TEE TRANSITION TO SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE:
AN AGENDA FOR AID
Ad Hoc Committee on
Sustainability in Agriculture
June 18, 1987
TABZE OF CONTENTS
Our Internal Goals 1
Sustainable Agriculture Defined 2
Guiding Principles for Agricultural Sustainability: Project 6
Other Important AID Programs Affecting Rural Development 9
What AID Should Do in Rural Development 10
Specific Elements that should be Included in AID Projects 10
Crop Systems 12
Water Management 13
Wetlands, Coastal Systems, Forests a Grasslands 14
Rural Support- 14
Adaptation and Spreading of Sustainable Farm Technologies 17
AID's Non-Agricultural Programs Closing Related to
Institutionalization of Sustainable Agriculture 20
AID Policy: and Planning: In Washington and in
the Field 22
AID Leadership on Agricultural Sustainability:
with Developing Countries 23
THE TRANSITION TO SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE:
AN AGENDA FOR AID
This paper represents an initial effort by a committee from
within the environmental, development and private voluntary
organization communities to define in practical, non-technical
terms what we mean by sustainable agriculture. In that context
we have set out what we believe and hope AID should do to help
the farmers and, secondarily, the scientists, private
organizations, and governments of developing countries make the
very necessary transition to agricultural sustainability in a
Our objectives are to urge AID to consider the following:
1. Institutionalize sustainability as the norm for all its .
agricultural programs and policies.
2. Focus more of its agricultural and rural development program
on helping farmers of developing countries make the
transition to sustainable agricultural systems.
3. Discourage the use of non-sustainable agricultural methods
4. Progressively assume leadership in encouraging governments
of developing countries, development agencies, and global,
regional, and national research organizations to commit
significant resources for helping farmers, particularly poor
farmers, make the transition to sustainable agriculture.
Our Internal Goals
1. Carry out with AID a continuing, mutually beneficial and
increasingly well-informed exchange of views about
agricultural sustainability 'in general and AID's
agricultural program and projects in particular.
2. Develop a better capacity to evaluate "in-place" projects
focussing on sustainable agriculture, and in particular
3. Utilize our ability to mobilize effective support with
Congress for AID's efforts to assist farmers in developing
countries to make the transition to sustainable agriculture.
Sustainable Agricultural Systems Defined
Sustainable agriculture is but one, if perhaps the most
important, building block for overall sustainable development, a
subject which we don't fully address.
We think of sustainability in agriculture as the ability of
an agricultural system to maintain production, over time, in the
face of ecological difficulties and social and economic
pressures. More importantly, from a working viewpoint, we regard
sustainable agricultural systems as follows:
1. Systems that maintain and improve soil productivity,
quality, and tilth.
2. Systems that augment the potential for achieving the highest
possible efficiency in the use and conservation of basic
farm resources (soil, water, sunlight, energy, and farmer's
3. Systems that incorporate as much biological interaction as
possible: for example, mulching, the use of nitrogen fixing
plants, the use of agroforestry techniques, and the use of
intercropping ad- crop rotations to control pests and weeds.
4. Systems that minimize the use of health endangering and
environmentally damaging external inputs (some chemical
fertilizers; non-selective pesticides and herbicides; and
some forms of energy) and, instead, maximize the use of
available, affordable, renewable, and environmentally benign
5. Systems that avoid the contamination of groundwater by using
only those fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides that do
not penetrate below the plants' growing zone and then only
in controlled doses.
6. Systems that meet the needs of farm families for energy to
work their land, cook, and heat from readily available and
affordable energy sources.
7. Systems that strengthen communal cooperation, that protect
rural survival systems, that through community support and
sharing allow farm families to keep going in difficult times
(famine, drought, and natural or political disasters), and
that make possible effective local management of community-
controlled common property resources (ponds, woodlots,
grazing lands, irrigation systems) in ways that permit
equitable sharing in benefits.
The achievement of sustainability and therefore the
protection of the natural resource base requires improvement in
the lives of the poor majority. Unless there is a significantly
greater return for a farmer's investment of time and whatever
limited capital he may have, he will have no incentive to adopt
ecologically sounder practices. It is because of this that we
emphasize the close connection between improving all aspects of
the well being of the poor majority (economic, social and
nutritional) and agricultural sustainability.
Two additional important elements integral to sustainability
which must be developed at other levels are the
1. willingness of research organizations, economic development
agencies and banks, and developing country governments and
institutions to accept the need for continuing evolution of
the concepts and practices of sustainability and to provide
long term commitment to their achievement, and the
2. growing need for changes in the attitudes and practices of
governments in some developing countries so as not to
discourage but, rather, to provide encouragement and
incentives for the adoption of sustainable agricultural
We believe strongly that in a world of rapidly growing
population pressure and rapidly increasing deterioration of
natural resources, sustainability in every aspect of development
is an imperative. For us, sustainability in agriculture--
nationally and internationally--is vital. In this paper,
however, we only address the narrower questions of how AID should
carry out its mandate to assist the poor in developing countries
and, more specifically, how it does this through its agricultural
and rural development programs.
Central to our thinking is the proposition that AID should
do much more to make agricultural sustainability a central focus
of its agricultural and rural development program; and that given
the vital importance of agricultural sustainability, projects to
carry it out should enjoy the highest priority within AID, and
even precedence over other aspects of agricultural development.
We are convinced that in the light of budget cuts, present and
possibly prospective, agricultural programs based on
sustainability can better meet AID's mandates--in particular
poverty alleviation--than can its current mix of agricultural
programs. We urge that every aspect of AID's agricultural
portfolio be reconsidered to ensure that everything aims at and
contributes to sustainability and that nothing is done which
detracts from that objective.
To achieve sustainability, we urge AID to concentrate ofn i^ -
what it does better than other things (human development) and on
what most needs to be done (offering techniques which make
sustainability possible under present conditions and limitations
available to the poor majority of Third World farmers). Poor
farmers need not only new techniques but also a limited number of
additional resources of the kind that PVO's and community
organizations can provide. With few exceptions, however, other
important and more expensive agricultural development programs
should be left to the World Bank, the regional banks, and other
bilateral and multilateral givers of economic assistance.
Fortunately, a transition towards sustainability as a
central focus for AID should be relatively easy, for in our view
AID is already embarked on the right ship. To its credit, AID
has already thought more and done more about agricultural
sustainability than most development institutions. In a few good
projects it has dealt creatively with sustainability. Many of
AID's agricultural and natural resource management specialists
and policy makers accept and.even advocate giving sustainability
a central place in its agricultural programs and research. A
growing number have practical experience in its application. And
AID's present portfolio of agricultural, rural development, and
natural resource projects provides a good base for expansion in
the right direction.
AID's most recent high-level formulation of agricultural
policy, "Focus for Agency Agricultural Programs" dated May 1,
1987, reflects, in our view, important policy elements that favor
sustainability: "maintaining and enhancing the natural resource
base", a mandate that surely encompasses all or most aspects of
sustainable agricultural systems as we see them, and a
concentration on the "poor majority" of Third World farmers.
However, we believe that this policy statement should be
f slightly expanded. First, there is no recognition of the
centrality of agricultural sustainability per se. Also the goal
"to increase the incomes of the poor majority and to expand the
availability and consumption of food" (presumably for all Third
World people, not just farm families), while important to
include, is not comprehensive enough. We recognize that poor
farmers without income are too often just on the fringe of some
market economy and, therefore, at a disadvantage in acquiring the
things they need for a better life, let alone new technology that
could help them achieve sustainability. However, in our view
even more important than cash income for many poor farmers is
food security. This concept is possibly included in AID's
definition under "food availability" but the statement should be
expanded in our view specificallyFb recognize the importance of
food security. For poor farmers, the imperative must be to feed
their families in good times and bad; however, a second
imperative, both for them and for us, must be to do so in a way
that does not degrade the lands they farm.
In our view, the focus statement has another shortcoming.
It does not seem to reflect the importance of increasing farm
productivity (not production), productivity which can and must be
increased'within sound environmental bounds if poor farmers are
ever to achieve a better life. We believe that sustainability
must encompass this concept of both increased productivity and
increased economic return for poor farmers. Even the poorest
have a desire to improve their situation and not remain just
Despite favorable attitudes and some good projects, we fear
that AID's commitment to agricultural sustainability is still
fragile and still lacks the institutionalization which will
ensure its survival and bureaucratic prosperity. AID's work on
sustainability is still spotty. It is not yet conceptualized as
it relates to every aspect of agriculture. It is not yet well
enough integrated with AID's broader-based efforts to improve
natural resource management and not well enough linked to
programs in forestry and watershed protection. Furthermore, it
is not yet well enough networked as a separate, complicated
multi-sectoral discipline in a way that the lessons AID and
others have learned about agricultural sustainability become part
of the Agency's institutional memory and are easily available
through its computer network.
Another weakness that AID shares with other development
agencies and the global academic community is the difficulty of
designing and then implementing true cross-sectoral projects in
sustainable agriculture. The reductionist trend in the academic
world has left its mark on most professions represented in AID.
It's still difficult, for example, to get crop-oriented
agronomists to work closely with foresters. Agriculture and
natural resources management are too often perceived as being
separate sectors. While AID had made progress in overcoming
inter-professional distrust and lack of understanding, it still
has a way to go as do too many of its frequently used consulting
firms. Strong interdisciplinary leadership is still badly
Most important of all, we believe that AID's first need now
is to gather and analyze its rather disparate experience and then
determine how best it can adapt this experience to the many
agricultural environments in which it is working. The United
States knows enough about agricultural sustainability to make
major contributions now.
Unfortunately, as far as we can determine, AID has yet in
any country to carry out enough agricultural projects where
sustainability is a major focus to have more than very local
impact, let alone regional, national, or international impact, or
even real impact beyond a narrow circle of experts. In our view
there is an urgency about mounting efforts to promote one aspect
of agricultural sustainability largely overlooked by AID--by
indeed other development agencies too--and by Congress: the fate
of the poorer farmers on the more fragile lands who too often
unwittingly contribute to the destruction of the very natural
resource base on which their own families (and, ultimately,
people in their own country and beyond) must depend for food.
Heretofore, ecologically sustainable methods of slash-and-burn
with long rotations were available to farmers cultivating poorer
lands on every continent, although it must be admitted that their
standard of living was both economically and nutritionally poor.
Today, however, the growing number of farm families and the lack
of land for long rotation makes even this relatively
unsatisfactory method difficult and even impossible.
GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR AGRICULTURAL SUSTAINABILITY PROJECTS
We suggest six general principles to guide AID's work in
agricultural sustainability.. None of them is new to AID, but all
1. Concentrate major effort on developing the human and
material resources necessary to put sustainable agriculture
systems within the grasp and understanding of poor farmers.
This means, in part, more AID attention to participatory and
"bottom up" work with farmers.
2. Defend the existing natural biological diversity of
agricultural areas in all AID's agricultural and rural
development policies. For us this means, inter alia, moving
from promoting large-scale monoculture to greater
utilization of polycultural methods. While
institutionalization of polyculture on a farm-by-farm basis
is not realistic, nevertheless for both ecological and
nutritional reasons, greater introduction of a broader crop
base on at least a community-by-community basis holds real
3. .Enlist American private voluntary organizations (PVOs) in
the effort to help poor farmers adopt technologies of
agricultural sustainability AID should be more imaginative
and determined in its effort to recruit or develop
indigenous PVOs for this task.
4. Maintain a high level of support for research that
emphasizes sustainable agricultural systems, particularly as
it effects farmers on fragile lands.
5. Assume a greater leadership role in promoting sustainable
agricultural systems: with Congress, with those in the
American agricultural, scientific, and academic communities
concerned with Third World agricultural development; with
other development agencies, specially the World Bank with
whom AID should develop joint or parallel programs; and with
Third World governments and appropriate private institutions
in the developing countries.
6. Long-term public commitment to programs and projects in
support of agricultural sustainability, a commitment, if
possible, backed up by Congress.
This is specially important in this day of changing AID
priorities and funding levels. One of AID's principal
weaknesses in rural development has been its failure to
spend the necessary time and resources to bring projects to
fruition and then see to the wider adaptation of the lessons
learned. It often takes years and some false starts before
cultural, political, economic, and agricultural structures
are understood and impediments to success are mastered. An.
agricultural project--in fact, any development project--
cannot be said to be "sustainable" in our view until there
is a high probability of an ongoing flow of benefits to
farmers once AID stops its assistance. This means in
practice that trained and competent local people are in
place who can carry out the functions (including support and
encouragement) that outsiders formerly filled and that an
institutionalized provision of necessary resources, such as
money, technical assistance, and encouragement continues to
We will have more to say about these principles later in the
context of suggested AID programs. However, human development is
so central in our view to AID's mission and capacities that a few
basic thoughts on this subject seem warranted at this point.
First, there can be no doubt that the human problems of getting
sustainable agricultural systems adopted by farmers and accepted
by governments is an even harder task to accomplish than finding
technical solutions. Typically, AID experts and others well-
grounded in sustainable agriculture tend to be relatively clear
about the technical aspects of this problem, but less clear about
how to go about solving the human problems. They quite correctly
point out how "site-specific" each project must be in human as
well as in ecological terms.
Second, at the level of the farmer, we know of very few
occasions when farmers have accepted the new disciplines and
additional complexity of sustainable systems until they were up
against a wall--from drastic and consistent reduction of
productivity, from getting sick (or their families getting sick)
from farm chemicals, or, in the case of a very small number of
richer and better educated farmers, from being convinced that
only thus could they help stave off financial ruin.
Third, and closely related, the economics of sustainability
are as important to the subsistence farmer as to the more favored
farmer. Farmers' willingness to adopt sustainable practices
depends more on whether it is profitable than whether it is
environmentally sound. The interrelationship between
profitability and sustainability is not always apparent to the
poorer farmer, but this must be at least the initial focus of how
sustainability is presented.
Fourth, perhaps the hardest of all in human terms is finding
ways to present or help present the methods of sustainability to
farmers ("extension") Methods acceptable bothto the farmers,
themselves and to central government authorities have proved very
difficult to devise. Central government controlled and financed
extension systems on the US/European models have very often
proved too expensive in terms of recurrent costs, and quite often
unacceptable to farmers who resist close contact with agents of
the central government. Nor have these systems been particularly
efficient. At the root of these problems is the global
rural/urban split, sometimes complicated by ethnic or religious
factors. The answer to this problem, as with many others, seems
to lie in Third World governments encouraging a greater degree of
decentralization and rural empowerment. Unfortunately, we can
find very little formal reflection of AID's understanding of this
latter highly political aspect of the urban/rural problem.
One more aspect of human development policy to which we
attach particular importance needs to be underlined: AID'S
agricultural program must. in our view. have an even stronger
grounding in the collaborative and participatory approach. AID's
basic task should be to orient and then to train developing
country'people at all levels in the potentials, problems, and
procedures of sustainable agriculture. AID seems well launched
IThe term "extension" is used for shorthand purposes though it
too often has for Third World farmers a strong connotation of
American and European cultural bias.
into collaborative work at the governmental and technical levels
in developing countries. However, despite good rhetoric, not
enough has been done in our view to ensure "dirt farmer" input
into program adaptation. Not only the awareness and sensitivity
of the cultural anthropologist is needed. Also, the techniques
of soliciting the farmers' own perceptions of their capacities
and enlisting their "ownership" of whatever is new needs much
more attention. The farm family and then the village and its
chosen organizations must be the most important objects of AID's
attention. Respect for farmers' understanding of their own
environment and of rural values generally, including very
specifically the crucial role of women, is essential.
Projects aimed at sustainability, while necessarily complex
and multi-faceted in design and while ideally bringing to bear
inputs from several scientific disciplines, must fit the farmers'
available time, must build from existing farm practices, should
support existing survival strategies, and must be simple enough
to be credible and understandable. Building simplicity out of
complexity is admittedly a very difficult task.
All projects should be low cost, from the farmers'
perspective, and be based on adapting proven technical packages
to local environments. They should build from existing farm
practices and should use only easily available, affordable, and
environmentally safe inputs.
In designing and carrying out agricultural projects, AID
must ensure that benefits are equitably distributed. This is a
vital element in sustainability. It must also ensure, as some
donors have not, that existing common property rights (communal
woods, ponds, irrigation systems, grazing areas) are respected
and that the costs of adopting new techniques do not unfairly
fall on any particular group.
OTHER IMPORTANT AID PROGRAMS AFFECTING RURAL DEVELOPMENT
AID has other rural development programs which are important
to achieving sustainability, which we endorse, and which we will
discuss later: population programs; rural reforms by central
governments, sometimes supported by AID subsidy; and, very
specially, land tenure and land entitlement programs which give
landless farmers the incentive to protect and build up the lands
Other very valid aspects of AID's rural development policy
are covered only in passing in this paper: health, general
education, women in development, nutrition, farm housing, etc.
We do not downgrade the importance.of these programs but choose
not to discuss them in detail in order to concentrate attention
on the ecologically oriented aspects of rural development.
We recognize that there is a complex set of
interrelationships between and among all facets of rural
development. However, we urge, on the basis of AID's unhappy
experience with the too broadly conceived "integrated rural
development projects" of the '70s, that at least at first
projects focused on achieving sustainability should not include
too many components. AID in any given village where it is
involved in agricultural projects should normally introduce
additional components such as assistance to health and education
only incrementally and as farmers and their families grow into
the system. There will be exceptions, particularly with PVO-run
projects, but the general rule still holds.
