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How to Produce More Food with Less Damage to Soil, Water, Forests

High-input, resource intensive farming systems have substantially increased food production, but at a high cost to the environment. Credit: IPS

ROME/BRUSSELS, May 31 2017 (IPS) - Massive agriculture intensification is contributing to increased deforestation, water scarcity, soil depletion and the level of greenhouse gas emission, the United Nations warns.

To achieve sustainable development we must transform current agriculture and food systems, including by supporting smallholders and family farmers, reducing pesticide and chemical use, and improving land conservation practices, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) director-general on May 30 said in Brussels addressing European lawmakers.

José Graziano da Silva stressed that while high-input and resource intensive farming systems have substantially increased food production, this has come at a high cost to the environment.

“Today, it is fundamental not only to increase production, but to do it in a way that does not damage the environment. Nourishing people must go hand in hand with nurturing the planet,” he said.

This is in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, he added. “We have to move from input intense to knowledge intense production systems.”

“Nourishing people must go hand in hand with nurturing the planet” - FAO chief

The Future of Food and Agriculture

Speaking to members of the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, Graziano da Silva highlighted the findings of FAO’s report, The future of food and agriculture: trends and challenges.

Among the 15 trends described in the report, are the impacts of climate change, conflicts and migration.

The report also foresees 10 challenges for achieving food security, improving nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture worldwide.

The FAO chief focused on four main issues: climate change; the spread of trans-boundary pests and diseases; food loss and waste; and the importance of eradicating not only hunger, but also all forms of malnutrition in the world.

Climate Change

He underscored that no sector is more sensitive to climate change than agriculture – especially for smallholders and family farmers from developing countries – while at the same time, agriculture and food systems account for around 30 per cent of total greenhouse emissions.

“In agriculture, adaptation and mitigation go hand in hand. There is no trade-off between the two,” the FAO chief said, while pointing to the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while at the same time building the resilience and to promote the adaptation of farmers to the impacts of climate change.

To this end, FAO supports countries through different initiatives and approaches, including climate-smart agriculture, agro-ecology and agro-forestry.

Trans-boundary Pests and Diseases

Globalisation, trade and climate change, as well as reduced resilience in production systems, have all played a part in dramatically increasingly the spread of trans-boundary pests and disease in recent years. These constitute a major threat to the livelihoods of farmers and the food security of millions of people.

For its part, the UN specialised agency supports countries to implement prevention and surveillance system. “Even in situations of conflict and protracted crises, we promote programmes of (livestock) vaccination, as we are currently doing is South Sudan and Somalia,” said Graziano da Silva.

“Today the world produces enough to feed the global population, but about one third of this food is either lost or wasted, while at the same time there is also a waste of natural resources such as land and water.”

The UN agency currently supports about 50 countries in the area of food losses and waste, including through the SAVE FOOD initiative, a unique partnership –with more than 850 members from industry, associations, research institutes and non-governmental organizations– that addresses these issues “across the entire value chain from field to fork,” Graziano da Silva told the European parliamentarians.

Citing estimates that indicate that nearly half of the European Union’s adult population are overweight, the FAO director-general noted how malnutrition affects both developed and developing countries.

“The way to combat this is to transform food systems, from production to consumption, and provide healthier diets to people,” he said and called on the parliamentarians as lawmakers to ensure that adequate policies, programmes and operational frameworks are anchored in appropriate legislation.

“Parliamentarians not only have the means to place nutrition at the highest level of the political and legislative agenda, they also can guarantee that programmes will have the necessary budgets for implementation.”

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