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New challenges to the achievement of the World Food Summit goals



Leaders gathered at the World Food Summit in 1996 affirmed their "common and national commitment to achieving food security for all" and agreed to work towards the achievement of the intermediate goal of "reducing the number of undernourished people to half their present level no later than 2015". These commitments provide what The Strategic Framework for FAO: 2000-20151 describes as a "new point of reference" for the Organization, and will constitute the central theme of the World Food Summit: five years later.


The Rome Declaration on World Food Security2 placed food security in a broad context. It acknowledged the "multifaceted character of food security", emphasizing the linkages with poverty eradication, peace, sustainable use of natural resources, fair trade and the prevention of natural disasters and human-induced emergencies. It defined food security as the "physical and economic access by all, at all times, to sufficient, nutritionally adequate and safe food". The World Food Summit Plan of Action, structured around the seven commitments of the Rome Declaration (Box 1.1), put forward 27 objectives and 182 proposed actions, covering almost every area of relevance for global, regional, national, household and individual food security.


The challenges facing agriculture in ensuring global food security and the sustainable management of natural resources are manifold and immensely complex. Agriculture is intimately tied to nature and hence subject to its vagaries. One year, nature may reward the world with bountiful harvests when rainfall patterns neatly match the needs of crops; the next year, farmers may be devastated by drought, floods or hurricanes, or by plagues of locusts or the spread of plant pests and animal diseases that know no frontiers. But agriculture also entails the harnessing of nature to provide for human needs - needs that have grown over the past century at a phenomenal rate in response to unprecedented rates of population growth and increases in people's purchasing power as well as consumption. That the world's farmers and fishermen are able to meet aggregate global food needs is increasingly due to scientific advances that have revolutionized production methods and allowed for a rapid growth in the productivity of land and water resources.

BOX 1.1

The seven commitments of the World Food Summit

Commitment One

We will ensure an enabling political, social and economic environment designed to create the best conditions for the eradication of poverty and for durable peace, based on full and equal participation of women and men, which is most conducive to achieving sustainable food security for all.

Commitment Two

We will implement policies aimed at eradicating poverty and inequality and improving physical and economic access by all, at all times, to sufficient, nutritionally adequate and safe food and its effective utilization.

Commitment Three

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.

Commitment Four

We will strive to ensure that food, agricultural trade and overall trade policies are conducive to fostering food security for all through a fair and market-oriented world trade system.

Commitment Five

We will endeavour to prevent and be prepared for natural disasters and human-induced emergencies and to meet transitory and emergency food requirements in ways that encourage recovery, rehabilitation, development and a capacity to satisfy future needs.

Commitment Six

We will promote optimal allocation and use of public and private investments to foster human resources, sustainable food, agriculture, fisheries and forestry systems, and rural development, in high and low potential areas.

Commitment Seven

We will implement, monitor and follow up this Plan of Action at all levels in cooperation with the international community.


Agriculture can contribute positively to the environment and the sustainable use of natural resources. The methods by which nature is harnessed through agriculture, however, have become a source of intense controversy, and the sustainability and safety of the technologies on which the intensification of farming is based are being increasingly questioned. Concerns are arising about the possible negative effects of intensive farming on ecosystems and biodiversity, the risks to human health and the environment associated with the overuse and misuse of pesticides and fertilizers, the degradation of land as a result of salinization, nutrient depletion and declines in soil organic matter, the narrowing of the genetic base for farm crops and livestock, and the risks to consumers in the case of foods produced under highly intensive systems. Debate is also intensifying over the interactions between agriculture and the processes of climate change, which are not only significantly affected by how land is used but are also expected to have increasingly disruptive impacts on agriculture.


International trade is playing a rapidly growing role in the maintenance of world food security, enabling commodities to be grown where local conditions offer comparative advantages. But the increasing movement of agricultural products around the world also generates new hazards, accelerating the spread of plant pests and animal diseases, including food-borne diseases that affect humans. While the globalization of agriculture and the liberalization of trade in farm products are widely considered to generate aggregate welfare gains, the way in which these benefits are distributed between farmers and consumers, poor countries and rich countries, has become the focus of much debate.