WHAT AID SHOULD NOT DO IN RURAL DEVELOPMENT
AID's work in helping farmers in developing countries make
the transition to sustainability in agriculture is so important
that it should largely leave to other development agencies most
other approaches to agricultural development, particularly those-
involving the construction of "public works": engineering
rehabilitation of major irrigation systems; rural highway
construction; agricultural storage, if this involves major
construction; and the construction of buildings for government
research and government services. The World Bank is usually
willing to finance such "bricks and mortar" projects and, in
fact, usually does them better.
In sum, we repeat our view that AID should focus its
agricultural programs and projects on introducing sustainable
systems; and in doing this, by concentrating on what it does
best; on what most urgently needs to be done; on what other
development agencies cannot do as well; and on what it can find
the resources to do. On all counts, helping teach people at many
levels to adapt to the many ecological and economic situations in
which it works the new techniques of sustainable agriculture
fills the bill.
SPECIFIC ELEMENTS THAT SHOULD BE INCLUDED IN AID PROJECTS
The following pages include a list project elements that we
believe will advance agricultural sustainability. It is meant to
be suggestive rather than all-inclusive. Some project elements
could and do appear under more than one heading.
We use the term "project elements" to emphasize the need,
for example, not to have soil projects as such but rather to
include elements dealing with various aspects of soil
conservation or productivity in every agricultural project.
SOIL! Systems and Proiect Elements Which Conserve and
Soil conservation is an area of special American expertise.
AID has been relatively strong in soil research and mapping but
weak in soils management conservation.
In our view, not enough has been done to introduce simple, cheap
soil conservation techniques into AID agricultural projects, with
the exception of a few good PVO-sponsored projects. This should
o Protection against water erosion: planting ground cover;
tree planting along terraces; bench terracing; bunds on
steep areas; check dams; infiltration ditches; terrace
construction, when cost-efficient or when built as the
result of village decision; gully plugs; low dams; stone and
trash lines; minimum till; alley cropping.
o Protection against wind erosion: dune stabilization by
palisade construction and tree planting; trees for wind
breaks; planting of ground cover.
o Restoration and maintenance of soil fertility: use of
mulching; crop residues; animal and "green manure";
dispersed farm tree planting and other agroforestry
practices; methods to increase organic content of soil;
particularly in arid and semi-arid zones.
o Restoration of abandoned lands.
Almost all soil preservation and restoration projects
involve substantial investment of money and time. Some are
relatively cheap (trash lines) and some expensive (terracing).
Outside financing is very often necessary. However, such
projects should not be undertaken unless farmers are genuinely
convinced that such projects are in their vital interest, make a
strong case for them, and are willing to invest their own time
and even some funds in their construction and maintenance. We
believe that major attention should be given in all AID's
agricultural programs to basic, well-understood soil and water
management as an integral part of all that AID does.
CROP SYSTEMS: Proiect elements that adapt to local use crops and
cropping systems (a) to increase productivity or crop
security, particularly in difficult environments (low
rainfall, poor soils, etc.)- (b) to augment soil
fertility, (c) to reduce the need for outside inputs
for pest and weed control: and (d) to improve the
quality of rural life (better nutrition, sources of
cash income to purchase inputs, basic goods not
produced on the farm. and amenities).
Crops that reduce the need for fertilizers whose use
leads to nitrate pollution or the destruction of soil -
structure or quality.
Nitrogen fixing systems: alley cropping; use of
nitrogenous trees; leguminous cover crops, etc.
Systems that provide for better crop spacing, better
timing of planting, intercropping, crop rotation, and
use of biological interacting plants for weed control.
Low till systems.
Improved crops which have been adapted to acid,
saline, or other problem soils, which increase drought
and stress resistance, and which increase pest
resistance, thus reducing the need for those
pesticides which destroy pest predators or pose health
Relay cropping, polycultures, and crop rotation.
"Minor" crops, both annuals and perennials, that
provide better farm diet or that can be processed to
provide cash income, including honey, gums, tanning,
edible seeds, fruits, leaves, bark, and fibers.
Agroforestry combinations, including forest and home
gardens, particularly for moist tropical forest
situations, where on-farm production can also provide
wood, forage, fruits, medicines, and other products;
project elements which will make it unnecessary to
resort to primary forest destruction.
Incorporation of animals including small numinants and
fish (aquaculture) into farming systems to provide
power, organic fertilizer, and new sources of food.
Incorporation of tree or other plants or animals which
can be processed on the farm for cash income at
periods of cash shortage.
We support the introduction of more productive and more
sturdy species which are developed through agricultural
research when and if they meet actual farmer requirements.
However, we urge that AID not wait for "the perfect species" and
put less emphasis on crops as commodities and more as part of a
total farm system. We support the move away from monoculture and
towards the preservation of crop progenitors.
WATER MANAGEMENT: Low cost systems or techniques which provide
for conservation of water and improved and locally
controlled water management at local village level.
Small scale irrigation systems, including systems
which prevent salinization, waterlogging, and water
Watershed management and runoff control on or above
Deepening of wells and low-cost pumping.
Dry land techniques for water conservation: field grid
systems, water spreading, water channelling, and water
harvesting (infiltration) systems.
Water storage conservation methods.
ENERGY: Project components and systems which meet needs for
energy at the farm or village level (preferably from
energy). renewable energy sources for reducing the burden
of heavy farm work. for heating. and for cooking.
Introduction of draft animals (absence of good or
cheap animal fodder is often the chief constraint).
Home and village tree planting for fuelwood (often a
by-product to the production of construction
materials, animal fodder, food, and the provision of
Biogas digesters (also supply nutrient rich slurry),
bicycle power, etc.
.Solar energy for crop drying and preservation.
More efficient use of biomass fuels through better
stoves, improved techniques for the production of
WETLANDS. COASTAL SYSTEMS. FORESTS. AND GRASSLANDS: systems and
techniques that provide for sustainable use and
protection of village-exploited forests, aquatic systems,-
Improved management of natural forests and equitable
distribution of benefits.
Improved management of wetlands and coastal systems.
Development of local fisheries, particularly as a
supplemental source of farm income and better
Rangeland rehabilitation (AID should also continue
some practical experimentation to find more efficient
traditional range management systems despite
widespread failures to date).
RURAL SUPPORT? systems and techniques which make possible more
efficient and equitable villace-level support of
agricultural production, storage, and commercialization.
Farm or village level crop storage.
Locally controlled marketing systems.
Local solutions to meet the need for more cash at the
time of purchase of seeds and other inputs through the
planting of supplementary cash crops and the
establishment of local micro-enterprises to process
agricultural products (too many"top-down farm credit
systems have proven to be unsustainable because of
high cost and difficulty of financial control and
- Locally controlled means of purchasing and reselling
needed farm inputs.
AID, as a matter of high priority, should restore its
Previous level of financial support to the CGIAR
research institutions and a limited number of other
research institutions like ICRAF, the International
Fertilizer Development Center, and CATIE. While some
of these organizations have made a start in addressing
Sustainability, AID should continue to use its
intellectual influence and financial leverage to -
persuade them to concentrate more of their time and
attention specifically on sustainable agricultural
systems and on helping the poorer farmers on fragile
lands to increase their productivity and food
security. These research institutions should be
encouraged to find better ways to get meaningful
inputs from dirt farmers themselves; from the outset
of research planning to the adaptation of this
research to various ecological situations, farmers
must be involved. These research institutions should
continue to concentrate their genetic research on
plants which can resist climatic and soil stresses as
well as combat pests and weeds. They should be
encouraged to be more imaginative and creative in
finding ways to deliver the fruits of their research
to farmers when Third World government research and
extension services are weak or unpopular with farmers.
We urge continuing attention to collaborative social
science research related to the establishment of
sustainable agricultural systems. Two important
subjects that come to mind are (1) how to measure
success in achieving sustainability (both human and
agronomic indicators), and (2) the attitudes of
various governments to decentralization and
empowerment of rural citizens, information which is
vital to planning successful programs in sustainable
We agree with AID's policy of helping to build up
national or, in some cases, regional research
capacity. AID has already decided it cannot help
build research centers in every country, but rather
that it should concentrate on helping countries with
the most promise and potential for efficient regional
outreach. AID should encourage research institutions
to move away from classic export-crop and commodity-
oriented research towards giving more attention to the
problems of the poorer farmer and to helping solve the
problems of transition to sustainable agriculture.
So far, US academic commitment to agricultural
sustainability is thin, and AID should encourage the
U.S. academic community to move faster towards a
multi-disciplinary, sustainable approach to Third
World agriculture. In this regard, we consider BIFAD
to be an important vehicle for encouraging
collaborative research between U.S. academic
institutions and Third World scientists working on
AID should continue and even accelerate its efforts to
encourage, train and utilize American academic experts
on both the biological and social scientific aspects '
of agricultural sustainability in the developing
world. While individual experts in the various
disciplines involved in designing and implementing
sustainable agriculture systems are available, there
are fewer American academic experts on country-
specific agricultural problems. AID should help
create and then use a few centers of excellence where
all country-specific aspects of development, including
in particular agricultural sustainability, will be
Closely related are efforts, in which AID has played a
pioneering role, to support networking, data gathering,
and retraining of scientists, all related to
sustainability. AID should also continue to support
the growing and laudable trend towards scientific
exchange and cooperation among developing countries,
which cooperation is already quite effective among some
countries in Asia and Latin America. AID should
continue to find ways to support individual scientists
in developing countries who have shown real
understanding of the problems of sustainability.
We would not presume to be much more specific about the
agenda which the various research institutions we have mentioned
here should follow. This agenda must vary widely from
institution to institution and we don't pretend to know enough to
make firm recommendations. However, there are common
characteristics that we believe research projects should share:
solid grounding in farms systems analysis; a broad
interdisciplinary approach; and continuing participation in
refocusing and adaptation by farmers themselves.
A few research topics which we believe should continue to
receive special attention are:
Designing "no-till" systems which don't depend on
Further research and dissemination of successful
tropical agroforestry models, and finding and
developing fast growing woody perennials adapted to the
various ecological situations in which AID works.
Finding low-cost and widely available ways to provide
basic soil nutrients, particularly phosphorous, to poor
farmers in order to avoid the need to import costly
Testing of systems of resource-conserving range
management which will be acceptable to migratory
Confecting systems of low-cost integrated pest
management which do not rely on harmful or costly
Discovering low-cost ways of measuring and monitoring
water output from shallow aquifers.
Developing additional and lower cost sources of farm
Comparisons of total performance of a large number of
low-cost, projects (in AID and elsewhere) with that of
conventional high-input agricultural systems.
ADAPTATION AND SPREADING OF SUSTAINABLE FARM TECHNIQUES
We applaud AID for beginning to move away from
financing and then relying on classic Third World
extension services, patterned after US models, models
which have progressively fallen into disuse here. We
encourage AID to move creatively farther and faster in
the direction of perfecting imaginative "bottom up"
modes of helping farmers to--adapt sustainable-----
agricultural systems through utilizing local "NGO's"
as well as new uses of mass communications and even
the formal educational systems at local levels.
Better utilization of local people who understand and
are dedicated to sustainability, people who have a
superior knowledge of local culture, appears to us to
be the best way to mobilize these absolutely vital
local human resources.
We believe that almost invariably the best base for
success in reaching large numbers of poor people for
the adaptation and teaching of new techniques is
participation by farmers at all stages of research and
planning and, of course, implementation by farmers and
their chosen organizations. This must be accomplished
at the village level and through choosing credible (to
farmers) organizing groups of manageable size. AID
should have more "barefoot" seminars on agricultural
- AID should expend a lot more effort in helping to
build local institutions. We recognize that the
selection of local cooperating organizations is messy,
highly pragmatic and almost site-specific. Usually,
but not always, the best group to choose is the one
that is most widely supported by the farmers
themselves: farmers' cooperatives or unions; women's/
groups, particularly where women do most of the farm
work; village councils; and religious groups. If no
appropriate group exists, we believe that AID should
help create one.
But AID's working at the level of individual villages
won't solve the problem of spreading new techniques
more broadly. At this stage, AID does not have the
money to tackle the problems of sustainability in all
villages of a country or even a region. Nevertheless,
even while working at the village level, AID must aim
to construct solutions which are of broad enough
applicability as to be widely acceptable in a large
number of villages and which need only small low-cost
local adaptation. For the moment, AID must
realistically look to cooperating organizations and
cooperating donors -- to shoulder the broader
dissemination of information on new and proven systems
and techniques more broadly. This further means that
project methods and results must be recorded a way
which can be widely understood and then made widely
- Typically, the most difficult problem in bringing
about proper acceptance of proven systems and
"technical packages" is finding more widely based
regional or national groups with the technical skills,
governmental receptivity, and financial strength to
act as conveyor belts to reach new farmers' groups.
We believe AID is on the right track in turning for
this purpose to;
US private voluntary agencies;
"Indigenous" PVOs with national or regional reach;
The US Peace Corps;
The African Development Foundation-
The World Food Program;
Local university outreach programs;
And, increasingly, local private sector channels,
particularly in Asia.
AID should give greater emphasis to in-country
training of people at every level involved in
agricultural sustainability: government officials,
indigenous NGO and PVO leaders. They need to be
helped to get information about the need for the ready
availability of many sound soil, cropping, water
management, energy techniques that protect fields,
forests, rangelands, and aquatic systems.
Reliance on any single group or combination to do the
whole job in any given country is impossible today.
There are limits in the case of each of these
categories of cooperants, usually self-imposed, on
their capacity for expansion. We recommend that AID
urgently make more systematic efforts to identify
organizations, particularly local PVO's, which can
effectively play this role. AID should help in
training them technically and financially. We also
urge that AID. do even more to encourage reluctant
developing country governments to look with a kindlier
eye on the use of such groups, particularly local
groups. Finally, we urge that AID identify and seek
Sto remedy constraints that make it difficult for PVOs
to use their funds efficiently; that it make a careful
survey of success stories in the use of PVOs in
achieving sustainability; and that it examine how it
can help give the better indigenous PVOs the financial
stability which will attract and keep good people.
As a very central point, given the fact that AID will
be depending increasingly on PVOs, American and
indigenous, we believe that AID should reassess and
rationalize its methods of working with them. Every
effort should be made to be more flexible and
Encouraging. For example, we believe that matching
fund requirements should be relaxed for AID-PVO
\ cooperative activities involving agriculture and
forestry just as it has done with child survival
AID'S NON-AGRICULTURAL PROGRAMS CLOSELY RELATED TO AGRICULTURE
We strongly support the following programs:
o Land reform or, where communal property is firmly rooted,
more security for farmers in their tenure: the purpose of
such measures is to give farmers a sense of ownership and
responsibility for the land they till so that they will,
among other things, not disincentives against protecting the
natural resource base of their lands.
o AID programs proposing and supporting, through structural
adjustment and reforms or otherwise, a whole series of
changes in governmental institutions and policies which
could help or hurt the cause of sustainability (agricultural
pricing, agriculture taxes, abolition or limiting of cheap
food imports, changes in government agricultural
institutions, and abolition of subsidies which will
discourage farm populations).
o Population Programs: including demographic studies to
*- -determine the impact of population trends on agricultural
sustainability. Reducing overly rapid population growth is
one of the keys of the transition to sustainable agriculture
in many parts of the world. Even in areas where the lack of
population could be a constraint on agriculture, the ability
of farm families to decide on family size will be a factor
o Health: particularly infant health.
o Women in development programs.
o Non-farm rural employment and other programs which improve
the quality of rural life.
INSTITUTIONALIZATION OF SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE
Experienced AID observers all agree on one thing: the
surest way to ensure that AID moves more rapidly toward effective
incorporation of the principle and practices of sustainable
agriculture into all its agricultural and related programs is to
institutionalize the principle by bringing it into every aspect
of AID activities: personnel recruitment and assignment;
training; promotion; policy formulation; planning at individual
missions, as well as central planning and budgeting; planning and
coordination with other donors; and, very important, policy and
technical discussions with developing countries.
As with any key program, AID's program for agricultural
sustainability must receive increased resources, money as well as
personnel, if it is to succeed. A major effort should be made by
AID, particularly in these times of budgetary stringency, to
convince Congress of the priority and importance of U.S. support
of agricultural sustainability, inter alia as a key element in
the protection of our own national interests. Private American
organizations, like those which participated in the formulation
of these views, should be asked to lend important support with
Congress. AID should particularly examine one instrument for
giving greater support to this effort, Public Law 480. We
believe that greater use can be made of funds so generated for
support of agricultural sustainability without creating
dependence on imported food stocks.
AID must also take the lead in convincing other development
agencies to support sustainable agriculture. AID has a
comparative advantage over other donors in helping developing
countries make the shift toward agricultural sustainability. In
addition to sharing in the U.S. national advantages in adapting
agricultural advances to many situations, it has other strengths!,
the presence of AID field staff which can monitor and encourage
promising initiatives (although field staffs are being cut too
rapidly under present budgetary pressures); ability to mobilize
grant funds and PL-480 counterpart funds to help meet local
costs; a dynamic relation with U.S. PVOs which allows creative
spread of sustainable agricultural concepts; the willingness to
help build cooperating nongovernmental organizations in
developing countries; and the ability to work closely with
experienced people in American academic and scientific
institutions in networking with developing countries.
AID also has some distinct disadvantages: growing budgetary
limitations; personnel ceilings; and, perhaps as serious as any,
Congressional restrictions on AID's activities.
Most of AID's younger generation of agricultural experts --
now in the majority -- are firm believers, at least in theory, in
the centrality of sustainability to agricultural development.
