Agriculture and forestry use roughly 60% of the earth’s surface. They are therefore more responsible for the functioning of our ecosystems than any other economic sector. Agriculture is multifunctional and goes far beyond food production. Other important functions for sustainable development include provision of nonfood products; provision of ecological services and environmental protection; advancement of livelihoods; economic development; creation of employment opportunities; food safety and nutritional quality; social stability; maintenance of culture and tradition and identity (Global, p. 146). The natural and cultivated diversity of species, as well as the availability and quality of fresh water, depend largely on agriculture. The same holds true for social structures in rural areas. Not only are jobs closely linked to agriculture, but also social cohesion of communities, their level of self-sufficiency and their resilience in times of crisis. Changes to diversity in land use and agriculture, positive or negative, therefore have a greater impact on the prosperity of society than the agricultural products themselves.>>more


Agriculture Produces More Than Commodities and Food

For decades, the only factors which seemed to count in agriculture were yield, price and economic efficiency of products. Development and agricultural policy, as well as research and technology, were exclusively determined by these criteria.
In recent times however, science and politics have begun to recognise and ‘rediscover’ the multifunctionality of agriculture. EU member states and other industrialised countries are starting to take the diverse role of agriculture more into account, particularly in areas such as law, the granting of subsidies and partly also in research. The use of the term multifunctionality has however been controversial and contested within the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Governments of the export-oriented countries in the Americas suspect it could lead to “market-distortion”. Companies and proponents of free-market theories largely oppose interventions on behalf of the protection of public goods and interests.


Facts & Figures

By definition, the principle of multifunctionality in agriculture refers to agriculture that provides food products for consumers, livelihoods and incomes for producers, and a range of public and private goods and services for citizens and the environment, including ecosystem functions.

Mechanisms to increase the accountability of powerful commercial actors in terms of development and sustainability goals have been weak. However in recent decades, public information campaigns, shareholder activism and more effective documentation and communication of bad practice have begun to exert some pressure for change.

The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) Declaration of the Agricultural Ministers Committee defines multifunctionality of agriculture as follows:
“Beyond its primary function of producing food and fibre, agricultural activity can also shape the landscape, provide environmental benefits such as land conservation, the sustainable management of renewable natural resources and the preservation of biodiversity, and contribute to the socio-economic viability of many rural areas. Agriculture is multifunctional when it has one or several functions in addition to its primary role of producing food and fibre.”


  • OECD Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development: Multifunctionality in agriculture. Offers information and publications on multifunctionality.
  • Agriculture & Health Research Platform established by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research to coordinate research on the two-way linkages between agriculture and health


Videos: Multifunctionality

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  • UNEP Agricultural OutputUNEP Agricultural Output
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Unterstützer von biovision Verlag der Arbeitsgemeinschaft bäuerliche Landwirtschaft e.V. Demeter Greenpeace Forum Umwelt und Entwicklung Eine Welt Stiftung Die Grünen, Europäische Freie Allianz Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst NABU - Naturschutzbund Deutschland e.V. Misereor Deutsche Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit Zukunftsstiftung Landwirtschaft in der GLS Treuhand Zukunftsstiftung Landwirtschaft in der GLS Treuhand
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