Oil is setting record high prices. People are rioting over the price of food in Haiti, Egypt, parts of West Africa and the Philippines. Since March 2007 the price of soybeans is up 87%, and the price of wheat has risen 130%. Global grain stores are at the lowest levels on record. Amid this turmoil the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) released its report this week on the state of agriculture. Not surprisingly the take home message is - “business as usual is no longer an option." From the report:
The report lays out the cold hard facts. Industrial agricultural progress has traditionally focused around increasing yields, not taking into account the externalized costs of food production. However, maximizing yields (aka: business as usual), is not the rout to a sustainable future.
"Many of the challenges facing agriculture over the next 50 years will require more integrated application of existing science and technology development (formal, traditional and community- based) as well as new approaches for agricultural and natural resource management."
"Agriculture currently contributes 60 and 50% of global anthropogenic emissions of CH4 and N2O, respectively. During the last 50 years, the natural resource base on which agriculture depends has declined faster than at any other time in history due to increased global demand and degradation; 75% of the crop genetic base of agricultural crops has been lost. Degradation of ecosystem functions (e.g. nutrient and water cycling), constrains production and may limit the ability of agricultural systems to adapt to climatic and other global changes in many regions. Sustainable agricultural practices are part of the solution to current environmental change."
Policies that promote industrialized single crop planting at the expense of ecosystems, and human rights (ehem - corn for biofuel) are set squarely against the recommendations of the nearly 400 experts who spent three years on the study. Instead the focus is on creating policies that directly address the interconnected nature of agriculture. The report investigated eight themes it deemed critical to sustainable agriculture; bioenergy, biotechnology, climate change, human health; natural resource management; trade and markets; traditional and local knowledge and community-based innovation; and women in agriculture.
This shift may call for changing the incentive systems for all actors along the value chain to internalize as many externalities as possible. In terms of development and sustainability goals, these policies and institutional changes should be directed primarily at those who have been served least by previous AKST [Agricultural
Knowledge, Science and Technology] approaches, i.e., resource-poor farmers, women and ethnic minorities.
In fact, the IAASTD encourages a broad conversation of possible sustainable solutions and highlights the importance that the media plays in communicating scenarios. It is only through a broad spectrum approach that we will find the local solutions necessary for the future of food production. Something we here at TreeHugger strive for everyday.
"By integrating expertise from other sectors there is more potential to develop solutions that increase productivity, protect natural resources and livelihoods and minimize agriculture’s negative impact on the environment. Knowledge and technology from sectors such as communication, energy and health, as well as culture and arts can enhance the capacity of agriculture to contribute to reaching development and sustainability goals. Farmers need a choice of options to respond to challenges, given their diverse needs and resources, and to address the increasing complexity of stresses under which they operate. "