The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

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"To the millions who have to go without two meals a day the only acceptable form in which God dare appear is food."
Mahatma Gandhi


Hunger is still the most urgent problem confronting the greater part of humanity. Hundreds of millions of the world's inhabitants are seriously and chronically undernourished. Not only is their diet quantitatively insufficient, but it is qualitatively insufficient as well, lacking the protein essential to health and vigor. In 2006 it was estimated that more than 850 million people did not have enough to eat.


From the mid-19th century, reflecting a growing recognition of the interdependence of nations in agriculture and associated sciences, international conferences were held at which there were exchanges of knowledge relating to biology, biochemistry, crop diversification, and animal health. However, it was not until 1905 that these individually valuable but unrelated efforts were coordinated with the founding of the International Institute of Agriculture (IIA).

One of the institute's aims, which were necessarily modest because of public and governmental apathy, was "to get the farmer a square deal." The words were those of David Lubin, a prosperous California dry-goods dealer, born in a Polish ghetto, who almost single-handedly founded the institute. Depressed by the plight of his farmer customers during the agricultural crisis of the 1890s, he bought and managed his own fruit farm in order to study their problems. Rebuffed in his adopted country, he toured the chancelleries of Europe, preaching the importance of a healthy agriculture as a requisite of a healthy international society. Finally, Lubin found a sympathetic listener in King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy. Under his patronage, the institute started functioning in Rome in 1908 as a center for the dissemination of farming news, trends, prices, statistics, and techniques. Though lacking the capacity to initiate or directly assist projects in the field, the IIA's experience as a "head office" for the collection, collation, analysis, and dissemination of data formed a useful platform for the later launching of FAO's similar but wider reaching activities in agriculture.

The League of Nations did not directly concern itself with agriculture, but work done under its auspices in the relatively new field of nutrition proved of great practical significance. Ironically, Nazi Germany, although a sardonic critic of the League, was the first country to base its wartime rationing system on the scientific standards of diet drawn up by the League for heavy workers, expectant mothers, children, and others. Soon, other countries did the same, often with striking results. In the United Kingdom, for example, the meager and often uninteresting but balanced diet dictated by the ration card actually led to an improvement in the nation's nutritional health.

FAO was the end product of a series of conferences held during World War II. In 1941, the US Nutrition Conference for Defense, attended by 900 delegates, resolved that it should be a goal of the democracies to conquer hunger, "not only the obvious hunger that man has always known, but the hidden hunger revealed by modern knowledge of nutrition." In line with President Franklin D. Roosevelt's call in 1942 for the Four Freedoms, the Australian economist Frank McDougal proposed the creation of a "United Nations program for freedom from want of food" and urged the president that food be the first economic problem tackled by the UN system being proposed for establishment when the war ended.

President Roosevelt convened the UN Conference on Food and Agriculture at Hot Springs, Virginia, in May and June 1943. The first UN conference, antedating the San Francisco Conference by two years, it established an Interim Commission on Food and Agriculture, headed by Lester B. Pearson of Canada. The commission drew up a draft constitution for FAO, thus paving the way for the first FAO Conference, held in Quebec in October 1945 and attended by 44 nations and a number of observers. On 16 October 1945, 34 nations signed the constitution that brought FAO into existence. By the end of the conference, the new organization, headed by British nutritionist Sir John Boyd Orr, had 42 member nations.


As expressed in the preamble to the FAO constitution, member states are pledged to promote the common welfare through separate and collective action to raise levels of nutrition and standards of living, improve the efficiency of the production and distribution of all food and agricultural products, better the conditions of rural populations, and thus contribute toward an expanding world economy and ensure humanity's freedom from hunger. Specifically, FAO is charged with collecting, evaluating, and disseminating information relating to nutrition, food, and agriculture and associated areas, including fisheries, marine products, forestry, and primary forestry products.

FAO is committed to promoting and, where appropriate, recommending national and international action with respect to the following: (a) scientific, technological, social, and economic research relating to nutrition, food, and agriculture; (b) improvement of education and administration relating to nutrition, food, and agriculture and the spread of public knowledge of nutritional and agricultural science and practice; (c) conservation of natural resources and the adoption of improved methods of agricultural production; (d) improvement of the processing, marketing, and distribution of food and agricultural products;(e) adoption of policies for the provision of adequate agricultural credit, national and international; and (f) adoption of international policies on agricultural commodity arrangements. The FAO also plays a major role in dealing with food and agricultural emergencies such as drought, famine, plant diseases, and insect plagues.

Other functions of FAO are to furnish such technical assistance as governments may request; to organize, in cooperation with the governments concerned, such missions as may be needed to assist them in fulfilling obligations arising from their acceptance of the recommendations of the UN Conference on Food and Agriculture and of its constitution; and, generally, to take all necessary and appropriate action to implement the purposes of the organization as set forth in the preamble.


The 45 countries represented on the interim commission were entitled to original membership. The Russian Federation retained the entitlement to original membership previously held by the USSR, which was made effective on 11 April 2006 through the ratification of FAO's constitution.

Any nation may withdraw after four years. Among the countries that have withdrawn and later rejoined are Czechoslovakia (withdrew 1950, rejoined 1969), Poland (withdrew 1951, rejoined 1957), Hungary (withdrew 1952, rejoined 1967), and South Africa (withdrew 1964, rejoined 1993). Taiwan withdrew in 1952.

As of 11 April 2006, FAO had 190 member nations. In addition, Puerto Rico was an associate member. The European Union was a member organization.


The principal organs of FAO are the FAO Conference, the FAO Council, and the secretariat, headed by a Director General.

FAO Conference

The supreme body of FAO is the all-member FAO Conference, which holds its regular biennial sessions in Rome in odd-numbered years. The conference determines the policy of FAO and adopts its budget. It makes recommendations relating to food, agriculture, fisheries, forestry, and related matters to member nations and to other international organizations. It approves conventions and agreements for submission to member governments. It may establish commissions, working parties, and consultative groups and may convene special conferences. It periodically elects the Director General, as well as the member nations to be represented on the FAO Council. Each FAO member has one vote in the conference.

FAO Council

The FAO Council, consisting of 49 member nations elected by the FAO Conference for three-year terms on a rotating basis (one-third of the membership stands down each year), meets at least once a year, under an independent chairman, as an interim governing body between meetings of the conference.

Director General and Secretariat

Under the supervision of the conference and the Council, the Director General has full power and authority to direct the work of FAO. Edouard Saouma of Lebanon was Director General from 1975 to 1993. Dr. Jacques Diouf of Senegal began a six-year term as Director General in January 1994. Reelected for a second term in 2000 and a third term in 2006, he heads a staff of more than 3,700, including more than 2,000 persons working in various development projects in the field.

Headquarters and Regional Offices.

FAO headquarters were in Washington, D.C., until 1951. Since then, they have been located in Rome on extraterritorial grounds near the Colosseum and the Baths of Caracalla. The headquarters building was planned originally by the government of Mussolini, but construction was halted by World War II. Completed after the war, it was leased by the Italian government for the "permanent use and occupancy" of FAO at an annual rental of us$ 1.