In the five years since the World Food Summit, many such issues have attained a new visibility. They have brought with them "the potential for conflict and social upheaval, they have brought to the fore numerous ethical issues that are central to food security, sustainable rural development and resource management as well as to the trade-offs among these objectives. The resolution of issues raised demands reflection, dialogue and action."3 In response to its mandate, reaffirmed in the Quebec Declaration, "to help build a world where all people can live with dignity, confident of food security", FAO is deeply engaged with its member governments, other international organizations, the scientific community, the private sector and civil society organizations in this process of reflection, dialogue and, above all, action. Most, if not all, of these issues were already cause for concern at the time that the Rome Declaration and the World Food Summit Plan of Action were adopted but they have emerged with increased force in the past five years. They therefore merit specific treatment in any examination of the global environment that addresses the problem of implementing the World Food Summit commitments.


Although it is too early to analyse the response of countries or other organizations to these new or more acutely felt challenges, it is possible to illustrate some of the actions taken by FAO thus far to respond to them. FAO's own focus has been sharpened through the strategic planning process that was initiated following the World Food Summit. In The Strategic Framework for FAO: 2000-2015,4 the major trends and forces expected to have a bearing on FAO's work are identified and the relevant actions are grouped under the following corporate strategies: A) Contributing to the eradication of food insecurity and rural poverty; B) Promoting, developing and reinforcing policy and regulatory frameworks for food, agriculture, fisheries and forestry; C) Creating sustainable increases in the supply and availability of food and other products from the crop, livestock, fisheries and forestry sectors; D) Supporting the conservation, improvement and sustainable use of natural resources for food and agriculture; and E) Improving decision-making through the provision of information and assessments and fostering of knowledge management for food and agriculture. It is within this context that the present chapter provides a short and selective view of how FAO has responded to a number of new challenges to world food security.

Conflicts and natural disasters


Natural and human-induced disasters are a major source of human mortality, injury and displacement; they also have tremendously damaging effects on farmers' welfare as well as on their assets and on local and national food supplies. If not properly managed, such disasters can cause serious food shortages, create conditions in which famine takes its toll on affected populations and disturb global food markets. The most alarming trend is in the steep increase in the number of countries afflicted by human-induced disasters, which have risen from an average of 5 in the 1980s to 22 in 2000, mainly as a result of conflict. Emergency situations with important social and economic repercussions are also created by the spread of plant pests and animal diseases, as well as by human diseases, including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

Although much has been learned from experience on how to predict most types of disasters and although new technologies are lengthening the lead time for the issuance of warnings of adverse weather events, there has been an alarming increase in the number of countries affected by natural disasters each year since the World Food Summit, with a rise from 28 to 46 countries affected between 1996 and 2000. Moreover, this trend appears to have been associated with a rise in the scale of damage. Much of the increase has been in countries affected by weather-related disasters (rising from 10 to 18 per year), but the extent to which this is due to the impact of climate change induced by global warming - and hence human activity - is not clear.


One of the implications of the recent escalation in the number and scale of disasters is that these have tended to focus international and national attention - as well as resources - on actions to limit damage, drawing attention away from less dramatic but arguably more significant issues which are perceived as being less urgent. This appears to be the case for problems related to chronic hunger, chronic ill-health and disability, where many of those who suffer most are hardly visible and, indeed, often kept at home marginalized from everyday life. Yet it is the failure to address these problems satisfactorily that predisposes very large numbers of poor families to such vulnerability to shocks, whether natural or the result of human action. What is needed is to forestall disaster by raising the resilience of poor and food-insecure communities to withstand shocks, and by improving early warning. When disaster still strikes, the requirement is for speedy and sufficient relief followed by a sustained effort to rebuild people's livelihoods and self-reliance.

