By the year 2025, 83 per cent of the expected global population of 8.5 billion will be living in developing countries. The priority must be on maintaining and improving the capacity of the higher potential agricultural lands to support an expending population.

Source :Agenda 21, United Nations Conference on Environment and Development.


In 1974, delegates at the World Food Conference expressed the hope that food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition would be eradicated within ten years. Nearly two decades later, at the International Conference on Nutrition, stark evidence was produced confirming that in many parts of the world this hope has still to be fulfilled. Despite advances in agriculture, some 800 million people in the developing world are still chronically undernourished, lacking sufficient food to live healthy and productive lives. Millions more suffer from specific nutritional deficiencies of one form or another.

What went wrong? Why do so many people still go hungry despite advances in science and technology and the efforts of people, governments and development agencies alike?

The so-called green revolution, which touched many parts of the developing world, did bring about remarkable changes. Per capita food supplies in the developing world rose from 1900 calories per day in the early 1960's to 2500 calories in the early 1990's, even though the population doubled during the same period.

These are, however, average figures. They disguise the facts that not all developing countries have shared in this progress and that, in some, food production has failed to keep pace with increases in population, giving rise to alarming projections for the future. In sub-Saharan Africa in particular, the agricultural sector will have difficulty feeding the population, which is expected to increase from 550 million in 1995 to 1200 million by 2025 unless much more is done to accelerate the growth in staple food production and, particularly, to increase yields.

Recall the face of the poorest and weakest man whom you have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be any use to him. Will it restore to him control over his own life and destiny?                    Mahatma Gandhi.


Most of the world's hungry live in countries that are classified as low-income and food-deficit (LIFDCs). The LIFDCs, over 80 in number, are located mainly in the developing world. Over half of them are in Africa. These countries do not produce enough food to meet all their needs and may not have sufficient foreign exchange to make up the shortfall by purchasing food on the international market, especially when faced with loss of crops and livestock caused by disasters of natural or human origin or exceptionally high food prices on the international market.

Nor does it seem likely that the situation will improve in the near future. Projections indicate that food import bills for the LIFDCs, particularly those in Africa and the Near East, will probably rise over the next few years. Food production is not expected to increase as rapidly as population, and liberalisation of the grain trade, under the Uruguay Round Agreement, will, in the short term at least, lead to increases in food prices.

In the past, these countries could count on the provision of multilateral and bilateral food aid to make up some of the shortfall in production and ensure access to food aid to make up some of the population. Despite increased needs, however, supplies of food aid have begun to fall. The amount of food aid provided as cereals to the LIFDCs in 1994-95, for example, was almost a third less than that in 1992-93. This trend seems likely to continue.


Access to an adequate supply of food is the most basic of human needs and rights. Ensuring that their people have enough to eat is not only the moral duty of governments, it is also in their economic and political interest. Hungry people cannot work; hungry children cannot learn. Without a well-nourished, healthy population, development is impossible.

Food security is dependent upon three factors: availability, stability and accessibility of food supplies. To achieve national food security, a country must be able to grow sufficient food or have enough foreign exchange to enable it to import food. Similarly, households must have sufficient income to purchase the food they are unable to grow for themselves. The basic causes of food insecurity are low productivity in agriculture combined with fluctuations in food supply and low incomes.

Since its inception, FAO has been assisting countries in the developing world to increase their production of staple crops and livestock, and to cope with food emergencies. Other UN agencies, the donor community and NGO's, as well as the countries themselves, have supported a variety of programmes and measures to strengthen food security. However, it is now clear that if the needs of growing populations are to be met, more must be done - and done quickly - to help the LIFDCs increase and stabilise staple food production on a sustainable basis.


The majority of poor people in developing countries live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for both food and income. Unfortunately, many developing countries have neglected the rural sector, giving priority instead to urban areas and the drive for industrialisation. What little attention agriculture has received has focused, more often than not, on cash crops for export rather than staple food crops for local consumption.

In recent years, the developed world has also paid less attention to helping developing countries to increase agricultural production. Between 1980 and 1990, the share of development assistance directed to agriculture dropped from 20 to 14 per cent.

Yet, in many cases, the most effective way to strengthen food security and improve the lives of the poor is by helping the agricultural sector. Increased agricultural production can raise the incomes of farmers and agricultural workers, providing them with the money to purchase agricultural inputs, services and consumer goods. This, in turn, increases employment opportunities in rural areas and helps slow down migration to urban centres.

These benefits are not restricted to the countryside; eventually they will reach the urban poor as more food becomes available in markets and food prices stabilise or decline. At the same time, a reduction in food imports will free foreign exchange for the purchase of capital goods and investment in local infrastructure, stimulating growth in a wide variety of productive enterprises and providing a further boost to employment and incomes in both rural and urban areas.