Growth in staff and activities over the years created a need for more work space. Aside from additions to the main complex, office space was for some time rented away from the headquarters building. In 1993, the Italian government completed a major expansion of headquarters facilities, bringing all FAO staff together at the Terme di Caracalla address for the first time in 32 years.

Aside from headquarters in Rome, which also serves as the European regional office, FAO has regional offices for Africa in Accra, Ghana; Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok, Thailand; Latin America and the Caribbean in Santiago, Chile; and the Near East in Cairo, Egypt. There are also five liaison officesin Geneva (Switzerland); Washington, D.C., and New York; Brussels (Belgium); and Yokohama (Japan).

The Organization

The FAO comprises eight departments: Economic and Social Policy, Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry, Sustainable Development, Technical Cooperation, Administration and Finance, and General Affairs and Information. The Technical Cooperation and Sustainable Development Departments were created in 1994 through a process of restructuring to respond more effectively to evolving needs among the organization's member nations.


FAO's biennial internal budget, or Regular Programme, covers internal operations, including the maintenance of the highly qualified staff who conduct field work, advise governments on policy and planning, and service a wide range of development needs. The Regular Programme is financed by contributions from member nations. It covers the costs of the organization's secretariat, its Technical Cooperation Programme, and part of several special action programs. The budget for the 200607 biennium was us$765.7 million.

The Technical Cooperation Program (TCP) was initiated in 1976. It enables the organization to provide speedy assistance to, for instance, a country when disasters affect its food and agricultural situation; practical and vocational training to complement training financed from trust funds and other sources; and short-term, small-scale supplementary technical assistance and policy advice that can be immediately useful to a country's food and agricultural situation. The amount of funds allocated to TCPs has been increasing in each FAO budget; funds rose to us$ 103.1 million in 200607 from us$ 91.5 million in 200102 and us$ 77.4 million in 199293.

The Field Programme implements FAO's development strategies and provides assistance to governments and rural communities. Projects are usually undertaken in cooperation with national governments and other agencies. Nearly half of Field Programme finances come from national trust funds and just over 40% is provided by the United Nations Development Program. FAO contributes about 10% from the Regular Programme budget through its Technical Cooperation Programme. An increasing amount of money comes from donor countries that ask FAO to carry out part of their aid activities for them. Many of these countries also assign and finance young technicians to work in FAO projects.


FAO collects, analyzes and disseminates information, provides policy and planning advice to governments, offers direct development assistance, and acts as an international forum for debate on food and agriculture issues.

Despite considerable progress in recent decades, the world still falls short of the goal of adequate food and nutrition for all. FAO estimated in 2005 that 842 million people in the developing world are chronically undernourished, consuming too little food to meet even minimal energy and protein needs. Millions suffer from lack of essential micronutrients; their symptoms include blindness, vulnerability to infectious diseases, anemia, and mental retardation. Those most at risk include the poor, the elderly, refugees and displaced persons, drought-prone populations, and children. According to data gathered between 1987 and 1998, two out of five children in the developing world are stunted, one in three is underweight, and one in 10 is wasted. FAO advocates equitable, participatory rural development as the key to eradication of poverty, the first and foremost cause of undernutrition and food insecurity.

Widespread hunger and malnutrition are not simply problems of inadequate food production; they are the most critical and cruel elements of poverty. Farmers in the developing world are discouraged from increasing food production by the lack of purchasing power among rural and urban populations as much as by a lack of technical assistance or inputs such as improved seeds and fertilizers. People go hungry because they do not have the money to buy food, rather than because local farmers cannot produce more. The fight against world hunger is a major part of the battle against world poverty. Building up a country's agriculture provides both food for the hungry and jobs for the rural populace; it contributes to the overall prosperity of the nation.

Food Security

The goal of eradicating hunger and malnutrition and ensuring food security for all is central to FAO's mandate. Following the serious depletion of world grain reserves caused by poor harvests in 1972, FAO saw the need to develop an international system to maintain minimum world food security and offset the effects of crop failures. The organization made a proposal under which all countries, be they developed or developing, would cooperate in building up national food reserves under a structure of international cooperation. Special efforts were called for to increase the self-reliance of developing countries. The proposal was endorsed by the World Food Conference held in Rome in November 1974, and FAO was requested to prepare an International Undertaking on World Food Security. In 1976, the organization established the Food Security Assistance Scheme to carry out the work of the International Undertaking.

In 1983, FAO's Committee on World Food Security adopted a broader concept of world food security, with the ultimate objective of ensuring that all people at all times have both physical and economic access to the food they need, and in 1986, the FAO Council endorsed a World Food Security Compact, which provides a clearly defined moral basis for action by governments, organizations, and individuals directed toward securing food supplies for all. The compact urged developing countries to promote domestic food production as the first line of defense and to reexamine, and if necessary revise, national policies to ensure adequate incentives to farmers, particularly small-scale producers. It recommended that governments of developing countries prepare to maintain food security in times of shortage by such measures as early-warning systems and emergency food reserves and to promote rural development that helps increase the purchasing power of the poor. Developed countries, both importers and exporters, were asked to consider world as well as national interests when setting policies concerning food production, stocks, imports, and prices. They were encouraged to continue providing emergency food aid to less fortunate countries, as well as to assist in increasing agricultural production in those countries, and to help low-income countries to secure imports of food, fertilizers, and other agricultural inputs in times of difficulty. They were also requested to take into account, in negotiations on trade questions, the fact that the food security of many developing countries depends on their ability to export agricultural and other products in order to meet the cost of food imports.

The World Food Security Compact called on nongovernmental organizations to help stimulate public interest in food-security issues, thereby facilitating additional action by governments, and it called for a commitment to food security on the part of individuals throughout the world. The individual was called upon not only to work for his own food security and that of his family but also to recognize that he has "a sacred obligation" to concern himself with the food security of those less fortunate than himself. "Failure to provide succor when it is needed," the compact stated, "is a betrayal of man's duty to his fellow men."

In 1992, the International Conference on Nutrition (ICN) was convened at FAO headquarters in Rome. Organized jointly by FAO and WHO, the conference brought together almost 1,400 delegates from 159 countries and the European Economic Community (EEC) to address ways of channeling greater resources to the eradication of hunger and malnutrition worldwide. The ICN addressed eight important nutritional issues: preventing micronutrient deficiencies; preventing and managing infectious diseases; improving household food security; promoting healthy diets and lifestyles; enhancing the capacity for care; improving food quality and safety; assessing, analyzing, and monitoring nutrition situations; and incorporating nutrition objectives in development policies. Attention was drawn to the fact that, though enough food is produced yearly to provide an adequate diet for all, the distribution of these resources is very uneven.

