Farming Methods Risk Global Food Production
WASHINGTON, DC, February 14, 2001 (ENS) - How will the world feed an extra 1.5 billion people over the next two decades when current farming methods have already jeopardized world food production? That is the question posed by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the World Resources Institute (WRI) in a report released today.
The report, Pilot Analysis of Global Ecosystems (PAGE): Agroecosystems, draws upon satellite data, digital maps, and new methods of mapping global agriculture.
It concludes that the world's ability to feed itself is at risk from farming methods that have degraded soils, parched aquifers, polluted waters, and caused the loss of animal and plant species.
The world's population of six billion people is expected to increase by more than one quarter by 2020, placing additional pressure on agricultural lands already experiencing dramatically reduced crop productivity because of soil degradation.
IFPRI and WRI describe their report as "the first comprehensive audit of the world agriculture's ability to provide sufficient food, goods and services that are vital for sustaining human life."
IFPRI is part of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), an informal association of 58 public and private sector members that supports a network of 16 international agricultural research centers. CGIAR is co-sponsored by the World Bank, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the United Nations Development Program.
The WRI is a Washington, DC based center for policy research and technical assistance. It aims to provide objective information and practical proposals for policy change that will foster environmentally sound development.
Farming in the Philippines.
IFPRI scientist Stanley Wood, who co-authored the report, stressed that since agricultural land dominates the earth's populated landscapes, we need it to do more than produce more food. "We also rely on agricultural land to provide other goods and services, including clean water and habitat for threatened species," said Wood.
Wood added that agricultural lands could produce more food and help to prevent global warming by returning more carbon to the soil.
"Unfortunately, many current agricultural practices actually contribute to global warming," said Wood.
"A recent report by nearly 1,000 of the world's leading climate scientists demonstrates that global warming is increasing faster than originally estimated. In recent decades, scientists have noted anincrease in the frequency and intensity of droughts in Asia and Africa," he said.
A January 21 report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Control (IPCC), predicted that, by the end of the century, the average surface temperature of the Earth could increase by 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit (five degrees Celsius), with catastrophic results: melted glaciers, flooded shorelines and drought that persists for hundreds of years.
The IPCC report pinned most of the blame for global warming on human produced greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, which are byproducts of fossil fuel burning.
Today's PAGE report found that soil degradation, including nutrient depletion, erosion, and salinization, is widespread. Twenty to 30 percent of the world's forests have been converted to agriculture, resulting in extensive species and habitat loss, said the report, which added that agriculture is encroaching on many national parks and other protected areas.
Agriculture consumes 70 percent of the freshwater withdrawn annually by humans and irrigation is draining more water than is being replenished by rainfall, causing water tables to fall. To make matters worse, many water sources are being polluted by excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides, said the report.
"We must not continue to take nutrients out of the soil faster than we replace them," said IFPRI director general Per Pinstrup-Andersen. "We must not continue to deplete water resources faster than they can be replenished.
"By analogy, you cannot continue to take more out of your bank account than you put in. Sooner or later, you'll run out of money," he added.
Ian Johnson, CGIAR chairman and a World Bank vice president summed up the problem. "Our current global population, currently about six billion people, is expected to increase by more than one quarter over the next two decades.
"We must find ways to increase food production to sustain growing populations in developing countries. But this challenge must be accomplished without major increases in the amount of new land under cultivation, which would further threaten forests and biodiversity, and without resorting to unsustainable farming practices."
The report drew upon additional analysis from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, the FAO, International Fertilizer Development Center, International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis, the International Soil Reference and Information Centre, and experts from more than 25 countries.
The PAGE Agroecosystems report is part of a series of five technical reports that cover fresh water, coastal, forest, and grassland ecosystems. Together, the reports are said to represent the most comprehensive assessment of the state of the world's ecosystems.
They set the stage for this year's launch of the Millennium Ecosystems Assessment (MEA), a four year, $20 million effort which will mobilize hundreds of leading scientists to fill in the data gaps identified by these reports.
"We must not ignore the goods and services that ecosystems provide," said WRI president Jonathan Lash of the MEA. "To do so would be like ignoring the hand that feeds us."