March 9, 2012

A Look at the IAASTD

By Hans Herren, Director
Millennium Institute, Washington, DC, USA

In 2008, a UN-commissioned effort, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology for Development (IAASTD), took a comprehensive look at the current global agriculture and food situation. The IAASTD report warns that continuing on the path of high-input industrial agriculture will fail to meet the world’s food security goals in the face of climate change, water scarcity, and human nutrition needs. It gathered input from hundreds of researchers and government representatives, ultimately reaching a conclusion precisely aligned with the vision embraced in the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature initiative: agriculture is multifunctional. Our food systems need to not only produce viable yields but must strengthen livelihoods, meet nutrition needs, and achieve climate change adaptation and mitigation goals.

A major goal of the IAASTD was to set the foundation for national governments to identify the particular multifunctional agriculture issues facing their countries. Beyond offering a review of the past few decades and calling for a new vision for agriculture, it was meant to train people to conduct assessments at the national level. However, the government representatives who signed the agreement never called together those in their home countries who had participated in the IAASTD to launch a national-level equivalent. It is essential that each country undertake its own assessment because policies need to be tailored to local contexts. To institutionalize multifunctional agriculture into national governance, the IAASTD sought to train its participants to work with their Agriculture Ministries, supported by international institutions focused on capacity building.

The IAASTD process helped, for example, build momentum in Africa for a fundamentally different approach to food security. At the highest level of the African Union, African heads of state made a decision to promote ecological agriculture. This achievement is unique to Africa; it did not happen in Latin America or Asia. There’s good reason to believe that the Ag Assessment had an influence in this decision because some of the people involved were also part of the group that advised the African Union on this initiative.

Donor countries and international institutions play a critical role to the scaling up of effective landscape initiatives. This must involve a multi-stakeholder participatory process in which developing countries are able to highlight their priorities to the international donor community.

We need to have a bottom-up process: countries say what they need, donor countries listen to what the countries’ needs are, and then they provide funding. The idea was to turn the table on this whole issue of a few in the World Bank, or in any capital of the world, deciding what is good for agricultural development. Developing countries need to have an assessment and say: “We have looked at our agriculture, this is where we want to go, and this is the money we need to move forward.”

Mainstreaming landscape approaches at the global level requires reforming governance institutions so that their work is better aligned with agriculture’s multiple functions. The Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program—through which African leaders committed to increasing their investment in agriculture by at least ten percent of their national budgets—is one example whose reform would help promote locally-led initiatives aimed at food security, livelihoods, and ecosystem services.


Hans Herren co-chaired the IAASTD process, and is currently the director of the Washington-based Millennium Institute. He won the 1995 World Food Prize—the annual award given to the person who has made a substantial contribution toward fighting hunger—for leading a pest management initiative that successfully fought the Cassava mealybug in Africa.

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3 Comments

  • Biovision Foundation
    March 31, 2012 at 3:58pm

    A paradigm shift towards sustainable agriculture is necessary and in line with the IAASTD’s findings. More about our position for Rio+20: http://cot.ag/zCdLGT Current agricultural policy and governance fall short of contributing to sustained food security, the eradication of poverty and sustainable rural development. The reasons are numerous: diverging views on the future of agriculture and consequently a lack of financial and political commitment; the lack of a well-coordinated initiative no global level to implement sustainable agriculture; economic, social and ecological benefits of sustainable agriculture have not been duly considered in policy making.

  • Dave Wood
    March 13, 2012 at 10:08am

    A major problem in applying the results of the IAASTD process to Africa is the differences between the regional recommendations as published. The IAASTD report use the term `agroecology’ (Herren calls this `ecological agriculture’). However, the recommendation for agroecology was predominantly for Latin America and decidedly not for Africa.

    The figures are stark: a search for the occurrence of the words ‘agroecology’ and ‘agroecological’ in the text of the five IAASTD sub-Global reports produced interesting results. (In each case the combination ‘agroecological zone’ was not counted, as this is not the meaning of ‘agroecological’ in the IAASTD recommendations, but of former, widespread and non-controversial meaning). The results are, for Sub-Saharan Africa, 2; Central and West Asia and North Africa, 2; North America and Europe, 2; East and South Asia and the Pacific, 8; Latin America and the Caribbean, 151; and the final IAASTD Synthesis Report 22 mentions.

    Given this overwhelming focus on agroecology in the Latin American and Caribbean Report, as expected, when we look at the authors, reviewers and peer reviewers we find mainly North American academics: Perfecto and Vandermeer of the University of Michigan, Scherr of Ecoagriculture Partners, Washington, D.C. and, predominantly, Altieri of the University of California, Berkeley.

    We can only conclude that the authors of the Sub-Saharan Africa report did not accept `ecological agriculture’ as the way forward. Further, we can question whether Herren should apply results from the IAASTD Latin America report to to Africa. I have worked in agriculture for 7 years in Africa and 8 years on Latin America and the Caribbean: they are fundamentally different and no broad-brush generalization is possible.

    If the co-sponsors of Landscapes for People, Food and Nature believe in the suggested benefits of agroecology/ecological agriculture, then they should open up the vast tracts of protected areas to farming ecologically: let us see if it works.

  • Sumaiya Akter
    March 9, 2012 at 12:02pm

    If we produce more yielding crops throw genetic engineering we can consume the cost…