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Food Security & Agriculture

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Only Sustainable Farming Will Meet Growing Food Demand, says UN Expert
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Only by switching to more sustainable farming methods will the world’s farmers be able to grow enough food to meet the demands of a growing population, respond to climate change and alleviate poverty, says a leading expert of the FAO.


4th February 09 - UN News Centre

Only by switching to more sustainable farming methods will the world’s farmers be able to grow enough food to meet the demands of a growing population and respond to climate change, the top crop expert with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today. 

An essential part of that change is moving away from conventional intensive farming methods to what is known as conservation agriculture, Shivaji Pandey, Director of FAO’s Plant Production and Protection Division, said in a keynote speech at the Fourth World Congress on Conservation Agriculture in New Delhi, India.

Introduced some 25 years ago, conservation agriculture is a farming system that does not use regular ploughing and tillage but promotes permanent soil cover and diversified crop rotation to ensure optimal soil health and productivity.

“The world has no alternative to pursuing sustainable crop production intensification to meet the growing food and feed demand, to alleviate poverty and to protect its natural resources,” Mr. Pandey told the 1,000 participants at the Congress. “Conservation agriculture is an essential element of that intensification.”

Conventional intensive farming methods have often resulted in environmental damage, leading to lower agricultural productivity rates, said Mr. Pandey.

According to current trends, agricultural productivity rates are expected to fall to 1.5 per cent between now and 2030 and further to 0.9 per cent between 2030 and 2050, compared with 2.3 per cent per year since 1961.

However, the world needs to double its food production to feed nine billion people by 2050.

“In the name of intensification in many places around the world, farmers over-ploughed, over-fertilized, over-irrigated, over-applied pesticides,” he said. “But in so doing we also affected all aspects of the soil, water, land, biodiversity and the services provided by an intact ecosystem. That began to bring yield growth rates down.”

He stressed that conservation agriculture could not only help increase yields but also help the environment, including by restoring soil health, saving water and energy use and reducing the footprint of a sector which currently accounts for some 30 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The four-day Congress, hosted by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS), is the largest gathering of the conservation agriculture community, bringing together farmers, experts, and policymakers from all over the world. FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and other organizations are among the sponsors and co-organizers of the event.

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4th February 09 - UN Food Agriculture Organisation (FAO)

The world's farmers must quickly switch to more sustainable and productive farming systems to grow the food needed by a swelling world population and respond to climate change, FAO's top crops expert told an international farm congress here today.

In a keynote speech to 1,000 participants at the IVth World Congress on Conservation Agriculture (CA) in New Delhi, Shivaji Pandey, Director of FAO's Plant Production and Protection Division, endorsed CA as an essential part of that change.

"The world has no alternative to pursuing Sustainable Crop Production Intensification to meet the growing food and feed demand, to alleviate poverty and to protect its natural resources. Conservation Agriculture is an essential element of that Intensification," Pandey said.

Conservation Agriculture is a farming system that does away with regular ploughing and tillage and promotes permanent soil cover and diversified crops rotation to ensure optimal soil health and productivity. Introduced some 25 years ago, it is now practiced on 100 million ha of land across the world.

Environmental Damage

Conventional intensive farming methods had often contributed to environmental damage, resulting in declining rates of agricultural productivity just as the world needs to double its food production to feed nine billion people by 2050, Pandey said.

In the name of intensification in many places around the world, farmers over-ploughed, over-fertilized, over-irrigated, over-applied pesticides," he declared. "But in so doing we also affected all aspects of the soil, water, land, biodiversity and the services provided by an intact ecosystem. That began to bring yield growth rates down."

On current trends, the rate of growth in agricultural productivity is expected to fall to 1.5% between now and 2030 and further to 0.9% between 2030 and 2050, compared with 2.3% per year since 1961.

In developing countries, growth in wheat yields has gone down from about 5% in 1980 to 2% in 2005. Growth in rice yields went down from 3.2% to 1.2% during the same period while maize yields dropped from 3.1% to 1%.

Smaller Footprint

Conservation agriculture could not only help bring yields back up but also deliver several important environmental benefits, Pandey continued. Aside from restoring soil health, it also saved on energy use in agriculture, reducing the footprint of a sector which currently accounts for some 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

t could further mitigate climate change by helping sequester carbon in the soil and also potentially save 1,200 km³ of water a year by 2030 since healthy soil retains more moisture and needs less irrigation.

Only with sustainable intensification of crop production can serious progress be made towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals on hunger and poverty reduction and on ensuring environmental sustainability, Pandey warned. "We are currently headed in the wrong direction for both of them," he added.

He urged governments, donors and other stakeholders to provide policy and financial support to ensure early, wider uptake of CA. Training, participatory research and building strong farmers' organizations should be accelerated while newly-developed CA equipment should be made widely available and/or manufactured locally.

Delegates to the four-day Congress include farmers, experts, and policy makers from all over the world. The meeting is hosted by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS). FAO, along with IFAD and other Indian and international organizations are among the sponsors and co-organizers of this largest global gathering of the Conservation Agriculture community. 

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