FAO's activities are increasingly focused on food security as a question of household access to food as much as of overall food availability. In this context, proper identification of vulnerable groups is fundamental. FAO is developing, at national and subregional levels, an Aggregate Household Food Security Index. The conceptual basis for the index was approved by the FAO Council in 1993. It serves as a tool to help monitor food security trends worldwide. In November 1996, the FAO hosted 194 heads of state or government at a World Food Summit to discuss and combat world hunger. Leaders pledged to reduce the number of hungry people to 400 million by 2015. That pledge was reaffirmed at the June 2002 "World Food Summit: Five Years Later." But according to the State of Food Insecurity in the World 1999, the rate of progress (a reduction of 8 million undernourished people a year) means there is no hope of meeting the goal. Further, there is not uniform progress throughout the world: In the first half of the 1990s, only 37 countries achieved a reduction in the number of undernourished, totaling 100 million people; while across the rest of the developing world, the number of hungry people actually increased by almost 60 million. By 2005, in 19 developing countries, the number of the chronically hunger dropped by 80 million over 10 years. But in developing nations overall, hunger is still on the rise.

Information for Agriculture

Among its information functions, FAO provides technical information for specialists through an active publishing program in the form of statistical yearbooks, periodicals, technical reports, scientific monographs, training materials, and other studies of agriculture worldwide (see Bibliography). Most of these publications are translated from their original language into at least one of the organization's other official languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, and Spanish.

FAO's David Lubin Memorial Library serves as a coordinating center for the Worldwide Network of Agricultural Libraries (AGLINET). It houses over 1 million items covering agriculture, statistics, economics, food and nutrition, forestry, fisheries, and rural development. The library's computerized facilities supply on-demand bibliographies to field projects, individuals, and institutions in FAO's member nations.

FAO's filmstrips and its radio, television, and video programs cover a wide range of topics from improved farming techniques to animal husbandry, aquaculture, and soil conservation. Translation of these materials into local languages is encouraged in order to reach small farmers and extension workers unable to use one of the five official languages. In addition, the organization provides users with access to over 40 databases on agriculture, fisheries, and forestry, as well as satellite-based information on climate that is crucial to monitoring and responding in a timely fashion to signs of drought, crop failure, and insect plagues.

Every decade, FAO sponsors a worldwide agricultural census, continuing and expanding the first world census carried out by the International Institute of Agriculture in 1930.

FAO has made considerable efforts to identify future demands on agriculture and how these demands might be met, based on the results of data collection and analysis, policy reviews, and practical knowledge of agricultural development. In 1969, FAO published a provisional World Plan for Agricultural Development, an attempt to analyze the major issues that would confront world agriculture in the 1970s and early 1980s. Building on this base, FAO submitted to the FAO Conference in 1979 a study entitled Agriculture: Toward 2000. The study's main purpose was to provide a framework for the analysis of options and consideration of policy issues relevant to the development of world agriculture until the end of the century. The study was global in scope, but the major emphasis was on developing countries. Approximately 90 developing countries, which, excluding China, together accounted for over 98% of the population of the developing countries, were studied individually.

In 1993, the FAO Conference launched Agriculture: Towards 2010, the revised and updated version of a study originally published by FAO in 1987. Designed to address how the future may unfold, rather than how it ought to develop, the document analyzes trends in food security, nutrition, and agricultural development to determine the most likely outcomes by the year 2010. Among the success stories, it foresees that world agricultural growth, although lower than in the past, will continue to outpace population increases. Also, the majority of people in the developing countries are expected to experience improvement in their per capita food availability and nutritional situation. At the policy level, the study notes a growing awareness ofand greater capabilities to respond tothe need to increase agricultural sustainability. Trade agreements are also seen as becoming more liberal and less trade-distorting, even though the progress may not be smooth.

Yet despite these favorable predictions, many problems are foreseen as remaining, especially for the less developed nations. Significant chronic undernutrition will continue to prevail in many countries and will likely affect significant proportions of the population in entire regions such as sub-Saharan Africa. According to the study, if present trends continue, sub-Saharan Africa will replace South Asia as the global area with the highest number of chronically undernourished peopleclose to 300 million by the year 2010. Though improvements will be made in South Asia, that region will still have 200 million undernourished.

The pressures on agriculture, on forest and fisheries resources, and on the environment will continue to build. Coupled with this, there will be few prospects for expansion of the main agricultural exports of the developing countries. The study presents detailed assessments of land resources potential for future crop production in the developing countries. These assessments are accompanied and sustained by maps illustrating the dominant land classes for each major geographical area. Aside from providing projections, the study proposes to assist planning at the national and international level, making recommendations designed to aid people and governments in taking early action to reverse negative trends. While doing so, it calls for continued vigilance and preparedness to deal with newly emerging problems.

To help in assessing potential food availability, FAO and UNESCO published in 1978 the Soil Map of the World. By combining the data in the Soil Map with inputs on climate and population, institutes undertaking global studies on climate change, agricultural production, and soil degradation can make efficient projections. In 1992, FAO completed a digitized version of the Soil Map in a form that allows it to be used as an input into climate change models. The data was also updated and the symbols were modified to make it accessible to nonspecialists. The Soil Map is part of FAO's Geographic Information System (GIS), which also provides data on vegetation cover and other aspects of land use.

The locust and grasshopper menace that periodically threatens Africa has given urgency to FAO's efforts to improve its Rome-based Global Information and Early Warning System for Food and Agriculture. The system, established in 1975 to monitor the world's food supply, sounds the alarm when food security is threatened. FAO prepares monthly, quarterly, and annual reports that provide comprehensive, up-to-date analyses of the world food situation and identify countries threatened by shortages. The reports also serve as a guide to potential donors and help avoid food crises.

FAO's Remote Sensing Center collects and interprets data and helps establish data-receiving stations, particularly in Africa; these stations can interpret information on precipitation, soil moisture, and biomass in order to forecast harvests and can transmit the information to national early-warning systems. ARTEMIS, FAO's Africa Real Time Environmental Monitoring Information System, uses high frequency environmental satellite data to produce, at regular intervals, images indicating the rainfall situation and the development of vegetation at continental scales. In combination with data from other sources, ARTEMIS enables specialists to make assessments of crop growing conditions, detect droughts at an early stage, and locate potential breeding grounds for desert locusts. ARTEMIS is an important tool for the GIEWS.

Research and Technical Information.

FAO has stressed the importance of agricultural research in developing countries, where the shortage of trained personnel for research remains a major problem. Its Research and Technology Development Division, established in 1984, helps developing countries make the best use of their research resources and assists in the transfer of the fruits of research and technology to developing countries.

The Information System for the Agricultural Sciences and Technology (AGRIS) and the Current Agricultural Research Information System (CARIS) are two worldwide networks coordinated by FAO in support of research and development programs in food and agriculture. In 2002, 241 national, international and intergovernmental centers participated in AGRIS and CARIS centers around the world.

FAO operates the world's most comprehensive bank of agricultural information and statistics. Originally called AGROSTAT, FAOSTAT brings together FAO's major data files, including data compiled since 1961 on annual supplies and utilization of crops, livestock, and fishery and forest products, as well as on producer prices, population, and other topics. Other important statistical information maintained by FAO's technical divisions include the Fisheries Statistical Database (FISHDAB), the Globefish Data-bank and Electronic Library, the Forest Resources Information System (FORIS), and the Geographic Information System (GIS).

To meet increasing demand for agricultural data, FAO has prepared the World Agricultural Information Center (WAICENT). WAICENT gives governments, institutions, universities, and individuals easy, economical access to information from over 40 FAO databases. Users can access the composite database employing a variety of methods including diskette, CD-ROM, computer networks, and telephone lines.

