MULTI-FUNCTIONALITY OF AGRICULTURE

HABIBULLAH MAGSI
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)

Sep 13 - 26, 2010

The challenge posed by the recognition of multi-functionality of agriculture has now reached up to the doors of international negotiations, because the agriculture and agricultural activities are not only producing food and other raw materials for industries in any region, but also goods and multiple services, market values, and environmental, economic, social values are also being produced by the sector. This fact of multi-functionality of agriculture is not new, because always agriculture is both a producer and a market, which is deeply rooted in a territory, where it operates, manages, develops and ensures the benefits as well as the quality of life of its citizens.

However, in previous decades the market orientation was favoured and accompanied by strong government intervention, allowing for significant gains in productivity to ensure food self-sufficiency and develop the agri-food sector. For twenty years, in a context of self-sufficiency among developed world, export to world markets has increased, but reduced the number of farmers and created boundary lines between agriculture and society, where the other functions of agriculture did not take advantage of meaning and significance. In addition, the policy choice always refuses to separate the domestic functions and functions of agriculture and its markets but the multi-functionality of agriculture strives to integrate these different functions at the farm and the territory. These functions harmoniously combine the economic, ecological and social development for sustainable agriculture and territories as well as benefits for adverse impacts associated with certain forms of economic development. These benefits typically include contribution to the vitality of rural communities (through maintenance of family farming, rural employment and cultural heritage), biological diversity, recreation and tourism, soil and water health, bio-energy, landscape, food quality and safety, and animal welfare.

Agriculture performs and has always performed multiple functions, but sometimes farms provide benefits implicitly, where the family farming model of agriculture is a good example of such a consideration, since it has always played a key role in the social organisation of rural communities and particularly in taking care of people with special needs without any explicit remuneration.

According to modern research, this concept of multi-functionality is not new with its respect but still not being practiced in the developing countries, which need to be legitimatised. On the other hand, at international level the concept has not only defended (has appeared at the Rio Summit in 1992, the declaration of World Food Summit organised by FAO in Rome in 1996 and in 1998, the international committee of OECD of Marrakesh Agreements in 1994) but also linked to sustainable development.

However, European Union (EU) has the support of many countries, which gathered at his club "friends of multi-functionality". The EU proposed a comprehensive discussion within the WTO, in a sense of balance between commercial and non-commercial use of agriculture. With regard to environmental protection, it is generally assumed that "sound farming practices" include compliance with a number of standards aimed at ensuring sustainable use of resources. In cases where society asks for more than simple use of sound farming practices (for example, measures to improve biodiversity or preserve a certain type of landscape), farmers provide a public service for which they are not compensated. Agro-environmental measures are the means adopted by the EU to provide compensation for those services. The payments cover extra costs or shortfalls incurred in pursuing an environmental objective, such as reducing the amount of nitrogen applied to sensitive land or converting of cropland to pasture.

In fact, for over fifteen years, various alternatives to current dominant forms of agriculture have developed (organic agriculture, extensive farming, "integrated" thrifty, etc.) and recently been found in a common conceptual framework, when the question of sustainable agriculture, food and environmental has been pointed out among societies, which have given strong emphasis on the multi-functionality of agriculture. Even though, the environmental problems in agriculture also differ across countries, appearing mostly as pollution of land and water, due to excess use of agro-chemicals in industrialised countries and degradation and overuse of natural resources in developing countries (resulting mostly from poverty and lack of financial support to improve technological practices). Apart from that, there is issue of maintenance of rural landscapes in industrialised countries, as a way of allowing urban dwellers to scenic vistas and the possibility of countryside relaxation, does not seem to have an obvious equivalent in impoverished developing countries.

This model of multi-functionality of agriculture is given by some European researchers (Mr Hubert and his colleagues, in 2006), which clearly shows that how revenue can be generated by agriculture sector from its commodity and non-commodity outputs.

PAKISTAN: SITUATIONS AND SUGGESTIONS

In Pakistan, the support for other functions of agriculture is already being provided. Multi-functionality of agriculture is not officially recognised, despite of knowing its concept that it is a territorial farming contract, based on the operator's plan on all its operations, ensuring both its economic viability and taking into account the expectations of society, including environmental and ecological benefits, quality products and landscapes, employment opportunities, social and livelihood balances and cultural territories.

To ensure the sustainable food for the growing population in the country, federal government has to introduce a number of rural development tools and initiatives that not only support the environmental benefits of agriculture but all its non-marketable goods and services. For example, the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) has to provide projects to enable the farm industry to preserve an active rural component by adjusting to technological changes, environmental constraints, new markets, etc.

Although, the agriculture sector of developing countries like Pakistan needs advanced technology and to be modernised, but such economies can think for the multifunction of their land use. However, the great emphasis is needed for the analysis of production relationship, which will further provide a methodological framework to analyse that how multi-functionality could or should be supported by the state, where analysis of externality and public goods aspects may provide a methodological framework to analyse how the benefits of multi-functionality could or should be distributed in the society. Furthermore, a political discussion on externalities should be organised, which will aim to analyse the type and amount of demand that exists for each externality that is jointly produced with a marketable good.

The strategy would be enacted including through a tool implementation of multi-functionality of agriculture, by territorial farming contract, which must link policy instruments and march in support of production tools to promote multifunctional character of agriculture. This point of view is to be legitimatised in the country, which is already defended at the international level. Steps must also be taken to ensure that support for multi-functionality does not conflict with other objectives, because Pakistan has already complete set for agriculture.

Specifically, any link between production and support for multi-functionality must be decoupled so as not to create an incentive to increase production or to produce in a way that creates more pollution. Furthermore, new agricultural policy instruments must be invented to support different market activities and functions that are paying for goods and services, meeting the current demands of our societies, dominance reduction of its economic and social weight.

The writer is PhD research fellow at INRA-AgroParisTech, France.