Wake Up Call For World Agriculture From FAO

06 December 2011

Alyn Smith MEP, Scottish full member of the European Parliament's Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, has welcomed the publication of new research by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, "The State of the World's Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture", as a timely warning about the scale of the challenge faced by world farmers in the battle to ensure food security for a growing global population in an era of environmental constraints.

The report, part of a major research project by the UN's food security body, warns that increasing land degradation, depletion of water resources and a loss of biodiversity are putting food production systems around the world at risk.  

While it is well known that crop yields are not increasing at the rates of previous decades, the report reveals that 25% of the world's land resources can be classified as "highly degraded", with another 8% as "modestly degraded", through water and wind erosion, the loss of organic matter, salinisation, and nutrient loss - the figures include all land types, not just farmland. Furthermore, 40% of the world's degraded lands are to be found in areas with high poverty rates. Aquifers are being depleted, and water sources degraded through reduced inflows and high nutrient loading, with the greatest water scarcity coming in regions with high population densities like Central Asia.  

The report calls for the comprehensive adoption of sustainable land management techniques, such as improving the efficiency of water management systems through better irrigation and training; innovative farming systems like integrated crop-livestock systems and agro-forestry; increasing investment in agricultural development; and improving land tenure and access to resources in the developing world.

Alyn said:

"With the twin challenges of feeding a rising world population, and dealing with the inevitable environmental constraints of increasing climate change, I've been arguing for some time that business as usual is no longer going to cut it, so I'm pleased that the research the FAO have done has borne this out.

"Intensification in the old manner of throwing more energy and more chemicals at farmland simply cannot work in the long run, and we can clearly see the looming threats of soil erosions, salinisation, eutrophication, amongst others, in ultimately limiting what we can produce: not to mention the ultimate limitations of some of the key resources in conventional agriculture, such as phosphates for fertiliser.

"We need to become a lot smarter in how we manage our natural resources to conserve their production potential for the future, which will include building on some of the techniques we already do in Scotland, such as extensive grazing on fragile hillsides, and ensuring effective transmission of this knowledge to the farmers in the developing world who need it most. We also need to look seriously at how we can most effectively "green" the Common Agricultural Policy, providing real incentives for Europe's farmers to move in a more sustainable direction. It's clear that the initial proposals from the Commission don't necessarily stack up in being the best way forward, so we need to use the warnings of this report to motivate us in our work ahead."

The main page for the FAO project is available here: http://www.fao.org/nr/solaw/solaw-home/en/