FAO’s most important area of activity is agriculture. The organization works to increase agricultural production in several different ways. This can mean, among other things, that more soil is cultivated, that more efficient cultivation methods are introduced or that more durable plant varieties are developed. Aid projects can, for example, involve arranging irrigation in African countries or starting vegetable growing in Nepal.
The FAO works to reduce the use of toxic pesticides. As part of this work, the so-called Rotterdam Treaty was signed in 1998 , which means that pesticides that are banned in at least two countries may only be exported if the government of the importing country so requests. The Treaty entered into force in 2004.
Several programs aim to preserve the genetic diversity among plants and animals. The FAO has extensive databases of the world’s plant and animal genetic resources. In 2001, a treaty on plant genetic resources for food and agriculture was signed in order to preserve and use them in a sustainable way. That treaty also entered into force in 2004.
The FAO is overwhelmingly positive about genetically modified crops, which some critics say could pose a threat to biodiversity. The organization points out that modern biotechnology can contribute to increased food production and increased nutritional value in many crops, which would reduce world hunger. At the same time, one is aware of possible risks, in the form of unknown health and environmental effects.
Through the EMPRES monitoring program , the FAO wants to control and, if possible, eradicate animal and plant diseases. Among other things, the spread of foot-and-mouth disease, a highly contagious and often fatal viral disease among cloven-hoofed animals, is monitored. The FAO is rapidly trying to detect and limit new diseases, such as BSE or mad cow disease in Europe in the 1990’s. EMPRES is also running a campaign to eradicate livestock plague by 2010, an extremely contagious and often fatal disease that no longer occurs in Europe but is still a major problem in Africa and Asia.
In September 2004, the FAO and the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that the ongoing outbreak of avian influenza in parts of Asia posed a global threat. The following year, the two UN agencies, together with the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), developed a global strategy for limiting the spread of avian influenza.
Together with the WHO, the FAO has been working since the early 1960’s with the so-called Codex Alimentarius, which is a set of rules for international food standards. It includes organic as well as “traditional” and genetically modified crops. Within the framework of the Codex Alimentarius, an origin marking system was set up in 2004, which is considered increasingly important in the international regulations for food.
According to thesciencetutor, the FAO’s Department of Forestry aims to develop strategies for how forests can be used to raise people’s economic, environmental, social and cultural living standards, while conserving forest resources to meet the needs of future generations.
To achieve the goal, the forest department collects and disseminates information about forests and assists with technical assistance. Furthermore, efforts are being made to integrate forestry with industry.
It also wants to help the rural population to get a larger share of the profits from the forest and work to increase the forest’s contribution to economic growth and food supply.
The forest department also runs a program for the protection of the tropical rainforest and another program that promotes local knowledge about and use of the forest.
Attempts have been made within the FAO to work out a forest convention with rules for how the forest is to be protected against devastation. However, the issue is controversial and has divided the member states into two groups. One group consists of countries that are economically dependent on forestry and want to continue to use the forest at a high rate. The second group includes countries that own some forest and therefore advocate that the forest be preserved.
Every two years, a report is published on the state of the world’s forests, State of World Forests. The 2007 report states that deforestation has been slowed down in some places and that forest area is even increasing for the first time in centuries. However, this is especially true in the rich in-world, while forests continue to shrink in poorer countries. The main reason for this is forest fires, but agriculture, felling and insect infestation are also behind the reduction.
Between 1990 and 2005, 3 percent of the world’s forests disappeared. It is still estimated that forest equivalent to 20,000 hectares a day will be lost.