The trouble is that AID does not yet have enough field-based
agricultural and especially natural resource experts: to plan
the kinds of projects we have described; to inform and motivate
developing country counterparts; to keep close touch with farmers
and their organizations; to monitor U.S. and other agricultural
and natural resource projects and programs; and to seek, evaluate
and disseminate the successes and failures of sustainable
agriculture. Unfortunately, the number of experienced in-house
agriculturalists is shrinking, and AID never had a sufficient
number of natural resource specialists. Without trying to
quantify exactly how many such experts should be stationed in
Washington or in a given country, we believe that every mission
where there is a serious agricultural-natural resources program
(and with limited exceptions that should include all AID
missions) should have one or more resident experts. AID should
make special efforts to recruit more of the kind of people who
understand the participatory approach such as ex-Peace Corps
people. AID should also encourage American PVOs to help in
training local experts skilled in the agronomic and human skills
We strongly urge that Mission Directors and, in fact, all AID
personnel be judged for promotion in part on their ability to
support sustainable agricultural projects. This means, unlike
what is the case too often today, seeing such programs through to
a successful conclusion, not just designing such projects and
getting them underway.
We recognize that AID should and will have to rely
heavily and increasingly on outside experts from the U.S., other
developed countries and from the Third World, from a few
excellent agricultural development institutions, from free-
standing groups of consultants, and from the academic community
to carry out its agricultural programs. We urge discriminating
emphasis in selection of these experts on experience and
performance and not on their institutional affiliation as such.
We also urge a careful review of the criteria for selecting
"IQCs" to ensure that agriculture consultants so chosen are truly
qualified in the principles of sustainability.
We urge AID to sponsor a growing number of.regional
workshops on sustainability in agriculture, some quite
specifically on sustainability for farmers on fragile lands. AID
should also hold or sponsor more interregional workshops in
Washington. These workshops should include people from all
1 regions, all bureaus, Congressional aides, PVO and NGO
representatives, and outside experts.
AID Policy and Planning: In Washington and in the Field
We believe that AID has made'a good start in formulating
policy on agricultural sustainability. Nevertheless, we believe
that AID's working consensus .has far outrun written down policy
in both detail and creativity, particularly in the good
agricultural and natural resource policy statements of some
' regions. As already indicated, we believe that AID's new
agricultural focus statement should be expanded. We urge AID
within the coming months to make new efforts to formulate global
and regional agriculture policies which will, to a greater
extent, reflect the centrality of sustainability. This theme
should also be reflected much more specifically in Congressional
We urge that more of AID's centrally funded agriculture and
natural resource projects be focused specifically on
sustainability and be mutually better integrated.
With growing decentralization, a major emphasis on
agricultural sustainability in the planning and allocation of
funds by AID missions is essential to institutionalizing
sustainability. Some missions--reflecting the experiences and
predilections of top staff and often the views of host-country
government--put more emphasis on sustainability than others. We
urge AID in its screening of mission Action Plans to insist that
missions include proposals for projects and project elements that
address agricultural sustainability. Furthermore, we believe
every mission should have at least one ongoing program which
addresses at the national level one or more of the more serious
natural resource conservation problems related to agricultural
and rural development. Individual Country Development Strategy
Statements as well as the guidance for preparing those statements
should also be reviewed to ensure they have taken agricultural
sustainability and particularly its natural resource components
fully into account in their longer range planning.
We urge AID to push on toward completion of Phase II of the
Congressional mandated program for financing the writing of
environmental profiles for developing countries. These profiles,
appropriately done largely by experts from the country being
studied, should be required to put new emphasis on natural
resource problems associated with agricultural sustainability.
The same should be the case with AID-financed National
AID Leadership on Agricultural Sustainability with Developing
Countries and Other Donors
Outside but more often within the context of their projects,
AID, Embassy, and other U.S. officials have a continuing exchange
of ideas and proposals on agriculture and related subjects with
officials of the country to which they are tied. These
discussions range from macro-economic aspects of economic policy
and reforms--in or out of fundamental discussions on structural
adjustment or reforms--to quite technical discussions among
experts. Sustainability in all its aspects should be central to
those discussions. We also urge that AID generate good
discussions of the demographics of agriculture and its relation
to population programs.
We recognize the difficulty of persuading other givers of
economic assistance fundamentally to change the course of their
development assistance programs and to undertake programs and
projects to which they are not politically, institutionally, or
intellectually committed. However, agricultural sustainability
and natural resource protection are themes whose time has come,
and other donors--and some of the more advanced developing
countries like India, China, and Thailand--have very important
contributions to make. We urge that agricultural
sustainability--and not just agriculture--should be the theme of
regular exchanges of information and views with and among donors
and of attempts to avoid unproductive donor duplication and
rivalries, both in-country and on a more global or regional
basis. AID should also, in this period of budget austerity,
interest other donors in financing projects for the spreading of
sustainability solutions, once such systems have been proven in
various environments. This should be particularly so when AID
doesn't have the money to do the job itself. AID should urge the
OECD's Development Assistance Committee (DAC) to hold a special
session dedicated to sustainability. AID, in reviewing World
Bank and other regional bank projects, should give special
emphasis to those institutions' performance on sustainability.
Finally, we urge that AID produce an annual state-of-the-art
report on its and other's experiences in finding successful
techniques and ways to get them adapted and adopted. PVO
experience in this regard will be particularly important.
Consultative Group on International.Agricultural Research
Mailing Address: 1818 H Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20433, U.S.A.
Office Location: 801 19th Street, N.W.
Telephone (Area Code 202) 334-8021
20 October, 1987
International Centers Week
October 26-30, 1987
The attached draft paper "Sustainable Agricultural
Production: Implications for International Agricultural
Research" (AGR/TAC:IAR/87/22) is transmitted by TAC for
the information of the Group. It will be the basis for
discussion at the Workshop to be held in Rome, 12-14
January 1988. Group members are invited to send written
comments to the TAC Secretariat for use in preparing the
SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTION:
INTERNATIONAL AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH
Draft Report of TAC Continuing Sub-Committee II
AWL / J.AL IM/ /.L
ACRONYMS AND ABBREVIATIONS
Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center
Commission on the Application of Science to Agriculture,
Forestry and Aquaculture
Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research
Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical
Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maiz y Trigo
Centro Internacional de la Papa
Food and Agriculture Organization"of the United Nations
Gross domestic product
International Agricultural Research Center
International Biosciences Network
International Board for Plant Genetic Resources
International Board for Soil Research and Management
International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas
International Council for Research in Agroforestry
International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology
International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics
International Council of Scientific Unions
International Fertilizer Development Center
International Food Policy Research Institute
International Irrigation Management Institute
International Institute of Tropical Agriculture
International Livestock Center for Africa
International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases
Integrated pest management
International Rice Research Institute
International Service for National Agricultural Research
International Biosciences Netwdrk
Less developed country
Technical Advisory Committee to the CGIAR
United Nations Development Program
United Nations Environmental Program
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
West Africa Rice Development Association
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER 1. NEED FOR SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTION
The CGIAR's Concern with Sustainability
Concepts and Goals of Sustainability
Environmental Degradation and Sustainability
Who Wins? Who Loses? Who Pays?
Short-term versus Long-term Considerations
Favourable versus Less Favourable Environments
"Closed" versus "Open" Agricultural Systems
Forest Resources and Rangeland
Trends in Agricultural Production
CHAPTER 2. CIRCUMSTANCES THAT LIMIT THE ACHIEVEMENT
2.1. Limitslto Production
2.2. Rising Demand
2.3. Problems of Meeting the Demand
2.3.1. Limited Availability of Land
2.3.2. Difficulties in Maintaining the Rate of
Increase in Yields
2.4. Low Priority Accorded to Agriculture
2.5. Economic Policies Unfavourable to Agriculture
2.6. Inadequate Infrastructure and Markets
2.7. Inadequate Inputs and Credit
2.8. Weak Institutions for Research, Extension and Education
2.9. Problems Related to Land Tenure
2.10. Inadequate or Inappropriate Laws that Affect Sustainability
CHAPTER 3. PHYSICAL AND BIbLOGICAL
3.1. Physical Factors
3.1.1. Soil Resources
(i) Soil Erosion
(ii) Soil Fertility
3.1.2. Water Resources
3.1.3. Toxic Chemicals
3.1.4. Changes in Climate
3.2. Biological Factors
Diseases and Parasites of Animals
HOW THE IARCS ARE CONTRIBUTING TO THE GOAL OF
4.1. CGIAR Centers
4.1.1. Centers Working on Crop and Livestock Productivity
(ii) Resource Management
(iii) Agro-ecological Characterization
4.1.2. Centers with Other Mandates
4.2. Non-CGIAR Centers
CHAPTER 5. SOME OPINIONS ON RESEARCH NEEDS
5.1. Suggestions from the IARCs
5.2. Approaches of Other Organizations to Sustainability Concerns
.5.2.3. World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED)
5.2.4. Office of Technology Assessment, U.S. Congress
RECOMMENDED STRATEGIES FOR PROGRESS TOWARDS
6.1. Responses to the Challenge
6.2. Research with a Sustainability Perspective
6.3. Short-term versus Long-term Objectives 54
6.4. Low-input Agriculture 55
6.5. High-input Agriculture 57
6.6. Sustainability and Equity 58
6.7. Improved Production Systems, including Agroforestry 59
6.8. Balance in Research: Productivity versus Resource Management 61
6.9. Techniques in Biotechnology 63
6.10. Policy Research 64
6.11. Relations with National Agricultural Research Systems 65
6.12. Training Programs 65
6.13. Collaboration with Institutions outside the CGIAR System 66
6.14. Reseach Needs and Resource Implications 66
6.15. Conclusions 68
ANNEX 1 Analysis of the Centers Responses to the CSC II
Request for Information on Sustainability
From its inception, a major goal of the CGIAR 1/ has been to
increase food production in developing countries. Much of the work it
supports has also been concerned with-sustaining production for the
needs of future generations.
In:its study of CGIAR priorities and futrre-strategies, TAC
recommended that the word "sustainable" be included in the System's goal
statement and that greater emphasis be placed on sustainable production
systems in future work of the Centers. In this paper, TAC reviews the
circumstances threatening sustainability, analyzes areas where
international research could contribute more effectively to the
development of sustainable agricultural production, and makes
recommendations for the future work of the Centers.
TAC's Concept of Sustainability
A dictionary definition of sustainability refers to "keeping an
effort going continuously, the ability to last out and keep from
falling". Such a definition would suggest that agricultural systems
would be sustainable if production could be maintained at current
levels. This would be a static concept of sustainability. But
sustainability should be treated as a dynamic concept, allowing for the
changing needs of a steadily increasing global population. In the
static sense, many traditional agricultural production systems were
sustainable for centuries in terms of their ability to maintain a
continuing, stable level of production. However, the needs and
increasing aspirations of expanding numbers of people have forced
changes in production practices that have imposed excessive demands on
the natural resource base.
1/ A List of Acronyms is given at the front of this document.
Within this context, sustainable agriculture should involve the
successful management of resources for agriculture to satisfy changing
human needs while maintaining or enhancing the natural resource base and
avoiding environmental degradation.
Trends in Agricultural Production
Characterized in this way, sustainability.should be considered -
in the light of past and current trends in agricultural production.
Aggregate statistics look very positive in terms of food
production in developing countries in the 30-year period from 1950Qto
1980. During this period, food production in the Third World
experienced a compound rate of growth of 3% annually. Per capital food
production in the developing world also improved, with a compound rate
of growth of 0.6%, even though populations grew rapidly during the same
Despite this remarkable progress in expanding food production,
the needs for further improvement continue to mount. Food deficits
remain critical in Africa, where per capital food production has dropped
by almost 20% in the last quarter-century. Furthermore, despite the
overall -increase in per capital food production in the developing world,
it is estimated that half the population cannot afford a diet that meets
the minimum energy needs for a healthy, active life.
Circumstances that Limit the Achievement of Sustainability
Difficulties in Maintaining Progress in Food Production
There is much evidence to suggest that in the developing
countries it will be difficult, but by no means impossible, to maintain
into the foreseeable future the rate of progress in food production
. . . .
realized over the past 20-30 years. For example, it is doubtful if
those regions that have benefitted from the green revolution in rice and
wheat production can continue to enjoy the same rates of gain in
productivity that have occurred in recent decades. Furthermore, there
will be great difficulties in extending the green revolution in rice and
wheat to the other half of rice and wheat producers in the developing
world whom it has not yet reached.
But-aside from the difficulty in sustaining the rates of gain
in food production through the green revolution, there are many
circumstances that will make the realization of sustainable production
systems extremely difficult, unless remedies can be found and
On a global basis, agriculture must produce enough to feed some
80-100 million additional people each year. The enormity of this
problem is highlighted by the fact that about 90% of this increase in
population is occurring in the developing world.
Such growth in population poses one of the greatest threats to
the achievement of sustainable production systems. Expansion in the
numbers of people increases the demand for more cropland while,
simultaneously, expanding the need to take land out of production to
accommodate other requirements. Furthermore, expanded food production
in response to rising demand increases the pressures on those natural
resources that are vital to sustain production often with serious
consequences for the environment.
Limited Opportunities for Expanding Cultivated Areas
There will be limited opportunities to expand the global base
of productive agricultural land. New areas brought into cultivation
will do little more than compensate for the loss of agricultural land
diverted to other uses or otherwise lost through various processes of
degradation. It is apparent, therefore, that growing demands for
agricultural products must be met primarily by intensification of
production on existing arable land, rather than by bringing new areas
Unfavourable Political, Economic and Policy Environments
Political instability in some developing-countries has been a
major deterrent to sustained agricultural development, which has been
further hampered by the low priority accorded to agriculture by many
national and local governments. Such low priority is reflected in many
ways, including a low level of investment in the development of the
agricultural sector as well as in policies for trade, taxation and
pricing. Often, the terms of trade are skewed against the agricultural
sector, leading to artificially low internal prices for agricultural
commodities, which favour the urban consumer at the expense of the
farmer. In many countries, agriculture is not provided with the
financial and institutional support its central role in the economy
warrants. Moreover, such policies act as deterrants to the achievement
of sustainable agricultural production because they do not provide the
necessary incentives to producers to invest in sound farming practices
that minimize degradation of the environment.
In many developing countries, weak infrastructure is a major
constraint to the delivery of inputs and transport of farm commodities
to market. Extending infrastructure helps to remove these constraints
and allows furtherintensification of production in favourable areas,
which helps to reduce the pressure for increased production in the more
In many circumstances, the achievement of sustainability will
require the use of purchased inputs such as seed, fertilizers,
pesticides, implements and machinery.. In addition to the limitations to
their availability imposed by poor infrastructure, their availability is
also limited by high prices and the lack of credit to purchase them.
The development of strong, viable and effective agricultural
research, extension and education programs is vital to the achievement
of sustainability. Despite the high financial returns to investment in
such programs revealed by many studies, there is widespread evidence
that they are underfunded in most developing countries.
Systems of land tenure may also impose limitations on
agricultural development and the achievement of sustainability, by
acting as disincentives to producers, for example,: to conserve natural
resources and invest in the future productivity of the land.
Physical and Biological Factors Affecting Sustainability
1 Soils. No single resource is more important to the achievement
of a sustainable agriculture than the soil which contains nutrients and
stores the water for -plant growth. Deficiencies or excesses of either
can seriously limit productivity. Their availability in appropriate
amounts is heavily dependent on the manner in which the soil is managed.
Moreover, in many parts of the world, soil erosion has
S increased to the point-where losses exceed the formation of new soils
through weathering. When this occurs, the soil is, in effect, being
S mined, converting renewable resources to non-renewable ones. When
topsoil is lost through erosion, there is a loss of fertility and a
deterioration of physical properties, resulting in a decline in
Population pressures are contributing to other difficulties in
maintaining soil productivity. As fuelwood supplies are diminished,
expanding populations in many areas have become increasingly dependent
upon crop residues and animal manures for fuel, thereby reducing their
use in replenishing nutrients and organic matter.
Water. Agriculture is the principal user of global water
supplies. From historic times, irrigation has been used to help farmers
to secure a reliable and timely supply of water for their crops. During
the 1950s and 1960s, irrigated areas expanded at the rate of about 4%
annually. By the early 1980s, the rate of growth had declined to less
Non-sustainable use of water is occurring in a number of
agricultural-areas throughout the world, involving both the use of
fossil water as well as the overdrafting of rechargeable aquifers.
Irrigation water is often used inefficiently, with much more
water transported and applied than crops require. Furthermore, poor
irrigation practices result in severe problems of land degradation
through water-logging, salinization or both.
For those vast areas in developing countries that depend on
rainfall for-their agriculture, efficiency in its use is just as
important-as for irrigation water. Inappropriate soil and water
management under rainfed agriculture is one of the primary causes of
Toxic Chemicals. Human activities are responsible for
releasing chemicals into the environment that may have serious
deleterious effects on plants and animals. For example, certain
industrial processes, along with the combustion of fossil fuels result
in the release of large quantities of sulphur and nitrogen oxides into
the atmosphere. These gases combine with moisture and come down as
acid-contaminated rainfall, which has the potential to damage both
terrestrial and aquatic organisms. Furthermore, acid rain may
contribute to the acidification of soils which, in turn, may adversely
Industrial activities involving high-temperature processes have
also resulted in pollution of the atmosphere through the release of a
number of metals, which are potentially toxic to plant and animal life,
if allowed to accumulate in soils or water. In addition, chemicals with
beneficial uses, such as fertilizers and pesticides, can become harmful
if used inappropriately. The ability to benefit fully from such
chemicals in the future may well depend on refinements in their use.
