Organic farming can feed the world -- agricultural experts
2.Executive Director of UNEP calls for organic farming to mitigate climate change and to meet Millenium Development Goals
3.UN urges Kenya new food production strategies
NOTE: See also the UNEP report: 'Organic Agriculture and Food Security in Africa'
EXTRACTS: "We know what the solutions to climate change are, but they are not put into practice because governments are in bed with the biotechnology industry. They are more interested in making a quick buck than in the long-term benefits of farmers." - Hans Herren, wimmer of the World Food Prize (item 1)
"A new report by UNEP and the UN Conference on Trade and the Environment recently assessed 114 projects in 24 African countries. It found that yields had more than doubled where organic, or near-organic practices had been used. That increase in yield jumped to 128 per cent in east Africa." - Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP - United Nations Environment Programme
1.Climate change: New Thinking to Tackle Old Problems
By Kristin Palitza
Inter Press Service (IPS), 26 February 2009
ROME -- Organic and eco-friendly farming can feed the world, contrary to the common belief that biotechnology and chemical-intensive farming are indispensable, modern strategies to increase production, agricultural experts say.
"It is not necessarily about producing more food, but about producing more quality nutrition through less energy use and pollution," declared Hans Herren president of the Washington DC-based Millennium Institute, a non-profit organisation promoting long-term, integrated, global thinking.
"We have to invest heavily into research on how to increase eco-agricultural production."
The best way to mitigate climate change and gain food security is to support small-scale, ecological farming, scientists and economists said during the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) Governing Council in Rome, Italy, in late February. This would be a turnaround from international agricultural strategies of the past two decades that heavily promote monocropping and the use of biotechnologies.
"Nobody has really thought yet about how and if we can mitigate climate change in agriculture," admitted Dr Josef Schmidhuber, head of the global perspectives study unit at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), indicating that although there is a lot of talk about averting the impact of climate change, no policies have been implemented yet to solve the problem.
"It starts and ends with governance, with convincing key decision makers to change strategy," said Herren. "We know what the solutions to climate change are, but they are not put into practice because governments are in bed with the biotechnology industry. They are more interested in making a quick buck than in the long-term benefits of farmers."
Herren believes industrial agriculture is "bankrupt by definition", because it costs too much energy to produce: "For every calorie you produce you have to put in ten, if you look at fuel, fertiliser and labour needed."
He lobbied policymakers to focus on prevention rather than fixing crises: "In agriculture, it takes a long time to rebuild what we destroy. It takes years to replenish soils and re-create diversity. We have to go back to the source and ensure that healthy soils grow healthy crops."
Chemical-heavy agriculture has been systematically destroying soils, Herren complained, by causing mineral depletion, erosion and reducing soils' ability to retain water.
"For small-scale farmers, water is far more important than having a pest-resistant, genetically modified plant, which is only resistant to one particular type of pest anyway," he said.
Agriculture is the main income source for poor rural people in the developing world. At the same time, it is the human activity most directly affected by climate change.
Climate change will affect smallholder farmers (who own less than two hectares of land) through increased crop failure, a rise in diseases and mortality of livestock, increased livelihood insecurity resulting in assets being sold, indebtedness, migration and dependency on food aid. Other consequences will be desertification and land degradation, rising sea levels causing floods, diminishing natural resource productivity and, in some areas, irreversible loss of biodiversity.
Climate change is expected to put 49 million additional people at risk of hunger by 2020, and 132 million by 2050, according to IFAD. In sub-Saharan Africa, an additional 17 to 50 million people could be undernourished in the second half of the century due to climate change.
Generally speaking, climate change is expected to lead to a downward spiral in human development indicators, such as health and education, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
"To feed the world, we will have to scale up productivity, but in an ecological way, by polluting less and making use of low-cost technologies," said Michel Griffon, executive director of the National Research Agency of France. "We need a holistic approach to the entire ecosystem, including soil, water, plants, animal management, pests and diseases. It will be an immense challenge."
