Inadequate distribution of agricultural products causes waste of precious outputs and hinders agricultural development by reducing farmers' economic returns. FAO is involved at every stage in the distribution chain, from prevention of food losses in storage to attempts to bring about more equitable international trade. Programs deal with reduction of post-harvest losses, development of marketing skills, and promotion of trade terms that will help producers and exporters get a fair return.
In 1978, FAO began operations of its Action Program for the Prevention of Food Losses (PFL), designed primarily to reduce post-harvest losses of staple foods. The program focuses particular attention on women, major actors in the post-harvest system, through specific training activities and promotion of suitable technologies. Activities range from the development of adequate facilities for handling, drying, and storage to research on post-harvest practices that will protect harvests while reducing or avoiding the use of pesticides. For instance, FAO has successfully helped the Pacific Island nations develop control measures that will allow them to discontinue the use of ethylene dibromide, a pesticide banned by the major importers of fresh fruits and vegetables produced by the island countries.
Poor marketing of local agricultural products often seriously impedes distribution and trade. Assistance is given to people involved in marketing from the grass-roots level to the senior management of marketing boards, as well as to officials responsible for marketing policy, legislation, and infrastructure. Direct assistance to marketing boards is aimed primarily at strengthening their management capacity and systems. FAO's field projects also support development of rural marketing centers and strengthening of the role of cooperatives.
In the 1990s, FAO developed the computerized version of FAO Agri-Market . This computer software program helps governments develop and perfect their price information systems, particularly during the transition from centrally planned to market-based economies. The organization also produces Marketing Extension Training Series videos focusing on techniques to be used by extension officers in providing marketing support to farmers.
FAO's work on commodities and trade covers three main areas: commodity and trade policy, early warning, and food security.
In commodity policies and trade, FAO plays a lead role in the development of agricultural commodity projections. FAO's Inter-governmental Commodity Groups debate on developments in national policies, particularly those relating to protectionism, to analyze problems in commodity development and develop programs of work and projects.
FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System is housed in the Commodities and Trade Division (see Information for Agriculture). The preparation of information for the GIEWS entails continuous fielding of crop and food supply assessment missions to individual countries. GIEWS collects and analyzes a great variety of information from member nations, the private sector, and organizations active in the food, agriculture, and rural sectors, primarily in developing countries. When there are indications of unsatisfactory conditions, GIEWS intensifies its monitoring, most often involving on-the-spot missions to affected countries.
In the area of food security, FAO relies on national teams and workshops to derive and internalize realistic policy conclusions. The growing realization that food security is as much a question of household access to food as overall food availability has led to the development of composite indices of household food security in countries worldwide. These serve as a tool to governments in addressing the needs of vulnerable groups. The Food Security Assistance Scheme (see Advice to Governments) supports member nations in the formulation of comprehensive national food security programs.