UN expert makes case for ecological farming practices to boost food production

Photo: Hysilvinia

8 March 2011 – Small-scale farmers can double food production in a decade by using simple ecological methods, according to the findings of a new United Nations study released today, which calls for a fundamental shift towards agroecology as a poverty alleviation measure.

“To feed 9 billion people in 2050, we urgently need to adopt the most efficient farming techniques available,” says Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food and author of the report, entitled “Agro-ecology and the right to food.”

“Today’s scientific evidence demonstrates that agroecological methods outperform the use of chemical fertilizers in boosting food production where the hungry live – especially in unfavourable environments,” he added.

Agroecology applies ecological science to the design of agricultural systems that can help put an end to food crises and address climate-change and poverty. It enhances soils productivity and protects the crops against pests by relying on the natural environment such as beneficial trees, plants, animals and insects, according to the study.

“To date, agroecological projects have shown an average crop yield increase of 80 per cent in 57 developing countries, with an average increase of 116 per cent for all African projects,” Mr. De Schutter says. “Recent projects conducted in 20 African countries demonstrated a doubling of crop yields over a period of 3 to 10 years.”

Conventional farming relies on expensive inputs, fuels climate change and is not resilient to climatic shocks, notes the study, which is based on extensive review of existing scientific data.

“It simply is not the best choice anymore today,” Mr. De Schutter stresses. “A large segment of the scientific community now acknowledges the positive impacts of agroecology on food production, poverty alleviation and climate change mitigation – and this is what is needed in a world of limited resources.

“Malawi, a country that launched a massive chemical fertilizer subsidy programme a few years ago, is now implementing agroecology, benefiting more than 1.3 million of the poorest people, with maize yields increasing from 1 ton per hectare to 2-3 tons/ha,” Mr. De Schutter writes.

The report also points out that projects in Indonesia, Viet Nam and Bangladesh recorded up to 92 per cent reduction in insecticide use for rice, leading to important savings for poor farmers.

“Knowledge came to replace pesticides and fertilizers. This was a winning bet, and comparable results abound in other African, Asian and Latin American countries,” the independent expert notes in the report presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

He adds that the approach is also gaining ground in developed countries such as the United States, Germany and France. “However, despite its impressive potential in realizing the right to food for all, agroecology is still insufficiently backed by ambitious public policies and consequently hardly goes beyond the experimental stage,” he points out.

The report also identifies measures that States should implement to scale up agroecological practices.

“Agroecology is a knowledge-intensive approach. It requires public policies supporting agricultural research and participative extension services,” Mr. De Schutter says. “States and donors have a key role to play here. Private companies will not invest time and money in practices that cannot be rewarded by patents and which don’t open markets for chemical products or improved seeds,” he adds.


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