Ensuring sustainable agricultural development

Reducing unsustainable agricultural development
Accelerating sustainable agricultural development
Regenerating sustaining agriculture
Providing socially beneficial agriculture
Practicing sustainable land use
Modernizing sustainable farming
Using sustainable agriculture

Promoting ecologically-sound, and/or labour intensive methods of food production.

Providing viable alternatives to intensive, chemicalized farming which can conserve land resources without loss of productivity, while maintaining rural employment and minimizing external costs.

During the last 40 years, the mainstream of agricultural policies focused on increasing agricultural production while artificially restraining product prices. These policies were mainly based on specialization and intensified technological input and led to environmental problems. The growing awareness of the potential dangers to human health and the environment caused by agricultural activities has motivated policy makers to begin to integrate environmental issues into agricultural policies. This integration has to be promoted and further steps have to be taken towards sustainable agriculture.

Integrated management techniques are a fundamental component of responsible farm management, including both crop and livestock husbandry, which provide the conditions that create the economic stability and the diverse and healthy environments that make sustainable agriculture a reality.


The Earth's population is increasing rapidly, yet there are no great unused patches of cultivable land that can safely be taken from nature. Consequently, agricultural land will need to be cropped even more intensively. However, current cropping levels are achieved at the price of unsustainable losses of soil and productivity through erosion, salinization, desertification and misuse. Subsistence farming with small landholdings prevails over much of the world. As the population grows family holdings become smaller and smaller. Pressure on the land increases and old, tried systems of agriculture, which operated efficiently when land was more plentiful, break down. The land becomes degraded through nutrient depletion, overcropping and overgrazing, and by fallow periods that become increasingly shorter. Soil fertility goes down and the soil erodes.

This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities.

The Environmental Programme for Europe recommends: (1) developing guidance mechanisms including economic instruments, standards and labelling, accompanied by information and public awareness campaigns, to encourage extensive/low input farming and/or organic production, and environmentally senistive farming; (2) developing and implementing codes of good agricultural practice on local, national and pan-European scales, to protect waters, soils and the environment in general, and invite ECE, in that regard, to develop appropriate best practice guidance; and (3) establishing registration procedures for pesticides and, where appropriate, complementary measures to minimize the use of pesticides and/or replacing the most dangerous ones by safer alternatives and switching to integrated pest management systems.

Within an international cooperative framework for sustainable agriculture and rural development, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has streamlined and reorganized its 12 Special Action Programmes (SAPs) by bringing them together as a concerted thrust to its work for sustainable agriculture and rural development. SAPs have a broad-based interdisciplinary focus and fall into four categories: (1) policy and planning assistance; (2) nutrition and welfare of rural peoples; (3) sustainable management of natural resources; and (4) sound use of agricultural inputs. SAPs SAPs include Policy and Programming Assistance for Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture and the Rural Development Programme (SARD), which advises and assists governments with sector policy and cross sector analysis, planning and programme formulation in relation to sustainable agriculture and rural development, nutrition and food security. The Land Conservation and Rehabilitation Programme focuses on improved land use planning and conservation in order to promote productive and sustainable forms of land use. It provides a mechanism through which countries can appraise their land resources, analyse the need for land conservation and rehabilitation, and develop suitable policies, strategies and actions. The Management of Rural Water Resources Programme is an integral part of the International Action Programme on Water and Sustainable Agricultural Development (IAP-WASAD). The Conservation, Development and Use of Animal Genetic Resources Programme covers the management and use of animal genetic resources and conservation of domestic animal biodiversity to enable the best use in the short-term while ensuring long-term sustainability. A similar programme exists for plant genetic resources. The Plant Nutrition Programme promoted integrated plant nutrition systems aimed at the efficient and economic use of mineral and organic sources of plant nutrients to increase crop productivity on a sustainable basis. It advises countries on policies and strategies related to plant nutrition management and fertilizer use. The Integrated Pest Management Programme (IPM) focuses on the development and implementation of environmentally safe methods of agricultural pest control while maintaining productivity. The Sustainable Development for Rural Households Programme focuses on the farming system and rural households level to design and implement integrated action related to resource management and income generation.


The first international conference on sustainable crop production took place in Uganda, 14-18 June, 1993.

The newly established Australian farming system, known as integrated whole farming – whole landscape planning – has not only helped combat desertification in Western Australia, but also helps restore biodiversity in an area which previously experienced vast forest depletion for agricultural expansion. The key factors in implementing and managing this scheme are a series of drains to control the nature and rate of water movement across the landscape after rainfall events and tree planting which provides a way of utilizing deep moisture. The trees are advantageous for several reasons. First, they act as windbreaks. Second, since they follow the contour-hugging water drains they can also protect crops and livestock against wind and harsh weather. Third, the tree roots withdraw water from great depths to further reduce the waterlogging problem. And finally, the trees can help restore biodiversity in the area by again protecting the native flora and fauna in the area from wind and weather disturbances and providing wildlife corridors throughout the area.


The ancient image of the farmer portrays one who co-operates with nature to sustain life rather than one who exploits nature in order to get nature's wealth. This is familiar to many farmers. Many practitioners are returning to this idea as a result of the damage done to the environment and land productivity by policies and methods which are exploitive.

Counter Claim:

Self-sufficient and sustainable farming is being replaced by cash crops and agribusiness under the control of multinationals.

Developing small scale irrigation to conserve water
Modernizing fishing techniques
Using permaculture agriculture
Using integrated pest management
Adopting sound grazing practices
Promoting sustainable agriculture
Researching sustainable agriculture
Using residue management agriculture
Restoring biodiversity in agriculture
Promoting multifunctional agriculture
Developing sustainable land use policy
Using water saving techniques in agriculture
Reducing dependence of agricultural systems on fossil fuels
Expanding capacity of research centres for sustainable agricultural production
Strengthening traditional sustainable agriculture
Developing sustainable agriculture in humid areas
Developing integrated farm management technologies
Integrating wildlife management in farming systems
Running demonstration projects in ecological farming
Avoiding destruction of soil fauna and micro-organisms
Developing environmentally sound agricultural technology
Ensuring public participation for sustainable agriculture
Managing water resources for sustainable rural development
Evaluating effects of world trade agreements on agriculture
Reducing unsustainable short-term improvements in agricultural productivity
Increasing efficiency of symbiotic processes for sustainable agriculture production
Developing programmes for sustainable use of non-cultivated lands with agricultural potential
Developing technical competence in dryland agriculture
Integrating sustainable development in curricula of business, industrial and agricultural schools
Providing incentives for sustainable use of natural resources by farmers
Providing access to genetic resources
Informing about sustainable agriculture
Assessing productivity of high and low-resource agriculture
Assessing productivity of high and low-resource agriculture
Preserving genetic diversity in cultivated plants
Addressing problems of cultivation of marginal agricultural land
Conducting agricultural research
Marketing local agriculture produce
Using agroecology
Developing alternatives to tropical slash-and-burn
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Type Classification:
D: Detailed strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 1: No PovertyGOAL 2: Zero HungerGOAL 3: Good Health and Well-beingGOAL 4: Quality EducationGOAL 5: Gender EqualityGOAL 6: Clean Water and SanitationGOAL 7: Affordable and Clean EnergyGOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic GrowthGOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and InfrastructureGOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesGOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and ProductionGOAL 13: Climate ActionGOAL 14: Life Below WaterGOAL 15: Life on LandGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong InstitutionsGOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal