FAO in North America

A global land use challenge

Submitted by Rachel Friedman on December 8, 2011

A new report from The National Wildlife Federation offers policy recommendations to reconcile the conflicting demands of forest conservation, agricultural production and climate change mitigation.

Addressing the questions of how to feed a growing global population while at the same time curbing deforestation, deleterious land use conversion and associated greenhouse gas emissions, The Food, Forest and Carbon Challenge proposes strategies for meeting food demands and protecting forests.

While the authors of the report stipulate that agriculture is a primary driver of deforestation, they also recognize the need to increase production. One of the primary messages is that yield gains are necessary to curb agricultural expansion, yet alone they will not be sufficient to protect forests. Forest protection efforts and policies are argued to be essential to curb demand for more land-intensive products, such as beef and vegetable oils. Biofuels are also a contentious subject in the report, spurring recommendations to only promote them where it is possible to use waste and biomass from otherwise unproductive lands.

So what does this publication put forth as the next frontier? More research is needed on the potential of “underutilized land, particularly land in countries likely to experience agricultural expansion.”

Making agriculture energy-smart

Submitted by Teresa Buerkle on November 29, 2011

The food sector accounts for around 30 percent of global energy consumption and produces over 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new FAO report released today at the climate talks in Durban, South Africa.

The report, Energy-Smart Food for People and Climate, outlines opportunities to increase food systems efficiency by reducing fossil fuel use, and by reducing losses and waste throughout the food chain. It also highlights the tremendous potential for agriculture to produce more of the energy needed to feed the planet and spur rural development.

Watch a video with FAO’s Peter Holmgren to learn more about the links between energy, agriculture and food.

Degradation and scarcity of land and water put food security at risk

Submitted by Teresa Buerkle on November 28, 2011

A new FAO report warns that widespread degradation and deepening scarcity of land and water resources have placed a number of key food production systems around the globe at risk, posing a profound challenge to the task of feeding a world population expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050.

Download the full report here, watch a webcast of today’s report launch or listen to an interview on the report’s finding with FAO expert Hubert George.

Learn more about FAO’s vision for the sustainable intensification of agricultural production in Save and Grow: A New Paradigm for Agriculture released earlier this year.

State of Land and Water Resources report

Report charts pathway to tackling hunger and climate change

Submitted by Teresa Buerkle on November 21, 2011

A new report issued in the run up to the next round of UN climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa, later this month, lays out key policy responses to the global challenge of feeding a world faced with climate change, rapid population growth, poverty, food price spikes and degraded ecosystems.

“Business as usual in our globally interconnected food system will not bring us food security and environmental sustainability,” says the report, Achieving food security in the face of climate change – a summary for policy makers from the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change, an international group of experts convened by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.

The report’s recommendations include significant increases in global investment in sustainable agriculture and food systems over the next decade; sustainably intensifying agricultural production while reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture; and reducing losses and waste in the food system.

No small challenge, according to Sir John Beddington, the UK’s chief scientific adviser and chair of the Commission:

“It’s about reorienting the whole global food system – not just agricultural production, and not just in developing countries. We need a socially equitable, global approach to produce the funding, policy, management and regional initiatives that will deliver nutrition, income and climate benefits for all.”

The Commission’s final report, upon which the recommendations are based, will be released early in 2012.

New gender in agriculture website

Submitted by admin on November 4, 2011

©FAO/Alessandra BenedettiThe World Bank has just launched a new website aimed at providing access to resources, tools and information to help efforts to incorporate gender into agricultural development.

Designed as a forum for the sharing of analytical and advisory services on a wide range of gender-related topics, Genderinag.org provides a single source for specialists, practitioners and academics to exchange ideas and lessons from efforts to cut poverty through sustainable rural development.

The site, produced in collaboration with FAO and IFAD, was developed thanks to the Bank’s Gender Action Plan, established in 2007 to improve women’s economic opportunity by increasing access to land, labor, agriculture and financial services, and by ensuring that women’s needs for infrastructure are better served.

FAO’s latest State of Food and Agriculture report estimates that closing the gender gap in access to agricultural resources could reduce the number of hungry people worldwide by 100 to 150 million.

Roots of greener revolution lie in locally adapted knowledge

Submitted by Teresa Buerkle on October 13, 2011

Sustainable agricultural production based on practices and technologies adapted to local conditions is key to ensuring food security in Africa and around the world, FAO Assistant Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva said today in Des Moines.

“For agriculture, we cannot start with one-size-fits-all,” Graziano said during a roundtable discussion hosted by US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

The event was part of the World Food Prize Foundation’s annual Borlaug Dialogue and featured three ministers of agriculture from Africa – H.E. Kwesi Ahwoi of Ghana, H.E. Jumanne Maghembe of Tanzania and H.E. Jose Pacheco of Mozambique.

“We are in Borlaug’s house, and the Green Revolution has much to do in Africa and in many countries around the world,” Graziano said. “But we can’t go in same way.”

He cautioned against increased dependence on chemicals, especially fertilizer, as well as over-reliance on mechanization.

“In Argentina, 90 percent of their corn and soybean production comes from areas with no tillage. This kind of knowledge needs to be shared,” he said, advocating greater South-South cooperation and knowledge exchange between and within Latin America and Africa. “Africa is the new agricultural frontier of the world.”

New model of cooperation

“We need to avoid the traditional vision of international cooperation, of having donors and countries that are recipients,” Graziano said. “Cooperation is a process that both can learn from, especially in agriculture.”