Climatic Change. There is considerable evidence pointing to a
significant warming trend in world climate. Such a trend is a result of
a build-up of carbon dioxide and other gases in the:atmosphere, which
could have significant, longer-term effects on agricultural production
systems and their sustainability.
For example, coastal lowlands could suffer increased risk of
flooding caused by a greater melt of polar land ice. Possible effects
S of the warming trend on precipitation are more speculative, although
various models suggest that some regions could become more arid and
others more humid.
If the food needs of rapidly increasing populations are to be
met, both yields per unit area and per unit time must be substantially
increased. Such intensified production favours the build-up of weeds,
diseases, arthropods, rodents and birds (collectively referred to as
"pests") which, unless adequately controlled, seriously limit
productivity. Although there is wide variation, it is estimated that
pests contribute to field losses of some 35% of the potential production
of major food crops, with the greatest losses occurring in the
The long-term control of pests is also threatened by
break-downs in the effectiveness of pesticides and host-plant resistance
through mutation of the pests. The research required to maintain the
levels of control already achieved has an important part to play in the
achievement of sustainability.
The sustainability of animal production is partly dependent on
finding improved methods of controlling diseases and parasites, which
cause high mortality among livestock in developing countries and
seriously reduce productivity.
For the continued genetic improvement of both plants and
animals, the conservation of genetic resources is of paramount
importance and should continue to receive urgent attention from national
governments had relevant international organizations.
Contributions by International Institutes and Organizations
to the Goal of Sustainability
TAC requested all the IARCs, as well as a wide range of other
international organizations, to provide information on their current
activities related to sustainability. They were also asked for their
views on the needs for further research to assist in achieving
sustainable agricultural production.
The information provided in response to these requests is
summarized in Annex 1 and briefly reviewed in Chapters 4 and 5 of this
Recommended Strategies for Progress Towards Sustainability
If sustainability in agricultural production is to become a
reality, not only must the circumstances that threaten it be alleviated,
but there must also be major efforts to increase productivity to meet
growing needs. TAC views the challenge of finding timely and workable
solutions to these problems as one which should receive the highest
priority from all organizations that can make a contribution.
Many of the circumstances that limit the achievement of
sustainability, however, cannot be solved by the CGIAR or through
agricultural research alone. It is national governments and their
development services that must bear the brunt of the problems and on
whose commitment progress in achieving sustainability depends.
Nonetheless, continuing research is crucial for success and
international research institutions, as well as national agricultural
research systems, must continually examine their programs to give
greater emphasis and visibility to those aspects that relate to
Although the resources of the CGIAR are small relative to total
global expenditure on agricultural research by the public sector, the
Centers can have a disproportionate impact through their ability to
influence the nature of research at other institutions. Furthermore,
donors and other components of the CGIAR System can be helpful in
focusing attention on sustainability, and encouraging governments and
relevant institutions to accord it high priority.
A great deal of the work being undertaken by the Centers
already relates, to a greater or lesser extent, to problems affecting
sustainability. The question that arises, therefore, is not so much
whether the Centers are working to make agriculture more sustainable,
but whether they should be doing more, and whether there should be a
different emphasis in the work.
Research with a Sustainability Perspective
TAC does not view research related to sustainability as a
separate or discrete activity. Rather, concern for sustainability
should be reflected in the way in which the research is approached. TAC
therefore recommends that research at the Centers designed to generate
new agricultural technology should be planned and conducted with a
sustainability perspective. TAC further suggests that in formulating or
revising their strategic plans, Centers should include proposals for
maintaining a sustainability perspective throughout their total program.
Short-term versus Long-term Objectives
If the goal of sustainable agriculture is to meet the changing
needs of people, research must clearly cater for both short-term and
long-term needs. Nevertheless, a guiding principle for Centers must be
that stability of the environment should never be consciously sacrificed
for short-term gains. The aim should be to devise technologies that can
meet short-term requirements while, at the same time, maintaining or
enhancing the ability to meet long-term needs. .."
TAC considers that research on low-input agriculture should
feature more strongly in Center programs. The aim should be to optimize
productivity from the use of low levels of purchased inputs, consistent
with the requirements of sustainability. The ultimate aim would be to
promote a gradual evolution towards the use of higher levels of inputs,
where needed, and the development of technologies that reduce the risk
of uneconomic returns.
Technologies geared towards the more effective use of scarce
resources can aggravate the problems of soil mining, unless nutrients
are recycled as manure or plant residues, or replenished through the use
of fertilizer. There are large differences, however, in the demands for
nutrients made by different crops and differentiproduction systems.
Cassava production systems, for example, are sustainable with very low
Centers should review the emphasis given to low-input farming
in their research programs, and increase it where appropriate. They
should also review their approaches to research on low-input farming to
ensure that the sustainability perspective is adequately taken into
Without the existence of high-input technologies, it would be
impossible to meet the food demands of the increasing world population
unless more, but less suitable, land were brought into cultivation,
further raping the surface of the earth and'destroying.natural
ecosystems in the process.
TAC-considers that, under appropriate conditions, the use of
high levels of industrial inputs can make important contributions to
sustainability and recommends that high-input technologies be included
in research programs of the CGIAR Centers. TAC suggests, however, a
selective approach to research related to sustainability in these
production systems that restricts in-depth investigation to problems
that are especially relevant to tropical and sub-tropical environments.
Sustainability and Equity
TAC reaffirms its earlier recommendation that the Centers give
greater emphasis to the development.of technologies that are especially
applicable in less-endowed regions. In addition, TAC stresses that
assessment of these technologies with respect to sustainability requires
a thorough analysis of evolving agricultural policies in the domains of
Improved Production Systems, Including Agroforestry
There are dangers both in disregarding the principles of
traditional production systems and in assuming that, because they.are
appropriate in some circumstances, they will remain appropriate in
TAC encourages Centers to continue to investigate aspects of
more intensive production systems based on sound ecological principles
and the conservation of resources. Whenever appropriate, this work
should include aspects of agroforestry.
Balance in Research: Productivity versus Resource Management
Although productivity research includes many aspects of
resource management, the strengths of the various components of the
multidisciplinary approach must be kept under review to ensure an
appropriate balance. Plant breeding, fo- example, can continue to
contribute much to sustainability, but must not dominate Center programs
to the extent that other approaches are neglected.
TAC recommends that Centers with commodity mandates review
carefully the relative emphasis being given to genetic improvement in
comparison with other aspects of productivity research. Sustainability
concerns may make it desirable, if not essential, for some Centers to
give increased attention to research on problems of resource management.
Techniques in Biotechnology
Centers must constantly assess, in relation to other needs and
opportunities, the potential contribution to their work of new
techniques emerging from advances in the biological sciences.
TAC considers that Centers involved in productivity research
should have the capability to monitor advances in biotechnology and,
when appropriate, develop the in-house capacity to use techniques that
would assist their programs in a cost-effective manner.
Policy research has a particularly valuable role-to play in the
CGIAR System through its intimate interaction with technology research
and the changing comparative advantage that this research provides.
In its study of priorities and future strategies, TAC
recommended a significant increase in policy research. TAC reaffirms
this recommendation and urges that a concerted effort be made to provide
additional funding for this purpose.
Relations with National Agricultural Research Systems
Centers could be very effective in encouraging national
agricultural research systems to give greater attention and priority to
considerations of sustainability, as well as in helping to strengthen
their capacity to do so.
TAC recommends that Centers give high priority to strengthening
the capacity-of national agricultural research systems to incorporate a
sustainability perspective into their research approach.
TAC further recommends that Centers give high priority to the
incorporation of a sustainability perspective in training programs,
making adjustments, where necessary to meet, more effectively, the needs
of national agricultural research systems in this respect.
Collaboration with Institutions Outside the CGIAR System
TAC recommends that Centers continue to explore the potential
for collaboration with other research institutions, including those in
the private sector, particularly with a view to strengthening their
research related to sustainability.
Research Needs and Resource Implications
While the Centers and the national agricultural research
systems already make important contributions to the solution of problems
related to sustainability, the total current effort is unlikely to be
In view of the serious problems limiting the achievement of
sutainability, and the urgency for additional research to assist in
their solution, TAC recommends a substantial increase in Center funding
as a significant international contribution to meeting this need.
TAC considers that, because much of the required additional
work relates to protection of the environment and the conservation of
natural resources, it might well be possible to widen the avenues for
donor support for this vital new thrust, compared with support for
productivity research per se.
While many of the circumstances that limit sustainability
cannot be alleviated through work supported by the CGIAR, members of the
Group can bring their influence to bear in.creating-a greater sense of
urgency amongst all concerned. TAC further suggests that the issue of
agricultural sustainability has major implications for the further
development of the Third World and, indeed, for future global security.
TAC considers that the international donor community, as well
as the governments of developing countries, have crucial roles to play
in emphasizing the need to consider sustainability in allocating future
resources and orientating future thrusts.
TAC has characterized sustainability in terms of the dynamics
of population growth and resource conservation. The common challenge
facing all concerned is to find ways of removing the impediments to
sustainable agricultural production, whether the causes are technical,
social, institutional, political, or some combination of all four.
A significant part of this challenge rests with the
International Agricultural Research Centers. Accepting it offers them
opportunities for unprecedented contributions to the global community,
as they help to find solutions to serious problems that significantly
affect the future of mankind.
CHAPTER 1. NEED FOR SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTION
Globally, much of the increase in agricultural production prior
to World War II resulted from horizontal expansion by bringing more
land into cultivation. The nineteenth century, for example, saw
tremendous geographical expansion of agriculture.. Vast new areas were
brought into cultivation in North and South America, Australia, Asia and
Africa. Improved irrigation systems opened for cultivation large areas
of the Indian sub-continent and other regions in Asia. Such
geographical expansion made possible steady increases in production to
meet the food needs of growing populations.
During the last half-century, however, there has been a sharp
decline in the rate at which new land has been cultivated. In fact,
cropland expanded at the rate of 1% per year during the 1950s but only
at 0.3% during the 1970s (1). There is general agreement that most of
the future gains in the production of food and other agricultural
commodities must come from vertical expansion from increasing the
productivity of existing agricultural areas.
While there have been remarkable gains in agricultural
productivity in some parts of the world during the last two to three
decades, there is growing concern in the global community that such
gains cannot be easily sustained. Consequently, it may become
increasingly difficult for agriculture to meet the food needs of an
expanding world population.
1.2. The CGIAR's Concern with Sustainability
From its inception, a major goal of the CGIAR has been to
increase food production in the developing countries. Much of the work
it supports has also been concerned with sustaining production for the
needs of future generations. In its recent study of CGIAR Priorities
----- -- ------~'~N~LLL~~,~*L~ilL;~L*~r;~-ti~; _
and Future Strategies (2), TAC recommended that the.word "sustainable"
be included in the System's goal statement and that greater emphasis be
placed on sustainable production in the future work of the Centers. A
comprehensive study of the achievements and potential of the Centers
(the "Impact Study") also recommended that sustainability, as well as
stability of .production, should be criteria of performance, especially
in the humid tropics.
At its meeting in May, 1986, the CGIAR.rook note of both sets
of recommendations and expressed its own concerns about how the Centers
could best respond to the challenges posed. The Group noted that in
addressing problems related to sustainability, consideration should be
given to the rehabilitation of areas that had lost their productive
base. The Group particularly stressed the need for TAC to consider
relationships between the work of the CGIAR Centers and those non-CGIAR
Centers that deal with key interacting environmental factors, such as
soil, water, trees and shrubs.
Accordingly, TAC was explicitly requested to examine how its
recommendations relating to sustainability could be implemented and
monitored. The first step in responding to the CGIAR's request is the
preparation of this paper.
1.3. Concepts and Goals of Sustainability
The Oxford Advanced Learners' English Dictionary indicates that
sustainability refers to "keeping an effort going continuously, the
ability to last out and keep from falling". Such a definition would
suggest that agricultural systems would be sustainable if production or
output could be maintained at current levels. This would be a static
concept. But sustainability should be treated as a dynamic concept,
Reflecting changing needs, especially those of a steadily increasing
In the static sense, many traditional agricultural production
systems were sustainable for centuries i.:~rms of,-their ability to
maintain a continuing, stable level of production. However, the needs
and increasing aspirations of expanding numbers of people have forced
changes in land usage and imposed excessive demands on natural
resources, making the modified farming systems unsustainable. The goal
of a sustainable agriculture should be to maintain a level of production
necessary to meet the increasing needs of an expanding world population
without degrading the natural resources on which agriculture depends.
Against this background, sustainable agriculture should involve
the successful management of resources for agriculture to satisfy
changing human needs while maintaining or enhancing the natural resource
base and avoiding environmental degradation.
In the above characterization -
"successful" implies, that the production system is
economically viable and socially acceptable;
"management" includes policy decisions that might affect
agriculture, made at all levels from national governments
down to individual producers;
"resources" includes inputs and manufactured items that come
from outside the agricultural sector (i.e. agricultural
chemicals, machinery, etc.);
"satisfy ... human needs" suggests that production and
prices should be at levels to allow low income groups
sufficient access to food;
"changing needs" suggests a continuing evolution without
specifying any particular time horizon;
"maintaining" suggests that changes in the natural resource
base should never threaten the capacity to meet changing
With this characterization of sustainability, the term
"resource management" takes on a wider meaning. Consequently, research
on resource management would include research on purchased inputs such
as fertilizers and pesticides. Use of "resource management" in this
sense would obviate the need for terms such as "factor research", which
is ambiguous and even misleading in relation to the use of the term
"factor" in other senses, such as in economics. TAC therefore suggests
that the term "factor-research" be dropped from the-CGIA. -todabulary and
that the expression "research on resource management" be substituted.
Where greater specificity is required, "resources" could be subdivided
into "industrial", "cultural" and "natural". TAC proposes this
adjustment in terminology to facilitate future discussions.
It is Important that sustainability should be clearly
distinguished from stability. Stability implies limited change in the
general sense, as in environmental stability. It is also used to mean
limited fluctuation, as in yield stability. Unstable yields caused by
environmental fluctuations can, however, be entirely sustainable.
Sustainability should also be distinguished from productivity.
While an adequate level of productivity is a necessary condition for
sustainability, it is not by itself sufficient to achieve
The term "sustainability", as used in this paper, applies
equally to all production systems that are dependent on the natural
environment, including forestry, fisheries and aquaculture. While
recognizing this broader context of sustainability, however, the present
paper is concerned mainly with agriculture, i.e. crop husbandry, animal
husbandry and horticulture.
1.4. Environmental Degradation and Sustainability
The increasing global interest in issues related to
agricultural sustainability grows out of concerns that many factors are
contributing to the degradation of the natural resources on which future
agricultural production depends. Many have suggested that modification
of traditional agricultural systems to meet growing needs often has
undesirable environmental or ecological consequences. More intensive
agricultural systems that are ill-conceived or poorly managed may damage
the environment in various ways such as through increased soil erosion,
greater salinity, waterlogging and the contamination of aquifers.
Indeed, much current writing on technology seems to imply that
chemical and mechanical technology is bad, that biological technology is
good, and small is always to be preferred. But agricultural
technologies are seldom inherently good, bad or appropriate. Their
appropriateness is determined by the manner in which they are applied
which, in-turn, depends on the agro-ecological environment and changing
A ma-jor goal of efforts to achieve sustainability should,
therefore, be to devise production systems that can meet the growing
needs of society while avoiding further degradation of the environment.
Indeed., if long-term sustainability goals are to be achieved, production
systems must not only avoid further degradation of the natural
environment on which they depend, .they must also contribute to restoring
and enhancing its productive capacity.
1.5. Who Wins? Who Loses? Who Pays?
While sustainability is a global problem, the environmental
degradation affecting sustainability is often the result of action taken
locally. An individual farmer may follow practices that are beneficial
to himself but harmful to others. Furthermore, disregard for the
environment in one locality, through deforestation or overgrazing, may
contribute to problems elsewhere through siltation of reservoirs and
downstream flooding. Acid rain, resulting from environmental pollution
by industry, may have sustainability consequences to others completely
removed from the source of pollution. Indeed, action taken in one.
country may adversely affect the natural resources of another.
A related question is who should pay for the effort to avoid or
correct problems affecting sustainability? Many studies suggest that
the immediate returns from various soil conservation practices, for
example, may not be sufficient to pay for their cost. Should farmers
expect to pay the total cost of such measures? Or should the costs be
borne by society as a whole as an investment in the future? In many
countries, governments are sharing in the costs of-conservation measures
undertaken by farmers, a practice that may have to be intensified and
more widely applied in future.
1.6. Short-term versus Long-term Considerations
The foregoing discussion touches on another issue the choice
of conserving a resource for future use versus its exploitation to meet
current needs. Farmers and communities respond tr this dilemma according
to their perceived needs and circumstances. Some condone the
exploitation of fossil reserves of fuels and water, for example, on the
grounds that science will keep ahead of needs and provide alternative
technologies. Others.justify the exploitation of natural resources, on
the grounds of dire.necessity. The problems are complex and the
attitudes of farmers and governments are crucial. .
Subsistence farmers with very limited resources usually have a
short-term planning horizon. They often exploit soils, but degradation
has traditionally been prevented by practices, such as shifting
cultivation. As the cycle is shortened through population pressure,
total production in the region may increase for some time. However, the
farmer ultimately faces deteriorating soil fertility, lower production,
poorer nutrition and a potentially shorter life-span. Increased
exploitation, although undesirable, can be justified in the short-term
if it increases income to the extent that the farmer obtains a large
enough cash surplus to enable resource management, with a long-term
perspective, to become part of the regular farm practices. In general,
as incomes increase, longer-term benefits are accorded lower discount
rates and sustainability can feature more prominently in the
.Governments of developing countries may well be faced with
similar problems. Their priorities are often dominated by short-term
constraints relating to the budget or balance of payments. Adequate
provision for the future may be precluded by the urgency of short-term
needs, thus leaving farmers to fend for themselves in matters of
sustainabilitylity until greater national prosperity is-.achieved.