Advice to Governments

One of FAO's important mandates is to provide member nations with advice on agricultural and food topics. This involves a very broad range of technical, policy, and planning support, principally aimed at building awareness towards key issues, generating appropriate action, and helping countries to develop their own capacities. The restructuring of FAO's Policy Formulation, Investment Centre, and Field Operations divisions into a Technical Cooperation Department is intended to provide a consolidated base at headquarters for the provision of direct assistance to member nations in policy, investment, and implementation of field operations.

FAO's Food Security Assistance Scheme (FSAS) helps member countries formulate comprehensive food security program. A fundamental aspect of the FSAS methodology is the use of national multidisciplinary teams of experts in program planning and implementation. This approach contributes to accurate diagnosis of problems, realistic formulation of solutions, capacity building at the national level and anchoring of programs within the national institutional framework.

FAO's Investment Center helps developing countries construct sound development programs and projects for funding by multilateral organizations, linking the interests of governments and donors to forge viable partnerships. During project identification, the center carefully assesses the development priority of investment proposals, working closely with local staff to promote self-sufficiency and to complement national expertise. This is followed by detailed project preparation for consideration by financing institutions.

The prime source of funding for FAO-assisted investment projects is the World Bank, particularly the IDA, but the Investment Center also cooperates with most of the principal multilateral financing institutions, including the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and regional development banks. Rural poverty alleviation is especially important in projects formulated in conjunction with IFAD.

FAO assists governments in using pesticides safely and rationally through the International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides. The code includes a clause for Prior Informed Consent (PIC), which establishes a mechanism for information exchange, enabling importing countries to decide whether they want to receive pesticides that have been banned or severely restricted because of threats to human health or the environment.

The Codex Alimentarius (a joint commission of FAO and WHO) is an international code of food standards. It is designed to guide the world's food industry and to protect the health of consumers by establishing definitions and requirements for foods, assisting sisting in their harmonization, and, in doing so, facilitating international trade.

The Codex Alimentarius also responds to changes or trends in food production. For example, in 1999 it set up the Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology, which met for the first time in March 2000 to "develop standards, guidelines, or other principles, where appropriate" for these products. The task force, whose members include government representatives from Codex Alimentarius member countries, scientists, consumer and industry organizations and international non-governmental organizations, was given a four-year mandate by FAO and WHO. FAO is involved in a continuous process of consultation with its member governments, providing information, advice, and technical assistance that can help them make the best choices in promoting sustainable rural development.

Development Assistance

To promote sustainable agriculture and contribute to development that will provide long-term solutions to the fundamental problems of poverty and hunger, FAO gives practical help to developing countries through a wide range of technical assistance projects. The organization encourages an integrated approach, with environmental, social, and economic considerations included in the formulation of development projects. By encouraging people's participation, FAO aims to draw on local expertise and ensure a cooperative approach to development.

Emergency Assistance and Rehabilitation

FAO's Office for Special Relief Operations (OSRO) began operations in 1973 in response to the disastrous drought in 197273 in the semiarid countries on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. In 1975, following an improvement in the Sahel situation, FAO's work was extended to cover emergencies elsewhere. The emphasis in these operations is on speedy approval and delivery of assistance. When disaster strikes a country, the FAO representative assesses needs in close collaboration with local authorities and with other UN agencies. At the request of the government, emergency missions are organized by FAO to assess in detail the damages and losses and to prepare assistance projects for consideration by multilateral and bilateral agencies. Most emergency projects are funded by governments, nongovernmental organizations, and UN agencies. In many cases, FAO, through its Technical Cooperation Program, offers an immediate source of funding for special relief operations. Supplies and equipment provided include seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, and livestock supplies and equipment, as well as logistical support. Disaster-prone countries may also receive preventive assistance to cope with calamities.

Through its Agricultural Rehabilitation Program for Africa, conceived in 1984 at the height of the Ethiopian famine, FAO helped channel some us$ 194 million into 25 countries to supply farmers with seeds and fertilizers, repair irrigation systems, and rebuild cattle herds.

Since the early 1950s, FAO has coordinated the campaign against the destructive desert locust, which intermittently swarms in the Middle East, Africa, and other regions. Campaigns were almost continuous until 1963, when the pest was brought under control. There have, however, been serious outbreaks of swarms since then, particularly between 1967 and 1970, and in 1978 in desert areas in India.

In 1986, FAO led the battle against the grasshopper and locust plagues that threatened to devastate crops in all parts of Africa. The Emergency Center for Locust Operations (ECLO), established at FAO headquarters, directed what was to become a us$ 50 million continent-wide campaign that helped save more than 90% of crops in the Sahel alone. FAO monitored breeding areas with satellite imagery, implemented projects carrying out spraying missions, sent pest-control experts to advise African authorities, and helped set up coordinating committees of government and donor representatives in the most directly threatened countries. More than 40 donors, including both developed and developing countries, UN agencies, and nongovernmental organizations, contributed to the fight in 13 countries. The center was deactivated in the spring of 1989 when locusts were brought under control in some 40 countries in Africa, the Near East, and Southwest Asia. In late 1992, with the reappearance of the desert locust on the coastal plains around the Red Sea, the ECLO was immediately brought back into full operation.

FAO continues to strengthen its ability to prevent and respond to emergencies caused by pests and diseases, placing special emphasis on locusts and rinderpest.


FAO devotes a large share of the resources of its field and regular programs each year to increasing the output of crops, livestock, food fish, and forest products.

Crop Production and Protection

FAO's work in crop production includes collecting, conserving, and evaluating genetic resources; improving seed quality, production, and distribution; increasing crop output; and preventing losses before harvest. Particularly important in developing countries is the supply of high-quality food-crop seed to small farmers, who are responsible in some countries for more than 90% of domestic food production. National seed services and centers often are crucial for the supply of seeds to farmers, and much of FAO's seed development work is concerned with building up these national institutions.

Many countries give high priority to cash crop production, and urban populations often have easier access to imported cereals, including wheat, than to traditional staples, such as cassavas, bread-fruit, sweet potatoes, yams, and plantains. The danger of these trends is twofold: increased dependency on food imports and lagging production of traditional crops often used in rural communities as insurance against food scarcity and famine. FAO activities to combat these trends range from training sessions for extension staff to pilot projects, such as helping women's groups to start home vegetable gardens and working on ways to improve processing and storage of perishable vegetables. FAO also has helped develop varieties of wheat and barley suited to arid conditions, as well as more nutritive varieties.

Requests for technical assistance in horticulture are a constant on the FAO agenda. FAO projects cover, for example, citrus production in the Mediterranean, date palm production in the Near East and the Mediterranean, protected cultivation of vegetables in the Near East and North Africa, promotion of tropical fruit-tree production in humid and subhumid areas, and improved vegetable production in tropical semiarid and humid regions.

FAO has played a pivotal role in international crop protection activities for over four decades. The International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) was vested in FAO in 1951. In order to strengthen FAO's role as coordinator, an IPPC secretariat was created in 199293. FAO's general objective in this field is to reduce or if possible prevent crop losses caused by pests. Specific objectives include reducing the spread of pests across national borders and promoting Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which consists of a "best mix" of natural control methods with a need-only based use of selective pesticides (see Pest Control). In cooperation with the World Health Organization, FAO is conducting studies on the effects of pesticide residues on humans.

