War against hunger, global warming can be won on farmlands – UN report

Farmers can contribute to mitigate global emissions

5 November 2009 – The world’s farmlands can be the frontline for the fight against the impact of climate change and the battle to feed the mounting global population, according to a new report released by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today.

The report noted that crop farming not only suffers from global warming, but also contributes 14 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

But agriculture also has the potential to play a critical role in slashing global emissions, with around 70 percent of the possibility of alleviating the effect of climate change coming from developing countries, FAO said.

Improvements in cropland and grazing land management as well as the restoration of organic soils and degraded lands are the most significant technical measures to lessen the impact of climate change.

Nearly, 90 per cent of this potential will come from capturing carbon in the soil before it escapes into the atmosphere, according to the report, Food Security and Agricultural Mitigation in Developing Countries: Options for Capturing Synergies.

Agricultural mitigation options that sequester carbon can include low tillage, utilizing residues for composting or mulching, use of perennial crops to cover soil, and re-seeding or improving grazing management on grasslands.

“Many effective strategies for climate change mitigation from agriculture also benefit food security, development and adaptation to climate change,” said FAO Assistant Director-General Alexander Müller.

A move that may boost food production would involve increasing the levels of organic matter in soil, leading to better plant nutrition and increased water retention capacity, which will in turn eventually result in higher yields and greater resilience.

The FAO report highlighted other options that involve difficult trade-offs, such as biofuel production, which provides a clean alternative to fossil fuel but competes for land and water resources needed for food production.

Restoration of organic soils also enables greater carbon sequestration, but may reduce the land available for food production.

The report stressed that many of the technical mitigation options are readily available and could be deployed immediately, noting that while these measures often generate a net positive benefit over time, they involve significant up-front costs.

In a related development, the heads of the UN’s Rome-based agencies – FAO, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) – met today ahead of the World Summit on Food Security in two weeks to determine ways of combining their expertise to better serve the world’s one billion hungry people.

“The sum total of the Rome-based agencies is greater than our individual parts and roles,” FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf, IFAD President Kanayo Nwanze and WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran said in a joint statement.

“To succeed we need to work together. This is the time to put actions ahead of words,” they added.

The meeting brought together top management teams to advance initiatives ranging from joint administrative efficiencies to strategic country-led food security programmes, and to build on progress made over the past two years improving cost-efficiency and cooperation.

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