If, however, sustained support to food-based agricultural development is not forthcoming, the opposite scenario may develop. The growing number of rural poor will increase the pressure on finite resources, causing once fertile land to become degraded and less productive. Social services in urban centres will come under increasing strain as a result of migration as people leave the land in search of work in towns and cities. The final result will be increased poverty and further food insecurity.


The Special Programme for Food Security, launched by FAO in September 1994, responds to the urgent need to boost food production in these countries in order to meet rapidly growing market demands and help eradicate food insecurity.

The objective is to increase and stabilise food production rapidly and sustainable through the widespread dissemination of improved technologies and management practices in areas with high potential, and to create an economic and social environment conducive to food production. This will improve national food security, reduce pressure on national resources and reliance on food aid, and stimulate wider economic development.

In meeting this objective, the Special Programme is guided by the following basic principles :

National ownership
The Programme belongs to, and is the responsibility of, the participating countries. Its success depends on the willingness of governments to establish a political, social and economic climate conducive to agricultural growth. This means adopting appropriate policies and regulations; providing training, extension and information services; and investing in research, roads and irrigation.

Focus on areas and foods with high potential
Areas known to have good possibilities for increased productivity will be targeted in order to realise yield potential effectively with little risk. Priority will be given to increasing the production of staple food crops - mainly cereals, roots and tubers - but other foods suited to local conditions and markets will also be included as part of an integrated farming systems approach. These could include pulses, fruit, vegetables, poultry, livestock and fish.

The profitability of an investment in food production is an important criterion for selecting areas and foods for Special Programme attention. Essentially, this means that prices received by farmers for the commodities they produce must more than cover their costs.

Participatory philosophy
All those who have a role to play, whether at the local, national, regional or international level, will be involved in the Special Programme in order to ensure success. Typical participants will be: government officials of both recipient and donor countries; scientists; extension workers; private traders and entrepreneurs; experts from intergovernmental agencies and NGOs; and, perhaps most important of all, the farmers themselves. Care will be taken to avoid the exclusion of any social group or the creation of inequalities.

Environmental awareness and sensitivity
Biodiversity, natural resources and the existing ecosystem will be protected by promoting production techniques that do not harm the environment and by reducing pressure on marginal areas with low potential which are often ecologically vulnerable.

Regard for the role of woman
Particular attention will be paid to involve women, whose important role in the LIFDCs, as farmers and agricultural workers, has often been overlooked in the past.


Any request made to FAO by an LIFDC for assistance from the Special Programme sets in motion a series of actions leading to the establishment of a national programme to accelerate food production and build towards national food security.

The exploratory mission and report
On receiving a request from a government to participate in the Special Programme, an FAO mission visits the country to discuss what assistance can be given to increase food production in support of national food security, and to initiate contacts with potential donors and sources of support. A short document, summarising the understanding with the government on the national programme content and proposed follow-up, is submitted to the government for endorsement.

Formulation of the national programme
A national team, with support from FAO and partners in the Programme, prepares the National Programme Document outlining the strategic objectives and general approach for implementing the Special Programme in the country. The Plan of Operation for the Pilot Phase, which is prepared on the basis of extensive consultation, problem identification and planning, describes specific objectives, outputs and activities, and sets out the Plan of Work and Budget for this phase.

Implementation of the pilot phase
This action-oriented phase, which stresses participation and consultation at all levels, includes: on-farm demonstrations of improved sustainable farming methods and water management technology; improved farmer and farmer-group management practices; identification of constraints and ways to remove them; and preparation of proposals and recommendations for expansion of activities within a National Plan of Action.

Expansion phase
The final phase builds on the Pilot Phase and concentrates on: implementing policies to remove constraints and ensure equitable access to food; encouraging and securing investment for irrigation development, road building, food storage and processing, and research; training extension personnel and improving the technical and managerial capacities of farmers' organisations; and extending Programme activities to a wider area.

Essential elements - the pilot phase
No single element can ensure food security in a country. Many components are needed to make the Special Programme a success and to help the LIFDCs attain their objective of achieving national food security. During the pilot phase the Programme will focus on :

The Special Programme starts with a pilot phase in selected areas within a country, where demonstrations are held on farmers' fields. Some examples of technological innovations that may be introduced are: improved seed varieties; better farming practices such as the use of draught animals for ploughing; water conservation methods such as terracing and bunding; integrated pest management and integrated plant nutrition techniques; and new post-harvest storage methods.

Demonstrations not only introduce farmers to new ways of doing things; they also offer members of the local community an opportunity to participate actively in the evaluation of new technologies and management practices, to identify obstacles preventing their adoption, and to search for practical means of overcoming these obstacles.

Water management
A reliable supply of water is required to maintain improvements in crop yields and prevent loss of livestock in drought years. Low-cost irrigation and drainage systems will be introduced, together with better storage systems and land-use practices to conserve water.

