Sustainable Agriculture Can Feed the World

April 13, 2011

A new report released by the UN shows that ecological methods combined with small-scale farming can double food production within 10 years in critical regions. The report, which is an extensive review of recent scientific literature, calls for a fundamental shift towards agroecology to boost food production and improve the livelihoods of the poorest populations. 


 "Today's scientific evidence demonstrates that agroecological methods outperform the use of chemical fertilizers in boosting food production where the hungry live - especially in unfavorable environments," says Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food and author of the report. "To date, agroecological projects have shown an average crop yield increase of 80% in 57 developing countries, with an average increase of 116% for all African projects," he adds.   


 The report, "Agroecology and the right to food," indicates that agroecological practices have not only increased yields but also decreased insecticide use, especially in rice, as indicated by projects in Indonesia, Vietnam, and Bangladesh. Yet while agroecology has demonstrated its potential to feed a growing population, it still struggles to gain proper policy backing. The report identifies a number of measures that States should implement to scale up their agroecological practices. It also calls for States to embrace agriculture research and extension as well as organizations for small-scale farmers.


 Research in agroecological practices, in particular, should be prioritized, because of the considerable and largely untapped potential of such practices. Modern science combines with local knowledge in agroecological research. In Central America for instance, the coffee groves grown under high-canopy trees were improved by the identification of the optimal shade conditions, minimizing the entire pest complex and maximizing the beneficial microflora and fauna while maximizing yield and coffee quality.


"We won't solve hunger and stop climate change with industrial farming on large plantations. The solution lies in supporting small-scale farmers' knowledge and experimentation, and in raising incomes of small holders so as to contribute to rural development," notes De Schutter. Read the report