Plant diseases remain one of the major checks on crop production. The easiest and most economical way of coping with plant parasites is to breed varieties that are resistant to them. FAO-supported research has been aimed at breeding varieties with durable or long-term resistance. FAO recently established a Plant Genetic Resources Information and Seed Exchange Unit, which disseminates technical information and exchanges seeds and planting material samples for experimental purposes. The main beneficiaries are national and international research centers, plant breeders, and FAO field projects. On a national level, FAO advises governments on seed production and legislation.

Examples of FAO activities aimed at increasing crop output include:

  • Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs account for the majority of the FAO's field projects. IPM involves farmers and field staff from national and local governments and from nongovernment institutions. Insofar as it has provided farmers with better training, it has had socioeconomic benefits beyond plant protection.
  • Since the early 1950s, FAO has coordinated the campaign against the destructive desert locust, which intermittently swarms in the Middle East, Africa, and other regions (see Emergency Assistance and Rehabilitation). FAO's Emergency Center for Locust Operations is fundamental in conducting these campaigns.
  • The Global Information and Early Warning System (see Information for Agriculture) also contributes to crop protection, warning against potential difficulties and disasters.
  • The Global System on Plant Genetic Resources supports international and regional networks for in situ and ex situ conservation under the auspices of FAO. The system also promotes evaluation, management, and enhanced use of plant genetic resources (PGR), and prepares periodic reports on the state of the world's PGR. The Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA) coordinates the Code of Conduct for Biotechnology applied in the conservation and use of PGR, as well as work on farmers' rights and support for an international fund for PGR.
  • FAO's agricultural research program strengthens countries' capabilities to generate and develop appropriate technology for crop protection and production. Special attention is given to traditional technologies and their use by farmers, as well as the role of rural women and the constraints they face.
  • The Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture operates a laboratory at Seibersdorf, near Vienna. The division's program is based on two fundamental approaches. Under the first, the movements and transformations of isotopically labeled chemical compounds of importance in relation to soils, water, air, plants, and livestock are studied. This information is used to improve management of soils and water, nutrition of plants and animals, and the safety of agrochemical use. The second approach uses ionizing radiation to induce mutations for selection of useful traits in plants, to sterilize insects for control purposes, and to improve the safety and preservation of food.
  • FAO provides information on crops through a global database of crop environmental requirements, with data for hundreds of species.

Animal Production and Health

Livestock often forms a key component of the "production systems approach" promoted by FAO in agricultural development schemes. The approach is based on the principle that the production of different commodities is often linked and that increased production of one may result in increased output of another. In India, for example, the production of food grain increased markedly in villages where dairy cooperatives function. Milk sales provide the small farmer with the cash income to purchase fertilizers, improved seeds, and irrigation water essential for increased grain yields. Thus, increased milk production has led to significant improvements in farm output and living standards. This approach also is being applied to sheep, goat, poultry, and rabbit production.

FAO's International Dairy Development Program is designed to help low-income countries modernize the complex chain linking milk producers and consumers. It helps coordinate efforts aimed at improving all aspects of the dairy industry, from farmers' organizations and veterinary services to processing plants and marketing channels. The program is aimed at assisting in the planning, coordination, and implementation of model projects for integrated dairy development, with the full participation of small-scale milk producers, the firm commitment of cooperating governments, and the active involvement of donors, and at making dairying a more effective force in rural development through its socioeconomic impact in rural areas and its contribution to nutrition.

FAO also works to improve livestock feeding and management by reducing to a minimum the amount of grain consumed by animals and making maximum use of pasture and fodder, crop residues, and agro-industrial by-products. An FAO database entitled Tropical Feeds offers concise and updateable information on over 500 tropical feed materials in published form and on diskette. This information is updated regularly.

Rapidly expanding human populations are increasing the demand for agricultural productsamong them livestockand in response, production is being intensified. To help foresee and forestall possible negative side effects of intensified production and enhance positive ones, FAO is conducting studies on the influence of livestock development practices on the natural resource base. These studies involve livestock feed quality, use of biomass for animal fodder, avoidance of overgrazing, manure management, animal waste disposal, domestic animal genetic diversity, plant and animal wildlife diversity, and integration of cropping and livestock systems.

FAO has joined hands with animal welfare organizations to initiate joint activities that will promote humane treatment of slaughter animals while heightening the quality of meat products and by-products. The organization also has helped boost the efficiency of village-level meat processing by developing modular designs for slaughtering and processing facilities. The designs employ affordable, easily available materials and modules that can be selected and adapted by users according to their needs. Use of the facilities helps reduce losses and limit contamination while increasing employmentparticularly for rural womenas well as income for small producers.

Disease continues to check animal production in most developing countries. FAO focuses concerted attention on animal health involving the control of important diseases such as foot-and-mouth, rinderpest, swine fever, Rift -valley fever, trypanosomiasis, and Newcastle disease. In 1994 FAO established the Emergency Prevention System (EMPRES) for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases in order to minimize the risk of animal disease emergencies. Veterinary policy development and education also are stressed.

FAO and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have established a laboratory to promote nuclear-based methodology and related molecular techniques for diagnosis of livestock diseases. Accurate diagnosis is fundamental to disease control and eradication. The laboratory cooperates closely with national and international organizations to promote standardization and transfer of techniques designed specifically for the difficult conditions often experienced in less advanced countries. Priority is being given to the diseases of greatest importance such as rinderpest, trypanosomiasis, and foot-and-mouth disease.

In 1993, FAO and UNEP first published the World Watch List for Domestic Animal Diversity to document the state of global livestock genetic diversity. Monitoring, describing, and characterizing existing breeds constitute a vital part of conservation, allowing people to understand each species' status, as well as its members' unique qualities and potential. The World Watch List is the voice of the Global Early Warning System for Animal Genetic Resources in helping prevent erosion and encouraging a more effective use of farm animal genetic diversity. The third edition (published in 2000) was a result of ten years of data collection in 170 countries, covering 6,500 breeds of domesticated mammals and birds.


In the 1970s, the concepts of national sovereignty over marine resources offthe shores of coastal countries began to emerge. FAO assumed a key role in helping member nations to develop priorities and build up capacities to assess, allocate, exploit, and manage fisheries resources through a comprehensive Programme of Assistance in the Development and Management of Fisheries in Exclusive Economic Zones.

To respond to the demands arising from this situation, FAO convened a World Conference on Fisheries and Development in 1984. The conference was the largest of its sort ever assembled, bringing together representatives of nearly 150 countries and over 60 international organizations to confront the fundamental problems and potential of world fisheries as a vital source of food, employment, and income. Principles and guidelines for fisheries management were endorsed by the conference to cover the contribution of fisheries to national economic, social, and nutritional goals; improved national self-reliance in fisheries management and development; national management and optimum use of fish resources; the special role and needs of small-scale fisheries; international trade in fish and fishery products; investment in fisheries; and international cooperation in fisheries management and development.

