Farmers and agriculture have many and diverse roles to play all of which must be taken into account in agriculture and rural development policy. As well as being a producer of a rich variety of high quality and safe foods, it also has the key and growing role in protecting the rural environment, preserving rural landscapes and contributing to the socio-economic development of rural areas, including the generation of employment opportunities.
The European Union (EU) concept of multifunctional agriculture, includes (a) producing food, feed and fibre, (b) preserving the rural environment and landscape and (c) contributing to the viability of rural areas and a balanced territorial development.
The 3rd Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP-3 CBD, Buenos Aires, 1996, decision III/11) decided to develop a phased, multi-year programme of work on the conservation and sustainable use of agricultural biological diversity aiming at: "...first, to promote the positive effects and mitigate the negative impacts of agricultural practices on biological diversity in agro-ecosystems and their interface with other ecosystems; second, to promote the conservation and sustainable use of genetic resources of actual or potential value for food and agriculture; and third, to promote the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilisation of genetic resources..." and to promote the development of national strategies, programmes and action plans on agrobiodiversity.
COP-4 (Bratislava, 1998, decision IV/6) recognised that there is a need for a greater commitment and urgency to mainstream and prioritise activities for the conservation and sustainable use of agricultural biological diversity in the wide range of existing environmental and agricultural strategies, programmes and action plans for rural development. Many relevant instruments and tools exist which could be more effectively and widely applied to promote the conservation and sustainable use of agrobiodiversity. Also there is a growing need to clearly understand the relationship between agri-environmental measures and factors that enhance or constrain their effects on farms and their implementation by farmers.
While the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was established with the purpose of encouraging farmers to increase food production and indeed at times, especially in the late 80's, gave rise to substantial surpluses, its role has developed much further than that. The CAP is now a multifunctional instrument designed to sustain, promote and develop the multifunctional role of agriculture.