ACC Network:Theme:Pluralistic network

ACC Network on Rural Development and Food Security

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Posted 1 May 1998

Theme: Building a pluralistic network -
encouraging civil society participation in country-level Thematic Groups

See also: Sustainable livelihoods (July 1998) | Natural Resource and Environmental Management (NREM) (June 1998) | Moving forward (April 1998)

"I appreciate the innovative modalities of action being envisaged, and welcome the intention to involve civil society organizations in the work of the ACC Network on Rural Development and Food Security and, particularly, in the activities of thematic groups within the Resident Coordinators system."
Secretary-General Kofi Annan in his letter dated 25 August 1997 to the FAO Director-General

One of the guiding principles of the ACC Network on Rural Development and Food Security is that it should be pluralistic, encouraging the participation of all the relevant stakeholders and development partners. The Network therefore provides an excellent opportunity for diverse actors to work together in pursuit of common goals based on their desire and commitment to promote rural development and to overcome global food insecurity. In this context, Thematic Groups at the country level have been encouraged to involve relevant governmental and non-governmental organizations, including national institutions, bilateral and multilateral organizations, and representatives of civil society and the private sector, alongside UN Agencies.

Who and what are civil society organizations (CSOs)?

'Civil society organizations' (CSOs) encompass a broad range of independent and heterogeneous groups and organizations. They are established on the direct initiative of individual members or groups of society and do not belong to the official governmental, political or administrative systems at any level.

CSOs include: farmers' organizations, rural workers' organizations, community-based organizations, NGOs, relief and humanitarian organizations, research institutes, trade unions and cooperatives, professional associations, consumers' organizations, universities, private sector associations, NGO networks, etc..

CSOs can be national or international, local or regional. Their roles may be focused around one particular technical or issue area (e.g. sustainable agriculture, environment, gender, population etc.) or may be multiple. Their activities are broad-ranging and include: advocacy; representation; technical support; service provision; capacity-building; training; research and extension; data collection; information diffusion, etc..

Benefits and enhanced outcomes of partnerships with civil society

Many types of CSOs are now recognized to have substantial knowledge about what works in sustainable development and to play a crucial role in contributing to the smooth functioning of the agricultural and rural development sectors. Large numbers of CSOs all over the world have demonstrated their capacities and expertise in supporting the survival strategies of the urban and rural poor who are directly affected by problems associated with poverty and food insecurity. Indeed, many of the constituencies represented by CSOs are the communities concerned by problems related to rural development and food security including food producers, women, young people, consumers, the rural and urban poor.
"Everyone recognizes that governments alone cannot solve these problems and that, if we are to make any progress, we need the energy and expertise that reside in civil society."
excerpt from the FAO Director-General's address to the opening session of the NGO Forum on Food Security, Rome, 11-17 November 1996.

Many civil society organizations have the potential to make a rich contribution and valuable input to the work of Thematic Groups at the national level. For instance, they can share their knowledge and expertise, often gained by working directly with communities at the grassroots level, and provide the lessons learned as a result of designing and implementing programmes related to rural development and food security. CSOs can also play an important role in advocacy and information sharing, as well as in the mobilisation of resources. Some CSOs can make an important contribution to the policy dialogue for food security planning. Indeed, a number of CSOs were invited by their national governments to contribute to the preparation of national position papers and strategies for the World Food Summit while many CSOs were actively involved throughout the entire process.

CSOs: Active participants in the World Food Summit process

A large number of CSOs contributed to the debate and participated actively throughout the World Food Summit process. The necessity to involve all actors of civil society in Summit follow-up was underlined by governments as well as by international organizations and NGOs.

The World Food Summit Plan of Action (PoA) recognizes the important contribution made by CSOs in such areas as food security and agriculture, fisheries, forestry and rural development and commits governments to undertake a number of follow-up actions "in partnership with all actors of civil society" within the seven commitment areas.

The PoA states the need for governments to "actively encourage a greater role for, and alliances with, civil society organizations in addressing food security." (Objective 7.1 (d)). With regard to implementation, it states that: "Individuals and households have a key role in decisions and actions affecting their food security. They must be enabled and encouraged to participate actively, both individually and also collectively, through producers, consumers and other organizations of civil society." (Objective 7.5 (a)).

At the same time, CSOs attending the NGO Forum on Food Security held in Rome at the time of the Summit, publicly committed themselves in their Declaration "Profit for Few or Food for All" to monitor the seven commitment areas in the PoA.

Go to our Resources:Civil Society and Pluralism for details on how to obtain a copy of the NGO Forum Declaration and Report.

"In the process of sustainable development, effective and efficient governments, markets, and civil societies are equally needed. At the end of the day, what is required is to create a synthesis, a complementarity, between the efforts and the creativity of all sectors of society. The results of this synthesis will be synergy - combined efforts will produce outcomes that will exceed the sum total of their parts."
from a paper prepared for the Conference on Hunger and Poverty, Brussels, 20-21 November 1995
Involving civil society organizations in the work of Thematic Groups is likely to result in enhanced access to skills, contacts and expertise in a number of areas (e.g. participatory research, indigenous knowledge, information outreach, gender etc.). By taking advantage of the complementarities and synergies that exist between UN Agencies, national institutions, bilateral and multilateral organisations and CSOs, Thematic Groups therefore have a real opportunity to increase the efficiency, sustainability and success of their activities.

Positive experiences

While it is accepted that the final decisions on the exact membership of individual Thematic Groups will be determined by each Group according to local priorities and opportunities, Groups have been encouraged to include civil society organizations (CSOs) with experience in the areas of rural development and food security. For instance, it is suggested that Thematic Groups seek to include the CSOs in their country which were involved in the preparatory process for the World Food Summit or are members of the Popular Coalition to Eradicate Hunger and Poverty (

Civil society organizations are already participating in country-level Thematic Groups in some countries, illustrating the potential of using the Network to promote alliances and partnerships between the different actors working to promote rural development and enhance food security at the national level. Other Groups have stated their intention to involve CSOs in the future.

  • In Bangladesh, civil society actors are engaged in the Sub-group on Food Security and Nutrition which is affiliated to the Network. CSOs represented include: the Association of Development Agencies in Bangladesh (ADAB), Helen Keller International, CARE Bangladesh, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre are all members. See Bangladesh Thematic Group profile

  • In Burkina Faso, several representatives of civil society participate in the Thematic Group on Rural Development and Food Security: Chambre de Commerce, de l'industrie et de l'artisanat; Fédération nationale des organisations paysannes (FENOP); Union nationale des professionnels agricoles (CNPA); Union nationale des jeunes producteurs agricoles (UNJPA); Coordination des ONG et Associations des Femmes au Burkina (COA/FEB); Secrétariat permanent des ONG (SPONG); Bureau d'études/Liaison des ONG autochtones (BELONGA). See Burkina Faso Thematic Group profile

Next steps: getting involved

Civil society organizations interested in participating in the work of country-level Thematic Groups should contact the FAO or UNDP representative in their country to express their interest.

Thematic Groups wishing to know which civil society organizations in their country were actively involved in the World Food Summit should contact the Network Secretariat at the e-mail address Groups wishing to know which organizations are participating in the Popular Coalition to Eradicate Hunger and Poverty should contact Mr. Bahman Mansuri, Programme Director, Resource Strategy Development, IFAD, via del Serafico 107, 00142 Rome, Italy; e-mail:

Relevant resource materials

Go to Resources: Civil Society and Pluralism for information on some relevant reports and publications.

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