FAO devotes a large share of the resources of its field and regular programs each year to increasing the output of crops, livestock, food fish, and forest products.
FAO's work in crop production includes collecting, conserving, and evaluating genetic resources; improving seed quality, production, and distribution; increasing crop output; and preventing losses before harvest. Particularly important in developing countries is the supply of high-quality food-crop seed to small farmers, who are responsible in some countries for more than 90% of domestic food production. National seed services and centers often are crucial for the supply of seeds to farmers, and much of FAO's seed development work is concerned with building up these national institutions.
Many countries give high priority to cash crop production, and urban populations often have easier access to imported cereals, including wheat, than to traditional staples, such as cassavas, breadfruit, sweet potatoes, yams, and plantains. The danger of these trends is twofold: increased dependency on food imports and lagging production of traditional crops often used in rural communities as insurance against food scarcity and famine. FAO activities to combat these trends range from training sessions for extension staff to pilot projects, such as helping women's groups to start home vegetable gardens and working on ways to improve processing and storage of perishable vegetables. FAO also has helped develop varieties of wheat and barley suited to arid conditions, as well as more nutritive varieties.
Requests for technical assistance in horticulture are a constant on the FAO agenda. FAO projects cover, for example, citrus production in the Mediterranean, date palm production in the Near East and the Mediterranean, protected cultivation of vegetables in the Near East and North Africa, promotion of tropical fruit-tree production in humid and subhumid areas, and improved vegetable production in tropical semiarid and humid regions.
FAO has played a pivotal role in international crop protection activities for over four decades. The International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) was vested in FAO in 1951. In order to strengthen FAO's role as coordinator, an IPPC secretariat was created in 1992–93. FAO's general objective in this field is to reduce or if possible prevent crop losses caused by pests. Specific objectives include reducing the spread of pests across national borders and promoting Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which consists of a "best mix" of natural control methods with a need-only based use of selective pesticides (see Pest Control). In cooperation with the World Health Organization, FAO is conducting studies on the effects of pesticide residues on humans.
Plant diseases remain one of the major checks on crop production. The easiest and most economical way of coping with plant parasites is to breed varieties that are resistant to them. FAO-supported research has been aimed at breeding varieties with durable or long-term resistance. FAO recently established a Plant Genetic Resources Information and Seed Exchange Unit, which disseminates technical information and exchanges seeds and planting material samples for experimental purposes. The main beneficiaries are national and international research centers, plant breeders, and FAO field projects. On a national level, FAO advises governments on seed production and legislation.
Examples of FAO activities aimed at increasing crop output include:
Livestock often forms a key component of the "production systems approach" promoted by FAO in agricultural development schemes. The approach is based on the principle that the production of different commodities is often linked and that increased production of one may result in increased output of another. In India, for example, the production of food grain increased markedly in villages where dairy cooperatives function. Milk sales provide the small farmer with the cash income to purchase fertilizers, improved seeds, and irrigation water essential for increased grain yields. Thus, increased milk production has led to significant improvements in farm output and living standards. This approach also is being applied to sheep, goat, poultry, and rabbit production.
FAO's International Dairy Development Program is designed to help low-income countries modernize the complex chain linking milk producers and consumers. It helps coordinate efforts aimed at improving all aspects of the dairy industry, from farmers' organizations and veterinary services to processing plants and marketing channels. The program is aimed at assisting in the planning, coordination, and implementation of model projects for integrated dairy development, with the full participation of small-scale milk producers, the firm commitment of cooperating governments, and the active involvement of donors, and at making dairying a more effective force in rural development through its socioeconomic impact in rural areas and its contribution to nutrition.
FAO also works to improve livestock feeding and management by reducing to a minimum the amount of grain consumed by animals and making maximum use of pasture and fodder, crop residues, and agro-industrial by-products. An FAO database entitled Tropical Feeds offers concise and updatable information on over 500 tropical feed materials in published form and on diskette. This information is updated regularly.
Rapidly expanding human populations are increasing the demand for agricultural products—among them livestock—and in response, production is being intensified. To help foresee and forestall possible negative side effects of intensified production and enhance positive ones, FAO is conducting studies on the influence of livestock development practices on the natural resource base. These studies involve livestock feed quality, use of biomass for animal fodder, avoidance of overgrazing, manure management, animal waste disposal, domestic animal genetic diversity, plant and animal wildlife diversity, and integration of cropping and livestock systems.
