Sustainable agriculture and rural development

Sustainable agriculture and rural development

Sustainable agriculture and rural development


The EU believes that to reduce poverty and hunger and promote inclusive growth, substantial investment in rural areas and in agriculture is needed. Most poor and undernourished people live in rural areas, where small-scale farming forms the backbone of the economy. Well-planned and well-targeted investment in small-scale farming  can, therefore, help a country feed itself and reduce its dependency on outside assistance.

Three quarters of the world’s poor live in rural areas and are largely dependent on farming. Moreover, in many developing countries, the livelihoods of most of the population derive from agriculture, and in particular small-scale farming. As a consequence, support for smallholders and for rural areas can help to reduce poverty. It can also stimulate inclusive and sustainable growth and increase food and nutrition security. Sustainable agriculture is, therefore, one of the priorities of the EU’s development cooperation.
Farming – agriculture and livestock, but also tree cropping, fisheries and aquaculture – is a key economic sector in many developing countries, and small-scale farming remains the economic base for the majority of the poor in the world. Its importance in poverty reduction and sustainable development cannot be overstressed.
However, climate change, environmental degradation, biodiversity reduction, global population growth and economic growth are putting increasing strain on the world's natural resources. The gap between food supply and demand is set to widen.
Agriculture therefore faces multiple challenges: it must become more sustainable on a dwindling resource base and strengthen the resilience of the vulnerable while having to feed and nourish an increasing number of people. Moreover, as it currently is the key economic activity for large parts of the population in developing countries, it also needs to provide greater returns and opportunities for growth and poverty reduction.
Sustainable agriculture and food and nutrition security are at the top of the EU's long-term development cooperation agenda. They are an important aspect of the EU’s dialogue with partner governments. Agriculture that is both sustainable and more inclusive and also protects biodiversity will play a major role in eradicating poverty, food insecurity and undernutrition:
  • The Agenda for Change, for example, which outlines the EU’s new development framework, acknowledges that EU development policy should focus its support for inclusive and sustainable growth on sectors that have a strong multiplier impact on developing countries' economies. Agriculture is one such sector.
  • The 2010 EU Policy Framework to help developing countries address food security challenges sets out EU priorities to step up investment in sustainable agriculture and improve the availability of adequate and nutritious food.
In particular, the EU’s food security policy focuses on smallholder farmers, as evidence shows that investments in agricultural smallholdings provide the greatest returns in terms of poverty reduction and growth. This emphasis on smallholders is one of the cornerstones of EU food security and agricultural development cooperation.
The EU supports developing countries’ efforts to advance their agricultural sector through a number of programmes and initiatives. It backs activities contributing to equitable and social development, environmental sustainability, value chain development, market integration, and demand-driven agricultural research and innovation.
The EU also recognises the importance of access to productive assets, including land, and of attracting responsible investments into the sector. In addition, it is at the forefront in providing support to small-scale farmers who want to move up in the value chain, look for mutually beneficial partnerships between local farmers and agri-business and improve their access to agricultural markets.
For Africa in particular, where agriculture accounts for about a third of the GDP and where the bulk of employment is found within or directly related to the agricultural sector, sustainable agricultural development is a key driver for growth and poverty reduction. Achieving this type of development requires a structural transformation in the agricultural sector to allow farmers to take a major part in the market economy, thereby increasing the income of this large segment of the poorer population. This shift should be based on  sustainable intensification of agriculture in such a way that resources are used efficiently and adverse effects on the environment are minimised.
The EU provides substantial funding in support of the sustainable development of partner countries’ agriculture and rural areas.
For the period 2007-13, the EU’s external aid for sustainable agriculture and rural development is financed through two types of instrument:

Geographical instruments support the implementation of sectoral policy at the national, regional and continental level - the European Development Fund (in the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries), the Development Cooperation Instrument (in Latin America, Asia and South Africa), the European Neighbourhood & Partnership Instrument (in the neighbouring regions). 

Thematic programmes – funding mechanisms dedicated to specific topics rather than particular regions – complement the activities undertaken through the geographical approach. The following thematic programmes provide external aid for sustainable agriculture and rural development:

Further funding is available from other EU sources and through other aid modalities, which notably include budget support.


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