FAO's fisheries policy is based on the five programs of action endorsed by the conference: fisheries planning, management, and development; small-scale fisheries; aquaculture; international trade in fish and fishery products; and the use of fish in alleviating undernutrition.

To aid in fisheries management, FAO collects statistics, monitors fishing trends in the world fishing fleet, collects biological information on resources, and assists member countries in the areas of fishery analysis, research, and management.

A network of regional fishery bodies established under the auspices of FAO provides an important framework for coordinating fisheries development and management. The first of these regional fishery bodies, the Indo-Pacific Fisheries Commission (IPFC), and now called the Asia-Pacific Fishery Commission (ASFC), was established in 1948. There are now nine regional bodies as well as three other FAO and UN bodiesthe Advisory Committee on Fisheries Research (ACFR), Coordinating Working Party on Fishery Statistics (CWP), Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP) and the joint commission (with IMO, UNESCO, WMO, WHO, IAEA, and UNEP). Within the FAO framework, these commissions work to facilitate and secure the long-term sustainable development and utilization of the world's fisheries and aquaculture. As part of this effort, the FAO publishes the State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, the only worldwide watch on fishery resources; runs the Species Identification and Data Programme; and maintains FishBase, a global information system on fishes (which can be accessed at The FAO fisheries departments has also been instrumental in assisting developing nations in mapping their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) in order to better manage their coastlines and resolve disputes.

National fish inspection and quality assurance programs have been upgraded in several countries. This is an area of some urgency because of more stringent health and sanitary requirements imposed in recent years by major importing countries, such as the United States and Japan.

In March 1999, during an international conference held by the FAO in Rome, representatives of some 120 countries expressed their growing concern about "over-fishing of the world's major marine fishery resources, destructive and wasteful fishing practices, and excess capacity." There are too many vessels or vessels with too much harvesting power in a growing number of fisheries. This leads to fewer fish in the sea for reproduction. In response, the FAO developed the Plan of Action on Fishing Capacity to achieve "an efficient, equitable and transparent management of fishing capacity." The FAO urged states to limit existing levels of fishing and progressively reduce fishing capacity. Between 2003 and 2005 each country supporting the international Plan of Action was to develop a national plan to manage fishing capacity and, if necessary, reduce it. According to the UN agency, only 6% of all major marine fisheries are under-exploited, 20% moderately exploited, 50% fully exploited, 15% over-fished, 6% depleted, and 2% recovering.

The 1999 Plan of Action on Fishing Capacity was part of the FAO's ongoing effort to promote activities that protect the world's oceans, which are now recognized as a natural resource that must be preserved. Earlier (in 1994), the FAO prepared the technical guidelines for fishing operations as part of its Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing. The code is intended to address unregulated fishing and to counteract negative effects on marine ecosystems.

As capture fisheries reach their peak, aquaculture is helping to fill gaps in supply. FAO promotes aquaculture development in rural communities as a valuable source of animal protein as well as of income and export earnings. The organization is supporting the development of a system to report aquaculture data separately from catch statistics, while concentrating on fish nutrition and breeding strain selection.

Reliable market information is a key ingredient of successful trade development for fish and fish products. The Fish Marketing Information Service set up by FAO establishes contacts between buyers and sellers, provides price and market information, and offers technical assistance and advice on post-harvest aspects of fisheries including handling, processing, equipment selection, and quality.


The importance of forests has become increasingly recognized, especially for people in developing countries. One problem is that more than 250 million rural people throughout the world practice some form of shift ing cultivation. They slash and burn trees against a backdrop of rapidly disappearing forests. FAO has a number of community forestry projects aimed at settling shift ing cultivators or integrating their activities into rural development plans.

Another problem is that wood, which is the major source of energy in developing countries, is in chronically short supply and women and children often have to walk many miles a day to gather it. With inadequate, and expensive, fuel supplies, many people are unable to cook their food properly, and lack of fuel-wood can lead directly to malnutrition and disease. As the people harvest whatever woodland is available, the trees disappear, to be replaced by rangelands or deserts. In Nepal, for example, the loss of soil-protecting trees used mainly for fuelwood and animal fodder has led to landslides in the foothills and the loss of lives, homes, and crops. The situation is being improved, however, through projects to restore and manage the watersheds and to bring the population together in community forestry development, including the establishment of plantations of quickly maturing trees to provide fodder and fuelwood.

FAO's Tropical Forests Action Programme is fundamental in contributing to the objectives set forth in UNCED's Agenda 21 (developed at 1992's Earth Summit). The program is a major international undertaking uniting 90 partners in the battle to combat deforestation and to promote the conservation and sustainable development of tropical forests. Together, the partners are following an international strategy to integrate forestry into farming systems, develop waste forest industries, increase supplies of fuelwood, and conserve tropical forest ecosystems while helping countries solve social and economic problems.

FAO's Forest Resources Assessment 1990 Project analyzed satellite images and existing survey data of 179 countries to assess deforestation between 1981 and 1990. The next periodic report was Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000; it constituted the most ambitious assessment to date and included new parameters on ecological aspects of forests, sustainable forest management, and non-wood goods and services. These assessments provide the factual information to frame international discussion on forestry: the reports detail the location and extent of forest resources, as well as highlight the net changes in extent, quantity, and quality over time.

The organization has carried out a wide variety of studies to develop participatory approaches and mechanisms for the management, production, and utilization of renewable natural resourcesand of forests in particularby rural people. FAO's Forests Trees and People Programme promotes self-reliance of rural groups in the sustainable management of forest resources.

Other forestry priorities include planning and policy formulation, national resources assessment, fire prevention and control, tree planting, conservation of genetic resources, plantation development, seed improvement, and development of harvesting and wood industries. Wildlife conservation and utilization also receive attention.


Inadequate distribution of agricultural products causes waste of precious outputs and hinders agricultural development by reducing farmers' economic returns. FAO is involved at every stage in the distribution chain, from prevention of food losses in storage to attempts to bring about more equitable international trade. Programs deal with reduction of post-harvest losses, development of marketing skills, and promotion of trade terms that will help producers and exporters get a fair return.

Prevention of Post-Harvest Losses

In 1978, FAO began operations of its Action Program for the Prevention of Food Losses (PFL), designed primarily to reduce post-harvest losses of staple foods. The program focuses particular attention on women, major actors in the post-harvest system, through specific training activities and promotion of suitable technologies. Activities range from the development of adequate facilities for handling, drying, and storage to research on post-harvest practices that will protect harvests while reducing or avoiding the use of pesticides. For instance, FAO has successfully helped the Pacific Island nations develop control measures that will allow them to discontinue the use of ethylene dibromide, a pesticide banned by the major importers of fresh fruits and vegetables produced by the island countries.


Poor marketing of local agricultural products often seriously impedes distribution and trade. Assistance is given to people involved in marketing from the grass-roots level to the senior management of marketing boards, as well as to officials responsible for marketing policy, legislation, and infrastructure. Direct assistance to marketing boards is aimed primarily at strengthening their management capacity and systems. FAO's field projects also support development of rural marketing centers and strengthening of the role of cooperatives.

