martes, abril 15, 2008

Reinventing Agriculture

By Stephen Leahy

JOHANNESBURG, Apr 15 (IPS) - The results of a painstaking examination of global agriculture are being formally presented Tuesday with the release of the final report for the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD).

The assessment has explored how agriculture can be reinvented to feed the world's expanding population sustainably in an era of multiple challenges -- not least those presented by climate change and a growing food crisis that has led to outbreaks of violence in a number of developing countries.

The expertise of some 400 scientists and other specialists was tapped for the IAASTD; governments of wealthy and developing nations also contributed to the assessment, along with civil society and the private sector.

Both scientific knowledge and traditional skills were evaluated under the IAASTD, which marked the first attempt to bring all actors in agriculture together to address food security (See: 'Q&A: "Increase Agricultural Productivity While Reducing the Environmental Footprint"'). Contributors produced five regional assessments, and a 110-page-plus synthesis report.

Amongst the 22 findings of the study that chart a new direction for agriculture: a conclusion that the dominant practice of industrial, large-scale agriculture is unsustainable, mainly because of the dependence of such farming on cheap oil, its negative effects on ecosystems -- and growing water scarcity.

Instead, monocultures must be reconsidered in favour of agro-ecosystems that marry food production with ensuring water supplies remain clean, preserving biodiversity, and improving the livelihoods of the poor.

"Given the future challenges it was very clear to everyone that business as usual was not an option," IAASTD Co-chair Hans Herren told IPS. He was speaking at an Apr. 7-12 intergovernmental plenary in South Africa's commercial hub, Johannesburg, where the assessment findings were reviewed ahead of Tuesday's presentation.

While global supplies of food are adequate, 850 million people are still hungry and malnourished because they can't get access to or afford the supplies they need, added Herren -- who is also president of the Arlington-based Millennium Institute, a body that undertakes a variety of developmental activities around the world. A focus only on boosting crop yields would not deal with the problems at hand, he said: "We need better quality food in the right places."

The notion that yield can no longer be the sole measure of agricultural success was also raised by Greenpeace International's Jan van Aken, who said that the extent to which agriculture promotes nutrition needs to be considered. A half-hectare plot in Thailand can grow 70 species of vegetables, fruits and herbs, providing far better nutrition and feeding more people than a half-hectare plot of high-yielding rice, he added.