FAO calls for sustainable crop production intensification

Crop area per person will reduce by 40% over the first half of the 21st centuryThe UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has begun to implement its strategy for Sustainable Crop Production Intensification (SCPI). By 2050, FAO estimates that to feed each person on the planet there will only be 0.16 ha of agricultural land available, compared 0.26 ha in 1999 and 0.4 ha in 1960, hence the need to intensify production. The goal of SCPI is to support countries and their farmers to grow more food and the focus will be on developing technologies and policies that will ensure sustainability1,2.

Conservation Agriculture

In practice, this will be achieved by encouraging the global development of the approach to farming known as Conservation Agriculture. This is quickly gaining ground as the best means of securing a stable and sustainable food supply for the world’s population of 9 billion estimated for 2050. Conservation Agriculture integrates the best appropriate technologies to work within three main pillars which support the overall concept. These all acknowledge the importance of creating and maintaining a healthy soil. Integrating diverse approaches to the management of weeds, pests and diseases, as well as plant nutrients, is also essential.

Three pillars of Conservation Agriculture

  • Minimal soil disturbance: not plowing and ideally no soil cultivations, eg ‘no-till

    Description

    Also known as conservation tillage or zero tillage is a way of growing crops from year to year without disturbing the soil through tillage ie cultivating the soil usually with tractor-drawn implements.

    Authoritative On-line References and Resources

    No-till.com:  A portal for on-line information about no-till farming.
  • Continuous soil cover: spreading straw and growing cover crops

    Description

    Cover crops are primarily planted not to be harvested for food but to reduce soil erosion, control weeds and improve soil quality. They are usually plowed or tilled under before the next food crop is planted, in which cases the "cover crop" is used as a soil amendment and is synonymous with "green manure crop."

    Authoritative On-line References and Resources

    http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/covercrop.html ATTRA is the US National Centre for Appropriate Technology's Sustainable Agriculture Information Centre.
  • Crop rotation: successive different crops contribute to soil fertility, block disease spread, encourage biodiversity

    Description

    The variety of life in all its forms, levels and combinations. Includes ecosystem diversity, species diversity, and genetic diversity (IUCN, UNEP and WWF, 1991).

    Authoritative On-line References and Resources

    http://earthtrends.wri.org/ EarthTrends is a comprehensive online database, maintained by the World Resources Institute, that focuses on environmental, social, and economic trends. Statistics on biodiversity indicators are available.
    and offer different timings for controlling weeds, pests and diseases
Conservation Agriculture has its origins in new tillage systems developed in the 1960s when paraquat became available. For the first time farmers could control virtually all weeds without the need to bury them by plowing, incurring problems of soil degradation and erosion, in addition to being very demanding on labor, fuel and time. Later, glyphosate became available to kill perennial weeds

Description

Weeds that return year after year. Some die back in the winter but their roots remain alive and shoots reappear in spring; some don't die back and grow in size and stature the next season.

Authoritative On-line References and Resources

The International Weed Science Society represents individual associations around the world.
. Today, around 120 million ha of crops are grown under Conservation Agriculture1. It has been most widely adopted in N and S America, and Australia, but is growing in popularity in various regions, including amongst smallholders in Africa, India and China. The 5th World Congress on Conservation Agriculture will be held in Brisbane, Australia in September 2011.

Benefits of Conservation Agriculture

  • Economic: faster, lower inputs, more efficient
  • Agronomic: better soil structure, fertility, and water management
  • Environmental: less soil erosion

    Description

    Displacement of solids (soil, mud, rock and other particles) usually by the agents of currents such as, wind, water, or ice by downward or down-slope movement.

    Authoritative On-line References and Resources

    http://soilerosion.net/ This site brings together reliable information on soil erosion from a wide range of disciplines and sources. It aims to be the definitive internet source for those wishing to find out more about soil loss and soil conservation.
    , better air and water quality, carbon sequestration
It has been suggested that weed control, especially in the early years of conversion to Conservation Agriculture, will necessitate the use of more herbicides. However, using integrated weed management

Description

A decision support system for crop protection which focuses on long-term prevention or suppression of pest problems with minimum impact on human health, the environment, and non-target organisms. IPM takes into consideration all available pest control techniques and tactics (cultural, mechanical, biological, chemical). IPM emphasizes the growth of healthy crops for better productivity with the least possible disruption to agroecosystems.

Authoritative On-line References and Resources

http://www.ipmcenters.org "The USDA's National Site for the Regional IPM Centers' Information System provides information about US commodities, pests and pest management practices, people and issues."
, when various approaches such as crop rotation and growing cover crops are also used, means that this does not have to be the case.
Paraquat’s role Paraquat has particular advantages of being inactivated and immobilised on soil contact, so it cannot leach

Description

The natural process by which water soluble substances are carried downward through the soil into groundwater.
. Its very fast action means that crops can be sown quickly and are, therefore, often harvested sooner giving opportunities for better prices.
Glyphosate has the advantage of systemically controlling perennial weeds. However, it has become so widely used that resistant populations of several important yield-sapping weeds have become established and continue to spread. As paraquat has a completely different mode of action, it is now finding a new use in protecting farmers’ vital option to use glyphosate successfully. Alternating the use of herbicides with different modes of action has been proven to ward-off the evolution of resistant weeds. As no herbicide with a new mode of action has been introduced for over 25 years and none are being developed, paraquat now has another key role in global efforts to ensure food security using Sustainable Crop Production Intensification.

References

  1. Freidrich, T (2010). Sustainable crop production intensification and the global development of conservation agriculture: the FAO’s view. Crop World Congress & Exhibition, 1 – 3 November, 2010, London, UK.
  2. FAO Conservation Agriculture website http://www.fao.org/ag/ca/1a.html