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Focus on sustainable agriculture

Dick Ziggers
My previous blog "Going organic is a dead-end street" received a lot of comments, mostly telling me that I didn't know what I was talking about. However, the FAO backs my conclusion.

My previous blog "Going organic is a dead-end street" received a lot of comments, mostly telling me that I didn’t know what I was talking about. However, the FAO backs my conclusion.

In a statement it said: "FAO has no reason to believe that organic agriculture can substitute for conventional farming systems in ensuring the world’s food security." Or as its director-general Jaques Diouf puts it: "You cannot feed 6 billion people today and 9 billion in 2050 without judicious use of chemical fertilisers."

Should we continue on the same path as we did the last decades? Answering that question I would say, no. In April a 2,500 page report was presented in South Africa called International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development  [IAASTD] which advocates a new way of farming using modern technology without losing sight of improvements in small scale farming.

The report - the first significant attempt to involve governments, NGOs and industries from rich and poor countries - took 400 scientists four years to complete. The present system of food production and the way food is traded around the world has led to a highly unequal distribution of benefits and serious adverse ecological effects and was now contributing to climate change.

GM not the solution
The authors said GM technology was not a quick fix to feed the world’s poor and argued that growing biofuel crops for car threatened to increase worldwide malnutrition. This was also a reason for the US, UK, Australia and Canada not yet to endorse the report.

The use of GM crops, where the technology is not contained, is contentious, the UN says. The authors say science and technology should be targeted towards raising yields but also protecting soils, water and forests.

The scientists said they saw little role for GM, as it is currently practised, in feeding the poor on a large scale. "Assessment of the technology lags behind its development, information is anecdotal and contradictory, and uncertainty about possible benefits and damage is unavoidable," said the report. Data on some crops indicate highly variable yield gains in some places and declines in others. The GM industry, despite being a sponsor of the report, disagrees and abandoned talks last year on this subject.

Biofuel not sustainable
The report says biofuels compete for land and water with food crops and are inefficient. They can cause deforestation and damage soils and water. The authors also warned that the global rush to biofuels was not sustainable. "The diversion of crops to fuel can raise food prices and reduce our ability to alleviate hunger. The negative social effects risk being exacerbated in cases where small-scale farmers are marginalised or displaced form their land," they said.

Of course international environment and consumer groups, including Third World Network, Practical Action, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, found confirmation in the report in being on the right track with their opinions stating: "This is a sobering account of the failure of industrial farming. Small-scale farmers and ecological methods provide the way forward to avert the current food crisis and meet the needs of communities."

Short-sighted
This conclusion is in my view far too short-sighted. Industrialised countries cannot go back to small-scale farming, however, exploiting farming in developing countries needs to be put to a halt. Subsidies distort the use of resources and benefit industrialised nations at the expense of developing countries. I think both industrial farming and small-scale farming can survive next to each other, but then developing countries must exercise their right to stop the flood of cheap subsidised products to protect their own farming sector.

On the other hand industrialised countries need to stop sucking out resources in developing countries and be creative in growing alternatives.

This will better develop agriculture that is less dependent on fossil fuels, favours the use of locally available resources and explores the use of natural processes such as crop rotation and use of (organic) fertilisers.

7 comments

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    subodh kumar

    I fully agree. Only decentralized small organic farming integrated with animal husbandry is the sustainable solution. Use Hydroponics to manage diverse weather uncertainties. I would like to get a copy of this rport

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    Dafwang

    I totally agree with you that small scale farming holds the future for arigultural development in developing countries. please tell your friends in the world bank to stop exploiting the greed of third world politicans who have been blindly following their recommendations in order to get loans under conditions that have added to the sufferings of millions of farmers in developing nations. If you leave us alone in Nigeria, we have the capacity to develop our agriculture to levels that we attain food self suffiency and even feed the entire West African subregion.
    Istifanus Dafwang, Professor, NAERLS, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria.

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    Sunny Okpokam

    I fully agree with you Dick.
    I will like to get a copy of this report
    //06 may 2008

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    Ralph Stonerock

    I think you are right on the mark. Sustainability for the next ten years is dependent upon both the small investment holder as well as the major foods producers. The small holder must be given an equal opportunity to grow and expand. Education has been and will continue to be of major importance to both economic situations. The Poultry Science Association recognizes their role in exploring and communicating their research findings. They offer an unbiased leadership in all fields beyond the production of meat and eggs. Yet, the majority of their talents are untapped for global collective partnerships with NGO's. That must change.

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    Dick Ziggers

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    Jerry Turnbull

    Mr. Ziggers makes several good points about the article. I agree with him on these points but like the other readers I would like to have a full copy of the report so that I can draw my own conclusions.

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    David Ford

    What i have read so far i agree with i would love to read the rest of the report because i beleive within the human race their lies a capacity to solve what ever problems we have created but time is starting to run short

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