Sustainable agriculture means the production of food from plants or animals using different agricultural techniques that protect communities, the environment, and animal welfare. The extensive use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers to boost crop yields may have resulted in good yields and productivity, but it has caused the efficiency of the soil to deteriorate throughout the world day-by-day. This modern agricultural practice has caused a steep fall in the biodiversity (above and below the ground) associated with cropland ecosystems.
A new UN report states that it is dangerously misleading to suggest that pesticides are necessary to achieve food security. Instead, the report recommends that farms reduce pesticide use and adopt sustainable practices that protect crops from pests by enhancing biodiversity and natural enemies. This agroecological approach eliminates reliance on, and exposure to, expensive and toxic chemical inputs, but would it really allow farmers to be just as productive?
Contributed by Melanie Bateman, Integrated Crop Management Adviser, CABI Switzerland
For the first time since 2000, the World Trade Organisation hosted an international workshop on developments in pest risk analysis (PRA) in October 2014. The previous workshop was held only four years after the signing of the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement). Under the SPS Agreement, countries have the sovereign right to maintain measures to ensure that food is safe for consumers and to prevent the spread of pests of animals and plants so long as the measures are not a disguised restriction on international trade. Any SPS measures that a country applies must be scientifically justified. As one speaker put it, “scientific justification is the heart of the SPS Agreement”. Measures that are based on international standards or pest risk analysis are deemed to be based on sound science. Above and beyond that, pest risk analysis matters to everyone – from farmers to foresters to consumers – because it is a tool by which governments identify and head off potential threats to the health of humans, animals and plants. As the old adage goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
The term ‘orphan crops’ refers to plant species and varieties that of recent decades have been ignored by governments, seed companies and scientists due to their limited importance in global markets. Instead, only a few major staples have been of interest. From fruits and vegetables to grains and nuts, many orphan crops are highly nutritious, resilient to climate extremes and are well adapted to marginal soils. They are therefore of great significance for food security and the generation of income to the world’s poorest communities.
Proponents term it the long awaited messiah that food-insecure Africa has been yearning for! ‘Farming God’s way’ promises to end fertilizer woes of resource-poor farmers in the continent by providing a cheaper and less labour intensive farming method.
Food security remains the number one major challenge that citizens across the African continent contend with. While the Green Revolution of the 1960s allowed erstwhile food deficient regions of Asia and Latin America to triple crop yields, food production in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has remained stagnant and in many instances it has even declined. According to IFPRI, among the factors fuelling the continent’s low agricultural outputs include poor resource endowments, minimal use of inputs (fertilizer, improved seeds and irrigation) and adverse policies undermining agriculture. Additionally, continuing environmental degradation, crop pests, high population growth and low levels of investment in agricultural infrastructure has further aggravated the resource limitations of agriculture in Africa.
Contributed by Stefan Toepfer, CABI Switzerland with Peter Karanja, CABI Africa
Tanzanian frontline agricultural extension workers had an opportunity to refresh and improve their skills in diagnosing crop health problems of small holder farmers during a practical training course in Morogoro, Tanzania. This was part of a set of trainings provided by Plantwise Tanzania, which certifies extension workers as plant doctors, enabling them to operate local plant clinics. Kija Edith is one of the trained plant doctor who has been running a plant clinic over the past year in a village market in Kiroka, Central Tanzania. She explains her experiences identifying pest problems and advising farmers to one of Africa`s most experienced Plantwise trainers, Peter Karanja from CABI Africa. Watch the video and find our more at www.plantwise.org
This week, the UK Minister of State for Agriculture and Food, David Heath, has announced his support for the use of agroecological farming methods which are seen as the foundation of sustainable agriculture. The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology (IAASTD) define agroecology as “the science and practice of applying ecological concepts and principles to the study, design and management of sustainable agroecosystems”. In practice, this means simulating natural ecosystems and using low inputs to increase productivity.
In 2011 the UN reported that by using agroecological methods, projects carried out in 20 different African countries were able to double crop yields in 3-10 years. The projects also recorded a reduction in the use of pesticides, leading to savings for the farmers. The agroecological approach has multiple benefits, beyond these economic gains. It also takes into account social and environmental issues, including soil fertility, water availability and climate change. Continue reading →