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Sustainable Development at Home

Sustainable Development is action “…to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” as expressed by the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987. This commonly used definition is the basis for continuing work in agriculture, natural resource management and community development because it emphasizes achievement of the “triple bottom line” – improved production and profitability, stewardship of the natural resource base and ecological systems, and enhancement of the vitality of rural and urban communities.

The USDA Council on Sustainable Development is the Department's forum for policy and program development, implementation and evaluation on issues relating to sustainable development and provides the framework and mechanism needed for integration across mission areas and program activities, such as research, management, technical assistance, education, and grant and loan delivery.

Americans are searching for—and finding—ways to prosper and be good stewards of the lands where we live. As a nation we are making new efforts to pursue growth and still ensure opportunities for generations to come.

At USDA, we are committed to linking the economic, environmental and social aspects of our mission to create opportunities for landowners and communities and preserve choices for our children and grandchildren. Every day, we are making this part of how we raise our food, care for our forests, and support our small towns.

Working with organizations, individuals, state, local and tribal governments, USDA works to:

  • Emphasize sustainable agriculture and sustainable forestry practices as profitable, ecological and socially sound strategies for small farmers and woodlot owners.
  • Help citizens care for their neighborhood gardens, community trees and forests, and other green spaces.
  • Protect important farm and forest land from being converted to other uses.
  • Start up micro- and small enterprises through grants and loans.
  • Encourage farmers to keep environmentally sensitive farmland covered with grasses and trees.
  • Connect small business owners to the latest technologies and resources.
  • Reduce hunger through gleaning and food recovery.
  • Add value to local economies through job and enterprise development.
  • Link rural communities across long distances to vital services like education and medical support.
  • Help farmers get the most value for their products through farmers' markets, direct marketing techniques, and organic market expansion.
  • Work with communities to identify their options and plan their futures.
  • Create regional partnerships to connect urban and rural consumers.
  • Search for new practices, products, and ways to profit.
  • Target information and education to consumers, farmers, ranchers and woodlot owners through a national network of extension agents.
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International Sustainable Development Fora and Activities

Although led by the State Department and USAID, USDA participates in many international sustainable development meetings and related activities. The primary international forum for sustainable development is the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) which meets annually to review, by topic, sustainable development goals and activities throughout the world.

At its eleventh session, the (UNCSD) decided that its multi-year programme of work beyond 2003 would be organized on the basis of seven two-year cycles, with each cycle focusing on selected thematic clusters of issues. In each cycle, the thematic clusters of issues will  be addressed in an integrated manner, taking into account economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.  The Commission agreed that the implementation process should cover all these issues equally and noted that the selection of some issues for a given cycle did not diminish the importance of the commitments undertaken with respect to the issues to be considered in future cycles.

Many related topics and activities pertinent to USDA contribute to sustainable development, such as food security, trade capacity building, biodiversity, global change, and criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management. Below are links to additional information.

U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20250