In the 1990s, FAO developed the computerized version of FAO Agri-Market. This computer soft ware program helps governments develop and perfect their price information systems, particularly during the transition from centrally planned to market-based economies. The organization also produces Marketing Extension Training Series videos focusing on techniques to be used by extension officers in providing marketing support to farmers.

Commodities and Trade

FAO's work on commodities and trade covers three main areas: commodity and trade policy, early warning, and food security.

In commodity policies and trade, FAO plays a lead role in the development of agricultural commodity projections. FAO's Intergovernmental Commodity Groups debate on developments in national policies, particularly those relating to protectionism, to analyze problems in commodity development and develop programs of work and projects.

FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System is housed in the Commodities and Trade Division (see Information for Agriculture). The preparation of information for the GIEWS entails continuous fielding of crop and food supply assessment missions to individual countries. GIEWS collects and analyzes a great variety of information from member nations, the private sector, and organizations active in the food, agriculture, and rural sectors, primarily in developing countries. When there are indications of unsatisfactory conditions, GIEWS intensifies its monitoring, most often involving on-the-spot missions to affected countries.

In the area of food security, FAO relies on national teams and workshops to derive and internalize realistic policy conclusions. The growing realization that food security is as much a question of household access to food as overall food availability has led to the development of composite indices of household food security in countries worldwide. These serve as a tool to governments in addressing the needs of vulnerable groups. The Food Security Assistance Scheme (see Advice to Governments) supports member nations in the formulation of comprehensive national food security programs.


In November 1991, the FAO Conference launched the International Cooperative Framework for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development. The SARD framework, as it has come to be known, supports the integration of sustainability criteria in the programs and activities of the organization. Guidelines for achieving SARD were set down in the Den Bosch Declaration at a major international conference organized by FAO and the Netherlands in 1991. Preparations for the Den Bosch Conference also contributed to FAO's input to the UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992.

FAO helps member countries plan and implement environmentally positive projects through sustainability assessment and review of policies and plans in the agriculture and related natural resources sectors. Assessment and preparation of investment projects by FAO's Investment Center focus on sustainability criteria. At the same time, FAO is the "task master" for the "land cluster" of Agenda 21: water resources, forests, fragile mountain ecosystems, and sustainable agriculture and rural development. The organization also chairs two UN sub-committees to coordinate the implementation of Agenda 21 chapters on oceans and water resources.

To meet growing needs for food, FAO advocates equitable, participatory rural development as the key to eradication of poverty, the first and foremost cause of undernutrition. At the same time, FAO's approach includes fine-tuning programs and projects to the continuing challenges of balancing increased production with environmental and sustainability concerns.

The FAO set up the Virtual Extension Research Communication Network (VERCON), which uses information and communication technologies to improve linkages among collaborating research and extension institutions.

Land and Water Management

Among the most basic of resources for agriculture, water and soil are quickly reaching their limits. As burgeoning populations demand more food, the realization of the finiteness of resources, and of the need to manage them carefully, becomes increasingly acute. The effects of soil and water degradation are especially severe in the developing countries, and in particular among the rural poor who have the most limited access to these vital resources. FAO has initiated many research projects to help farmers in developing nations make the most of the resources available to them.

FAO helps national and nongovernmental institutions and organizations study the effects of erosion on soil productivity, develop methods for soil reclamation, improve management of arid and semi-arid soils, disseminate appropriate tillage techniques, and monitor soil micro-organisms and bacteria as well as waterlogging and salinity. The organization also helps rural communities combat deforestation and concomitant soil degradation, developing knowledge and self-reliance that makes them more efficient managers of the resources under their custody.

On the information side, in addition to providing data on soil use for scientists, FAO's digitized version of the Soil Map of the World (see Information for Agriculture) has been modified to make it accessible to nonspecialists. FAO contributes to technical seminars and general policy conferences on various aspects of soil and water management. For instance, the organization played a key role in the International Conference on Water and the Environment held in Dublin in 1992. The Dublin Statement emphasized water's economic value, and warned that this resource cannot be taken for granted.

The FAO maintains two computer programs designed as tools for increasing the efficiency of water use in agriculture. AQUASTAT is a global database on water use in agriculture and rural development. Though irrigation is the major issue, AQUASTAT provides information on such diverse aspects as drainage, environmental impact of water resources development, and water balance to users worldwide. The other computer-based system, SIMIS (Scheme for Irrigation Management Information System), was developed to help reduce losses in irrigation systems. Many complex and shift ing factors must be considered in irrigation schemes. Designed to be adaptable to diverse local situations in the developing world, the SIMIS system covers a range of irrigation management topics, from human resources administration, to information on climate, crops, soils, and machinery, to accounting codes. SIMIS can process information on one or several projects, making rapid and precise calculations to assess needs and possibilities while streamlining routine activities such as billing and registration.

Through the International Action Plan on Water and Sustainable Agricultural Development, FAO has launched programs in numerous member nations to help them manage water resources efficiently and meet the water needs of rural people.

A joint FAO/IAEA/SIDA research program uses neutron moisture meters to measure how water is used by crops and crop varieties. The study has shown that some varieties of cereals, for example, are up to three times more efficient in water use than others. The possibility of choosing water-efficient varieties provides farmers in water-scarce areas with welcome relief.

Nutrient Management

After land and water, fertilizers are the most important input for increasing agricultural yield. Increased efficiency in fertilizer use can cut farmers' costs while helping to protect the environment, increase yields, and heighten consumer satisfaction. One of the Agenda 21 missions spearheaded by FAO is the achievement of increased food production through improvements in plant nutrition systems. In 1993, the organization renamed its Fertilizer Programme to reflect essential changes in approach. The Plant Nutrition Programme focuses on the application of Integrated Plant Nutrition Systems (IPNS).

Under the program, FAO promotes IPNS activities at the farm level for sustainable nutrient management based on a comprehensive vision of the cropping cycle. The objective is to help farmers establish the best association of biological (manure, crop residues), mineral, and naturally occurring (soil) nutrients to achieve a balanced supply while controlling losses and enhancing labor productivity.

Breeding research for improved plant nutrition concentrates on selecting and incorporating traits that will enhance a variety's nutrient uptake and utilization. In addition, the Plant Nutrition Programme helps governments develop sound policies and strategies at the national level, encouraging them to adapt or create institutions and organizations for the regulation of nutrient production, supply, and use.

Pest Control

FAO has numerous programs and projects aimed at reducing and rationalizing use of potentially harmful pesticides. The International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides (see Advice to Governments) identifies potential hazards and sets standards for those engaged in the regulation, distribution, and use of pesticidesgovernments, industry, traders, and usersto increase safety, efficacy, and economy.

FAO focuses its field work in plant protection on the application of the IPM strategy (see Crop Production and Protection) at the farm level, encouraging governments to support farmers who seek to improve production using these integrated methods. In Asia, over half a million rice growers have been able to minimize pesticide use and raise profits using techniques learned in IPM field schools. FAO has organized study tours to help plant protection specialists from countries in Africa, Latin America, and the Near East learn from the Asian experience. During the last two decades of the 20th century, pesticide use, combined with crop intensification practices and the use of fertilizers, substantially increased rice yield by farmers in developing countries.