Human-induced emergencies


Conflict is the principal source of human-induced disasters. Between 30 and 40 countries were engaged in conflict at the end of the twentieth century, with hundreds of millions of people affected. Wars were heavily concentrated in the least developed countries of Africa, but the 1990s also saw major actions in the Near East, the Balkans, Central America and Asia.5 There has been a trend away from wars between countries towards intracountry conflicts, often resulting in massive displacements of rural populations, looting of farms and the indiscriminate laying of landmines. The economic losses and disruptions to food supplies and access can be immense, especially in low-income countries, and the recovery of the agriculture sector from war damage can be painfully slow. Estimates suggest that the direct impact of conflict on agriculture (in 23 countries for which data were available) amounted to almost US$55 billion6 between 1990 and 1997, in the latter year accounting for 40 percent of their combined agricultural GDP.


To the extent that conflict often arises from competition for scarce resources, much of FAO's work, particularly in the legislative and regulatory field, has implications for conflict prevention. Agreements on the sharing of international water resources and on fishing rights, the clarification of land tenure arrangements and measures that lead to an enhanced role for communities in the management of natural resources all contribute to reducing tensions between and within countries.


A distinction is often made between emergency response, rehabilitation and development whereas, in practice, these are stages in a continuum requiring the long-term commitment of both governments and the international community as well as of the concerned populations. The danger is that, once the spotlight has shifted away from the harrowing scenes of war and post-conflict situations affecting an area, it becomes increasingly difficult to sustain the effort and mobilize the resources required to restore food security and sustain agricultural growth, predisposing the affected populations to fall back again into conflict.


FAO has significantly stepped up the scale of its emergency work and is progressively broadening this from the supply of agricultural inputs immediately following disasters to early rehabilitation in post-conflict situations, including the reintegration of ex-combatants and displaced farmers into agriculture. This work is very closely coordinated with food relief managed by the World Food Programme (WFP). There has also been a progressive increase in the scale of emergency food aid operations. The value of FAO/WFP jointly approved Emergency Operations (EMOP) rose from an average of US$750 million per year in the period 1995-98 to US$1 200 million per year in 1999-2001. The value of FAO's emergency agricultural assistance deliveries rose from US$28 million in 1997 to nearly US$70 million in 2001 in more than 50 countries. However, the level of assistance, not only by FAO but also by its partners, remains very low as compared to the needs of the agriculture sector. FAO also manages the agricultural component of the Oil-for-Food Programme in Iraq, which has been allocated US$682 million since its inception in January 1997. In a number of countries (e.g. Angola, Cambodia, Haiti), the Organization has assisted governments in reviewing and realigning their agricultural policies in the wake of political turmoil or internal conflict in order to create a policy environment and institutional conditions conducive to investment and agricultural growth.

Natural disasters


Windstorms and floods accounted for 60 percent of total economic losses caused by natural disasters between 1990 and 1999, compared with some 25 percent caused by earthquakes and volcano eruptions.7 In 1998, damage attributed largely to El Niño and La Niña phenomena was estimated to be US$89 billion; some 32 000 people were killed and 300 million were displaced from their homes and livelihood systems. In recent years, major storms and floods have struck China, Bangladesh, Viet Nam, Cambodia, India, southern Africa (especially Mozambique), Central America, the Caribbean and Venezuela. Floods, preceding a drought, were also a significant cause of the intense food shortages affecting parts of the Horn of Africa in 2000. Small island developing states remain particularly susceptible to weather-induced calamities because they frequently assume a national scale.


Many natural hazards do not cause disasters. The extent to which a disaster situation is induced by natural events is largely a function of the effectiveness of early warning systems, of the nature and scope of human activity and of the extent of infrastructure and services that can offer protection. Poor people in the densely populated areas of developing countries are the most susceptible to natural disasters, and studies suggest that the growing scale of such disasters is partially attributable to economic, social and population pressures, which contribute to environmental degradation. Conversely, as has been shown by an FAO-managed project in Honduras,8 good opportunities exist for strengthening the resilience of densely populated rural areas to major storms and flooding. This can be done by working with communities to address land management and tenure issues and to establish better soil cover and conditions for in situ capture and retention of rainfall, thereby reducing damaging runoff.


In line with Commitment Five of the World Food Summit Plan of Action, FAO, together with partner agencies, has sought to strengthen its capacity to prevent and be prepared for natural disasters and other emergencies, in conformity with strategy A.3 of the Organization's Strategic Framework. Much of the emphasis has been on strengthening early warning capacities by improving the performance of the Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS), partly through an increase in the number of crop and food supply assessment missions (up from 26 in 1994 to 36 in 2000, of which 70 percent were mounted jointly with WFP).


