UN Embraces “Agroecology”

Can smaller farms be the answer to feed a growing global population? This is the message in a report by the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council.  According to a report in Drovers Cattle Network, Oliver De Schutter, the UN’s special rapporteur on food and author of the report, says, “To feed 9 billion people in 2050, we urgently need to adopt the most efficient farming techniques available. Today’s scientific evidence demonstrates that agroecological methods outperform the use of chemical fertilizers in boosting food production in regions where the hungry live” (http://www.cattlenetwork.com/cattle-news/latest/UN-report-criticizes-industrial-farming–119429229.html).

Seemingly in contrast to this report, according to the USDA, “The level of U.S. farm output in 2008 was 158 percent above its level in 1948, growing at an average annual rate of 1.58 percent. Aggregate input use increased a mere 0.06 percent annually, so the positive growth in farm sector output was very substantially due to productivity growth” (http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/agproductivity/). So despite impressive gains in agricultural productivity over the last century, the authors of this UN report believes it’s time for a new direction, one called agroecology. According to the report, agroecology is defined as the following:

“Agroecology is both a science and a set of practices. It was created by the convergence of two scientific disciplines: agronomy and ecology. As a science, agroecology is the “application of ecological science to the study, design and management of sustainable agroecosystems.” As a set of agricultural practices, agroecology seeks ways to enhance agricultural systems by mimicking natural processes, thus creating beneficial biological interactions and synergies among the components of the agroecosystem.”

The report hails agroecology as it “…puts agriculture on the path of sustainability by delinking food production from the reliance on fossil energy…”  The report goes on to say, that agroecology, “…contributes to mitigating climate change, both by increasing carbon sinks in soil organic matter and above-ground biomass, and by avoiding carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gas emissions from farms by reducing direct and indirect energy use.”

While we certainly cannot ignore the growing population trend and the demand it will place on producers of food, this is not the first prediction of this nature.  In his 1968 book, “The Population Bomb,” Dr. Paul Ehrlich predicted that hundreds of millions of people would die due to starvation during the 1970s because population would grow at a faster rate than the world’s ability to supply food. And in the 1700’s it was Thomas Malthus that said, “The number of mouths to be fed will have no limit; but the food that is to supply them cannot keep pace with the demand for it…” (http://www.blupete.com/Literature/Biographies/Philosophy/Malthus3.htm)

Many suggest that the demand for food will continue to be in the forefront of global issues for the foreseeable future.  Global populations are projected to grow to more than 9 billion by 2050. The question of how we continue to feed a growing global population while minimizing the environmental footprint is not a minor question. As we consider this issue, it should be based on scientific evidence and facts; to get this wrong or to make decisions based on emotions can potentially lead to significant consequences.

Here is a link to the UN Report http://www.srfood.org/images/stories/pdf/officialreports/20110308_a-hrc-16-49_agroecology_en.pdf

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