Change in rainfall
One of the key consequences of climate change is changing rainfall patterns. This will particularly affect African countries where 95 percent of cultivated land is rain-fed. "Less than ten percent of cultivated land is irrigated and only 20 percent is irrigable," explained Ides de Willebois, director of IFAD's Eastern and Southern Africa division.
In Africa alone, between 75 million and 250 million people will be exposed to increased water stress caused by climate change by 2020. Since the 1960s, the Sahel region has had a 25 percent decline in rainfall.
If farmers carry on with "business as usual", productivity could decline between ten percent and 25 percent by 2020, predicts Herren. In some countries, the yields in rain-fed agriculture could even be halved, he believes. "Such trends clearly threaten the achievement of the MDGs. We need new thinking to tackle old problems."
Since rural people in developing countries manage vast areas of land and forest, they could be important players in natural resource management. "Climate change will affect us for the next 30 years, even if we take good measures now, so we do need efficient adaptation plans," said Asian Farmers Association secretary general Estrella Penunia.
"Policymakers need to re-direct investments to small-scale, ecological, diversified farming," she advocated. "Smallholders will be most affected by climate change, yet they are the ones most likely to use sustainable farming methods, such as diversification and inter-cropping."
Agricultural experts at IFAD advise farmers to adapt to climate change by altering timing and location of cropping activities and to utilise water management to prevent water-logging, erosion and nutrient leaching in areas where there is an increase in rainfall. Farmers should also 'harvest' water in areas with less rainfall to conserve soil moisture and use water more efficiently.
In addition, farmers should diversify their income though additional activities, such as livestock raising, and use seasonal climate forecasting to reduce production risks. Other strategies include soil conservation, incentives for sustainable production practices and payment for carbon reduction and avoided deforestation.
"We need to find solutions to reduce risks and create more safety nets for smallholder farmers," explained Herren. "A most important move would be to increase crop diversity (and move away from mono-cropping) to diminish the risk of crop failure through variety."
Resilience against climate change goes down with less plant variety, Herren explained, "because if one invader or disease attacks a mono-crop, everything gets destroyed".
He also believes that transgenic plants do not produce a higher yield per hectare than natural plants: "They might produce more efficiently, but gains are nullified because farmers have to pay more for their seeds and buy them every year (because the seeds of genetically modified plants cannot be saved)."
2.Extracts from speech by Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP - United Nations Environment Programme - to the Regional Consultation Meeting on the Development of the Global Climate Change Adaptation Network in Africa
Nairobi, 19 January 2009
Over the coming years and decades climate change is set to present perhaps the most 'trying situations' humanity has ever faced.
It will thus require a mobilization of all our powers of intellect, all our legendary adaptive skills and all our abilities to understand quickly and to learn fast.
This will be the situation across the world but especially in Africa - a vulnerable Continent prone to impacts of climatic change.
Climatic changes that will aggravate existing vulnerabilities, in part as a result of weather systems become more extreme and unpredictable due to rising greenhouse gases.
Vulnerabilities too linked with poverty and with the existing economies many of which in Africa rely on rain-fed agriculture.
UNEP's involvement in climate change dates back several decades.
Many will know that it was UNEP, along with the World Meteorological Organization, that established in 1987 the global authority on the issue - I refer of course to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Perhaps less well known is that much of the science on adaptation, carried in the IPCC's landmark 2007, fourth assessment came from a report by UNEP and the Global Environment Facility.
A new report by UNEP and the UN Conference on Trade and the Environment recently assessed 114 projects in 24 African countries.
It found that yields had more than doubled where organic, or near-organic practices had been used. That increase in yield jumped to 128 per cent in east Africa.
It also found strong environmental benefits such as improved soil fertility, better retention of water and resistance to drought. And the research highlighted the role that learning organic practices could have in improving local education.