As part of its Medium-Term Plan (2002-2007), the Organization has taken measures to enhance its capacity for long-term planning for disaster prevention and mitigation. This is well illustrated by the study requested by the UN Secretary-General and conducted by an Inter-Agency Task Force on the UN Response to Long-Term Food Security, Agricultural Development and Related Aspects in the Horn of Africa,9 chaired by the FAO Director-General and involving ten UN agencies, for which FAO provided the secretariat. This study illustrates the enormous complexity of reducing the vulnerability of some of the most food-insecure countries in the world to the shocks resulting from natural and human-induced hazards. Emphasizing the creation of a strengthened policy and institutional environment, it calls for sustained efforts by the countries concerned, regional organizations and the international community aimed at preventing disasters, alleviating immediate food shortages and creating a stronger basis for improved livelihoods, especially for rural populations.

BOX 1.2

Climate change and FAO after Marrakesh

During the seventh session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-7) held in Marrakesh, Morocco in November 2001, 171 governments worked out the final details of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change, which obligates those industrialized and transition countries (so-called Annex 1 countries) that ratify it to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by fixed amounts. For the first commitment period, from 2008 to 2012, the Parties agreed on a net reduction of roughly 250 tonnes of carbon. The latest negotiations may allow the treaty to enter into force ten years after Rio in 2002. It will become law when at least 55 countries ratify it, among them industrialized countries responsible for at least 55 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions in 1990.

The climate change negotiations, which have been followed closely by FAO and its Interdepartmental Working Group on Climate Change, have created crucial new challenges for the Organization.

  • Deforestation, forest degradation and agricultural intensification (central issues for FAO) may contribute to climate change by releasing greenhouse gases, reinforcing the justification for conservation of forests and soils.
  • Forests and agricultural systems in many regions will suffer the adverse effects of climate change in the future, creating the challenge to start the process of adaptation now.
  • Parties may achieve parts of their net reduction targets by utilizing bioenergy and through "sinks", which fix carbon as biomass in land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF), and which represent core concerns of FAO.

Industrialized countries may now claim full credit for carbon sequestration achieved during the first commitment period through afforestation and reforestation since 1990, and through cropland and grazing land management and revegetation. In addition, they may, within country-specific allowances, obtain credit for management of domestic forests.

Of particular relevance to FAO are the so-called flexible mechanisms that countries can adopt in parallel to reducing emissions domestically and that encompass sinks in agriculture and forestry. In Joint Implementation (JI), an Annex I donor country may fulfil all or parts of its commitment through sink projects in another industrial country. Globally, industrial countries may invest in afforestation and reforestation projects in non-Annex I countries under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) emissions trading (ET). With that, one of the major global environmental services provided by forests obtains a market value. It may be modest initially, but agriculture and forestry are bound to change in many ways, and this trading system is expected to lead to large transfers of finance from developed to developing countries.

The Marrakesh accord also emphasizes other areas of high relevance to FAO, such as the linkage between climate change and sustainable development, poverty eradication and synergies between the Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Conventions on Biodiversity and Desertification. In addition, the agreement establishes three funds - the Special Climate Change Fund, the Adaptation Fund and the Least-developed Countries Fund - which may also support conservation, rehabilitation, management and adaptation of agricultural and forest lands where market mechanisms are not applicable.

FAO may build on its traditional strengths, cooperating with its international partners, to advocate the novel roles of agricultural and forest lands in climate change mitigation, in conservation of carbon stores and in adaptation of agriculture to the risks of global warming. The 2001 FAO Conference established Climate Change as a Priority Area for Interdisciplinary Action (PAIA). This, together with the decisions at COAG and COFO, should help achieve the goal of "expanding FAO's expertise in this complex area and strengthening its technical contribution to international initiatives linked to climate change adaptation and mitigation".


