Only sustainable farming will help meet growing food demand, says UN expert

4 February 2009

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.

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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