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Chapter 32. Strengthening the Role of Farmers *
Basis for action
32.1. Agriculture occupies one third of the land surface of the Earth, and is the
central activity for much of the world's population. Rural activities take place in close
contact with nature, adding value to it by producing renewable resources, while at the
same time becoming vulnerable to overexploitation and improper management.
32.2. The rural household, indigenous people and their communities, and the family
farmer, a substantial number of whom are women, have been the stewards of much of the
Earth's resources. Farmers must conserve their physical environment as they depend on it
for their sustenance. Over the past 20 years there has been impressive increase in
aggregate agricultural production. Yet, in some regions, this increase has been
outstripped by population growth or international debt or falling commodity prices.
Further, the natural resources that sustain farming activity need proper care, and there
is a growing concern about the sustainability of agricultural production systems.
32.3. A farmer-centred approach is the key to the attainment of sustainability in both
developed and developing countries and many of the programme areas in Agenda 21 address
this objective. A significant number of the rural population in developing countries
depend primarily upon small-scale, subsistence-oriented agriculture based on family
labour. However, they have limited access to resources, technology, alternative livelihood
and means of production. As a result, they are engaged in the overexploitation of natural
resources, including marginal lands.
32.4. The sustainable development of people in marginal and fragile ecosystems is also
addressed in Agenda 21. The key to the successful implementation of these programmes lies
in the motivation and attitudes of individual farmers and government policies that would
provide incentives to farmers to manage their natural resources efficiently and in a
sustainable way. Farmers, particularly women, face a high degree of economic, legal and
institutional uncertainties when investing in their land and other resources. The
decentralization of decision-making towards local and community organizations is the key
in changing people's behaviour and implementing
* In this chapter, all references to "farmers" include all rural
people who derive their livelihood from activities such as farming, fishing and forest
harvesting. The term "farming" also includes fishing and forest harvesting.
sustainable farming strategies. This programme area deals with activities which can
contribute to this end.
32.5. The following objectives are proposed:
(a) To encourage a decentralized decision-making process through the creation and
strengthening of local and village organizations that would delegate power and
responsibility to primary users of natural resources;
(b) To support and enhance the legal capacity of women and vulnerable groups with
regard to access, use and tenure of land;
(c) To promote and encourage sustainable farming practices and technologies;
(d) To introduce or strengthen policies that would encourage self-sufficiency in
low-input and low-energy technologies, including indigenous practices, and pricing
mechanisms that internalize environmental costs;
(e) To develop a policy framework that provides incentives and motivation among farmers
for sustainable and efficient farming practices;
(f) To enhance the participation of farmers, men and women, in the design and
implementation of policies directed towards these ends, through their representative
(a) Management-related activities
32.6. National Governments should:
(a) Ensure the implementation of the programmes on sustainable livelihoods, agriculture
and rural development, managing fragile ecosystems, water use in agriculture, and
integrated management of natural resources;
(b) Promote pricing mechanisms, trade policies, fiscal incentives and other policy
instruments that positively affect individual farmer's decisions about an efficient and
sustainable use of natural resources, and take full account of the impact of these
decisions on household food security, farm incomes, employment and the environment;
(c) Involve farmers and their representative organizations in the formulation of
(d) Protect, recognize and formalize women's access to tenure and use of land, as well
as rights to land, access to credit, technology, inputs and training;
(e) Support the formation of farmers' organizations by providing adequate legal and
32.7. Support for farmers' organizations could be arranged as follows:
(a) National and international research centres should cooperate with farmers'
organizations in developing location-specific environment-friendly farming techniques;
(b) National Governments, multilateral and bilateral development agencies and
non-governmental organizations should collaborate with farmers' organizations in
formulating agricultural development projects to specific agro-ecological zones.
(b) Data and information
32.8. Governments and farmers' organizations should:
(a) Initiate mechanisms to document, synthesize and disseminate local knowledge,
practices and project experiences so that they will make use of the lessons of the past
when formulating and implementing policies affecting farming, forest and fishing
(b) Establish networks for the exchange of experiences with regard to farming that help
to conserve land, water and forest resources, minimize the use of chemicals and reduce or
reutilize farm wastes;
(c) Develop pilot projects and extension services that would seek to build on the needs
and knowledge base of women farmers.
(c) International and regional cooperation
32.9. FAO, IFAD, WFP, the World Bank, the regional development banks and other
international organizations involved in rural development should involve farmers and their
representatives in their deliberations, as appropriate.
32.10. Representative organizations of farmers should establish programmes for the
development and support of farmers' organizations, particularly in developing countries.
Means of implementation
(a) Financing and cost evaluation
32.11. The financing needed for this programme area is estimated in chapter 14
(Promoting sustainable agriculture and rural development), particularly in the programme
area entitled "Ensuring people's participation and promoting human resource
development for sustainable agriculture". The costs shown under chapters 3 (Combating
poverty), 12 (Managing fragile ecosystems: combating desertification and drought), and 13
(Managing fragile ecosystems: sustainable mountain development) are also relevant to this
(b) Scientific and technological means
32.12. Governments and appropriate international organizations, in collaboration with
national research organizations and non-governmental organizations should, as appropriate:
(a) Develop environmentally sound farming technologies that enhance crop yields,
maintain land quality, recycle nutrients, conserve water and energy and control pests and
(b) Conduct studies of high-resource and low-resource agriculture to compare their
productivity and sustainability. The research should preferably be conducted under various
environmental and sociological settings;
(c) Support research on mechanization that would optimize human labour and animal power
and hand-held and animal-drawn equipment that can be easily operated and maintained. The
development of farm technologies should take into account farmers' available resources and
the role of animals in farming households and the ecology.
(c) Human resource development
32.13. Governments, with the support of multilateral and bilateral development agencies
and scientific organizations, should develop curricula for agricultural colleges and
training institutions that would integrate ecology into agricultural science.
Interdisciplinary programmes in agricultural ecology are essential to the training of a
new generation of agricultural scientists and field-level extension agents.
32.14. Governments should, in the light of each country's specific situation:
(a) Create the institutional and legal mechanisms to ensure effective land tenure to
farmers. The absence of legislation indicating land rights has been an obstacle in taking
action against land degradation in many farming communities in developing countries;
(b) Strengthen rural institutions that would enhance sustainability through locally
managed credit systems and technical assistance, local production and distribution
facilities for inputs, appropriate equipment and small-scale processing units, and
marketing and distribution systems;
(c) Establish mechanisms to increase access of farmers, in particular women and farmers
from indigenous groups, to agricultural training, credit and use of improved technology
for ensuring food security.
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