FAO is also actively engaged in the implementation of the Convention to Combat Desertification and Drought (UNCDD), as a member of the Facilitation Committee and of the Technical Advisory Group of the Global Mechanism. It is also undertaking a number of normative activities related to the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), looking particularly at the role of forests and soils in carbon sequestration,10 as well as at the implications of global warming on low-lying and small island states.

Transboundary pests and diseases


There has been a particularly high frequency in the crossboundary introduction and incidence of pests of crops and stored products as well as of livestock diseases in recent years. Many of these have an ability to move fast and over long distances, threatening food security and farmers' incomes, disrupting trade and, in some cases, becoming a hazard to human health. Enormous economic costs arise from locust and armyworm attacks on crops in Africa and the Near East or of cassava mosaic virus across Africa; swine fever in Haiti; African swine fever in West Africa; Rift Valley fever in the Horn of Africa, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, East Coast fever in southern and eastern Africa; New World screwworm in North Africa and the Near East; foot-and-mouth disease in the United Kingdom and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in Europe.


Pests of stored products, such as the large grain borer which is spreading rapidly throughout eastern and southern Africa following its accidental introduction, are undermining the food security of large numbers of subsistence farmers who grow maize as a staple crop. Indeed, the loss of crops after harvest through storage pests and diseases, and through spoilage at later stages of the food chain, constitutes an enormous source of waste throughout the world.


While good progress has been made in reducing the incidence of some major diseases of livestock, such as rinderpest (which is targeted for worldwide eradication by 2010), factors conducive to the spread of plant and animal pests and diseases are becoming progressively more favourable. These include the rapid rise in international trade and traffic. In particular, long-distance international trade in plants, plant products and animals,11 exacerbated by the increased movement of live plants and animals and fresh products; rising intensities of farming, including large-scale monocropping and heavy concentrations of single-purpose livestock; a decrease in the genetic variability of the world's principal crops; and a progressive tightening of restrictions on the use of certain pesticides on which there has been heavy dependence for the control of migratory plant pests as well as of grain storage pests. Any further change in temperature and humidity resulting from global warming could have an important impact on the distribution of both crop pests and insect vectors of livestock diseases. In some developing countries and countries in transition, conflict and a collapse of veterinary and plant protection services have prevented adequate surveillance.


One particularly worrying recent development has been the emergence of apparently new animal diseases, including not only BSE but also porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS), Nipah virus and equine morbillivirus disease.


In the case of all transboundary pests and diseases, control and containment at the source is much cheaper and more certain in its results than responding to catastrophic outbreaks once the spread to new environments has occurred. But this requires new modes of intercountry cooperation and a willingness of those countries not yet affected by a potentially damaging pest or disease to invest in containment and control in those countries in which it is present.


It is this thinking that is behind FAO's establishment of the Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases (EMPRES), which has propounded the principles of early warning, early reaction, enabling research and coordination - principles that have gained universal acceptance, even though the system remains seriously underfunded. Actions by the Organization extend to assisting countries in coping with transboundary pest and disease outbreaks (such as bont tick and classical swine fever in the Caribbean), developing surveillance systems, convening technical and high-level meetings on major disease problems (including BSE and foot-and-mouth disease), training animal health specialists and providing leadership in rinderpest eradication. It also includes assistance to Members in establishing and strengthening systems for the early warning and control of the desert locust. Generally, however, international action to detect and manage pests and diseases at the source continues to come too late, partly because of the lack of readily accessible funds to enable a fast response and sustained surveillance with effective early warning. It is also most important that the process for verifiable global eradication of rinderpest be sustained to prevent a disastrous recurrence of cattle plague.



The HIV/AIDS epidemic presents a major threat to food security, agricultural production and the social fabric of rural societies in many countries. Some 40 million people are infected worldwide, of whom 95 percent are in developing countries, 28.1 million in sub-Saharan Africa and 7.1 million in Asia, of whom 4 million are in India. HIV/AIDS induces a downward spiral in the welfare of a family from the moment the first adult falls ill. Health care expenses increase, productivity declines, incomes drop, assets are sold, children leave school prematurely and fall into vagrancy, and the heavy burden of funeral expenses adds further to families' expenses. The pandemic thus severely affects a household's ability both to buy food, through its impoverishment, and to produce it, through loss of labour. But the effect is also felt at the community and national levels: a generation gap occurs, reducing the able-bodied labour force and leaving grandparents caring for orphaned children, often themselves infected from birth. In the ten most affected African countries, the size of the agricultural labour force could be reduced by one quarter by 2020, with enormous repercussions on households' dependency ratios and on agricultural production and economic growth.


