Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The IAASTD, Liberalization and Agriculture

The "International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD)” can be found here:

The report: “Towards Multifunctional Agriculture for Social, Environmental and Economic Sustainability” summarizes the main concerns necessary to achieve development and sustainability goals.

The primary animating question in the report:
How can Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology (AKST) be used to reduce hunger and poverty, improve rural livelihoods, and facilitate equitable environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable development?

In the report it was recognized that AKST was important to “the multifunctionality of agriculture and the intersection with other local to global concerns, including loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, climate change and water availability”.

The IAASTD is unique in the history of agricultural science assessments, in that it assesses both formal science and technology (S&T) and local and traditional knowledge. It addresses not only production and productivity but the multifunctionality of agriculture, and recognizes that multiple perspectives exist on the role and nature of AKST.

For many years, agricultural science focused on delivering component technologies to increase farm-level productivity where the market and institutional arrangements put in place by the state were the primary drivers of the adoption of new technologies. The general model has been to continuously innovate, reduce farm gate prices and externalize costs. This model drove the phenomenal achievements of AKST in industrial countries after World War II and the spread of the "Green Revolution" beginning in the 1960s.

But, given the new challenges we confront today, there is increasing recognition within formal Science and Technology organizations that the current AKST model requires revision. Business as usual is no longer an option.

This has lead to rethinking the role of AKST in achieving development and sustainability goals; one that seeks more intensive engagement across diverse worldviews and possibly contradictory approaches in ways that can inform and suggest strategies for actions enabling to the multiple functions of agriculture.

Below are some of the conclusions of the IAASTD:

In order to address the diverse needs and interests that shape human life, we need a shared approach to sustainability with local and cross-national collaboration.

We cannot escape our predicament by simply continuing to rely on the aggregation of individual choices, to achieve sustainable and equitable collective outcomes. Incentives are needed to influence the choices individuals make.

Issues such as poverty and climate change also require collective agreements on concerted action and governance across scales that go beyond an appeal to individual benefit. At the global, regional, national and local levels, decision makers must be acutely conscious of the fact that there are diverse challenges, multiple theoretical frameworks and development models and a wide range of options to meet development and sustainability goals.

Our perception of the challenges and the choices we make at this juncture in history will determine how we protect our planet and secure our future.

Development and sustainability goals should be placed in the context of:

(i) current social and economic inequities and political uncertainties about war and conflicts;
-- this is not yet relevant to Canada; political uncertainty certainly, but not war and conflict (at least not yet; hopefully never)

(ii) uncertainties about the ability to sustainably produce and access sufficient food;
-- relevant everywhere

(iii)uncertainties about the future of world food prices;
-- this has has always been an issue but is becoming much more of a concern lately

(iv) changes in the economics of fossil based energy use;
-- An Extremely important issue for for "industrial" agriculture

(v) the emergence of new competitors for natural resources;
-- Mainly the “Food as Fuel” issue, driven by 1st World policies – see list of governments that did not fully approve the Executive Summary… (below)

(vi) increasing chronic diseases that are partially a consequence of poor nutrition and poor food quality as well as food safety; and

(vii)changing environmental conditions and the growing awareness of human responsibility for the maintenance of global ecosystem services (provisioning, regulating, cultural and supporting).
-- this latter awareness is I think the most important aspect that will have any chance of bringing about real change.

The main challenge of AKST is to increase the productivity of agriculture in a sustainable manner.

AKST must address the needs of small-scale farms in diverse ecosystems and to create realistic opportunities for their development where the potential for improved area productivity is low and where climate change may have its most adverse consequences. The main challenges for AKST posed by multifunctional agricultural systems include:

• How to improve social welfare and personal livelihoods in the rural sector and enhance multiplier effects of agriculture?
• How to empower marginalized stakeholders to sustain the diversity of agriculture and food systems, including their cultural dimensions?
• How to provide safe water, maintain biodiversity, sustain the natural resource base and minimize the adverse impacts of agricultural activities on people and the environment?
• How to maintain and enhance environmental and cultural services while increasing sustainable productivity and diversity of food, fiber and biofuel production?
• How to manage effectively the collaborative generation of knowledge among increasingly heterogeneous contributors and the flow of information among diverse public and private AKST organizational arrangements?
• How to link the outputs from marginalized, rain fed lands into local, national and global markets?

