Integrated Planning and Management of Land ResourcesFAOCSDUNEP
World Summit on Sustainable Development, South Africa 2002


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Looking Forward to Rio+10: Reporting Progress on Land and Agriculture

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Message 29

        Message 29 - Intervention by Kristen Sukalac
        Thu, 15 Mar 2001 18:34:55 +0100

I think it is tempting to oversimplify the debate on sustainable development
in general and sustainable agriculture specifically.

To be sure, the blanket overuse of modern agricultural inputs is not a
solution, but neither is clinging only to indigenous practices that may
remained for lack of alternatives.  The important thing is maintain a wide
range of alternatives (both traditional and modern), to improve farmer
access to them and to make sure the information is in place to allow farmers
to make educated decisions about what is best for their specific
circumstances.  Unfortunately, this is not a very satisfying solution for
the large number of people frustrated by ongoing hunger and poverty because
this is a slow, long-term and incremental process.  But it really is the
only way.

On March 5-6, the World Bank organized a meeting between African
agricultural producer organizations and representatives of agricultural
input companies in Paris at the behest of the African farmers.  Both sides
considered this meeting as being extremely useful, and a great step in
grappling with Africa's agricultural problems.  Personally, it was
gratifying to see that the African farmers are becoming well organized
politically and economically, although the groups present do not yet seem to
fully appreciate the power and leverage their organization can provide.
It was clear from their interventions that their absolute priority is
feeding the people of Africa.  However, they did not overlook their role as
producers in a global marketplace both as a way to earn money that can
facilitate hunger reduction and as a tool for overall development.

The agricultural producers expressed a need for better access to
agricultural inputs, and they called for the development of more creative
financing tools to enable this.  But, more importantly, they called for
information.  First, they said, they want market information so that they
can judge how much they should pay for products rather than just accepting
the prices they are told.  (A corollary to this was a discussion on the
importance of insurance schemes to help farmers cope with market vagaries.)
Second, they want information about products and services so they can better
understand why they should pay more or less for various options depending on
the total package (quality, efficiency, effectiveness, environmental
effects, etc.)  For lack of such information, they said, it is only natural
that their decisions will be based on price alone.  Third, farmers want
information about strategies for integrating products into overall
production methods and properly applying them so that they can achieve the
best possible results with minimal side effects.

Obviously the discussions were much more complex and rich than I can
properly convey here, but they demonstrate that international organizations,
NGOs and other third parties can only play an enabling role.  The key is to
empower local communities to take the best decisions for them locally and to
ensure that the means exist for putting these home-grown strategies into

Kristen E. Sukalac
Information & Communications, International Fertilizer Industry Association
(IFA) and current focal point for the International Agri-Food Network

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