The conclusion is that organic agriculture may have a potentially significant role to play in adaptation and in meeting many of the Millennium Development Goals - an assumption that is discounted in many development models.
3.UN urges Kenya new food production strategies
Xinhua News Agency (China), 18 February 2009
The United Nations environmental agency has called on the Kenyan government to device new strategies to boost agricultural production system.
UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said on Tuesday it was urgent for the country to feed its population even in future when there would be a huge population.
Speaking during the launch of the report, "The Environmental Food Crisis", Steiner said the size of land available per person in the country had significantly reduced hence the need to rethink how agricultural production systems could be developed.
"I think the longer term challenge Kenya faces is in a country where the population is now at 38 million and projected to be 51 million by 2025, how do you continue to increase agricultural and food production when the per capita ratio of land available to each Kenyan citizen has gone down from 9.6 ha in 1950 to 1.7 ha in 2005?" he posed.
The UNEP chief said the report had seven significant recommendations that include real opportunities for boosting aquaculture and fish farming without intensifying damage to the marine environment as well as those highlighting the opportunities for minimizing and utilizing food wastes along the supply chain right up to consumers.
"This report will make an important contribution to the debate but equally it needs to trigger more rational, creative, innovative and courageous action and investment to steer 21st century agriculture onto sustainable Green economy path," Steiner said.
Among the key suggestions in the report is removal of agricultural subsidies and promotion of biofuels based on wastes rather than on primary crops to reduce pressure on fertile lands and important ecosystems like forests.
"It is imperative that countries like Kenya do not take the shortest route to continue increasing production simply from a tonnage point of view. That means not only rethinking the investment in their agricultural production system but also the ecosystems that sustain them," Steiner added.
He said although there were a number of suggestions in increasing food production that included use of hybrid seeds, fertilizer, irrigation or Genetically Modified Organisms, the food situation remained a complex issue. "The first message is that there is no silver bullet to this," he said.
The report adds that without policy interventions, the combined effects of a shortfall in production, greater price volatility and high vulnerability to climate change, particularly in Africa, it could result in a substantial increase in the number of people suffering from under-nutrition from the current 963 million.
"However, rather than focusing solely on increasing food production, food security can be increased by enhancing supply through optimizing food energy efficiency. Food energy efficiency is our ability to minimize the loss of energy in food from harvest potential through processing to actual consumption and recycling."
"If we are going to feed close to nine billion people in this planet at a time when our agricultural systems are already depleting our very ecosystems that actually sustain us and when environment degradation including climate change becomes an additional part to the system that could take 25 percent of today's production we have a serious problem in our planet," said Steiner.
The report also stated that unless more intelligent and creative management was brought to the world's agricultural systems, the 2008 food crisis which plunged millions into hunger could overshadow an even bigger crisis in future.
The report indicated that up to 25 percent of the worlds food production could be lost due to environmental breakdowns by 2050 unless action was taken.
"Already cereals yields have stagnated worldwide and fish landings are declining," the report states in part.
"Over one third of the worlds cereals are today being used as animal feed and continuing to feed cereals to growing numbers of livestock will aggravate poverty and environmental degradation," it further said.
The Rapid Response Team Leader at UNEP, Christian Nelle suggested that recycling food wastes and deploying new technologies aimed at producing biofuels to produce sugar from discards such as straw and nutshells could be a key alternative to increased use of cereals for livestock.
Kenya is currently grappling with a severe food shortage following three failed rain seasons and more than 10 million people are in dire need of food aid.
The researchers report indicates that the ongoing crisis has resulted in a 50 to 200 percent increase in selected commodity prices and hasten to add that taking into account the emerging causes, world food prices 'is estimated to become 30 to 50 percent higher in coming decades and have greater volatility.'
The study enumerates the key causes of the current food crises as; combined effects of speculation in food stocks, extreme weather events, low cereal stocks, growth in biofuels competing for crop land and high oil prices.