Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Agriculture at a Crossroads: The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology for Development

Date Published: 
February 1, 2013

In August 2002, the World Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations initiated a global consultative process to determine whether an international assessment of agricultural knowledge, science and technology (AKST) was needed. This was stimulated by discussions at the World Bank with the private sector and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) on the state of scientific understanding of biotechnology and more specifically transgenics. During 2003, eleven consultations were held, overseen by an international multistakeholder steering committee and involving over 800 participants from all relevant stakeholder groups, e.g. governments, the private sector and civil society. Based on these consultations the steering committee recommended to an Intergovernmental Plenary meeting in Nairobi in September 2004 that an international assessment of the role of agricultural knowledge, science and technology (AKST) in reducing hunger and poverty, improving rural livelihoods and facilitating environmentally, socially and economically sustainable development was needed. The concept of an International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) was endorsed as a multi-thematic, multispatial, multi-temporal intergovernmental process with a multistakeholder Bureau cosponsored by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Global Environment Facility (GEF), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Bank and World Health Organization (WHO).

Key Messages:

1. Agriculture is multifunctional.

2. Agricultural systems range across the globe from intensive highly commercialized large-scale systems to small-scale and subsistence systems. All of these systems are potentially either highly vulnerable or sustainable.

3. Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology (AKST) can address the multifunctionality of agriculture. It plays a key role in shaping the quality and quantity of natural, human and other resources as well as access to them. AKST is also crucial in supporting the efforts of actors at different levels—from household to national, sub-global and global—to reduce poverty and hunger, as well as improve rural livelihoods and the environment in order to ensure equitable and environmentally, socially and economically sustainable development.

4. The majority of the world’s poorest and hungry live in rural settings and depend directly on agriculture

5. A vicious circle of poor health, reduced working capacity, low productivity and short life expectancy is typical, particularly for the most vulnerable groups working in agriculture.

6. A range of fundamental natural resources (e.g., land, water, air, biological diversity including forests, fish) provide the indispensable base for the production of essential goods and services upon which human survival depends, including those related to agricultural ecosystems.

7. Social equity issues, including gender, are major concerns in agriculture, as they relate to poverty, hunger, nutrition, health, natural resource management and environment, which are affected by various factors resulting in greater or lesser degrees of equity.

8. Agriculture today is faced with several emerging challenges and opportunities; the evaluation of those relating to climate change, land degradation, reduced access to natural resources (including genetic resources), bioenergy demands, transgenics and trade require special efforts and investments in AKST.