It will require new institutional and organizational arrangements to promote an integrated approach to the development and deployment of AKST.

It will also need to recognize farming communities, farm households, and farmers as producers and managers of ecosystems.

These policies and institutional changes should be directed primarily at those who have been served least by previous AKST approaches, i.e., resource-poor farmers, women and ethnic minorities.

AKST can contribute to radically improving food security and enhancing the social and economic performance of agricultural systems as a basis for sustainable rural and community livelihoods and wider economic development. It can help to rehabilitate degraded land, reduce environmental and health risks associated with food production and consumption and sustainably increase production.

But success would require increased public and private investment in AKST, the development of supporting policies and institutions, revalorization of traditional and local knowledge, and an interdisciplinary, holistic and systems-based approach to knowledge production and sharing.

Success also depends on the extent to which international developments and events drive the priority given to development and sustainability goals.

A powerful tool for meeting development and sustainability goals resides in empowering farmers to innovatively manage soils, water, biological resources, pests, disease vectors, genetic diversity, and conserve natural resources in a culturally appropriate manner. Combining farmers’ and external knowledge would require new partnerships among farmers, scientists and other stakeholders.

The report also talked about Food security, Environmental sustainability, Human health and nutrition, Equity, Investments and the Themes of Bioenergy, Biotechnology, Climate change, Human health, Natural resource management, Trade and markets, Traditional and local knowledge and community-based innovation and Women in agriculture.

58 countries around the world approved the report.

But the following governments did not fully approve the Executive Summary of the Synthesis Report:
Australia, Canada and the United States of America

The reservations from Canada, which was represented by Lorna M. Butler, Sophia Huyer and John M.R. Stone was as follows:

“The Canadian Government recognizes the significant work undertaken by IAASTD authors, Secretariat and stakeholders and notes the Executive Summary of the Synthesis Report as a valuable and important contribution to policy debate which needs to continue in national and international processes. While acknowledging considerable improvement has been achieved through a process of compromise, there remain a number of assertions and observations that require more substantial, balanced and objective analysis. However, the Canadian Government advocates it be drawn to the attention of governments for consideration in addressing the importance of AKST and its large potential to contribute to economic growth** and the reduction of hunger and poverty.”

Thus, the issue for Canada, Australia and the USA again seems to come back to “Economic Growth” even though the Assessment clearly does not prioritize “Economic Growth” above any other issue.

In fact, the report clearly states that "development would depend ... on the extent to which small-scale farmers can find gainful off-farm employment and help fuel general economic growth" and acknowleges that "Large and middle-size farmers continue to be important and high pay-off targets of AKST". (under the current system).

Also, Canada is continually coming back to the issue of "market liberalization" (trade and economics) by stating that:

“Canada and USA would prefer the following sentence: “Provision of assistance to help low income countries affected by liberalization to adjust and benefit from liberalized trade is essential to advancing development agendas.”

In other words: “Don’t reverse the liberalization agenda. Help countries adapt to the realities of global markets.”

Economists like Joseph E. Stiglitz of the World Bank has already successfully argued the point that market liberalization actually produces instability, not growth, so why is this agenda still pursued?

Probably because liberalization pays off in the form of faster export growth.
It results in economic actors at home pulling back from the local market.
It results in the ability of large players to overwhelm small, local markets.

It is acknowledged that for the most part, “the adverse effects of capital market liberalization can easily overwhelm whatever small benefits trade deregulation may bring”.

UNCTAD in its Trade and Development Report 1997 had demonstrated that "globalization has been associated with increasing income inequality in several countries, both developed and developing." Even upper-income countries with comparative advantage in capital- and skill-intensive areas, showed a definite tendency for worsening income distribution.