Embrapa, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, was developed based on a concept of “tropicalization”, he said, taking the seeds, machinery and practices in Northern countries and adapting them to tropical areas. It is now developing crop varieties adapted to a range of tropical sub-climates and sharing this experience with other developing countries.

Adapting technology to local conditions, rather than “reinventing the wheel” is crucial, Graziano said, adding that deep local capacity was needed.

“South-South cooperation should be based on the principle of mutual work together not from donor country to recipient country,” he said.

An organic birthday

Submitted by Rachel Friedman on October 7, 2011

A new report by the Rodale Institute marks the thirtieth year of its Farm Systems Trial, the longest running side-by-side field comparison of organic and conventional corn and soy cultivation in the United States.

According to Rodale, organic agriculture uses 45% less energy than conventional farming, emits 40% fewer greenhouse gases and produces comparable yields.

“After thirty years of a rigorous side-by-side comparison, the Rodale Institute confidently concludes organic methods are improving the quality of our food, improving the health of our soils and water, and improving our nation’s rural areas. Organic agriculture is creating more jobs, providing a livable income for farmers, and restoring America’s confidence in our farming community and food system.”

Celebrating forest policies and forest food

Submitted by Teresa Buerkle on September 22, 2011

At the 2011 Future Policy Award Ceremony, forest policies were on the agenda and forest food on the menu.

Amuses bouche

Carl Lewis samples a moth caterpillar:

Carl Lewis tries the moth caterpillar

“Alice in Wonderland” (a caterpillar and wild mushroom dish) was a hit:

Enjoying the "Alice in Wonderland" (wild mushrooms and caterpillars)

Eight slices of a food security pie

Submitted by Rachel Friedman on August 11, 2011

Photo: ©FAO/Paballo Thekiso / FAO

With famine in the Horn of Africa, global population set to hit 7 billion in October, and environmental degradation threatening to undermine natural and agricultural systems, the challenge of feeding the world is daunting. In the July issue of Nature, author Jason Clay of the World Wildlife Fund sets forth eight strategies to address hunger and food insecurity on a planet with finite resources. He argues the all eight of these “food wedges” must be tackled simultaneously.

Clay’s eight “Food Wedges”:
1. Responsible use of genetics
2. Better agricultural practices
3. Efficiency through technology
4. Rehabilitating degraded land
5. Ensuring property rights
6. Reducing food waste
7. Addressing consumption and malnutrition
8. Sequestering carbon and conserving soil

Read more on the Science and Development Network.

Tapping communities for better water management

Submitted by Daniel Gustafson on August 2, 2011

Participants in a groundwater management committee measure available water

With things slowing down in Washington as people go on leave, I have been catching up on a long-promised chapter for a book on Water Management Innovations in Agriculture: Experiences and Future Perspectives, edited by a colleague from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research.  The contribution is on the experience of the Andhra Pradesh Farmer Managed Groundwater Support project known as APFAMGS, an initiative funded by the Netherlands and implemented as a nationally executed FAO project. 

The work was carried out by ten district-level NGOs in seven drought-prone districts of South India where groundwater resources are dangerously overexploited.  Through its community-based approach to data collection, participatory learning, and community mobilization it was remarkably successful in getting farmers to make better decisions that reduced groundwater use, increased income and moved the watershed toward sustainability.

The project was highlighted in a 2010 World Bank publication, “Deep Wells and Prudence: Towards Pragmatic Action for Addressing Groundwater Overexploitation in India”.  With what the World Bank report termed “the use of innovative and radically effective communications on ground water status,” the project demonstrated that it is possible to align water use decisions with farmers’ incentives to save their dry season crops and improve crop yields.

Instead of coercing or even coaching farmers to adopt water-saving measures to reduce groundwater use, the project equipped farmers with decision skills to plant a mixture of crops and apply irrigation techniques that minimize risk and maximize income.

The World Bank report was categorical:

“This impact is unprecedented, in terms of reductions actually being realized in groundwater draft, and in terms of the geographic extent of the impact, covering dozens of aquifers and hundreds of communities. While these results are preliminary and pose a number of questions on how exactly this impact has been achieved, they do indicate that the APFAMGS project, with an estimated outreach of 1 million farmers, may be the first example globally of large-scale success in groundwater management by communities.” 

Although as a pilot the initiative was quite large, there are inevitable hurdles in making the jump between project-level lessons and provincial or national policy implementation.  In writing the chapter, it was gratifying to learn that both the central Government of India and the State Assembly of Andhra Pradesh have been convinced by the project’s participatory approach to water demand management. 

A recent presentation to the Indian Prime Minister by Mihir Shah, a member of the National Planning Commission, highlighted the APFAMGS model in which, as he put it, “Farmers become ‘barefoot hydrogeologists’, engage in data collection and analysis, build understanding of dynamics of groundwater in local aquifers.” He also called attention to the formation of the project’s Groundwater Management Committees and their federation into Aquifer Associations that helped integrate groundwater management on a larger scale.  As a consequence, the Planning Commission will help the federal Ministry of Water Resources develop a new scheme to upscale participatory groundwater management initiatives like APFAMGS.

Similarly, the state government of Andhra Pradesh has gone a step ahead and drafted new groundwater legislation that gives authority for community institutions to manage locally the water resource systems.  It is an excellent example of how FAO’s encouragement and partnership with local organizations, who have a wealth of on-the-ground experience in empowering farmers and their institutions, can create leverage for significant change.

Daniel Gustafson, Director of the FAO Liaison Office for North America, was the FAO Representative in India and Bhutan from 2002 to 2007.



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