1.7. Favourable versus Less Favourable Environments
Because of the relative scarcity of additional arable land, the
growing need for food must be met largely by greater intensification of
production, which could be more easily achieved in some agro-systems
than in others. Indeed, given the necessary resources, intensification
of production in the more favourable environments could probably produce
ample food for global populations into the foreseeable future. The
problem of equitable distribution could not:easily.be solved, however,
and resettlement of people on the scale required is neither socially nor
Consequently, a major proportion of the increased demand for
food will have to be met where the demand exists, much of this being in
the less favourable environments. Unfortunately, many of these areas
are already suffering from the consequences of population pressure,
making the achievement of sustainability greater than for the favourable
environments, And posing greater challenges to all concerned.
1.8. "Closed" versus "Open" Agricultural Systems
As a means of characterizing the changes occurring in the
transition from traditional to more intensive production systems,
comparisons might be made between "closed" agricultural systems that
require little external inputs and produce little more than subsistence
needs and "open" systems that require industrial inputs and meet the
needs of growing urban populations. Closed systems have been
characterized by an average yield increase of less than 1% per year (3).
With an average population increase of 2.5%, the food deficit must be
met by expanding the cultivated area at a rate of up to 2% annually at
the expense of fallow periods, pastures and virgin land. In contrast,
yield levels in an open production system are substantially higher and
the annual increase can be more than enough to meet growing needs of an
t: The consequences of closed systems are ecologically alarming in
that they can satisfy the increasing demand for food only by expanding
into previously uncultivatedareas and destroying the natural ecosystems
in the process. Consequently, preservation of the environment is
dependent on accelerating the transition to more open systems in which
the increases in yield can accommodate the growing demands for food
without continuously encroaching on to virgin land.
It follows that a major development goal should be to meet food
demands by better and more intensive use of land that is already
cultivated and to avoid the indiscriminate .and often temporary clearing
of natural ecosystems. Because of the alarming rate at which the
landscape is being denuded, the fear is that the natural resource base
may be destroyed before the economic base can be strengthened to the
extent that it can support the research and development needed for
sustainable production systems to become a reality.
1.9. Forest Resources and Rangeland
These fears are further reflected in the exploitation of
forests and rangelands. It has been estimated that the amount of wood
harvested, per capital, worldwide reached a peak in 1964 and has fallen
since that time by 11% (4). However, a report by FAO suggests that the
prospects for the long-term supply of wood are quite different for the
two types of consumption, industrial wood and firewood (5). The report
suggests that world forests could meet the demands projected to 2000 for
industrial wood on a sustainable basis, but the prospects for firewood
are quite alarming.
An estimated 250 million people in the developing countries
live in areas of fuelwood shortage. In 1979, the estimated fuelwood
consumption was 1,300 million cubic metres, but fell short of the amount
required by an estimated 100 million cubic metres. At present
consumption levels, the total requirement will rise to 2,600 million
cubic metres by 2000 but, because of shrinkage in the resource base,
total production could only be in the region of 1,500 cubic metres,
representing a shortfall of about 1,000 million cubic metres and an
increased demand for other sour~eof fuel (5).
. r !--! ; :-.
While the shortage of fuelwood is, in itself,- an extremely
serious problem, its effects on the environment through the loss of
trees and-shrubs is likely to prove devastating unless remedial measures
can be instituted. The role of forest cover is especially important to
sustainability in protecting the soil and preventing runoff and erosion,
wh!.le conserving precious water for recharging aquifers.
Removal of ground cover by overgrazing can have some of the
same effects'as deforestation, in terms of leaving:land vulnerable to
erosion as well as causing deterioration in soil fertility. Especially
in Africa, there is widespread evidence of deterioration of grasslands
as livestock numbers expand nearly as fast as the human population. In
1950, the estimated livestock population was 295 million, compared with
219 million people. By 1983, the figures had risen to 521 and 515
million, respectively (6).
An FAO report in 1984 indicated the extent of overgrazing in
the eight nations of.southern Africa. It was suggested that in some
.countries, and in major areas of others, existing herds considerably
exceeded carrying capacities. The report concluded that this had led to
deterioration of the soil, thereby lowering the carrying capacity even
more, and eventually causing erosion, in an accelerating cycle of
Desertification has been defined as "the diminution or
Destruction. of the biological potential of the land, a process that can
lead, ultimately to desert-like conditions" (8). Such a process has
contributed to the widespread deterioration of ecosystems and has
Destroyed the biological potential for plant and animal production at a
time when increasing productivity is needed.
The United Nations Conference on Desertification in 1977
concluded that desertification was threatening the productivity of as
much'as one third of the world's land ^. taitJig -15% of the global
'* *' /
population. The World Commission on Environment and Development
indicated that some 29% of the earth's land area suffers slight,
moderate, or severe desertification, with an additional 6% classified as
extremelyy severely desertified" (9).
Some have described desertification as a product of climate and
human activity (10), a process that in the Sahel, for example, has been
accelerated alarmingly by changes in both. Others have distinguished
between desert spread in the more arid areas and.desertification in more
humid areas caused by soil degradation and erosion (11). Although in
these more humid regions, the land is rendered barren, the term
desertification is somewhat confusing in that it has an arid connotation.
Nevertheless, in estimates of the extent of desertification, both types
are usually included.
Estimates of the area affected by desertification in Africa
vary from.2% to 22%. FAO suggests that this variation is so large
mainly because an oversimplified view is often taken of a process that
is both complex and dynamic. Attempts to control desertification
usually fail unless this complexity is recognized and both the social
causes of desertification as well as its physical symptoms are addressed
(11). But until solutions are found and implemented, the rapidly
growing areas subjected to desertification throughout the world will
pose serious problems for sustaining agricultural production in the
1.11. Trends in Agricultural Production
If the concepts defined in this paper are accepted, production
trends and sustainability have to be considered together, for each has
implications for the other.
Prior to the mid-twentieth century, each of the major
developing regions of the world Asia, Africa and Latin America was a
net exporter of cereals. Even in the early 1950s, developing countries'
were still net exporters of food. By 1980, however, Ai';:ca:Asfia6 and
Latin America were major importers of cereals, with only Argentina,
Thailand and South Africa in these regions remaining as net exporters.
Domestic production had not declined; it actually increased, and even
per capital production grew in Asia and Latin America. Increased imports
of cereals reflected demand not met by domestic production.
Such imports were made possible by growth in real incomes
resulting, in part, from increased agricultural exports. The recent
worldwide recession and the weak demand for agricultural exports from
developing countries, however, resulted in declines in both agricultural
exports and imports, with the result that, in the mid-1980s, developing
countries as a whole became net importers of agricultural commodities (1).
Aggregate statistics look very positive in terms of food
production in developing countries in the 30-year period from 1950 to
1980. In fact, during this period, total food production in the Third
World experienced a compound rate of growth of 3% per annum. Despite
rapid population growth, per capital food production also improved, with
a compound rate of growth of 0.6% annually. Africa was the only major
region that experienced a decline in per capital food production, with a
compound rate of change of -0.6% per annum (1).
There are many indications that had it not been for the green
S revolution in Asia and Latin America during the past quarter of a
century, these two regions would have experienced declines in per capital
S food production similar to those that occurred in Africa. The rapid
spread of new technologies based on improved varieties of wheat and
rice, initially bred at CIMMYT and IRRI, but often developed further by
national programs, had enormous impact on food production in these
regions and transformed the lives of hundreds of millions of people.
India, for example, doubled its wheat production in a six-year period,
an accomplishment unequalled by any other major country in history.
Many other countries, including Mexico, Pakistan, Turkey, Indonesia and
the Philippines also increased cereal production dramatically (12). By
1983, it is estimated that developing countries were planting half of
their wheat areas and almost 60% of their rice areas to improved
varieties of the two crops. Some 80% of the wheat-areas in both Lati=-tr .:
America and India and 95% of the rice areas in China are now planted to
the improved varieties (13).
Nevertheless, there are strong indications that in Asia and
Latin America, a great effort will be required to maintain the rate of
increase in food production that has been achieved over the last quarter
of a century. With further growth in per capital income, it is likely to
be even more difficult to meet the increased demand projected for the
year 2000. TIn Africa, progress has been inhibited by a number of
factors, including the manner in which priorities for research and
development have conventionally been set. For example, the three major
staples, roots, tubers and starchy bananas, have seldom been accorded
priorities commensurate with their importance in the diet. For the
future, much will depend on government policies and the extent to which
Farmers adopt the new technologies increasingly becoming available from
the Centers and national agricultural research systems.
Food deficits remain critical in Africa where per capital food
production has dropped-by almost 20% in the last quarter of a century (11).
Furthermore, by the year 2,000, sub-Saharan Africa is projected to face
a shortfall of 20 million metric tons of basic food staples just to meet
the requirements of growth in population. If the 1966-77 trend in
growth of per capital income were to continue,.the net deficit in basic
food staples by the year 2,000 would be 36 million tons seven times
the 1977 food gap of the region (14).
Despite the overall increase in per capital food production in
the developing world,.it is estimated that about half the population
cannot afford a diet that meets the minimum energy needs for a healthy,
active life. Furthermore, there is little prospect of reducing this
proportion of the population by the year 2000 (15), by which time food
output in the developing world is projected to fall short of demand by
about 80 million tons, if the 1966-77 trends in growth of per capital
income continue. This would represent a fourfold increase in the
estimated net deficit of staple foods in 1977 (14).
CHAPTER 2. CIRCUMSTANCES THAT LIMIT THE ACHIEVEMENT OF SUSTAINABILITY
2.1. Limits to Production
A major concern threatening the achievement of sustainability
is the capacity of individual communities to increase their agricultural
productivity to meet increasing demands, without degrading the
environment.'- Although large areas of the earth's:surface are unsuitable
for agriculture, it is suggested that the amount of land potentially
useable is about twice the area presently in use. Furthermore, there is
evidence that agricultural production could,, potentially, reach many
times current levels if appropriate technologies were developed and
applied (16). For the foreseeable future, therefore, the problem is not
so much the ultimate global capacity for production, but whether the
local rate of progress in production can keep up with increasing demand
in a sustainable manner.
2.2. Rising Demand
Population growth, income growth and urbanization will be the
key factors shaping food demand in the future. On a global basis,
agriculture must produce.enough to feed about 80 to 100 million
additional people each year, representing an approximate, 2% annual
increase. The enormity of this problem is highlighted by the fact that
about 90% of the increase in population is occurring in the developing
part of the world, where food deficits are already critical in a number
Income growth accelerates the increase in demand caused by
population growth. The World Bank projects annual rates of growth of
per capital income of about 3%. With an average income elasticity for
food consumption of 0.5, the per capital demand for food is predicted to
increase each year by another 1.5% Income growth is also a major force
shaping the composition of food demand. As incomes rise, consumers
-..shift from staple grains towards livestock products-and more fruits and
Urbanization is a third factor shaping food demand and is also
one of the main reasons for substantial growth in consumption of wheat
and rice in developing countries. Projections show that by the year
2000 about 40% of the total population in the developing regions as a
whole will be living in towns and cities (17), and the agricultural
population will be about 50% of the total.- By the year 2025, the
urban population will be about 60% of the total, and the agricultural
population will further decrease to about 35%. Consequently, the
remaining farming community will have to produce4much more than their
own family needs. The example of the developed world shows that this
can be done, but it requires considerable external industrial inputs.
Many of the circumstances that threaten sustainability of
agriculture are caused and accentuated by the rapid increase in the
total demand for food and by changes in its composition. In the long
run, measures to enhance sustainability have little chance of succeeding
unless this demand can be checked, but for the coming decades the die is
cast and agriculture has to meet a formidable challenge.
2.3. Problems of Meeting the Demand
2.3.1. Limited Availability of Land
. It is possible to clear more land for agriculture, but only at
the expense of sacrificing natural ecosystems at the alarming rate that
'has characterized the recent past. In reality, it is likely that new
areas brought under cultivation will do little more than compensate for
the losses caused by various forms of degradation and by the spread of
cities, villages and highways.
SMoreover, population and land resources are unevenly
distributed. Within the African continent, North Africa has little
unused land, while West and East Africa have limited reserves relative
to population growth. Only Central Africa has large unused areas, but
the population density is low, the infrastructure is weak, the soils are
fragi~t and..the-snvironment such that both human beings and animals are
prone to diasasaes.-
Much of Asia already has high ratios of population to arable
land, with limited opportunities for expanding the area under
cultivation. Temperate and tropical South America still have large
areas that could be brought into more productive use, but many of them
have major problems that must be solved before. their potential can be
realized in a sustainable way.
In view of all these circumstances, it is apparent that the
relentlessly-growing demand for agricultural products has to be met
primarily by the more productive and sustainable use of existing arable
land, rather than by bringing new land into cultivation.
2.3.2. Difficulties in Maintaining the Rate of Increase in
Yields of crops and livestock products have increased rapidly
during the last 40 years in the industrial part of the world and during.
the last 20 years in parts of the developing world. Indeed, per capital
production of many, but not all,'basic commodities increased during the
third quarter of the century. Moreover, some of those that increased
reached a peak. For example, the amount of wood harvested per capital
peaked in 1964 and has since fallen by 11%, while the fish.catch per
capital has declined by 13% since 1970 (4). Similar trends can be seen
in various other commodities and, in Africa, 40% of the population live
in countries where grain yields are lower today than they were a
generation ago (6).
Even with high inputs, crop yields are not consistently being
maintained. In the Ching Mai Valley of northern Thailand, for example,
paddy rice yields were increased to about 7 metric tons per ha, from
about 4 metric tons, by changing from traditional to intensive
practices. After ten years, however, yields had reverted to traditional
levels in spite of continued high inputs of lime and fertilizer (18).
Other examples include the rice/wheat rotations in Pakistan, where
problems have been encountered in maintaining yield levels despite the
rising use of inputs and growing managerial skills of the farmers (19).
The problems are ndt necessasnly insuperable, but -they point to the need
for more penetrating research and add to the problems of achieving
There will undoubtedly be difficulties in extending the green
revolution in rice and wheat, for example, to less endowed regions.
Farmers who have benefitted most have been those who have had the most
ready access to irrigation, fertilizers, pesticides and markets. The
remainder are primarily farmers on marginal, rainfed land, often with
limited access to purchased.inputs. Although there-'is considerable
potential for increasing yields in these areas, the benefits of new
technologies will likely be realized gradually, rather than in the burst
of adoption that characterized the green revolution (20).
Furthermore, large numbers of farmers in the developing world
rely on crops other than rice and wheat, which have, up to now,
attracted less research. Nevertheless,.prospects for increasing yields
in a sustainable way are encouraging, provided improved technologies can
be made readily available. Their development requires renewed research
effort, in which the International Centers could make a substantial
contribution. Failure would force farmers 'to use agricultural
production systems that might meet the increasing demand for the
immediate future, but would threaten sustainability in the longer term.
2.4. Low Priority Accorded to Agriculture
In many developing countries, sustained agricultural
development is hampered by the low priority accorded to agriculture by
national and local governments. Such low priority is reflected in many
ways, including a low level of investment in the development of the
agricultural sector as well as in policies for trade, taxation and
pricing, which often tend to favour the urban consumer at the expense of
the farmer. The result is that in many countries, agriculture is not
provided with the financial and institutional support that its central
role in the economy warrants.
This is especially true in A2 -,tca,.-aha*e many governments have
allocated a relatively small proportion o! ;hair-available resources to
agriculture. For example, in Botswana, 80% of the labour force depends
primarily on agriculture, but the government allocates only 1-3% of its
gross fixed investment to this sector. Kenya has 75% of its labour
force in agriculture; yet the government invests only about 8% in the
agricultural sector (21). Overall, expenditures by national governments
for agricultural research in Africa decreased from $460 million to $285
million in the period from 1980 to 1982-83 (22). More recently,
however, there have been indications of a greater determination to
redress the balance, as exemplified by the.special-program'for the
rehabilitation of agriculture in Africa, adopted by the Organization of
African Unity in 1985 (23).
The FAO review of Third World public expenditure on agriculture
in 1978-82 found that the most troublesome 'budgetary problems for
agricultural expenditure appeared to exist in the LDCs in Africa and in
some Latin American countries (24). Over half of the 21 African states
(but only one-third of the 36 non-African states) that were reviewed in
this study had negative annual rates of-change in planned agricultural
expenditure during-that period.
It appears that an urban-biased development strategy is
responsible for the failure of many developing countries to supply
agriculture with the financial and administrative resources, as well as
the political support, that its central role in the economy would
justify. Such a bias seems to represent a formidable obstacle to
agricultural development (24).
The bias of development strategies can be illustrated by
contrasting agriculture's roles both as a source of government revenue
and as a recipient of public expenditure. Taxes on exports of
agricultural commodities have been the most important component of
agricultural taxation in many developing countries; in some they have
been a major source of total government revenue. But taxation becomes a
major constraint if it penalizes agriculture by reducing the resources
available for investment in the sector, or acts as a major disincentive
to farmers to increase their productivity or invest in the longer-term
needs of sustainability. -. .-TIe.