Interestingly, “the good productivity performance in the Asian economies has been associated with outward-oriented, but distinctly not liberal, trade regimes”. - Chakravarthi Raghavan*

* Mr Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor of the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) and Editor of Third World Economics, and the representative of the Third World Network (TWN) in Geneva. The aim of the SUNS was to provide information and analysis on global events and developments from a Third World perspective. In 1989, TWN took over responsibility for publishing the SUNS. Subsequently, its name was also changed to South-North Development Monitor. As the Chief Editor of the SUNS, Mr Raghavan has been providing a critical and unique analysis of crucial international developments (such as the Uruguay Round negotiations and the subsequent developments in the WTO) from the perspective of developing countries.

So what can be done?

The IAASTD recommended:
- An increase and strengthening of AKST towards agroecological sciences ... to address environmental issues while maintaining and increasing productivity.
- Strengthening and redirecting the generation and delivery of AKST by addressing problems and opportunities associated with local and international flows of migrant laborers and increasing access to information, education and technology to poorer areas and peoples, especially to women.
- Greater and more effective involvement of women and use of their knowledge, skills and experience.
- Targeting small-scale agricultural systems by forging public and private partnerships and increasing public research and extension investment.
- Strengthening participatory research and extension partnerships, development-oriented local governance and institutions such as cooperatives, farmer organizations and business associations, scientific institutions and unions that support small-scale producers and entrepreneurs that can capture and add value to existing opportunities for on-farm, post-harvest and non-farm rural enterprises.

They state explicitly that "Opportunities lie in those small-scale farming systems that have high water, nutrient and energy use efficiencies and conserve natural resources and biodiversity without sacrificing yield, but high marketing costs".

They also recommend creating opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship, which explicitly target resource poor farmers and rural laborers by:
- investing in infrastructure
- facilitating access to:
o markets and trade opportunities
o occupational education and extension services
o capital
o credit
o insurance and
o natural resources such as land and water

Finally, they promote "new payment mechanisms" for environmental services by public and private utilities such as catchment protection and mitigation of climate change effects.

Therefore public policy, regulatory frameworks and international agreements are critical to implementing more sustainable agricultural practices, including setting up agreements on transboundary water issues, emerging human and animal diseases, agricultural pests, climate change, environmental pollution and the growing concerns about food safety and occupational health. This requires national and international regulations to address the multiple economic, environmental and social dimensions of these transboundary issues.

AKST arrangements must begin to privilege environmental and social sustainability and the multiple needs of the small-scale farm sector over short-term (and even some long-term) considerations of productivity only.

It requires innovative institutional arrangements that provide legal frameworks and forms of association that can provide secure access to credit, markets, land and water for individuals and communities with modest resources.

It means creating market-based opportunities for processing and commercializing agricultural products that ensure a fair share of value addition for small-scale producers and rural laborers.

Although developing countries could benefit from reduced barriers and elimination of escalating tariffs, without basic national institutions and infrastructure already in place, opening national agricultural markets to international competition leads almost exclusively to long term negative effects on poverty alleviation, food security and the environment.

Stronger rural economies come from increased public investment in local value addition, improved access for small-scale farmers to credit and strengthened regional markets.

Increased investments in AKST, particularly if complemented by supporting investments in rural development (for example, infrastructure, telecommunications and processing facilities) can have high economic rates of return and reduce poverty.

And while public private partnerships are to be encouraged, the establishment and enforcement of codes of conduct by universities and research institutes can help avoid conflicts of interest and maintain focus on sustainability and development in AKST when private funding complements public sector funds.

Finally, achieving sustainability and development goals must also involve creating space for diverse voices and perspectives and a multiplicity of scientifically well-founded options, through, for example, the inclusion of social scientists - including traditional knowledge and civil society experience - in the policy and practices of AKST.


  1. You got me thinking, Lloyd. Maybe a straightforward tax remission would sweeten the deal. Historically, subsistence farming gets into trouble whenever universal taxation begins, because farm families have to send their young men to the city to earn cash for the taxes. The doctor might have accepted eggs, but the taxman didn't... So, maybe satoyama services could be accepted in lieu of taxes, because they are of benefit to the country? In the U.S. or Canada, augmenting appropriate soil with char could create a carbon offset applicable to taxes. Elise

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