FAO: Raw material production must become more sustainable
Cereal-based farming systems must join the transition to sustainable agriculture if they are to meet unprecedented demand for maize, rice and wheat. That was one of the key messages to emerge from a crop specialist meeting held by FAO last December.
FAO estimates that over the next 35 years farmers will need to increase the annual production of maize, rice and wheat to 3 billion tonnes, or half a billion tonnes more than 2013's record combined harvests. They will need to do that with less water, fossil fuel and agrochemicals, on farmland that has been widely degraded by decades of intensive crop production, and in the face of droughts, new pest and disease threats, and extreme weather events provoked by climate change.
Maize, rice and wheat are fundamental crops
Experts at the meeting said that the challenge could only be met with eco-friendly agriculture that achieves higher productivity while conserving natural resources, adapting to climate change, and delivering economic benefits to the world's 500 million small-scale family farms. The meeting focused on maize, rice and wheat because those three crops are fundamental to world food security, providing 50% of humanity's dietary energy supply. Cereals are also increasingly vulnerable: climate trends since 1980 have reduced the annual global maize harvest by an estimated 23 million tonnes and the wheat harvest by 33 million tonnes. Green Revolution cereal yield increases, once averaging a spectacular 3% a year, have fallen to around 1% since 2000. In Asia, the degradation of soils and the buildup of toxins in intensive paddy systems have raised concerns that the slowdown in yield growth reflects a deteriorating crop-growing environment.
Input intensive agriculture
The FAO meeting agreed that agriculture can no longer rely on input-intensive agriculture to increase crop production. Improved varieties of maize, rice and wheat must go hand-in-hand with what FAO calls 'Save and Grow' farming systems that keep soil healthy, integrate crop, tree and animal production, use water far more efficiently, and protect crops with integrated pest management.
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