FAO's focus is principally on incorporating an HIV/AIDS dimension, where appropriate, into its ongoing food security, nutrition and agricultural development initiatives, as well as into its emergency operations, in affected countries. Since 1988 FAO has been carrying out assessments of the impact of the disease on various aspects of agriculture, food security and rural development. For example, studies on the impact of HIV/AIDS on agricultural extension organizations, farming systems, livestock, access to land and conservation of genetic resources have been carried out in selected African countries. In Asia, the participatory methodologies utilized by farmers' field schools and integrated pest management (IPM) programmes are being successfully applied to HIV/AIDS prevention. Guidelines for community and home-based nutritional care for HIV/AIDS patients and affected households are being developed. FAO is implementing a joint strategy to mitigate the impact of HIV/AIDS on food security and rural poverty together with WFP and IFAD. Cooperation with UNAIDS started with a cooperative framework agreement in 1999 and has developed into a full joint programme. Its objectives are to prevent and mitigate the impact of HIV/AIDS on food security and rural livelihoods, reducing the rural poor's vulnerability to the disease and promoting sustainable rural development.

Freshwater resources


A series of international conferences, including the Sixth Session of the Committee on Sustainable Development (CSD6) and the Second World Water Forum, have brought to the fore the increasing conflict between "water for food and rural development" and "water for nature". Many feel that resolving the differences between these sectoral views is one of the key challenges facing society at the beginning of the twenty-first century. As the World Water Commission has shown, in the early twenty-first century increasing competition for water will further exacerbate domestic water supply problems, water pollution, regional food shortages and environmental standards if no decisive action is taken. Mismanagement of this crisis would result in large numbers of people being without access to safe water, living in food-insecure conditions and suffering deteriorating health standards. Competition for scarce water resources, particularly where these cross international boundaries, is often a source of dispute and may lead to conflicts. Groundwater abstraction is already exceeding replenishment rates in many areas that rely heavily on irrigation such as northern China, parts of India and many countries in the Near East.


The main consumptive uses of water are for human consumption (9 percent), industry (20 percent) and agriculture (71 percent). Given that irrigated agriculture is the dominant user of water withdrawn from nature for human purposes, the future of irrigated agriculture is at the heart of the debate. Some sources assert that between 15 and 20 percent more water will be needed for agriculture to achieve global and national food security. They feel that national strategies should focus on options to minimize environmental and social costs in the quest to use water for agriculture. Others feel that irrigation expansion is not an option because of high social and environmental costs, and that there are other means to produce enough food. At stake are the size and nature of both local and international investments that are necessary to grow food for a growing population, provide sustainable livelihoods for the rural poor and maintain the quality and integrity of the environment.


Freshwater also plays an important economic role in inland fisheries, navigation and hydro-electricity generation as well as in the maintenance of biodiversity and the moderation of local climatic extremes. Irrigation, although covering only 17 percent of farmland, accounts for some 40 percent of world food production and will play an increasingly significant role in assuring global food security in the future as the opportunities for extending the agricultural frontier diminish. However, much of the most readily irrigable land and many of the best water storage sites have already been developed. There is also serious concern about the environmental and social effects of large dams and major interbasin transfer systems.


The distribution of irrigated land is unequal among regions. While in South Asia 42 percent of arable land is irrigated, the percentage drops to 31 percent in the Near East and North Africa, 14 percent in Latin America and only 4 percent in sub-Saharan Africa. The average for developing regions is 27 percent.


One of the avenues for increasing irrigated agricultural production is to improve the productivity of existing irrigation schemes in terms of the food output per unit of water consumed. Current water use efficiencies are so low (between 25 and 40 percent) that there is considerable scope for improvement. Water use efficiencies for agriculture can be upgraded through a combination of both technical and managerial means. Securing such improvements usually requires strengthened cooperation among farmers in the management and maintenance of irrigation systems linked to a water pricing system that discourages wastage, provides incentives for efficient use and ensures that there is adequate funding for system maintenance. Beyond squandering a scarce resource, wastage may lead to land degradation, including waterlogging and salinization, which is already affecting to varying degrees more than 30 million ha and causing substantial production losses.