FAO has joined hands with animal welfare organizations to initiate joint activities that will promote humane treatment of slaughter animals while heightening the quality of meat products and by-products. The organization also has helped boost the efficiency of village-level meat processing by developing modular designs for slaughtering and processing facilities. The designs employ affordable, easily available materials and modules that can be selected and adapted by users according to their needs. Use of the facilities helps reduce losses and limit contamination while increasing employment—particularly for rural women—as well as income for small producers.
Disease continues to check animal production in most developing countries. FAO focuses concerted attention on animal health involving the control of important diseases such as foot-and-mouth, rinderpest, swine fever, Rift-valley fever, trypanosomiasis, and Newcastle disease. In 1994 FAO established the Emergency Prevention System (EMPRES) for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases in order to minimize the risk of animal disease emergencies. Veterinary policy development and education also are stressed.
FAO and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have established a laboratory to promote nuclear-based methodology and related molecular techniques for diagnosis of livestock diseases. Accurate diagnosis is fundamental to disease control and eradication. The laboratory cooperates closely with national and international organizations to promote standardization and transfer of techniques designed specifically for the difficult conditions often experienced in less advanced countries. Priority is being given to the diseases of greatest importance such as rinderpest, trypanosomiasis, and foot-and-mouth disease.
In 1993, FAO and UNEP first published the World Watch List for Domestic Animal Diversity to document the state of global livestock genetic diversity. Monitoring, describing, and characterizing existing breeds constitute a vital part of conservation, allowing people to understand each species' status, as well as its members' unique qualities and potential. The World Watch List is the voice of the Global Early Warning System for Animal Genetic Resources in helping prevent erosion and encouraging a more effective use of farm animal genetic diversity. The third edition (published in 2000) is a result of ten years of data collection in 170 countries, covering 6,500 breeds of domesticated mammals and birds.
In the 1970s, the concepts of national sovereignty over marine resources off the shores of coastal countries began to emerge. FAO assumed a key role in helping member nations to develop priorities and build up capacities to assess, allocate, exploit, and manage fisheries resources through a comprehensive Programme of Assistance in the Development and Management of Fisheries in Exclusive Economic Zones.
To respond to the demands arising from this situation, FAO convened a World Conference on Fisheries and Development in 1984. The conference was the largest of its sort ever assembled, bringing together representatives of nearly 150 countries and over 60 international organizations to confront the fundamental problems and potential of world fisheries as a vital source of food, employment, and income. Principles and guidelines for fisheries management were endorsed by the conference to cover the contribution of fisheries to national economic, social, and nutritional goals; improved national self-reliance in fisheries management and development; national management and optimum use of fish resources; the special role and needs of small-scale fisheries; international trade in fish and fishery products; investment in fisheries; and international cooperation in fisheries management and development.
FAO's fisheries policy is based on the five programs of action endorsed by the conference: fisheries planning, management, and development; small-scale fisheries; aquaculture; international trade in fish and fishery products; and the use of fish in alleviating undernutrition.
To aid in fisheries management, FAO collects statistics, monitors fishing trends in the world fishing fleet, collects biological information on resources, and assists member countries in the areas of fishery analysis, research, and management.
A network of regional fishery bodies established under the auspices of FAO provides an important framework for coordinating fisheries development and management. The first of these regional fishery bodies, the Indo-Pacific Fisheries Commission (IPFC), and now called the Asia-Pacific Fishery Commission (ASFC), was established in 1948. There are now nine regional bodies as well as three other FAO and UN bodies—the Advisory Committee on Fisheries Research (ACFR), Coordinating Working Party on Fishery Statistics (CWP), Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP) and the joint commission (with IMO, UNESCO, WMO, WHO, IAEA, and UNEP). Within the FAO framework, these commissions work to facilitate and secure the long-term sustainable development and utilization of the world's fisheries and aquaculture. As part of this effort, the FAO publishes the State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, the only worldwide watch on fishery resources; runs the Species Identification and Data Programme; and maintains FishBase, a global information system on fishes (which can be accessed at www.fishbase.org ). The FAO fisheries departments has also been instrumental in assisting developing nations in mapping their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) in order to better manage their coastlines and resolve disputes.
