United NationsDepartment of Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable Development


FAO Main Message on Rural Development: Policy Options to Expedite Implementation
The Commission on Sustainable Development Seventeenth Session (CSD-17)
Intergovernmental Preparatory Meeting for CSD-17 (23-27 February 2009, New York)
1. FAO considers that it is essential to draw lessons from the crisis of soaring food prices in
order to clarify and rebalance policies and strategies for supporting sustainable agriculture
and rural development. One clear lesson of the crisis is that greater attention must be given to
ensuring supplies of food products needed by poor consumers in domestic markets especially
in urban areas. Urban dwellers, as well as people living in rural areas who are net food
buyers, are the most vulnerable to extreme international price movements and export
restrictions. Policies and programmes are needed to support increased productivity, improved
stability and more efficient distribution of food supplies. FAO has identified four priority
intervention areas to increase farm productivity and food supply response.
i. Policy and action plans must be developed to re-build the institutions and support
services needed to sustainably increase food production, including steps to increase
farm and community level value addition, reduce post-harvest losses, and better link
farmers to markets. One of the most urgent needs is support for the development of
input supply systems.
ii. Smallholder agriculture requires effective organization in order to overcome the
diseconomies of scale that public and private agents face in supplying them with
credit and inputs, and marketing their outputs. There is therefore an urgent need to
support the strengthening or establishment of inter-professional organizations, farmer
unions and youth groups.
iii. The crisis has also made it clear that increasing farmer productivity is not sufficient.
There is also a need to support the development of food industries and value chains to
reduce food losses and improve efficiency of processing and distribution systems,
thereby contributing to lower food prices. Providing support to small and mediumsized
agro-industry enterprises in rural areas backed by local and traditional
knowledge and combined with the most recent advances in science and technology,
also contributes to rural employment and the diversification of rural economies. At
the Global Agro-Industries Forum in India (April 2008), FAO, IFAD and UNIDO
committed to assist member countries in the development of agribusinesses, agroindustries
and value chains through the formulation and implementation of improved
policies, regulatory frameworks, institutions and services ? and through the
incorporation of agro-industrial development strategies and actions into country level
programme frameworks and strategic plans for agricultural and agro-industries
iv. There is a need to create enabling environments to attract private sector investments
for the agrifood sector. Public-private dialogue and partnerships have proven
important in enhancing sustainable development, including through the promotion of
multi-stakeholder involvement, the mobilization of resources and the facilitation of
technology transfer and diffusion. Enabling business environments for the private
sector can and do play an important role in increasing agricultural production and
promoting rural development.
2. A second clear lesson emerging from the food prices crisis is that actions to increase farm
productivity and the efficiency of food supply systems cannot alone lead to food security and
rural development. It also is important to address access to food and resources. FAO
considers it important to specifically address non-farm enterprise development, gender equity
in access to resources and employment opportunities, as well as programmes that provide
direct food access for the most vulnerable groups.
3. In the context of the global food crisis, biofuel production was frequently cited at CSD-
16. Many countries questioned the greenhouse gas benefits and expressed concern over
impacts on food security. The increasing demands on land, forest and water resources called
for the establishment of ?guidelines? on biofuel production to address these concerns.
However, biofuels also present opportunities for developing countries as they seek to
diversify their agricultural production and promote renewable energies to modernize their
energy systems and fill the rural energy gap. This can reduce national expenditures on oil
imports and greenhouse gas emissions as well as decrease dependency on fossil fuels.
Policies are needed that ensure pro-poor, sustainable development of ?first generation?
biofuels with a clear focus on the potential contributions of second generation biofuels. FAO
is assisting countries to analyse the costs (environmental, economic and social) and benefits
of biofuels given the wide variation among feedstocks and markets. FAO?s State of Food and
Agriculture report in 2008 focused on these issues. Acknowledging that biofuels have opened
new opportunities and challenges for African food production, the recent High-Level Ministerial
Declaration on African Agriculture in the 21st Century (Windhoek, Namibia, 9-10 February
2009) emphasized that Africa develop its biofuel sectors in ways that are consistent with its food
security objectives and with principles of environmental sustainability and social equity.
4. Rural livelihoods depend on diversified combinations of agricultural and non-agricultural
opportunities, including employment policies and programmes that ensure decent work
conditions for smallholder farmers and poor and unskilled workers in rural areas, while
fostering economic growth. Therefore value addition (through technologies, skills,
organizational innovations), enterprise development, and skills enhancement, are important in
order to enable self-employed small producers, tenant farmers, and workers, especially
women, to earn a living and move out of poverty.
5. The development approach must improve farm productivity and conditions for growth in
sustainable, commercial agriculture and simultaneously support targeted programmes for
enhancing direct access to food for the most needy. In many rural areas, gender roles
influence vulnerability to food insecurity, lack of employment opportunities and access to
productive resources. Policies are needed to address the disparities in gender, age, physical
ability/health status, and social status through capacity-building, enabling legislation and
incentives for good governance.
6. Yet another clear lesson from the food price crisis is that policies and actions in the
agricultural sector must be accompanied by enabling investments and institutional
strengthening in complementary sectors. Two of the most important complementary sectors
are investments in rural infrastructure and strengthening of financial services.
7. Lack of rural infrastructure and lack of access to infrastructure severely limits the flow of
goods and services to the rural poor. Increased attention is needed to improve rural
infrastructure to permit physical access to input and output markets, as well as rural
infrastructure development relating to energy, water and sanitation, and health care.
8. An inclusive and stable financial sector, with services and products tailored to poor rural
people and capacity development in financial management and accountability from national
to decentralized levels are important preconditions for sustainable agriculture and rural