2.5. Economic Policies Unfavourable to Agriculture
Discontinuity in government administration, often associated
with political instability, has been one of the causes of limited
agricultural development in some developing countries (25). Not only
does discontinuity cause inconsistencies in policies and their
implementation, but there is a tendency for each new administration to
dissociate itself from previous administrations and go through a
time-consumnhg learning process before it can fo6mulate and implement
new policies (26).
Moreover, the low priority that many developing countries give
to agriculture is often reflected in policies that act as deterrents to
the achievement of sustainable agricultural production. Many countries
have pursued strategies in which the domestic terms of trade are sharply
skewed against the rural sector. Overvalued currencies have contributed
to this effect by making imports of food artificially cheap and reducing
the internal prices of agricultural export commodities, particularly raw
materials. Such distorted terms of trade not only favour urban
consumers but also have the effect of keeping wages down and increasing
profits in the industrial sector, which, if reinvested, become the major
source of capital formation (26). Attempts to initiate capital
transfers from agriculture to industry ("syphoning off the agricultural
surplus" or "mining agriculture") is a policy attractive for countries
in the early stages of their'economic development, whose economies are
still dominated by agriculture. All these circumstances act as serious
disincentives to producers to invest in sound farming practices that
minimize degradation of the environment.
In contrast, the establishment of more reasonable price levels
for food commodities, as a consequence of government policies, leads to
increasing production and greater incentives for investment in sound
agriculture. For example, the Ugandan government doubled food prices in
1983, resulting in a 400% increase in locally produced food (27). By
contrast, Zambian and Ethiopian farmers in 1980 received approximately
half the price for their cereals that they had received a decade
earlier. Production of cereals in both countries declined significantly, zs
during this period. i cM'?
FAO studies indicate that price policies were significantly
less favourable to farmers in Africa than in any other developing
regions in the period from 1969/71 to 1981/83. Prices paid to African
producers for export crops fell by 17% in real terms over the period,
compared with rises of 3% in the Near East, 11% in Asia and 17% in Latin
America. It was concluded that the decline in prices was caused by the
S policies of African governments rather than by declining world market
S prices (24).
Prices to producers have generally been more favourable for
cereals than for export crops, but the FAO study indicated that African
farmers have still fared less well than their counterparts in other
developing regions. During the period of this study, cereal prices to
producers in Africa rose by 3% in real terms, but they rose in Asia by
18%, in the Near East by 23% and in Latin America by 30% (24).
2.6. Inadequate Infrastructure and Markets
The importance of infrastructure to agricultural development
and hence to sustainability has been well documented (26). In many
developing countries weak infrastructure including roads and rail
systems is a major constraint to the delivery of inputs and the
transport of farm commodities to market. Extending infrastructure helps
to remove these constraints and allows further intensification of
production in favourable areas, which helps to reduce pressure for
increased production in the more fragile environments.
The problems of inadequate infrastructure are particularly
severe in Africa. For example, in 1982, there were only 206,177 km of
roads in the 14 landlocked countries of Africa. (Less than 20,000 km
S were paved. One country, Zimbabwe, had some 40% of the paved roads.)
S Furthermore, the rail system in Africa was developed during the colonial
period primarily as a means of transporting exports and imports between
the coastal ports and inland areas. But Central Africa because of its
vast distances from ports has no major links by rail in spite of its
agricultural potential (28). Furthermore, because-of low population
densities in Central Africa, as well as in many other areas, the cost
per capital of providing roads and other services is much greater than in
most other regions of the world (29).
Improved access to channels of marketing and processing can act
as a major production incentive, but marketing networks are inadequate
in a large number of developing countries. Studies in Bangladesh have
compared areas with different levels of infrastructure. Compared with
the poorly developed areas, those with well-developed infrastructure
showed significant increases in the level of adoption of new technology,
in the proportion of land devoted to high-value crops, in employment,
and in prices of marketed produce as well as in wage rates. The studies
also showed strikingly lower marketing costs and thus greater
competitive power on international markets in Asian countries compared
with those in Africa. On average, the Asian farmers received 75-85% of
the prices paid by the final users for agricultural commodities, whereas
African farmers received only'30-50%. Half of this difference was
attributed to better infrastructure in Asia (30). Lower marketing costs
as a result of better infrastructure could serve as a significant
incentive to farmers in their efforts to achieve sustainable
2.7. Inadequate Inputs and Credit
In many circumstances, the achievement of sustainable
production will require increased use of purchased inputs such as seed,
fertilizers, pesticides, implements and equipment. The elimination of
some of the major constraints to their availability at reasonable
prices, as well as the provision of credit for their purchase, must be
accorded high priority in development plans.
In some instances, declining export revenue and the high
priority that governments attach to other imports, including food,
result in inadequate importation of needed agricultural inputs.
Furthermore, because of poor systems of marketing and distribution in
... .many developing countries, farmers have difficulty in obtaining inputs
-on a timely basis, if at all.
The ratio of prices of inputs to those received for farm
products often discourages a more intensive use of purchased inputs.
The reason for unfavourable price ratios may be high costs of production
of inputs coming from outside agriculture, high costs of transportation,
or a deliberate policy to keep food prices down. In order to minimize
the effect of the resulting disincentive, some governments have resorted
to subsidies. Such subsidies may not be necessary if producer prices
can be set sufficiently high to provide the necessary incentives. Where
this would itply intolerable hardship for poor cohasiers, consumer
subsidies, carefully targeted to low-income groups, may be an
alternative to subsidizing inputs.
Many farmers in developing countries do not use adequate inputs
because they do not have the resources to purchase them. Institutions
to provide credit are often weak and ineffective or inaccessible. They
commonly favour export crops over staple food crops. Furthermore, snall
resource-poor farmers and especially women often have great
difficulty in securing credit, either because of their lack of
collateral, or because of the cost to banks of administering credit
schemes for small producers of food-crops.
2.8. Weak Institutions for Research, Extension and Education
Because.the adoption of improved technology lies at the heart
of sustainability, research, extension and education must be given high
priority. In research, for example, although considerable progress has
been made in some Asian and Latin American countries, the performance of
nationalagricultural research systems in Africa in recent years has
generally been weak.
The reasons for the lack of success of research systems are
numerous and complex, but they usually include one or more of the
Political support for research has fluctuated widely
*t~ -..-. .resulting in inadequate funding.
; : '" ..'
The demand from producers for improved research is widely
dispersed among millions of unorganized and politically
impotent small farmers, and has not consistently been
Research gains have not been'sustainable, not only because of
inadequate funding but also because the funding has been
highly unstable, resulting in incompleted and abandoned
research projects. .
Many national research institutions have lacked a critical
mass of experienced research workers.
Many national research systems have lacked continuity owing
to the high rate of turnover of staff.
Continuity has also been adversely affected by
discontinuities in research direction and management.
The allocation system for research resources has not been
Despite widespread evidence of high returns to investment in
agricultural research, it remains surprisingly underfunded in many
developing countries. An FAO/UNDP study suggests that an allocation to
research of between 10 and 20% of the total funds committed to
agricultural development would be appropriate, or about 1% of agricultural
GDP. Different authorities have suggested targets for research funding
ranging from 0.5% to 2.0% of agricultural GDP. Even though several Asian
countries have large and effective research systems, the minimum
suggested level of 0.5% has not yet been reached (26).
Limitations to the achievement of sustainability imposed by
inadequate national research systems are often aggravated by weaknesses
in extension services. Many extension services tend to be orientated
more towards export crops than to food crops and they often fail to
reach small farmerr.. They.generally bypass or neglect women who,
particularly in Africa, play key roles in the production, processing and
marketing of food crops. In most countries there are weak linkages
between research and extension which restrict the flow of information to
and from the farmer. Such problems often grow out of the manner in
which research and extension services are structured within the
The development of capabilities in research and extension, as
well as in the other activities needed for agricultural development,
requires adequate educational and training institutions to meet the need
for well-trained technical and professional personnel. It is estimated,
for example, that nearly a quarter of the African countries will have a
major shortage of professional manpower for the next fifteen years or
longer and that more than one-third will have a major shortage of
technical (intermediate) level manpower (11). Most developing countries
have needs for more well-trained agricultural personnel than their
institutions are currently providing.
A major problem in many, if not most, developing countries is
that salaries in educational institutions often take up a high
proportion of recurrent expenditure, leaving the staff with limited
funds for operation. Many governments have also found it difficult to
provide adequate funding for education and training institutions once
S the donor support ends (11). Similar considerations apply equally to
In addition to the importance of developing trained technical
personnel, there is considerable evidence that greater emphasis on
general education of farm and rural people contributes significantly to
the development process. World Bank studies have shown, for example,
that primary education yields significant returns to investment in view
of the fact that farmers having several years of basic schooling become
i more effective users of technology than those without education. If
wider awareness of the need to conserve resources is to become a
reality, then the principles of sustainability must. be built into the
curricula of both schools and universities.
B.*)** r-.;. .
Problems Related to Land Tenure
A recent FAO publication (31) suggests that agricultural
development may be affected by land tenure in various ways, some of
which are described below.
There is a common belief that a system of communal land
ownership tends to discourage the development of long-term,
high-investment, crop operations. This may: well:-be.-true in many
instances. However, in Africa, there have been a number of situations
where significant production of perennial crops, such as oil palm, was
developed on land under customary or communal tenure, and the indigenous
farmers were able to compete successfully with plantations.
There are cases, however, where communal tenurial rights may
impede long-term agricultural development. For example, in many African
and Middle Eastern countries, communal rights permit the communal
winter-grazing of cattle on land that is cultivated by individuals-
Such overriding communal rights seem to inhibit longer-term advances in
land improvement that might be achieved, for example, through fencing,
planting perennial crops, or the development of agroforestry.
Land tenure may have other significant effects upon the
degradation of natural resources and the sustainability of production
systems. In some Latin American countries, for example, where.much of
the better land is held by large owners, many of the peasants have to
cultivate less productive, more fragile land on the hillsides and
mountains, with strong negative environmental consequences.
In the case of communal land, a conflict of individual or
household interests against those of the community may arise. The
individual household may perceive no short-term costs in increasing its
herd on the communal grazing land. But if all households were to do the
same, there could be overgrazing and long-term ecological damage as is
already being experienced in many countries. In these and other ways,
tenurial systems may pit individuals against each other for the use of
scarce communal resources, thus accelerating the process of
Special recognition should be given to the rights of women
under various land-tenure systems. In many areas, particularly in
Africa, women are the primary producers of agricultural products.' Yet
they often do not own the land they farm. This may serve as a
disincentive to long-term improvements in the land and have unfavourabe
effects on agricultural production. Furthermore, when women have no
legal right to land, they cannot use it as collateral, with the adverse
effects already discussed.
Contrary to the view often expressed, some forms of customary
or communal tenure allow for inheritance and provide sufficient security
to encourage investment by recognizing individual rights to improvement
and to continued occupancy during usage. For example, about 45% of
sub-Saharan land under irrigation is dependent on rights from customary
or communal tenure (31).
The traditional forms of customary-tenure, however, may no
longer be sufficient under many circumstances. Rapid growth of human
and livestock populations has led to unsustainable pressures on the
land. In some areas, holdings have become excessively fragmented and
are now too small to provide adequate subsistence using traditional
technologies. Furthermore, arable farmers have spread out on the land
traditionally occupied by pastoralists, leading to conflicts between the
S two groups and to overgrazing on the remaining area, not under
2.10. Inadequate or Inappropriate Laws that Affect Sustainability
A number of countries in the developing world have not
promulgated adequate laws and regulations to control the use of land or
S to protect forests and rangelands from indiscriminate exploitation.
Neither is there adequate control of the use of water resources in
catchments, rivers, lakes and aquifers nor legislation to facilitate
schemes for land improvement or irrigation. There is a need for
stronger international support of the efforts of national governments to
address these matters,
i : : L. *; .
Some countries have introduced legislation,. which is adequate
in principle, but they have been unable to enforce it in a satisfactory
manner. Without appropriate public control or regulations, the chances
of maintaining or achieving environmental stability and sustainable
agriculture are considerably diminished.
CHAPTER 3. PHYSICAL AND BIOLOGICAL FACTORS AFFECTING SUSTAINABILITY
3.1. Physical Factors
3.1.1. Soil Resources
No single resource is more important to the achievement of a
sustainable agriculture than the soil which' contains the nutrients and
stores the water essential for plant growth. Deficiencies or excesses
of either may seriously limit productivity. Soils may be too acid or
too alkaline, they may suppress germination or root growth, they may
have a low water-holding capacity and subject the plant to drought, or
they may have poor infiltration leading to inadequate aeration and
water-logging. Consequently, the manner in which soils are managed has
tremendous impact on productivity and sustainability.
(i) Soil Erosion
Reference has already been made to the manner in which
population pressures are forcing farmers to cultivate increasingly
marginal lands. In most developing countries, scarcity of arable land
is forcing farmers to move up the hillsides, clearing the natural
vegetation that protects the soil and opening land for cultivation that
is far too steep to avoid runoff unless terraced or protected in some
other way. In Malawi, for example, escarpment land that has a slope of
more than 12% is being cultivated without adequate conservation
practices, causing serious erosion and.the .flooding of fertile croplands
below. Such erosion is threatening the future of one of the few
countries in Africa that is successfully feeding itself (11).
Research on land planted to cassava in Nigeria demonstrated
S that with a 15% slope there was an annual loss of 221 tons of topsoil/ha
a rate that would erode away the entire topsoil in 10 years (32).
Similar examples are legion and, in many parts of the world, soil
erosion has increased to the point where losses exceed the formation of
Snew soil through weathering. When this occurs, the' oil i;. In effect,
being mined, converting renewable resources to nonrenewabli. oneaS.
Such soil erosion is truly a global blight, affecting developed-
as well as developing countries. In the USA, for example, the loss of
soil through erosion is estimated to exceed tolerable levels on some
44% of the cropland. This represents a loss of 1.7 billion tons
annually, with over 90% coming from less than a quarter of the cropland.
In India, a study has indicated that 60% of the cropland is eroding
excessively, constituting a loss of 4.7 billion tons of topsoil
In many tropical soils, most of the primary plant nutrients
available to arable crops are contained in the topsoil. When topsoil is
lost through erosion, there is a consequent loss in fertility and a
deterioration in the physical structure of the soil as more of the
subsoil is exposed or brought to the surface through tillage. As a
consequence, infiltration rates decline, runoff increases, crop growth
decreases leaving the soil more exposed, and the rate of erosion
increases. Unless this process is arrested, erosion can become so
severe that the land has to be abandoned. Its reclamation is extremely
difficult and prohibitively costly for many developing countries. Few
problems pose greater threats to sustainability of agricultural
production systems than those of soil erosion.
Technological solutions to the problems of soil erosion have
been known, to a greater or lesser extent, for centuries. Their
thorough elucidation in the present century owes much to research and
development on a massive scale in the USA during the 1930s. It was
shown that erosion control involves correct land use over the whole of
the catchment area, because bad practices at the top increase the
hazards of erosion lower down. Indeed, the effects of erosion extend
far beyond the farm, as soil is carried into streams and canals, with
harmful consequences to aquatic life as well as to irrigation and
hydroelectric systems and even to navigable waterways (33).
The methods of control that were developed in the USA were
based on systems of land management involving suitable cropping
sequences, fertilizer application, contour cultivation, strip cropping
and suitably designed systems of terraces and protected waterways. The ...,, ,
recommendations formulated as a result of this work have made a major
contribution to soil conservation measures throughout the world,
although they need to be adapted to local circumstances.
The widespread adoption of these practices in the developing
countries is fought with difficulty, however, even though they have
been tested and shown to succeed almost universally. There are
difficulties in organizing whole communities to do the work, as well as
in convincing them that it is worthwhile in terms' of the demonstrable
benefits, before serious erosion has occurred. Historically, the
problems-have been aggravated, especially in former colonial countries,
..through the attempted enforcement of control measures by local
legislation. Some of these were impracticable under the prevailing
circumstances and led to disenchantment of the small farmer.
Nevertheless, there are many traditional farming systems,
including those based on agroforestry, that have built-in methods of
erosion control demonstrating that, in certain circumstances,
communities will respond to the challenge and institute collective
control measures. Even in sub-Saharan Africa, where widespread
agriculture has evolved more recently than in other regions, there are
examples of the effective adoption of erosion control measures, both
past and present.
Perhaps the most striking example is that of .Ukara Island
(Tanzania) in Lake Victoria. Prior to colonial times, the inhabitants
were prevented from migrating because of the hostility of the
inhabitants of the nearby mainland. Faced with a continually growing
population, the islanders responded by intensifying their production
systems. Among the many improved technologies they developed, were
several designed to prevent soil erosion. They constructed rock-faced
terraces on the hillsides and further controlled runoff by preparing the
land as a mosaic of small basins, comparable with tie-ridging.
Waterways were protected with bunds and grazing carefully controlled.
Later, however, as migration to the mainland became possible, the
communal effort was not maintained and deterioration set.in, leading to
soil degradation and the familiar declining spiral.
A more recent example of a community responding to the
challenge of preventing soil erosion is provided by the efforts of
village cooperatives in Burkina Faso. They have constructed
micro-catchment areas, consisting of mosaics of rectangular earth bunds
to concentrate rainfall around trees, planted to protect the upper
slopes and eventually to supply firewood. In addition, areas of
crusted soil are broken up with hoes, rock barriers are built as well as
woven barriers of stalks to reduce runoff and trap silt. The effort
shows promise of restoring to production considerable areas of land that
had previously been abandoned (11).
