Findings of the IAASTD Report

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Findings of the IAASTD Report covers the findings of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report, published in 2009.

The Challenges for Agriculture

The Executive Summary of the Synthesis Report notes several "main challenges for AKST [agricultural knowledge, science, and technology] posed by multifunctional agricultural systems." These include:[1]

  • "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?"



An often-used term in the IAASTD report is "multifunctionality." The term became controversial, as some intepreted it as "having implications for trade and protectionism."[1] The IAASTD authors clarify that:

"In IAASTD, multifunctionality is used solely to express the inescapable interconnectedness of agriculture’s different roles and functions. The concept of multifunctionality recognizes agriculture as a multi-output activity producing not only commodities (food, feed, fibers, agrofuels, medicinal products and ornamentals), but also non-commodity outputs such as environmental services, landscape amenities and cultural heritages."


"The IAASTD definition of biotechnology is based on that in the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. It is a broad term embracing the manipulation of living organisms and spans the large range of activities from conventional techniques for fermentation and plant and animal breeding to recent innovations in tissue culture, irradiation, genomics and marker-assisted breeding (MAB) or marker assisted selection (MAS) to augment natural breeding. Some of the latest biotechnologies, called “modern biotechnology”, include the use of in vitro modified DNA or RNA and the fusion of cells from different taxonomic families, techniques that overcome natural physiological reproductive or recombination barriers."[2]

Key Findings

Key Findings include:[3]

  • 1. "Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology (AKST) has contributed to substantial increases in agricultural production over time, contributing to food security." The report notes that this was primarily done via increased use of inputs (fertilizer, pesticides), mechanization, and improved germplasm.
  • 2. "People have benefited unevenly from these yield increases across regions, in part because of different organizational capacities, sociocultural factors, and institutional and policy environments."
  • 3. "Emphasis on increasing yields and productivity has in some cases had negative consequences on environmental sustainability." Some examples given are land degradation, salinization, greenhouse gas emissions, loss of biodiversity, groundwater pollution, and "eutrophication and large dead zones in a number of coastal areas."
  • 4. "The environmental shortcomings of agricultural practice associated with poor socioeconomic conditions create a vicious cycle in which poor smallholder farmers have to deforest and use new often marginal lands, thus increasing deforestation and overall degradation. Loss of soil fertility, soil erosion, breakdown in agroecological functions have resulted in poor crop yields, land abandonment, deforestation and ever-increasing movement into marginal land, including steep hillsides. Existing multifunctional systems that minimize these problems have not been sufficiently prioritized for research. There is little recognition of the ecosystem functions that mitigate the environmental impacts."
  • 5. "Projections based on a continuation of current policies and practices indicate that global demographic changes and changing patterns of income distribution over the next 50 years will lead to different patterns of food consumption and increased demand for food." For example, global cereal demand will increase by 75% and global meat demand will double. Most of this will occur in developing countries. This will likely harm poor consumers and poor producers. "Overall, current terms of trade and policies, and growing water and land scarcity, coupled with projected changes in climate is projected to constrain growth in food production."
  • 6. "Agriculture operates within complex systems and is multifunctional in its nature."
  • 7. "An increase and strengthening of AKST towards agroecological sciences will contribute to addressing environmental issues while maintaining and increasing productivity. Formal, traditional and community-based AKST need to respond to increasing pressures on natural resources, such as reduced availability and worsening quality of water, degraded soils and landscapes, loss of biodiversity and agroecosystem function, degradation and loss of forest cover and degraded marine and inshore fisheries. Agricultural strategies will also need to include limiting emission of greenhouse gases and adapting to human-induced climate change and increased variability."
  • 8. "Strengthening and redirecting the generation and delivery of AKST will contribute to addressing a range of persistent socioeconomic inequities."
  • 9. "Greater and more effective involvement of women and use of their knowledge, skills and experience will advance progress towards sustainability and development goals and a strengthening and redirection of AKST to address gender issues will help achieve this."
  • 10. "Many of the challenges facing agriculture currently and in the future will require more innovative and integrated applications of existing knowledge, science and technology (formal, traditional and community- based), as well as new approaches for agricultural and natural resource management." Specifically, names "new genotypes of crops, livestock, fish and trees and advances in plant, livestock and fish breeding, biotechnology, remote sensing, agroecology, agroforestry, integrated pest and nutrient management and information and communication technologies (ICTs)" as technologies that "will create opportunities for more resource-efficient and site-specific agriculture."
  • 11. "Some challenges will be resolved primarily by development and appropriate application of new and emerging AKST."
  • 12. "Targeting small-scale agricultural systems by forging public and private partnerships, increased public research and extension investment helps realize existing opportunities."
  • 13. "Significant pro-poor progress requires creating opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship, which explicitly target resource poor farmers and rural laborers." The report notes that "The increasing market influence of large scale buyers and market standards are especially challenging for small producers."
  • 14. "Decisions around small-scale farm sustainability pose difficult policy choices." Specifically, the report mentions the WTO and the Doha Rounds.
  • 15. "Public policy, regulatory frameworks and international agreements are critical to implementing more sustainable agricultural practices." Animal disases, climate change, and environmental pollution, among other factors, are issues that cut across national boundaries.
  • 16. "Innovative institutional arrangements are essential to the successful design and adoption of ecologically and socially sustainable agricultural systems."
  • 17. "Opening national agricultural markets to international competition can offer economic benefits, but can lead to long term negative effects on poverty alleviation, food security and the environment without basic national institutions and infrastructure being in place." This finding discusses trade liberalization (sometimes called "free trade"), saying "The small-scale farm sector in the poorest developing countries is a net loser under most trade liberalization scenarios that address this question."
  • 18. "Intensive export-oriented agriculture has increased under open market operations but has been accompanied by both benefits and adverse consequences depending on circumstances such as exportation of soil nutrients and water, unsustainable soil or water management or exploitative labor conditions in some cases."
  • 19. "The choice of relevant approaches to adoption and implementation of agricultural innovation is crucial for achieving development and sustainability goals."
  • 20. "More and better targeted AKST investments, explicitly taking into account the multifunctionality of agriculture, by both public and private sectors can help advance development and sustainability goals."
  • 21. "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."
  • 22. "Achieving sustainability and development goals will involve creating space for diverse voices and perspectives and a multiplicity of scientifically well-founded options, through, for example, the inclusion of social scientists in policy and practice of AKST helps direct and focus public and private research, extension and education on such goals."

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