The World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (WCARRD), sponsored by FAO in cooperation with other agencies of the UN system, was held at FAO headquarters in Rome in 1979. It was attended by more than 100 ministers and deputy ministers and some 1,400 other delegates from 145 countries. The conference approved a Declaration of Principles and a Program of Action to provide a framework for the reorientation of development policy and strategy toward greater participation and equity for rural people in the development process. FAO is the UN's lead agency for the implementation of the WCARRD program of action. Much of the work involves field projects to promote agrarian reform, land tenure improvement, and land settlement.
FAO helped to establish three regional centers to assist countries in the implementation of the program of action, and more generally, to coordinate activities in the area of integrated rural development at national level. The Centre on Integrated Rural Development for Asia and the Pacific (CIRDAP) is located in Dakha, Bangladesh; the Centre on Integrated Rural Development for Africa (CIRDAFRICA) is located in Arusha, Tanzania; and the Centre for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development for the Near East (CARDNE) is located in Amman, Jordan.
Activities related to rural development form an integral and permanent part of FAO's mainstream program. Every four years, the secretariat assists governments in the preparation of progress reports on implementation of the WCARRD program of action. FAO has organized intergovernmental consultations on WCARRD follow-up in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean. Interagency and Expert Consultations have been convened by FAO regional offices. Finally, at the request of member countries, FAO has fielded high-level WCARRD follow-up missions to assist governments in reviewing national rural development and agrarian reform strategies.
This support is especially crucial in the context of the transition from central planning and control to market orientation being undergone by numerous countries.
Close to half of the world's population lives in the rural areas of the developing countries. The majority of these people can be considered poor, they have very small agricultural holdings from which to derive their existence. It is often difficult for small farmers to make their voices heard in the social, economic, and political power structures.
FAO has numerous programs devoted to helping small farmers, taking into consideration the smallholders' needs, motivations, capabilities, risks, and resources, and how these factors affect the production and marketing of produce or its use by the farm family. Governments are encouraged to consider the rural poor in their policies and planning, providing the necessary inputs at the right time, in reasonable quantities, and at acceptable prices. Emphasis is also placed on building collective strength among farmers for identifying and finding solutions to their problems and preparing production plans on the basis of their particular needs and priorities. Farmer self-help organizations are assisted in planning and managing their credit requirements, and improved access to credit is stressed.
Women play a crucial role in agricultural development, yet they are perhaps the least integrated of the players in the development process. FAO recognizes the vital importance of the full integration of women, and has developed a Plan of Action for the Integration of Rural Women into the Development Process. The plan outlines four principal areas of activity, focusing on the civil status, economic, social, and decision-making spheres of rural women. The plan of action outlines activities in each of these spheres to remove existing barriers to women and foster their potential. FAO's approach involves implementation of projects directed exclusively at women, as well as support for the concerns of women in all FAO's projects and activities.
FAO plays a key role in helping countries improve nutrition, promote healthy diets, and ensure access to safe food. Prime areas of interest include food quality control; handling, processing, and storage; household food security; forestry, fisheries, crop production, and local foods; and nutrition monitoring, assessment, planning, education, and information.
In 1992, the organization cosponsored with WHO the International Conference on Nutrition (see Food Security). The conference adopted a Declaration and Plan of Action for Nutrition. The countries at the conference composed a World Declaration on Nutrition and pledged their adherence to a plan of action for the coming decades. The World Declaration reaffirmed that "poverty and lack of education, which are often the effects of underdevelopment, are the primary causes of hunger and undernutrition."
Members of FAO
(as of March 2003)
Antigua and Barbuda
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Central African Republic
Congo, Democratic Republic of the
European Economic Community (Member Organization)
Iran, Islamic Republic of
Korea, Democratic People's Republic of
Korea, Republic of
Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
Papua New Guinea
Puerto Rico (Associate Member)
St. Kitts and Nevis
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
São Tomé and Príncipe
The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
Trinidad and Tobago
United Arab Emirates
United States of America
It emphasized the need to identify the groups most in need, targeting nutritional resources first and foremost to alleviating their lot. It also stressed that food should not be used as a tool for political pressure. The importance of building knowledge among vulnerable groups through nutrition education was highlighted, as was the need for better preparedness for food emergencies resulting from civil strife and natural disasters.
The plan of action provides guidelines for governments, acting in partnership with NGOs, the private sector, local communities, families and households, and the international community. It contains recommendations on policies, programs, and activities identified through the intensive ICN consultative process and brings together a wide range of expert opinion from around the world. The 159 nations that participated in the ICN committed themselves to developing national nutrition plans with attainable goals and measurable targets. In the continuing follow-up to the ICN, FAO is assisting many governments in preparing national plans of action for nutrition. To support the process, the document "Guidelines for Developing National Plans of Action for Nutrition" was distributed to member governments.
Many FAO nutrition projects work towards improving knowledge of nutrition within households, and particularly among women. Awareness of the need to improve the frequency and quality of meals is built up through participatory, pilot-family programs concentrating on nutrition education and home gardening. Households are encouraged either to grow the foods they need to fill their dietary gaps or to use income from home gardens to purchase vitamin-and-mineral-rich fruits and vegetables they cannot easily cultivate.
FAO has produced country nutrition profiles for 100 developing countries to provide a concise view of their food and nutrition status, agricultural production, and economic and demographic situation. Country profiles are used by governments and institutions for planning and training. FAO advocates incorporating nutritional information in early warning networks to supplement agricultural production data.
The Codex Alimentarius (see Advice to Governments) contributes to raising nutritional status by developing international standards, codes of practice, and other recommendations for food quality to protect consumer health and encourage fair trading practices in the food trade. As of 2002, 167 countries were members of the Codex Alimentarius Commission.
FAO's World Food Survey, published about once a decade, provides as complete a picture as possible of the world food and nutrition situation. It includes food balance sheets for almost all countries and, increasingly, household food-consumption surveys for developing countries.