(ii) Soil Fertility
Another major constraint to sustainability is a lack of certain
nutrients essential for plant growth. While all essential elements are
normally found in soil, the amounts of certain nutrients may be
insufficient to achieve desired levels of production. Furthermore,
harvested crops have the effect of mining the soil of tis nutrients,
unless they are continually supplemented through plant residues, manures
or fertilizers. In Africa, for example, FAO estimates that some ten
times as many nutrients are being removed in crops as are being put back
into the soil. Soil mining on such a scale represents a serious threat
to sustainability and if unchecked will eventually lead to significant
Traditional systems of shifting cultivation in the tropics
depend on a natural nutrient cycle in which nutrients removed in crops
or leached into the deep subsoil during the arable phase are replenished
in the topsoil during the resting phase. For effective restoration of
fertility after cropping, the resting phase must be long enough for
deep-rooted plants, such as trees and shrubs, to become well established
and for their roots to penetrate into the deeper zones of the subsoil.
During the resting phase, there is a net increase of available nutrients
by weathering, nitrogen fixation and upward movement of nutrients from
the subsoil to the topsoil. The organic matter is replenished through
the shedding of leaves and the accumulation of other plant debris.
In former times, the resting phase might last for 25 years or
more before the land was again cleared for cropping. Crops were then
grown for 2-4 years before allowing the land to revert to natural
vegetation for another period of regeneration. As population pressure
has increased, however, the increasing demand for arable land has been
met by shortening the resting phase so that the restoration of fertility
between cropping periods has gradually been diminished. Ultimately a
low-level equilibrium is reached in which, even in favourable seasons,
yields are barely adequate to justify the Iabourj and the soils become
dangerously degraded and vulnerable to erosion.
Population pressure is also aggravating the problem of
maintaining soil fertility through the demand for fuel for cooking. As
firewood becomes more scarce, greater use is made of crop residues and
animal manure for fuel, making them less available for the replenishment
of soil fertility, both in terms of nutrients and in the organic matter
that is so important for soil structure.
3.1.2. Water Resources
Water resources present a global paradox. It is estimated that
the volume of fresh water, annually renewed through a cyclic flow
involving sea, air and land, is sufficient to meet the material needs of
many times the existing world population. Despite such apparent
abundance, periodic shortages of water threaten millions with famine,
and water tables in parts of India, China, Mexico and the USA are
falling precipitously (34).
The commonly-held view that water is an inexhaustible gift from
nature is dangerous in that it leads to complacency. The relentless
growth of population with the associated increase in demand for water
for domestic consumption, industry and agriculture impose increased
pressure on the the world's water resources. If this trend continues,
there will be increasing shortages of water of suitable quality, unless
serious attempts are made to improve the efficiency of its use (35).
". 0 *.
Agriculture is the principal user of global water supplies.
From historic times, irrigation has been used to help farmers to secure
a reliable and timely supply of water for their crops. By 1900,
irrigation was supplying some 40 million hectares of land. The area had
more than doubled to 94 million hectares by 1950 and tripled by 1985.
This dramatic increase in the area under irrigation was a major
contributing-.factor to-the increases in global food production (36).
Today, the 17% of the world's cropland that is irrigated
supplies about one-third of the agricultural production. As arable land
becomes more scarce, irrigation enables farmers to increase production
on existing land. During the 1950s and 1960s, irrigated areas expanded
at the rate of about 4% per annum, but by the early 1980s, the rate of
growth had declined to less than 1% (34).
Unfortunately, some of this expansion in the irrigated area has
been at the expense of using fossil water or of the overdrafting of
rechargeable aquifers. Both practices are unsustainable. In addition,
in some localities water is being rendered unsuitable for irrigation
through chemical and biological pollution.
These problems are aggravated by the fact that a great deal of
irrigation water is used inefficiently, with much more water often being
transported and applied to crops than is required (37). Poor irrigation
practices result in severe problems of land degradation through
waterlogging and salinization, which is estimated to render unproductive
some 1.0-1.5 million hectares of good cropland annually. These problems
are particularly acute in India and Pakistan where it is estimated that
12 million hectares have been seriously degraded. Indeed, in many areas
of the world, waterlogging and salinization threaten to diminish the very
gains that costly new irrigation projects are intended to provide (34).
In the absence if major problems of soil toxicity, agricultural
productivity in vast &a.s c
amount, distribution and reliability of rainfall. Although it is
unlikely that science will find ways of controlling the supply of
rainfall, at least in the foreseeable future, science has much to
contribute to its efficient use. Attitudes towards rainfall, especially
in semi-arid regions, must be similar to those for irrigation water: it
must be regarded as a scarce resource that should not be wasted. Its
efficient use is crucial to raising and sustaining yields in areas where
irrigation is impossible.
There are two main aspects to the problem. One involves the
management of soil; the other, the management of the crop. Both are
designed to conserve rain water and improve the efficiency of its use.
The soil assumes the role of a bank in which rainfall can be
stored; soil management that prevents runoff and allows rapid
; infiltration also permits maximum storage of rain water. Moreover,
S appropriate use of fertilizers improves water-use efficiency. Crop
management that optimizes the relationship between plant water
requirement and rainfall expectation, by timely sowing for example, is
likely to optimize yield.
Other ways of conserving rain water involve various methods of
I "water harvesting", for example by holding the water on the land in
S small basins, or tied ridges, or by collecting runoff in various ways.
The application of all of these principles is often limited in
S developing countries, however, by bottlenecks in the availability of
S labour or by inadequate backstopping from the research and extension
services. Nevertheless, the more efficient use of rainfall lies at the
heart of meeting the rising demand for food in all rainfed areas of
3.1.3. Toxic Chemicals
Human activities are responsible for releasing chemicals,
including radio-active elements, iqo the.eyironment that may have
... -' 3 .
deleterious-effects upon plants and animals and also threaten
sustainability. The publicity that has been given to "acid rain", for
example, is well-known. It is a problem that arises from combustion of
fossil fuels and smelting of metallic ores, resulting in the release of
large quantities of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere, where it may be
carried for great distances, ultimately to'come down as
acid-contaminated rainfall. Nitrogen oxides, also the products of
industrial processes, similarly find their way into rainfall as strong
This acid-contaminated rain has the potential to damage both
terrestrial and aquatic organisms, and many areas in Europe and North
America have already incurred serious damage, especially areas of forest
in Europe (38). Another potentially harmful effect of acid rain is its
contribution to the acidification of soils, especially in humid regions,
where soils may already be too acid for optimum crop performance.
Furthermore, acidification of soils through acid rain may increase the
solubility of some'elements in the soil to the point that they, too,
become toxic to plants.
Industrial activity has also resulted in pollution of the
environment by a number of metals, several of which have increased
rapidly. For example, lead, large amounts of which is used in
petroleum, is being released into the atmosphere at an.estimated rate of
2 million metric tons annually (39). If these metals reach sufficiently
high concentrations in soils or in water, they have the potential for
becoming toxic to living organisms.
Some chemicals with beneficial uses, such as fertilizers and
pesticides, can have harmful effects, especially if used inappropriately.
There is growing global concern about the pollution of both surface and
i subterranean water, for example, with compounds of nitrogen and
phosphorus as well as with pesticides. The ability to continue to
benefit fully from the use of many of these chemicals in future may well
depend upon refinement in their use.
Moreover, some chemicals that occur natually i.-:he soil may
be found in such high concentrations as to be toxic t- :li'3 jc
especially in acid soils where high concentrations of aluminium,
manganese, iron and possibly other elements may adversely affect plants.
Under more alkaline conditions, high concentrations of sodium chloride
and other salts may also be harmful to plants. In addition, high
acidity or alkalinity may contribute to low solubility and deficiencies
of still other plant nutrients.. In either case, crop production may be
lowered and sustainability threatened.
3.1.4. Changes in Climate
Climate is one of the dominant factors that determines the
nature of ecosystems and hence the distribution of crops and ruminant
livestock as well as their productivity. Consequently, climatic
factors and long-term changes in climate have major implications for
The severe.drought in the Sahel for over two decades has
prompted great speculation concerning its nature whether .it was caused
by changing atmospheric circulation patterns that have historically
caused droughts, or whether it was the result of major changes in land
use and soil degradation that may have altered rainfall patterns. Most
of the changes in land use have resulted in increased run-off, a
reduction in both evaporation and transpiration and an increase in the
reflectivity of the land.
Various studies have shown that this African region has been
S subjected to similar drought conditions before. Accordingly, there is
an emerging preponderance of opinion that what has happened over the
past two decades in the Sahel does not represent a long-term or
permanent change to more arid conditions. Nevertheless, the combination
of drought and the pressures of increasing numbers of people and.
livestock have contributed to severe ecological degradation, to the
point of desertification in much of the region..
While the effects on long-term changes in climate on the
degradation of natural resources, especially severe deforestatior'.-;arje ,-
.. 1 .
not entirely understood, there is growing evidence that environmental
degradation may have some undesirable effects on the hydrological cycle.
Research on the watershed in the central Amazon, for example, indicates
that when rainfalls in a tropical rain-forest, approximately one-fourth
of the precipitation runs off, returning to the ocean while three-
Sfourths returns to the atmosphere through evaporation or transpiration.
When the rain-forest is cleared for cropping, this ratio is approximately
reversed, with three-fourths of the precipitation running off into rivers
and ultimately into the ocean, and one-fourth evaporating (13).
In addition to changes that may affect rainfall distribution,
there is considerable scientific evidence pointing to a significant
warming trend in the climate. Various mathematical models predict a
global warming in the range of 20 to 5C during the next century (16).
Others have suggested an increase of 2-3 by the year 2050.
This "greenhouse effect" is the result of a build-up of carbon
dioxide and other gases, such as methane, in the atmosphere. Some
studies indicate that the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere will
double in the next 60-80 years. This build-up of carbon dioxide, which
is a consequence of the combustion of fossil fuels, wood and other
materials, is not, in itself, harmful. Indeed, higher than normal
concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere enhance plant growth,
water-use efficiency and crop productivity.
According to some, the warming trend is likely to be most
dramatic in high latitudes and least significant in equatorial regions.
Coastal lowlands, however, may suffer increased risk of flooding due to
a greater melt of polar land-ice. Possible effects of the warming trend
upon precipitation are more speculative, although there appears to be
considerable agreement that the cornbelt in the USA could become drier
as well as warmer, pushing the effective climatic zone for corn
production further North (26).
Although current understanding of these phenomena is inadequate
to make reliable predictions of the consequences, the long-term effects
of such changes could have significant effects on.the sustainability of
agricultural production in various parts of the world. 'Consequently the
trends need to be carefully monitored in order to assess whether or not
technology can be adapted rapidly enough to meet the changing
3.2. Biological Factors
3.2.1. Crop Pests 1/
Intensification of production to meet growing food needs brings
with it greater risks of the build-up of pests which, if not controlled,
affect stability of production in the short-term and sustainability in
the longer term. Although losses vary widely, it has been estimated
that pests contribute to the loss in the field of some 35% of the
potential production of major food crops, with the greatest losses
occurring in developing countries (40).
Although high priority is often given to diseases and arthropod
pests perhaps the most persistent cause of depressed yields in tropical
environments is competition from weeds. It follows that there could
probably be no greater contribution to crop productivity in developing
countries than by effectively controlling weeds. Moreover, effective
weed control demands well-grown crops which, in turn, contribute to the
prevention of soil erosion and, through vigorous root growth, to the
maintenance of soil structure.
Various parasitic weeds, belonging to the genera Striga and
Orabanche, are also increasing in importance as crops spread into new
areas, rotations are shortened and both organic matter and nitrogen in
the soil are depleted. Their control presents new challenges to
science, but left unchecked they pose an additional threat to
1/ The term "pests" is used herein to refer to weeds, diseases,
insects, mites; nematodes, birds, rodents and other mammals.
Insect pests are generally most abundant in the warm and humid
environments of the tropics and sub-tropics. Crops grown under improved
agronomic practices are sometimes more prone to insect attack than those
more sparsely grown. Moreover, insect pests are more abundant in those
areas that grow the same crop, such as rice, all the year round. In the
Philppines, for example, insect problems have increased significantly in
areas where a single rain-grown crop of rice has been replaced by
several successive crops grown under irrigation in the same year,
illustrating- the potential loss of sustainability as intensity of
production is increased. Under these conditions, appropriate control
measures for insect pests have given increases in yield of 20-25% or
about 1.0 t/ha (41).
Crop diseases also build up more rapidly and become more
serious in tropical environments than in temperate zones. Crops are
particularly vulnerable to disease attack when large areas are planted
to the same variety, or when successive crops of the same variety are
grown on the same field. Diseases can build up to the extent that they
threaten sustainability, a threat that can be partly avoided by suitable
cropping patterns or sequences. But a greater threat to the long-term
control of diseases arises from a breakdown in the effectiveness of
pesticides and host-plant resistance through mutation in the pest or
The occurrence of resistance in insect pests to insecticides
has been known for over 70 years. The greatest increase in resistance
has occurred during the last 40 years following the extensive use of
organic insecticides. Resistance in plant pathogens to chemical
treatment has also built up during the last 40 years, with reports being
most frequent during the last 15 years, coinciding with the introduction
of systemic fungicides. Resistance of noxious weeds to herbicides is
more recent, but is now being reported more frequently in species that
have been treated intensively (42).
The first report of host-plant resistance to a disease being
overcome by changes in the parasite also appeared nearly 70 years ago
after the release in the USA of the first wheat variety resistant to
v .- *
stem rust. Since that time, the apparent breakdown of resistance to
insects and diseases has become commonplace and numerous strategies have
been evolved to maintain resistance in the face of continuing changes in
the pest. This type of research, which has become known as "maintenance
research", now constitutes a major part of plant breeding programs.
For example, CIMMYT estimates that two-thirds of its total
effort in wheat improvement relates to maintenance research, primarily,
but not exclusively, on disease resistance. The-significance of such
research is made apparent in an analysis of the potential losses in
production from the major wheat pathogens, resistance to which is
incorporated into improved wheat cultivars. Estimates of potential
yield losses from these diseases were based on a range of loss
measurements made during actual epidemics in the past. The maximum
potential losses are based on the assumption of a serious breakdown of
resistance in the most popular CIMMYT-based variety, Sonalika, which is
now planted on some 8 million hectares in the Third World. The analysis
shows potential yield losses from the various pathogens ranging from
5-60% with the total potential reduction of 760,000 tons/year (43).
Such potential losses emphasize the important contribution
which maintenance research must make to sustainability. But other
approaches to the achievement of sustained control of pests involve
integrating crop management with control measures. For example,
mixtures of varieties of the same crop or of different crops show
reduced build-up of pests under some circumstances. With appropriate
mixtures of spring barley in the UK, for example, reductions of
infection by powdery mildew of up to 80 per cent have been recorded,
compared with the mean disease level of the component varieties grown in
pure stand. Similar effects have been observed in tropical crops. For
example, a reduction of the damaged caused by the brown plant hopper has
S been reported in mixed stands of rice-(44).
These are relatively simple and well-researched aspects of the
wider concept of integrated pest management which must increasingly be
featured in efforts to control pests at the higher levels of
productivity thct.-will;es .required in future.
3.2.2. Diseases and Parasites of Animals
The control of pests is also important in sustaining livestock
production. It is estimated that, globally, diseases and parasites are
responsible for the death of 50 million cattle and water-buffalo and 100
million sheep and goats each year (40). Such mortality figures do not
indicate the full extent of the problem, however, since diseases and
parasites may contribute to a serious reduction in the productivity of
animals without being reflected in mortality statistics. More effective
control of animal diseases would, consequently, make a major
contribution to the sustainability of animal production.
3.2.3. Genetic Resources
The continued genetic improvement of crops and livestock, which
is so important for maintaining and increasing productivity, is
dependent on the availability of suitable sources of genetic diversity.
The preservation of obsolete varieties of crop plants and breeds of
animals is vital for future breeding programs. Primitive land races of
crops and their wild relatives also provide valuable sources bf genes,
particularly those conferring resistance to pests and various
environmental stresses. These genes have become even more valuable with
the prospect of their transfer across reproductive barriers, which is
becoming increasingly possible through the development of new techniques
in protoplast fusion and molecular biology.
The CGIAR has given leadership to the conservation of plant
genetic resources and the creation of gene banks. It is essential for
future sustainability of production that this work should continue and
that national governments give greater consideration to the conservation
of genetic resources, particularly to the preservation in situ of wild
species of both plants and animals.
* ..,A .
CHAPTER 4. HOW THE IARCS ARE CONTRIBUTING TO THE GOAL
4.1. CGIAR Centers
Historically, the CGIAR Centers have effectively promoted the
development of technologies that contribute to increased food production
in developing countries, and much of their work has long-term
implications for sustainability. Their current activities are analysed
from this perspective in Annex 1. This section summarizes the main
4.1.1. Centers Working on Crop and Livestock Productivity
Although the mandates of the ten Centers working on crop and
livestock productivity vary in scope and. complexity, their research can
be grouped into three broad areas of investigation: germplasm, resource
management and agro-ecology.
In that the dynamic concept of sustainability implies
increasing productivity to meet the needs of a growing population, all
of the work on germplasm has implications for sustainability. The
conservation of genetic resources, for example, through exploration,
collection, storage and evaluation, is designed to preserve sources of
genetic diversity, without erosion or deterioration. Work on crop
improvement is designed to enhance yielding capacity while introducing
and maintaining resistance to environmental stresses, such as pests,
diseases, weeds, drought, salinity and soil toxicity. A basic aim is to
breed for broad adaptation and achieve greater yield stability, in order
to reduce those wide fluctuations in seasonal production that are so
harmful to the small producer.