National fish inspection and quality assurance programs have been upgraded in several countries. This is an area of some urgency because of more stringent health and sanitary requirements imposed in recent years by major importing countries, such as the United States and Japan.
In March 1999, during an international conference held by the FAO in Rome, representatives of some 120 countries expressed their growing concern about "over-fishing of the world's major marine fishery resources, destructive and wasteful fishing practices, and excess capacity." There are too many vessels or vessels with too much harvesting power in a growing number of fisheries. This leads to fewer fish in the sea for reproduction. In response, the FAO developed the Plan of Action on Fishing Capacity to achieve "an efficient, equitable and transparent management of fishing capacity." The FAO urged states to limit existing levels of fishing and progressively reduce fishing capacity. Between 2003 and 2005 each country supporting the international Plan of Action is to develop a national plan to manage fishing capacity and, if necessary, reduce it. According to the UN agency, only 6% of all major marine fisheries are under-exploited, 20% moderately exploited, 50% fully exploited, 15% over-fished, 6% depleted, and 2% recovering.
The 1999 Plan of Action on Fishing Capacity was part of the FAO's ongoing effort to promote activities that protect the world's oceans, which are now recognized as a natural resource that must be preserved. Earlier (in 1994), the FAO prepared the technical guidelines for fishing operations as part of its Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing. The code is intended to address unregulated fishing and to counteract negative effects on marine ecosystems.
As capture fisheries reach their peak, aquaculture is helping to fill gaps in supply. FAO promotes aquaculture development in rural communities as a valuable source of animal protein as well as of income and export earnings. The organization is supporting the development of a system to report aquaculture data separately from catch statistics, while concentrating on fish nutrition and breeding strain selection.
Reliable market information is a key ingredient of successful trade development for fish and fish products. The Fish Marketing Information Service set up by FAO establishes contacts between buyers and sellers, provides price and market information, and offers technical assistance and advice on post-harvest aspects of fisheries including handling, processing, equipment selection, and quality.
The importance of forests has become increasingly recognized, especially for people in developing countries. One problem is that more than 250 million rural people throughout the world practice some form of shifting cultivation. They slash and burn trees against a backdrop of rapidly disappearing forests. FAO has a number of community forestry projects aimed at settling shifting cultivators or integrating their activities into rural development plans.
Another problem is that wood, which is the major source of energy in developing countries, is in chronically short supply and women and children often have to walk many miles a day to gather it. With inadequate, and expensive, fuel supplies, many people are unable to cook their food properly, and lack of fuel-wood can lead directly to malnutrition and disease. As the people harvest whatever woodland is available, the trees disappear, to be replaced by rangelands or deserts. In Nepal, for example, the loss of soil-protecting trees used mainly for fuelwood and animal fodder has led to landslides in the foothills and the loss of lives, homes, and crops. The situation is being improved, however, through projects to restore and manage the watersheds and to bring the population together in community forestry development, including the establishment of plantations of quickly maturing trees to provide fodder and fuelwood.
FAO's Tropical Forests Action Programme is fundamental in contributing to the objectives set forth in UNCED's Agenda 21 (developed at 1992's Earth Summit). The program is a major international undertaking uniting 90 partners in the battle to combat deforestation and to promote the conservation and sustainable development of tropical forests. Together, the partners are following an international strategy to integrate forestry into farming systems, develop waste forest industries, increase supplies of fuelwood, and conserve tropical forest ecosystems while helping countries solve social and economic problems.
FAO's Forest Resources Assessment 1990 Project analyzed satellite images and existing survey data of 179 countries to assess deforestation between 1981 and 1990. The next periodic report was Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000; it constituted the most ambitious assessment to date and included new parameters on ecological aspects of forests, sustainable forest management, and non-wood goods and services. These assessments provide the factual information to frame international discussion on forestry: the reports detail the location and extent of forest resources, as well as highlight the net changes in extent, quantity, and quality over time.
The organization has carried out a wide variety of studies to develop participatory approaches and mechanisms for the management, production, and utilization of renewable natural resources—and of forests in particular—by rural people. FAO's Forests Trees and People Programme promotes self-reliance of rural groups in the sustainable management of forest resources.
Other forestry priorities include planning and policy formulation, national resources assessment, fire prevention and control, tree planting, conservation of genetic resources, plantation development, seed improvement, and development of harvesting and wood industries. Wildlife conservation and utilization also receive attention.