The term multifunctionality has sometimes been interpreted as having implications for trade and protectionism. This is not the definition used here. In IAASTD, multifunctionality is used solely to express the inescapable interconnectedness of agriculture’s different roles and functions. The concept of multifunctionality recognizes agriculture as a multi-output activity producing not only commodities (food, fodder, fibers and biofuels), but also non- commodity outputs such as ecosystem services, landscape amenities and cultural heritages.

The working definition proposed by OECD, which is used by the IAASTD, associates multifunctionality with the particular characteristics of the agricultural production process and its outputs; (i) the existence of multiple commodity and non-commodity outputs that are jointly produced by agriculture; and (ii) some of the non-commodity outputs that exhibit the characteristics of externalities or public goods, such that markets for these goods function poorly or are non-existent.

The use of the term has been controversial and contested in global trade negotiations, and has centered on whether “trade-distorting” agricultural subsidies are needed for agriculture to perform its many functions. Proponents argue that current patterns of agricultural subsidies, international trade and related policy frameworks do not stimulate transitions toward equitable agricultural and food trade relation or sustainable food and farming systems and have given rise to perverse impacts on natural resources and agroecologies as well as on human health and nutrition. Opponents argue that attempts to remedy these outcomes by means of trade-related instruments will weaken the efficiency of agricultural trade and lead to further undesirable market distortion; their preferred approach is to address the externalized costs and negative impacts on the environment, human health and nutrition by other means.

Bron & © IAASTD Executive Summary of the Synthesis Report, p.6

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