilst minimising negative environmental impacts has been increasingly replaced by a more complex, textured and positive vision, that recognises the very important substantive contributions that agriculture can make towards sustainability goals. This change has been accompanied by corresponding changes regarding perceptions of the roles, duties and responsibilities of multiple stakeholders involved in agriculture and related land uses. In particular, this change in attitude has stemmed from a growing understanding of the broad-based and multi-sectoral benefits that can stem from agricultural investment and activity. These are some of the principal changes that have informed the technical focus of the forthcoming 1999 FAO/NL Conference. In this context, reference to the multifunctional character of agriculture and land therefore recognises that in addition to basic crops and fibres, forest products and fisheries, agricultural activity has the potential, under certain circumstances and at different scales, to jointly produce a range of social, environmental, economic and cultural benefits, goods and services that can contribute directly, for example, to food security, rural development and enhanced environmental sustainability. The challenge of the Conference is to identify ways of maximising these positive effects in Member Nations.

IV. Preparation Phase

11. The preparatory phase of the 1999 Conference began in July 1998, a full 14 months before the Maastricht meeting. The considerable length of this period was intended to allow as broad a range as possible of land users and planners, development practitioners and decision-makers, private industry, the international community and governments, to contribute to the process.

12. Preparations have consisted of both information-related and technical activities. The information-related preparations have been directed at building a comprehensive information base on CSD-8 issues and the multifunctional character of agriculture and land. The activities have been termed the "Stock-Taking" process.

Scoping Phase

13. The "Scoping Phase" took place from July to October, 1998. It sought to elicit views on the issues, problems and debates surrounding the multifunctional character of agriculture and land. Over 130 contributions were received from governments, international and national NGOs, civil society, international organizations and the private sector. The submissions allowed for the development of a broad interpretive framework which provided the basis for subsequent information collection initiatives but also, for the finalization of the outlines of the two technical papers. Seven main themes and issues were identified as a result of the "Scoping Phase" upon which to base the examination of the multifunctional character of agriculture and land:

  1. Scale and Geography
  2. Time and Sequence
  3. Multiple Functions
  4. Multiple Impacts
  5. Trade-Offs
  6. Cross-Functional Benefits
  7. Enabling Factors

14. A synthesis of the contributions and main themes was made available on the FAO Internet site ( and was distributed through FAO Regional and Subregional Offices and FAO Representations.

Stock-Taking Questionnaire

15. The Stock-Taking process also involved the preparation, distribution and analysis of a Stock-Taking Questionnaire. Its design was shaped in large part, by the Scoping Phase. It sought however, to elicit specific case-study information on the multifunctional character of agriculture and land. The Stock-Taking questionnaire was distributed globally. In addition to extensive statistical analysis, selected portions of the information provided in questionnaire submissions have also been made available on the FAO Internet site, and is accessible through a searchable database interface.


16. A further important element in the Stock-Taking process involved the organization of an e-mail-based "Electronic Conference on the Multifunctional Character of Agriculture and Land" which took place for eight weeks from February to March, 1999. Over 1 300 individuals and institutions registered from over 80 countries.

17. The E-Conference had three broad objectives:

  1. to produce a case-study inventory on the multifunctional character of agriculture and land
  2. to advance understanding of the meaning, significance and implication of the multifunctional character of agriculture and land
  3. to catalyse networks, relationships and ongoing dialogue on these issues

18. The E-Conference itself was divided into three broad phases: 1) inventory development, involving discussions on the meaning of the "multifunctional character of agriculture and land" and the collection of examples at the local and non-local levels 2) analysis of the examples and 3) findings and conclusions. Despite the difficulties associated with measuring the benefits of an initiative such as an electronic conference, the activity was a clear success in terms of the depth and breadth of participation, the range of issues discussed, the quality of discussion and the substantive advance made in terms of overall understanding.


19. In addition, advantage was taken of a range of other opportunities to gather information and establish partnerships, including for example, a number of related meetings, workshops and similar fora, such as the International Workshop on Opportunities, incentives and approaches for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity in agricultural ecosystems and production systems and the Second Session of the Conference of the Parties of the Convention to Combat Desertification and Drought, both of which took place in 1998.

Stock-Taking Paper and Issues Paper

20. The production of both the Stock-Taking Paper and Issue Paper is being coordinated at FAO. Specific inter-Departmental committees have been established to coordinate overall production and to liase with the wide-range of partners and contributors. The Stock-Taking paper has also involved the preparation of a series of regional reviews and a detailed analysis of Country Reports to the Inter-Sessional Meetings of CSD.

Background Papers

21. In addition, a number of "Background Papers on selected topics will complement the two main technical documents.

V. Venue and Participation

22. The Conference will take place at the Maastricht Exhibition and Congress Centre (M.E.C.C.) in Maastricht, The Netherlands from 12 to17 September, 1999. It is expected that the Conference will be attended by approximately 350 participants. During the Conference, there will be a full day excursion to several relevant projects and initiatives. It is foreseen that participants will be policy and decision-makers from appropriate Ministries, international organizations, NGOs and other sectors of civil society, including for example, representatives of farmers organizations and land and other natural resource-user groups. National delegations will be limited to two persons. Balanced distribution in terms of geographical regions and developing/industrialised countries will be sought. Invitations to attend the Conference will be despatched at the end May 1999.

23. It is proposed to organize an Internet-based "Web Forum" during the Conference to facilitate the dissemination of both practical and content-related information. This facility should enable wider public involvement in the Conference. During the Conference itself, there will be an exhibition on success stories linked to the multifunctional character of agriculture and land.

VI. Expected Outcomes

24. The Conference is a technical conference, and is expected to produce recommendations for implementation and policy options for sustainable agriculture and land management through building on what has been learned to date. It will contribute to CSD-8 and gain insight in this area by assessing progress in terms of success stories, contributing factors, best practices and lessons learned, and determine how best to continue progress towards the implementing Agenda 21 globally in the next century.

25. Specific Conference Outputs will include:

VII. FAO Conference and CSD-8

26. The Council may wish to consider recommending that the Statement adopted be submitted to the Thirtieth Session of the FAO Conference, taking place in Rome from 12 - 23 November, 1999, which would consider its incorporation into the CSD-8 process.

VIII. Timeline

27. The process is iterative. The key phases and events can be outlined:

Preparation Phase

  • Scoping
July-October, 1998
  • Stock-Taking Questionnaire
December, 1998 - March, 1999
  • E-Conference
February - March, 1999
  • Other
October, 1998-June, 1999
  • Stock-Taking Paper preparation
Jan - June, 1999
  • Issue Paper preparation
Jan - June, 1999
  • Background Papers Preparation
March - June, 1999

Pre-Conference Phase

  • Issue of Invitations
May, 1999
  • Distribution of documents
July - August, 1999


  • FAO/NL Conference on the Multifunctional Character of Agriculture and Land
September, 1999

Post-Conference Phase

  • Thirtieth Session of FAO Conference
12-23 November, 1999
  • CSD-8 Preparations December,
1999-March, 2000


  • CSD-8, New York
April, 2000