(ii) Resource Management
Within the context of resource management, major emphasis has
been placed throughout the CGIAR System on the devel pment of integrated
pest management (IPM). Such efforts often involve monitoring the
build-up of pests under different systems of crop management and pest
control, in order to discover more cost-effective and sustainable-
methods of crop production. A major objective is to minimize the use of
pesticides by developing other methods of pest control and incorporating
them into production systems."
Research on the control of diseases is not confined to crops,
but is extended to encompass cattle through. the work of ILRAD, which
works mainly on the control of theileriosis and trypanosomiasis.
Success could have enormous implications for livestock production and
increasing food supplies in Africa and elsewhere. ILRAD is already
studying the potential social, economic and environmental consequences
of the introduction of control measures for these two diseases, while
ILCA is advancing knowledge of livestock production systems with the aim
of optimizing the use of resources.
The Centers working on productivity also devote considerable
effort to research on soil and water'management. Most are working on
soil fertility, determining nutrient requirements, especially of
nitrogen and phosphorus, under different soil conditions and cropping
systems. In addition, some of the research involves studies of soil
acidity and alkalinity, along with related chemical toxicities and
nutrient deficiencies. There is considerable work on the biological
fixation of atmospheric nitrogen, involving both symbiotic and
free-living organisms. Likewise, current work on mycorrizal
associations is important in that it offers opportunities for increasing
the uptake of phosphorus in certain tropical soils.
(iii) Agro-ecological Characterization
The development of sustainable agricultural production systems
requires a thorough knowledge of the circumstances in which they are
intended to be used. Most of the Centers are therefore concerned with
the agro-ecological characterization of the environments in which their
mandates take them. The main emphasis is on land form, soils and
climate, but socio-economic factors are increasingly taken inta.account:.
Stimulated by an inter-center workshop in 1986 at FAO, cooperation with
the World Meteorological Organization and the International Soil Science
Society has been strengthened, and attempts are being made to coordinate
the working contacts with national systems.
4.1.2. Centers with Other Mandates
There are three additional Centers in the CGIAR System, whose
mandates are not directly concerned with research on aspects of crop and
livestock productivity, namely IBPGR, ISNAR and IFPRI. IBPGR is
dedicated to the conservation of genetic resources, the importance of
which has already been discussed.
ISNAR's role is to assist in the strengthening of national
agricultural research systems. Its principle contribution in the
context of this paper is to assist developing countries to manage their
national agricultural research systems so that appropriate priority is
given to sustainability.
IFPRI is playing a vital role in addressing'some of the
critical policy issues that affect sustainability, including the future
dynamics of food demand and supply; food policy, choice of commodities
and agricultural technology; trade and food security; and development
4.2. Non-CGIAR Centers
The IARCs that are not part of the CGIAR System are also
heavily involved in research related to sustainability. AVRDC, for
example, has a research agenda very similar to those of the CGIAR
Centers with commodity mandates. Other major non-CGIAR centers deal
with factors closely related to sustainability and some have indicated
that sustainability is at the core of their concerns.
For example, ICRAF states that sustainability of production
systems is a central and integral theme of its work, and that
agroforestry is often justified on the basis of its potential to sustain
crop and animal productivity. ICRAF suggests that the most obvious need
for research in agroforestry is to elucidate the potential role of trees
in sustaining soil productivity. ICRAF further suggests that
agroforestry has a broader potential role in terms of sustaining the
carrying capacity of land-use systems in the light of increased
populations.. In the process of intensified land-use, trees can play
both an ecological role (e.g., fertility maintenance and erosion
control) and an economic role (e.g., increased income through sale of
tree products) (45). Moreover, by providing fuelwood, systems of
agroforestry can make it unnecessary for rural households to use animal
manures and crop residues for fuel, allowing these nutrient-enhancing
organic materials to be returned to the soil.
IBSRAM indicates that its goal is to "promote sustainable
improved soil management technologies in order to remove soil
constraints to food and other agricultural production-in developing
countries". IBSRAM suggests that "the state of soil would appear to be
the key factor to sustainability. Soil fertility depletion,
acidification, salinization, deterioration of the soil's structure, soil
erosion, laterization, and depletion of the soil's bacteriological
activity are the most recognized consequences of non-sustainable
agricultural systems in the tropics" (46).
IFDC emphasizes the key role which fertilizers must play in
achieving sustainability goals through the restoration and amelioration
of soil fertility. IFDC further stresses the role it can play, both
independently and in collaboration with other Centers, in research
relating to the use of fertilizers (47).
IIMI is concerned in a number of ways with the relationship
between irrigation and sustainability, including research directed
towards more efficient operation and management of irrigation systems;
the rehabilitation and improvement of existing irrigation systems;
and the use of irrigation to improve the productivity of cropping
ICIPE is engaged in developing strategies for integrated
management of insect pests tailored to the needs of resource-poor,
small-scale farmers. Such strategies emphasize the development and use
of non-chemical means of pest control, including the incorporation of
resistance to pests in crop cultivars, intercropping, and biological
control measures. The livestock pests studied by ICIPE include the
ticks that transmit the protozoan agents causing East Coast Fever in
cattle, and tsetse, which is a vector of trypanomsomiasis in cattle and
sleeping sickness in human beings (49) .."
CHAPTER 5. SOME OPINIONS ON RESEARCH NEEDS
TAC requested the IARCs both within and outside the CGIAR.
System, as well as a number of other international organizations,
to outline their opinions on the need for research to advance
sustainability. Details of the responses ,obtained are given in Annex 1.
This chapter summarizes the main views expressed.
5.1. Suggestions from the IARCs
Many of the comments from the IARCs indicated a need to
continue much of the work currently underway. At the same time, most of
them suggested that sustainability should receive higher priority in
their programs. Furthermore, emphasis was placed on the need to help.
sensitize "national research system colleagues" to the urgency of the
problem. Centers also stressed the need to give priority to
consideration of issues related to sustainability in their training
All of the Centers with commodity mandates indicated that there
should be continued effort on breeding to maintain the gains already
achieved. But it was recognized that production stability was not
.enough and that there must be continued increases in production on a
sustained basis to meet the needs of an expanding global population.
Center responses suggested that plant breeding would continue
to play an extremely important role in achieving higher levels of
productivity. Most Centers indicated that major emphasis would be given
to the development of cultivars adapted to stress environments.
Furthermore, emphasis was placed on the continued collection and
characterization of germplasm from threatened areas, as well as from
remote-and isolated habitats.
.-" .%. %:*:
Most IARCs (both CGIAR and non-CGIAR) indicated that major
emphasis must be given to research relating to soil and water
management. CIMMYT, for example, which is currently giving primary
emphasis to plant breeding, indicated that it would be giving serious
consideration to shifting resources towards research related to soils,
as well as to strengthening its relationships'with other institutions
specializing in such work. Major emphasis was also placed by many
Centers on the need for a better characterization of the environments of
large agricultural regions'and the interaction of- such environments with
cropping and management systems. Centers also stressed the importance
of research relating to the effect of various government policies upon
IFPRI stressed its continuing contributions to both the demand
and supply aspects of sustainability. Research on choices among crops
and technologies, factors influencing production variability,
infrastructural influences on production, institutional viability,
prices and subsidies, and potential benefits of structural adjustments
all have important sustainability implications.
Some of the other problems identified by the Centers clearly
lie outside the scope of the IARCs, but fall within the ambit of other
organizations. The Global Environmental Monitoring System (GEMS), for
example, is monitoring changes in atmospheric, soil, and water
parameters. Furthermore, there are many other organizations.involved in
research having sustainability implications, including the FAO, the Man
and the Biosphere Program of UNESCO, the World Wildlife Fund as well as
various organizations that work under the auspices of the International
Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU), such as the Commission for the
Application of Science to Agriculture, Forestry and Aquaculture
(CASAFA), the International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS) and the
International Biological Network (IBN). There is obvious need for
close, continuing interaction between the IARCs and these other
5.2. Approaches of Other Organizations to Sustainability Concerns
The FAO response to TAC's enquiry listed a series of problems
relating to soil and water management and fertilizer use, while
stressing the importance of genetic conservation of both plants and
animals. Emphasis was also placed on the i~portqnce of'integrated pest
management to curtail over-reliance on pesticides (50).
In its recent study of African Agriculture (11), FAO points out
that during the past 10 to 15 years, the primary emphasis in the
development of agricultural technology has been on the use of high
inputs including industrial fertilizers, machinery, pesticides and
irrigation. Because of the risks involved, however, subsistence farmers
tend to use a minimum of inputs to ensure some return for their outlay,
even under the most unfavourable seasonal conditions. It is recognized
that, in marginal areas, farmers are particularly cautious about using
inputs and they need technologies that increase yields and income, or
that reduce risks without incurring the costs of major external inputs.
The study emphasizes a strategy of development based on
conservation that would enable land to be managed for the benefit of the
community in ways that conserve and expand its potential for use by
future generations. It suggests that the greatest potential for
increasing food production at low cost is through water harvesting, the
control of soil erosion, alley cropping, using crop residues to recycle
nutrients, community afforestation and small-scale irrigation.
The UNEP response to TAC's enquiry emphasized many of the
points made by FAO. Among those aspects stressed, were the need for
assessing the impact on the environment of new agricultural
technologies, the full exploitation of the potential for biological
nitrogen fixation and biofertilizers, the need for continuous surveying
and recording of ecosystems, the promotion of awareness and training
programs in developing countries, and the need to evaluate the effect of
introducing novel organisms into the environment (51).
The UNEP "State of the Environment" report (52) deals with
environmental aspects of emerging agricultural technologies. After
summarizing the effects on the environment-of modern and emerging
agricultural practices, the report notes that exi-sting agricultural
technologies are continually being improved, or applied in new
situations, in attempts to increase food production and to reduce both
the costs and the adverse effects on the environment.
The report acknowledges that much research is underway, but
stresses the need for accelerated effort on integrated research and
development at both the national and international levels, to develop
appropriate and sound agricultural practices. The report further
stresses, however, that research alone is insufficient. It suggests
that national development plans should emphasize the formulation and
implementation of environmentally sound agricultural policies and
practices, with priority being given to conservation and the
non-wasteful use of resources. Among the highest priority items listed
in the report were the formulation and implementation of national soil
conservation policies, national water management plans, measures
(regulations, incentives, pricing, control mechanisms, etc.) to conserve
different agricultural resources'and the further development and
modernization of indigenous agricultural technologies.
5.2.3. World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED)
The report of the advisory panel on Food Security, Agriculture,
Forestry and Environment of the World Commission on Environment and
Development sets forth a number of steps needed to achieve "sustainable
livelihood security" (53). While not focusing on research, per se, the
report reinforces the propositions that conservation-based production
systems should be the aim of agricultural development and at.... .
technologies that are carefully tailored to agro-ecological and
socio-economic circumstances should be developed and applied. The Panel
further proposed that location-specific conditions should be the main
determinants of types of technology and encouraged the strengthening of
national and sub-national research capabilities.
5.2.4. Office of Technology Assessment, US Congress
The Office of Technology Assessment, an advisory body to the US
Congress, is completing a major study of the potential of low-resource
agriculture in Africa. A draft copy of the report indicates that
low-resource agriculturalists produce the majority of the continent's
major food crops (21).
The report recognizes, however, that low-resource agriculture
in Africa is increasingly unable to keep pace with the pressures and
demands being placed upon it in certain areas because of unprecedented
population growth and increasing poverty. It suggests, therefore, that
technological innovation in low-resource agricultural systems will be a
major factor in determining Africa's ability to meet the challenges
The report further suggests that rather than relying on the
introduction of well-defined packages of inputs, the most viable
strategy for promoting food security calls for the evolution of existing
farming systems. Consequently, technical assistance should be geared
primarily to the needs of low-resource agriculture.
CHAPTER 6. RECOMMENDED STRATEGIES FOR PROGRESS -TOWARDS SUSTAINABILITY
6.1. Responses to the Challenge
If sustainability is considered in the context TAC proposes,
agriculture must be managed to meet the needs of steadily increasing
numbers of people. This means that the circumstances that threaten to
reduce current production levels must not only be..alleviated, but that
there must also be major efforts to increase productivity to meet
Throughout the world, the enormity of these tasks is causing
serious and rapidly growing concern. TAC views the challenge of finding
timely and workable solutions as one of major dimensions, which should
receive highest priority on a continuing basis, not only by the CGIAR
but by all organizations and institutions that can make a contribution.
Further emphasis of the need for high priority stems from the knowledge
that all regions of tbe world, including both developing and
industrialized countries, face problems of agricultural sustainability
to a greater or lesser extent. The sense of urgency that this engenders
should reinforce the concerted effort that will be necessary for
It must be emphasized from the outset that many of the
circumstances that limit the achievement of sustainability (chapter 2)
cannot be solved by the CGIAR or through agricultural research alone.
National governments and their development services will bear the brunt
of the problems, and success in achieving sustainability will largely
depend upon their commitments and efforts. Nonetheless, continuing
research is crucial for success and the CGIAR institutions as well as
the national agricultural research systems must constantly examine their
programs to give greater emphasis and visibility to those aspects that
relate to sustainability.
Although TAC believes that the CGIAR System can make a
significant contribution to sustaining agricultural- production at the
increasing levels required in.the future, its total effort must be kept
in perspective. In 1980, total expenditure in the CGIAR System
represented only 1.6% of the global public sector expenditure and
approximately 5% of developing country expenditure on agricultural
research (2). But the CGIAR Centers can have an Impact far in excess of
their relative level of expenditure through their ability to influence
research activities in other institutions throughout the world.
Furthermore, donors and other components of the CGIAR System can be
S helpful in focusing attention on sustainability .nd. encouraging
governments and relevant institutions to give it appropriate priority.
If, as TAC has suggested, sustainability relates to the
successful management of resources for agriculture to satisfy future
human needs, it might well be argued that most of the work of the IARCs
is already contributing to this goal. Indeed, if research were not
orientated towards sustainability, it should have little place in the
programs of the Centers. The key question, therefore, is not so much
whether the Centers are working to make agriculture more sustainable,
but whether they should be doing more and whether there should be a
different emphasis in the work.
A main task of the IARCs is to develop new agricultural
technologies that can be adapted with relatively little modification to
diverse socio-economic and agro-ecological conditions. The question of
whether or not such new technologies contribute to sustainable
agriculture cannot be considered in isolation but depends on where and
S how they are applied. Consequently, consideration of sustainability
S must be an integral part of the procedures for planning and reviewing
all research projects that are directly concerned with the development
of new agricultural technology.
6.2. Research with a Sustainability Perspective
TAC does not view research related to sustainability as a
separate or discrete area of activity. Rather, concern for
.. sustainability should be reflected in the way in which the research is
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approached. TAC therefore recommends that research at the Centers
designed to generate new agricultural technology should be planned and
conducted with a sustainability perspective.
The aims and progress of a research program should be reviewed
with a sustainability perspective from its conception to the
implementation of its results. The various technological innovations
suggested by the research should be assessed in relation to
sustainability and their potential domains.of application specified.
Within each domain, the resource demands of the proposed technology
should be quantified, as far as possible, and the implications for
sustainability further considered. The process of assessment should be
continuous and iterative and should be an integral part of the planning
and review of research programs.
At the level of the single domain of application, the process
of assessment would naturally be linked'to the farming systems approach.
Indeed considerations of sustainability should feature strongly in
on-farm research-(OFR). Sustainability should always be an evaluation
criterion in the process for identifying, screening and adapting
technological solutions to farmer problems. During this process, the
disciplinary scientists interact with the OFR team who have a detailed
knowledge of the local circumstances, including the existing farming
system, in which the proposed. technological solution has to be applied.
The specialists prescribe the content, timing and method of each
potential solution. They should also spell out the requirements for,
and effects on, sustainability.
The OFR team can then use their knowledge of local
circumstances to analyse whether the sustainability requirement can be
met. Sustainability should be given weight alongside other criteria,
such as farmer priorities and resources, research costs, input
availability, profitability and risk, in deciding, ex ante, if the
proposed technology is feasible and suitable for inclusion in the OFR
The implications for applied research are clear. Just as it
has become accepted that new technologies have labour, cash and
management implications that.will be important in the eyes of the
farmer, so they will also have implications for sustainability that will
be important in the eyes of the community as a whole.- Both the soil and
water characteristics required for successful use of a technology and
the medium-term and long-term effects of its adoption on soil, water. and
other resources, need to be specified as a routine part of applied
These principles imply a continuing need for the Centers to
remain in close touch with on-farm research through their involvement in
networking arrangements with national research systems. They also have
implications for the further development of training in the
methodologies of on-farm research to ensure that evaluation of
sustainability is adequately emphasized (see also section 6.12).
TAC considers that, in formulating or revising their strategic
plans, Centers should include proposals for maintaining a sustainability
perspective throughout their total programs.
6.3. Short-term versus Long-term Objectives
Just as the farmer is faced with the choice between short-term
and long-term considerations (see section 1.6), so the research.worker
has to consider both horizons. If the goal of sustainable agricultural
production is to meet the changing needs of people, research must
clearly cater for both short-term and long-term needs. Centers already
direct their.activities largely towards meeting the needs of people, but
the extent to which they specifically include long-term considerations
of sustainability in their research planning differs with the nature of
In spite of the dilemma of the resource-poor farmer in the
choice between short-term and long-term gains, a guiding principle for
all Centers must be that stability of the environment should never be
consciously sacrificed for short-term gains. The aim should obviously
be to devise technologies 'that.can,.meet short-term-requirements while,