Technical Expert Meetings (TEM) on Agriculture: Sustainable Approach
by Maximilian Schubert
On Wednesday, 10.05.17, we had the chance to observe another technical meeting. After the expert meeting on cities the day before, the topic of Agriculture was the next focus.
Based on different assumptions, the agricultural sector will increase by 2050 its production by 60% while it is already now a big contributor to climate change with more than 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions. So the question, that needs to be answered is the following:
How can we limit the greenhouse gas emissions or make agriculture more sustainable while the sector is growing rapidly?
Out there we can find many different, many old and many new concepts on how to treat this issue and nearly every country has its own individual approach. Organics International (IFOAM) stated how important it is, that we dismiss any “one-size fits all”-idea and start to accept that through the big diversity on global but even on regional scale the individual approach is the only concept, that should be supported and that will succeed.
For instance, Kenya focuses on an agroforestry concept, where they doge the problems of soil degradation and small drought-periods with a minimum of 10% tree-cover on every agricultural used area. They implemented this by law and made a clear statement on the importance of forests, as well. The benefits of the concept, established only a few years ago, are already there:
The impact from the society on the natural forests in search for wood fuel and the illegal logging is retrograde, the organized forestry is growing and the soil health and soil integrity restoration is progressing, too. Additionally, the crops are showing a higher health, especially regarding their roots.
For reaching maximum effect, they use mostly legume tree-based farming systems.
The one billion people working in agriculture offer some other solutions as well:
In Brazil, over 30 000 projects, of big and small extend, regarding forest-restoration and integrated crop-livestock forest systems (ICLF) were realized in only 7 years. The key in Brazil’s work is the close connection to the farmers. Because even though in the modern world there isn’t any problem of funding and credits, many farmers fail to make the right use with their opportunities. That’s why Brazil wanted to enhance communication with the farmers and educate them on how to profit and work with the money, that is provided. They provided them with special training to raise their chances of succeeding.
The European Union set its strategy to protection. Having already lost 2/3 of their peatlands counting from 20th century, they are facing enormous trouble regarding the meanwhile endangered areas, which usually are an important and high valuable carbon storage pool. Beside the improvement of waterquality and the attribute of being a crucial part of the global biodiversity, the peatlands have a high recreational value and reduce flooding events, which is probably becoming critical in future climate.
To succeed with their protection plans, they implemented LIFE and LIFE+ and other financial incentives like paying the farmers for protecting an area. In the Netherlands they even manage those peatlands actively with hydraulic engineering. In Latvia they are blocking the drainage to force the building of peatlands and to optimize conditions, while in Greece water buffalos and cattle are grazing some peatlands.
But to meet our aims, we even need further ideas. By 2030 we must reduce our emissions by 1 gigaton CO₂ and we must still be able to grow our food.
This is why there are interesting projects like the breeding of drought-tolerant maize, that brings 35% more grain and so reduces also the need for more land for agriculture. Or the alternative wetting and drying method, we can use for rice. By changing the pattern of watering and drying, we can safe 30% of water by having the same rice-yield.
A future concept is for example “digital agriculture”, were the farmers only have to take a picture of the seeds they are planting and automatically can purchase an insurance for their crops. As soon as a certain level of rainfall is not met, they get an automatic payment for yield-compensation. To realize such ideas, more partnerships and collaborations are needed, but CGIAR is already working on it.
But also simple methods can bring improvement:
Some farmers in Africa used bioslurry as a liquid fertilizer, which increased the productivity up to 60% and even enhanced the product quality.
We need to promote scale up and out solutions, where the farmers can benefit directly by actually acting themselves. We should empower the farmers by putting them at the center of the discussion.