Small-scale irrigation development is proposed by many to avoid the controversy over environmental, social and management problems related to large-scale irrigation. Small-scale irrigation promotes community ownership and mobilizes local resources. It is relatively low in cost, resilient to adverse conditions and highly productive, especially when it is close to urban markets.


Many cities, in particular in Africa, are surrounded by green belts of highly productive horticulture. Recent years have witnessed rapid growth in peri-urban agriculture which, in some countries, is supplying up to 40 percent of all fruit and vegetables consumed in the cities. With this growth of peri-urban agriculture and rising demands on water, growers in countries where water is scarce are turning increasingly to untreated or partially treated effluents for vegetable production. This is a serious health hazard and has a negative impact on the environment. Suitable technologies for wastewater treatment and safe food chains are required from the peri-urban producer to the local market.


Through its normative activities and field programmes, FAO is addressing many of these complex issues. It is collaborating closely with the World Bank, centres belonging to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and other partners in supporting innovative approaches to water resources management and improvements in water use efficiency. The Organization's expertise in water resources management and water law is actively engaged in processes to ensure the equitable management of water resources across international boundaries. It plays a significant role in assisting member countries in formulating irrigation sectoral strategies and preparing projects - many of which are focused on technical and institutional modernization and water use efficiency improvements - for funding by the international financing institutions. FAO is piloting ways of raising the effectiveness of water users' associations in irrigation system management, frequently in the context of the Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS).

The evolution of technology


All projections of agricultural production in the first decades of the twenty-first century12 point to the increasing role that intensification of farming will play in meeting the expected growth in demand for food. Improved crop varieties and animal breeds, greater use of fertilizers and pesticides, better farm equipment and improvements in livestock care and health have all contributed importantly to the remarkable growth in agricultural output that took place in the second half of the twentieth century. This increase has responded not only to the demands of a population that has doubled from 3 billion in 1960 to 6 billion today but has also enabled average daily food energy intake to rise from 2 250 to 2 800 kcal. Environmentalists and consumers are, however, seriously questioning the sustainability of, and the safety of food produced by, the intensive farming systems on which global food security has become increasingly dependent. There are particular concerns, shared by environmental and public health authorities, about the effects that the overuse and misuse of pesticides and fertilizers can have on human health, ecosystem stability and biodiversity. A major factor is the pollution of water resources in areas of highly intensive farming in both developing and developed countries. A narrowing of the genetic diversity within major crop and livestock species is increasingly perceived as a potential source of risk. Consumers, furthermore, are becoming more vocal about the potential risks to food safety of pesticide residues, food-borne diseases and contaminants, as well as the spread of diseases from livestock to humans (see Food safety).


These concerns are bound eventually to induce innovations which will lead to the development of more sustainable ways of managing land and livestock intensively. The majority of yield increases will undoubtedly continue to result from improvements of classical and conventional technology, combined with improvements in water use efficiency and improved nutrient uptake by plants and animals. Access to conventional technologies, however, is still beyond the means of many farmers, as is evidenced by the very low levels of fertilizer utilization in Africa (some 19 kg per hectare per year, compared with 100 kg in East Asia and 230 kg in Western Europe). Problems of access to technologies on which intensification is usually based stem from the limited development of input marketing and credit systems, high costs of transport (a function of poor roads and small volumes of trade) and, in the case of subsistence farmers, a sheer lack of income with which to buy inputs.


