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March 23, 2011

UN report reveals overwhelming benefits of eco-farming

by Brigid Darragh

The latest report out from the United Nations reveals farmers in developing nations can double food production in ten years' time by simply transitioning from the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to ecological agriculture.

The report points to the success in eco-farming projects in 57 nations, where adopting natural methods for soil enrichment and protection against pests has resulted in an average of 80% in crop yield.

Olivier De Schutter is the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food and author of the report, Agro-ecology and the Right to Food.

“We won’t solve hunger and stop climate change with industrial farming on large plantations,” De Schutter said in a press release. The solution lies in supporting small-scale farmers’ knowledge and experimentation, and in raising incomes of smallholders so as to contribute to rural development.”

He points out that agriculture "is at a crossroads," and growers will have to implement methods that allow continued crop yield in a time when industrial farming — heavily dependent on oil — is simply not sustainable, nor affordable, for many farmers in developing nations.

"If food prices are not kept under control and populations are unable to feed themselves...we will have increasingly states being disrupted and failed states developing," De Schutter explains.

And because the cost to produce food is so closely linked with the cost of oil, the agriculture system as we know it is in a certain and long-term state of threat...

Industrial farming is the way of life for most developed nations, where farming methods rely heavily on oil.

The report details why these nations will eventually need to shift to agroecology to sustain crop production — and to increase farms' resilience to the natural disasters (floods, droughts, a rise in temperature and sea level) projected as a direct result of climate change in coming years.

"Sound ecological farming can significantly boost production and in the long term be more effective than conventional farming," De Schutter told Reuters, going on to mention methods like increasing the use of natural compost or high-canopy trees to shade coffee groves.

Just take a look at twenty African nations, where eco-farming projects have resulted in overwhelming results. Crop yields doubled within three to ten years of implementing ecological practices...

The report sites specific recommendations for governing bodies to ensure sustainable agriculture in their nations...

...making reference to agroecology and sustainable agriculture in national strategies for the realization of the right to food and by including measures adopted in the agricultural sector in national adaptation plans of action (NAPAs) and in the list of nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) adopted by countries in their efforts to mitigate climate change;

...reorienting public spending in agriculture by prioritizing the provision of public goods, such as extension services, rural infrastructures and agricultural research, and by building on the complementary strengths of seeds-and-breeds and agroecological methods, allocating resources to both, and exploring the synergies, such as linking fertilizer subsidies directly to agroecological investments on the farm (“subsidy to sustainability”);

...supporting decentralized participatory research and the dissemination of knowledge about the best sustainable agricultural practices by relying on existing farmers’ organizations and networks, and including schemes designed specifically for women;

..improving the ability of producers practicing sustainable agriculture to access markets, using instruments such as public procurement, credit, farmers’ markets, and creating a supportive trade and macroeconomic framework.

As well as providing examples of just how farmers are swapping conventional farming methods for ecological methods:

Thousands of Kenyan farmers were planting insect-repelling desmodium or tick clover, used as animal fodder, within corn fields to keep damaging insects away and sowed small plots of napier grass nearby that excretes a sticky gum to trap pests.

De Schutter explains other parts in the world that stand to benefit are Latin America and parts of Asia.

And aside from the obvious benefits of crop yield, sustainability, and a transition from oil reliance, ecological farming allows for genetic diversity — a key factor missing in many genetically modified seeds and crops...

Sustainable and organic farms offer a diversity of crops that improves nutrition among those who eat them, as well as builds a resilient food system.

Genetic uniformity lends itself to crop failure from climate changes and disease that can affect a harvest...

De Schutter discusses the general need for crop diversification around the globe; the importance for farmers to shed their reliance on wheat, corn, and rice in diets.

For eco-farming to really take hold around the globe, education and training are necessary — especially in parts of the world where industrial farming and the use of genetically modified seeds have been enforced for generations of farmers.

But where there's a will, there's a way. And many farmers, especially those in developing nations, are eager to shift from industrial farming and regain ownership of their seeds and farming methods.

De Shutter's study highlighted success among rice growers in Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Vietnam, where "Farmer field schools" by rice growers resulted in a decrease in insecticide use between 35 and 92 percent.

You can read the full UN report here.

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