Essential elements - the expansions phase

The expansion phase will create an environment for increasing food production through 

  • Policy reform

In order to remove barriers to food production and help the agricultural sector, socio-economic and political action on issues such as tariffs, rural financing, exchange rates, credit, good business codes, welfare transfers, property rights, food processing and inputs will be encouraged.

  • Training

Field schools will enable farmers to learn "on the job" and help create a positive partnership with extension workers and research staff. Transfer of management skills to members of water-use groups, credit and marketing associations, and community development groups will enhance the chances of successful adoption of improved practices.

  • Investment

Funds for investment - by both public and private sectors - in essential infrastructure and marketing services will be mobilised in accordance with locally identified priorities, as spelled out in the National Action Plan.


The Special Programme has a specific objective: to increase national food security as quickly as possible by helping to boost food production in areas where quick returns, at little risk, are feasible. The Special Programme is not designated to supplant existing projects, whether they be those of FAO, other UN organisations, donor countries or NGOs. On the contrary, it will complement existing projects and link up, during the expansion phase, with other relevant programmes, such as those to alleviate poverty and ensure access to food by vulnerable households.

FAO's ongoing programmes for technical co-operation will provide support in diverse areas, for instance: assessment of new scientific advances for improving food production, and of possible improvements in existing technologies; evaluation of agroecological zones and related farming systems; studies of long-term food security needs, of the sustainability of new technologies and of related environmental issues; development of seminars, workshops and study tours; analysis of food trade and of the availability and prices of agricultural inputs; technology transfer in irrigation, use of improved varieties, improved farming systems, i integrated pest management and others.

In addition, the Special Programme will provide an opportunity for strengthening co-operation among partners at different stages of development through South-South co-operation.


Each country participating in the Special Programme is responsible for setting up a steering committee that will have overall responsibility for the national programme. The membership of this national steering committee will consist of high-level representatives from government ministries, the private sector and donors. In-country monitoring and evaluation systems will be established and progress reports will be sent regularly to all involved.

A national team, headed by a co-ordinator, will be responsible for running the national programme. Farmers, NGOs, local officials, extension staff, scientists and representatives of private industry will be involved in decision-making at the local level, supported when necessary by technical expertise from FAO or other sources.

Within FAO, the Special Programme is managed by a small group in the Field Operations Division, able to mobilise the broad range of expertise available throughout the Organisation. This ensures that running costs are kept to a minimum and that FAO's technical divisions are fully involved in the Programme.

Representatives from FAO's technical divisions are members of supervisory bodies that have been established to guide and support in-country work. The highest supervisory body at FAO is a Committee, chaired by the Director-General, which oversees and monitors the Special Programme. In addition, an external Oversight Panel, consisting of prominent independent experts on food and agriculture, provides advice and guidance.

Continuous monitoring and evaluation, both within the country and by FAO, will ensure that any adverse developments are quickly spotted and corrective action taken. Periodic assessments of the Programme's impact on food production, the environment, the farmers' incomes and social equity will ensure that investment and assistance is channelled to where it is most needed.


Governments participating in the Special Programme are responsible for managing Programme activities and providing the conditions that will encourage progress towards national food security. Together with their partners, they will work to identify, analyse and remove constraints, irrespective of their nature, in order to progress towards national food security.

Financial constraints may restrict a government's ability to achieve Programme objectives. Therefore, the help of the donor community, international financial institutions, NGOs and other UN agencies will be sought, to ensure that the resources required are available.

FAO's role is to act as catalyst and a mentor, bringing together all the necessary partners and expertise needed to ensure that activities go ahead as planned. Technical and economic co-operation between developing countries will be encouraged and experience gained at the national level will be shared at the regional and global levels.

Private institutes and universities can help by carrying out research and training programmes, while the business community will be encouraged to provide transport, marketing and credit services, and food processing facilities.

Among the most important partners in the Special Programme are the farmers. They will be responsible for selecting- through their knowledge of local conditions and with the help of research and extension staff - technology and farming and management practices suited to their needs. Farmers are best placed to identify constraints to, and opportunities for, the wider adoption of innovations and, ultimately, for taking action, either directly or through their political leaders, to remove constraints and seize opportunities.


The Special Programme is an innovative approach to strengthening food security in low-income food-deficit countries. A concerted effort is being made to bring together the basic elements and key players necessary to increase staple food production in a sustainable manner.

It will enable participating countries, with support from FAO and other partners, to:

  • remove constraints to increasing agricultural production;

  • stimulate agricultural growth and economic development;

  • reduce government spending on food imports;

  • increase employment opportunities for both the rural and the urban poor;

  • provide an environment conducive to the work of donors and NGOs;

  • improve food security.

For millions of women, men and children living in these countries, the Special Programme offers the prospect of a future without hunger.

Source: FAO