[ASC-media] Research to feed the world and protect the Earth
linden.woodward at jcu.edu.au
Wed May 15 07:46:41 CEST 2013
Agricultural innovation to feed the world and protect the Earth
How can we feed nine billion people, alleviate poverty, achieve better health and nutrition, and conserve the natural resources upon which all of this depends?
And how can we do that in the context of continuing population growth and climate change?
A series of research papers on these pressing issues has been released this week as a Special Feature by the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
The papers are edited by Professor Jeffrey Sayer, Professor of Conservation and Development at James Cook University in Cairns.
An introductory paper, by Professor Sayer and Kenneth G Cassman from the University of Nebraska, is here:
“Our aim is to bring together the many strands of expertise to answer those questions,” Professor Sayer said.
“The papers highlight the innovations in agriculture that could allow us to produce more food without increasing environmental pressures.”
These research papers developed from a Science Forum held in Beijing in 2011. The forum brought Cinese environmental and agricultural scientists together with their peers from all over the world. “We attempted to engage Chinese scientists in this debate as they are increasingly influencing global agriculture,” Professor Sayer said.
Professor Sayer is available for interview.
Tel, work: 07 4042 1663
Tel, home: 07 4093 0916
E. jeffrey.sayer at jcu.edu.au<mailto:jeffrey.sayer at jcu.edu.au>
The papers address issues including:
Lifting the rural poor out of poverty is a prerequisite for maintaining the planet’s environment.
For the two billion malnourished poor in developing countries, short-term food security is inevitably a higher priority than long-term environmental sustainability.
The importance of policy
Innovation is needed across a broader spectrum of policies as well as technologies.
Growth in demand for agricultural products will mainly occur in the most populous countries with emerging economies. Institutional and political response in the most populous countries of Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa will be major determinants of environmental change at a global scale.
“Governance and institutions mediate all changes in rural landscapes,” Professor Sayer said. “We include an example from Western China, where improving environmental management of common-property pastureland required changes in six tiers of institutional structures.”
Improved efficiency in agriculture is already contributing to environmental goals but it is not sufficient to ensure food security, reduce poverty, improve nutrition, and maintain the natural resource base for sustainable development.
Does intensifying agriculture (eg the Asian Green Revolution) result in more land being spared for conservation? Research shows that the amount of land spared was less than expected because increased food supply led to lower prices and increased demand.
Nitrogen-based fertilizer is essential for modern agriculture but its misuse results in emissions of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent in global warming impact than carbon dioxide.
A comparison of practices in Australia, China and Zimbabwe shows that Australian farmers are approaching maximum achievable efficiency, but major improvements are possible in much of the developing tropical world.
With an expansion of irrigated agriculture in those parts of Africa able to support it, Africa could become food self-sufficient and perhaps an exporter of some major food crops, whilst greatly reducing pressures on conversion of forests and wildlands. Currently, 34% of cropland is irrigated in Asia but only 5% is irrigated in Africa.
Global circulation models tell us much about the large scale, long-term changes but they are very uncertain tools when applied at local levels to address day to day realities of smallholder farmers who will bear the brunt of changes.
If institutional obstacles could be overcome then payments for carbon sequestration and storage in crops and soils could transform smallholder agriculture in the tropics.
Ms Linden Woodward
Media and Communications
James Cook University
T: 07 4232 1007
M: 04 1979 1564
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