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Initiatives being adopted in the Asia-Pacific region to improve the environmental sustainability of agricultural activity must include ways and means to reduce the gap between wealthy urban areas and the poorer countryside, the FAO has stressed.

In many cases, the failure to address the question of lower farm incomes is at the heart of a decline in smaller farms and may results in increased urbanization and social upheaval.

As countries attempt to consolidate some of the least efficient, small farms into bigger, more viable farms, policy makers should ensure that these bigger farms will comply with tougher environmental regulations that the smaller farms were unable to meet due to the relative higher costs of implementation.

The connection between income gaps and the move toward greener farms is made in an FAO paper prepared for the Thirty-Second FAO Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific (APRC) in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, 10-14 March. The Conference is FAO's regional governing body. The APRC brought together Ministers of Agriculture as well as other government officials and representatives from civil society concerned with agriculture, fisheries and forestry from 41 countries in the region.

The paper, Meeting farmers' aspirations in the context of green development, was presented to the APRC delegates. It examines current efforts by some countries in the Asia-Pacific region to address the widening income gap between farm and non-farm incomes. The gap is seen as a motivating factor for workers leaving farming for non-farm employment or for higher-paying jobs in urban areas.

Green Development and the urban-rural income gap

Countries in the region are experimenting with Green Development concepts called Sustainable Production Intensification (SPI) and Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA), two powerful and complementary approaches that FAO has developed to address the challenges facing traditional labour-intensive agriculture. SDI calls for better use of ecosystem services in agricultural production, including crop genetic diversity, healthy soils and the adoption of precision intensive technologies.

The CSA approach is a way of prioritizing SPI options and focuses on building the needed institutional, policy and financing frameworks to support their effective implementation. While these approaches help sustain agricultural output and reduce environmental degradation, the costs of implementation can be a burden on smaller family farms that make up the majority of agricultural output in most countries of the region. Therefore, ways and means need to be found to help smallholders become more profitable and greener at the same time.    
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