Sustainable Agriculture and FAO Field Work
Sustainable agriculture is farming in a way that protects and enhances the natural resources on which it depends. It also makes the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources.
Current food systems cause one third of global greenhouse gas emissions, soil erosion, eutrophication, biodiversity loss and water scarcity . Sustainable agriculture is an alternative.
Policy Analysis and Formulation
Among the most important contributions of FAO’s field work is its capacity to conduct policy analysis and formulation. This includes identifying constraints to the adoption of more environmentally friendly farming practices. It also involves fostering a more integrated approach to natural resource management (NRM), involving governments, markets and communities in the design of sectoral development policies.
It is essential that policies, aimed at transforming agriculture into sustainable systems, address both the technical problems of natural resource degradation and environmental damage (where many analyses stop), as well as the more difficult political, social, economic and cultural challenges to such a transformation. FAO policy analysis and formulation is therefore focused on addressing governance issues, including enabling iterative collective learning processes that can support the transformation of food and agriculture towards sustainability.
A sustainable food system involves practicing manufacturing practices that respect the integrity of nature and agroecosystems; establishing short food supply chains; reducing transportation, loss and waste; improving water management and quality; reducing greenhouse gas emissions, preserving biodiversity and global habitat and contributing to improved human health. A key to achieving these goals is the availability of reliable and accurate agricultural statistics.
Agricultural statistics are important to all stakeholders in agriculture, from the transportation and warehouse and storage companies to banks and lending institutions as well as commodity traders and businesses that provide farmers with seeds, equipment and chemicals. They are also essential for policymakers to make informed decisions.
FAO has developed a Global Strategy to improve agricultural statistics through strategic planning, adoption of cost effective methodologies and capacity development. Its aim is to produce and disseminate agricultural statistics on a timely basis for informed decision making.
The World Soil Charter
The world’s soil is a finite resource. Mankind’s survival depends on its preservation and productive use. Recognizing this, the FAO Conference of 1981 adopted a World Soil Charter calling for decisions about land use to be made for long-term advantage and for land-use techniques to be selected that achieve improved and sustainable levels of production.
A strong focus on soil has always been an important issue for FAO. However, major advances in science and new knowledge prompted the Organization’s advisory body, the Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils (ITPS), to review the World Soil Charter making use of wide consultations within the international soil community. The result was a revised version endorsed by the 39th FAO Conference in 2015 as a tool for promoting the sustainable management of soils at all levels.
The World Seed Campaign
The seed sector is vital for food security, the conservation of biodiversity and poverty reduction. It is the basis for implementing strategies for agricultural development and is an essential component of the programme framework adopted by FAO’s Conference on Natural Resources and Human Environment.
The preamble of FAO’s Constitution states that the Organization is committed to ‘raising levels of nutrition and improving the standard of living of rural populations.’ To achieve this objective, FAO has promoted a number of initiatives, including developing guidelines for carrying out national agricultural censuses using internationally agreed concepts and definitions. Moreover, the Organization has worked to develop and disseminate a computerised seed bank database management system. This helps to provide seed banks with structured data and established terminology techniques.
Farmer Field Schools
Developed initially to promote integrated pest management, farmer field schools are group learning processes that allow farmers to try out new ideas and techniques. These experiments enable them to make more informed decisions, and the results are often passed on through informal communication between farmers.
FFS programmes are now established around the world, empowering an estimated one million farmers and pastoralists each year. They are a key entry point for sustainability-oriented agriculture and agro-ecology.
They are also highly innovative and flexible. The Food and Agriculture Organization has set up a global FFS platform to support exchange of information on best practice and technical expertise. In many countries, FFS are included in national and sub-national policies and strategies. In addition, many of the participants in an FFS are trained as facilitators to continue organising and conducting further field schools.