Amidst concerns about rising food prices and food availability on a planet with a population that will reach nine billion by 2050, many people are adamant about the use of industrial farming practices, arguing that they ensure a more reliable and voluminous crop yield.
But in a report released by the United Nations last week entitled “Agroecology and the Right To Food,” author Olivier de Schutter reports that contrary to popular belief, using more sustainable methods on farms in the developing world could actually result in higher yields of food than industrial methods.
According to the report, the use of ecologically sound farming methods in fifty-seven developing countries resulted in average crop yield gains of eighty percent. In several African countries, yields doubled in sometimes as little as three years.
Some of the approaches outlined in the report are the use of ducks to eat harmful weeds in Bangladesh and pest-trapping and repelling plants in Kenya. Integrating compost into soil and using the shade provided by high-canopy trees for growing coffee were also highlighted as more sustainable and productive farming strategies. That these yield-increasing methods are being used in developing countries is especially promising due to the constant threat to food security that they face.
The benefits of more ecologically-sound farming methods are not limited to increased food availability. Shifting from more oil-intensive industrial practices that rely on synthetic chemical fertilizers and pesticides is also better for the atmosphere and waterways. The report also suggests that using “agroecology” could also better equip farms against extreme weather patterns associated with climate change. Keeping food prices down may also lead to greater political stability as well.
Despite all the benefits “agroecology” could bring, the report’s author, de Schutter, is aware that a large-scale shift to more sustainable practices will take time given the entrenched reliance on industrial practices. He suggests increasing the diversity of the range of crops grown, as well as using more local knowledge of agriculture, training, and conducting further research.
Regardless of the challenges that lie ahead in global agriculture, it is clear that a shift is needed in our practices. Only time will tell if the examples set by those farmers in the United Nation’s report will be modeled elsewhere.
Photo courtesy of Maureen Leong-Kee