One response to this is to find alternative ways of maintaining soil productivity that rely less on the use of externally purchased inputs. This approach is receiving special attention from FAO, the World Bank and other international partners in the Soil Fertility Initiative for Africa. Possibilities include the intensification of land use through crop rotations and agroforestry systems designed to enhance biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) and using integrated crop-livestock systems. In countries where land availability is not yet a major constraint, the emphasis is increasingly on technology changes that raise both the sustainability of land use and labour productivity, examples being minimum tillage systems, which enable a family to maintain a larger area under cultivation while also contributing to increases in soil carbon levels. At the same time, there may be a further growth in organic agriculture in response to consumer concerns about perceived risks associated with farming systems based on the intensive use of chemical inputs. Initially a spontaneous movement responding to consumer demand and the willingness to pay premium prices for organic produce, the expansion of organic farming is now proactively supported by a number of governments on the grounds of environmental friendliness and sustainability. FAO is contributing to the international debate on organic farming and has recently reported on its actions to the Committee on Agriculture.13


Pesticide problems, in particular in developing countries, include human poisonings and a range of negative effects on the environment. Developing countries often have inadequate, weakly enforced, legislation and regulations; a lack of knowledge, in particular at the extension and farmers' level; and insufficient capacity to make informed decisions on pesticide use. The FAO Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides provides general guidance on pesticide management. The Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade, which was adopted in 1998 and for which the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and FAO provide the secretariat, promotes shared responsibility among countries in the international trade of certain hazardous chemicals, including pesticides, by providing for a national decision-making process on their import and export and by disseminating these decisions. FAO and its partners, through its IPM programme and the Global IPM Facility, are also promoting programmes aimed at increasing awareness of the relationship between crops and pests. A better understanding among policy-makers, scientists and farmers would lead to decisions that reduce dependence on pesticides to the lowest level necessary.


Strong hopes have been placed on current applications of biotechnology, particularly plant tissue culture (already well established in forestry and floriculture), the use of molecular markers and the genetic modification of agricultural organisms using recombinant DNA techniques to overcome many of the persistent environmental and safety problems associated with intensive agricultural production. It is envisaged that biotechnology-derived solutions could contribute not only to improving plant resistance to pests and diseases, but also to finding innovative solutions to combating stresses imposed on plants by drought and low fertility. Biotechnology also provides useful applications in disease diagnosis.14 Together with classical technologies, including those based on local knowledge, these new developments in biotechnology have the potential to broaden substantially the options available to farmers in all regions of the world for increasing the productivity and sustainability of their farming systems. However, real and perceived uncertainties and risks associated with the application of biotechnology have resulted in widespread opposition by both consumers and environmentalists, especially in developed countries, to the utilization of genetic modification in crop and livestock breeding. Such opposition is having an impact on the pace of research carried out in this field, even on themes that appear to be without serious risk.


Assuming that satisfactory safeguards can be developed and applied to limit risks to plant, animal and human health (biosecurity risks), a major issue that emerges is the extent to which new biotechnology applications will benefit farmers, especially small farmers, in developing countries. Given that most current biotechnology research is undertaken by the private sector, it is strongly market-driven. Therefore, low priority is being given to applications of relevance to developing countries, where the purchasing power of farmers is relatively limited and the possibility of enforcing breeders' rights and patents may be in doubt. The access of developing countries to such technologies could be further curtailed by the provisions of the World Trade Organization's Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), which safeguard the interests of the originators of new technologies through patents. One implication is that much biotechnology development for developing countries would need to be sponsored and possibly undertaken by the public sector, including the international agricultural research centres that operate within the ambit of CGIAR.


There are undoubtedly benefits, risks and uncertainties associated with the new generation of biotechnologies. At this stage, the role assumed by FAO has principally been one of facilitating a constructive debate on the controversial issues surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMOs),15 exchanging information and helping its member countries to formulate policies and laws in relation to GMOs. To underpin this action, it has established an electronic forum on biotechnology and contributed to many international conferences on the subject, focusing especially on biosafety as well as on food safety issues.16 Plant pest risks associated with living modified organisms (LMOs) and other products of biotechnology are of special concern to the Secretariat to the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), which is provided by FAO. With regard to food safety, the Organization is currently engaged, jointly with the World Health Organization (WHO) and through the intergovernmental Codex Alimentarius Commission, in developing risk assessment principles and guidelines for the safety evaluation of foods derived from biotechnologies. Furthermore, the Organization is promoting the elaboration of a Code of Conduct on Biotechnology as it relates to genetic resources for food and agriculture.

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