Agrarian Reform and Rural Development

The World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (WCARRD), sponsored by FAO in cooperation with other agencies of the UN system, was held at FAO headquarters in Rome in 1979. It was attended by more than 100 ministers and deputy ministers and some 1,400 other delegates from 145 countries. The conference approved a Declaration of Principles and a Program of Action to provide a framework for the reorientation of development policy and strategy toward greater participation and equity for rural people in the development process. FAO is the UN's lead agency for the implementation of the WCARRD program of action. Much of the work involves field projects to promote agrarian reform, land tenure improvement, and land settlement.

FAO helped to establish three regional centers to assist countries in the implementation of the program of action, and more generally, to coordinate activities in the area of integrated rural development at national level. The Centre on Integrated Rural Development for Asia and the Pacific (CIRDAP) is located in Dakha, Bangladesh; the Centre on Integrated Rural Development for Africa (CIRDAFRICA) is located in Arusha, Tanzania; and the Centre for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development for the Near East (CARDNE) is located in Amman, Jordan.

Activities related to rural development form an integral and permanent part of FAO's mainstream program. Every four years, the secretariat assists governments in the preparation of progress reports on implementation of the WCARRD program of action. FAO has organized intergovernmental consultations on WCARRD follow-up in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean. Interagency and Expert Consultations have been convened by FAO regional offices. Finally, at the request of member countries, FAO has fielded high-level WCARRD follow-up missions to assist governments in reviewing national rural development and agrarian reform strategies.

This support is especially crucial in the context of the transition from central planning and control to market orientation being undergone by numerous countries.

Aid to Small Farmers

Close to half of the world's population lives in the rural areas of the developing countries. The majority of these people can be considered poor, they have very small agricultural holdings from which to derive their existence. It is often difficult for small farmers to make their voices heard in the social, economic, and political power structures.

FAO has numerous programs devoted to helping small farmers, taking into consideration the smallholders' needs, motivations, capabilities, risks, and resources, and how these factors affect the production and marketing of produce or its use by the farm family. Governments are encouraged to consider the rural poor in their policies and planning, providing the necessary inputs at the right time, in reasonable quantities, and at acceptable prices. Emphasis is also placed on building collective strength among farmers for identifying and finding solutions to their problems and preparing production plans on the basis of their particular needs and

AlbaniaEgyptLibyan Arab JamahiriyaSan Marino
AlgeriaEl SalvadorLithuaniaSão Tomé and Príncipe
AngolaEquatorial GuineaLuxembourgSaudi Arabia
Antigua and BarbudaEritreaMadagascarSenegal
ArgentinaEstoniaMalawiSerbia and Montenegro
AustraliaEuropean Economic CommunitMaldivesSierra Leone
Austria(Member Organization)MaliSlovakia
BahamasFinlandMarshall IslandsSolomon Islands
BangladeshGabonMauritiusSouth Africa
BelarusGeorgiaMicronesia, Federated States ofSri Lanka
Bosnia and HerzegovinaGuineaMyanmarSyria
Burkina FasoHondurasNetherlandsThe Former Y
BurundiHungaryNew ZealandMacedonia
Cape VerdeIran, Islamic Republic ofNiueTrinidad and Tobago
Central African RepublicIraqNorwayTunisia
ComorosJapanPapua New GuineaUkraine
CongoJordanParaguayUnited Arab Emirates
Congo, Democratic Republic of theKazakhstanPeruUnited Kingdom
Cook IslandsKenyaPhilippinesUnited States of America
Costa RicaKiribatiPolandUruguay
Côte d'IvoireKorea, DemocraticPortugalUzbekistan
CroatiaPeople's Republic ofPuerto Rico (Associate Member)Vanuatu
CubaKorea, Republic ofQatarVenezuela
Czech RepublicKyrgyz RepublicRussian FederationYemen
DjiboutiLatviaSt. Kitts and NevisZimbabwe
DominicaLebanonSt. Lucia
Dominican RepublicLesothoSt. Vincent and the Grenadines

priorities. Farmer self-help organizations are assisted in planning and managing their credit requirements, and improved access to credit is stressed.

The Role of Women

Women play a crucial role in agricultural development, yet they are perhaps the least integrated of the players in the development process. FAO recognizes the vital importance of the full integration of women, and has developed a Plan of Action for the Integration of Rural Women into the Development Process. The plan outlines four principal areas of activity, focusing on the civil status, economic, social, and decision-making spheres of rural women. The plan of action outlines activities in each of these spheres to remove existing barriers to women and foster their potential. FAO's approach involves implementation of projects directed exclusively at women, as well as support for the concerns of women in all FAO's projects and activities.


FAO plays a key role in helping countries improve nutrition, promote healthy diets, and ensure access to safe food. Prime areas of interest include food quality control; handling, processing, and storage; household food security; forestry, fisheries, crop production, and local foods; and nutrition monitoring, assessment, planning, education, and information.

In 1992, the organization cosponsored with WHO the International Conference on Nutrition (see Food Security). The conference adopted a Declaration and Plan of Action for Nutrition. The countries at the conference composed a World Declaration on Nutrition and pledged their adherence to a plan of action for the coming decades. The World Declaration reaffirmed that "poverty and lack of education, which are often the effects of underdevelopment, are the primary causes of hunger and undernutrition."

It emphasized the need to identify the groups most in need, targeting nutritional resources first and foremost to alleviating their lot. It also stressed that food should not be used as a tool for political pressure. The importance of building knowledge among vulnerable groups through nutrition education was highlighted, as was the need for better preparedness for food emergencies resulting from civil strife and natural disasters.

The plan of action provides guidelines for governments, acting in partnership with NGOs, the private sector, local communities, families and households, and the international community. It contains recommendations on policies, programs, and activities identified through the intensive ICN consultative process and brings together a wide range of expert opinion from around the world. The 159 nations that participated in the ICN committed themselves to developing national nutrition plans with attainable goals and measurable targets. In the continuing follow-up to the ICN, FAO is assisting many governments in preparing national plans of action for nutrition. To support the process, the document "Guidelines for Developing National Plans of Action for Nutrition" was distributed to member governments.

Many FAO nutrition projects work towards improving knowledge of nutrition within households, and particularly among women. Awareness of the need to improve the frequency and quality of meals is built up through participatory, pilot-family programs concentrating on nutrition education and home gardening. Households are encouraged either to grow the foods they need to fill their dietary gaps or to use income from home gardens to purchase vitamin-and-mineral-rich fruits and vegetables they cannot easily cultivate.

FAO has produced country nutrition profiles for 100 developing countries to provide a concise view of their food and nutrition status, agricultural production, and economic and demographic situation. Country profiles are used by governments and institutions for planning and training. FAO advocates incorporating nutritional information in early warning networks to supplement agricultural production data.

The Codex Alimentarius (see Advice to Governments) contributes to raising nutritional status by developing international standards, codes of practice, and other recommendations for food quality to protect consumer health and encourage fair trading practices in the food trade. As of 2006, 173 countries were members of the Codex Alimentarius Commission.

FAO's World Food Survey, published about once a decade, provides as complete a picture as possible of the world food and nutrition situation. It includes food balance sheets for almost all countries and, increasingly, household food-consumption surveys for developing countries.

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