Agriculture must revert to more natural, local production – UN-backed report

7 April 2008 – Modern agricultural practices have exhausted land and water resources, squelched diversity and left poor people vulnerable to high food prices, even though they are also highly productive, according to a report announced by the United Nations scientific agency today.

“Business as usual is no longer an option,” states the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), which will be formally launched on 15 April by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The report’s authors recommend that agricultural science place greater emphasis on safeguarding natural resources and on ‘agro-ecological’ practices, including the use of natural fertilizers, traditional seeds and intensified natural practices, and reducing the distance between production and the consumer.

The need for action is urgent, the report says, because many poor people are now reliant on the global food market, where soybean and wheat prices have increased by 87 per cent and 130 per cent respectively in the last year.

Global grain stores are today at their lowest level on record and prices of staple foods such as rice, maize and wheat are expected to continue to rise because of increased demand, especially in China and India, and because of the alternative use of maize and soybeans for bio-fuels.

In addition, the report states that 35 per cent of the Earth’s severely degraded land has been damaged by agricultural activities.

UNESCO says that the IAASTD report is the result of three years of cooperation between nearly 400 scientists, the governments of developed and developing countries, and representatives of civil society and the private sector.

Its conclusions will be presented for approval to the plenary session of the IAASTD intergovernmental panel that will gather from 7 to 12 April in Johannesburg, South Africa. It will then be launched simultaneously in several cities, including Washington D.C., London and Nairobi.

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