Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Smallholder agriculture can be good for the poor and for the planet

Elwyn Grainger-Jones, the director of environment and climate at the International Fund for Agricultural Development, in the Guardian’s PovertyMatters blog (UK): …In the long run, continued agricultural production cannot be sustained at the cost of undermining natural assets. In most parts of the world, we are seeing the environmental costs of unsustainable agriculture: 15 out of the world's 24 main ecosystem services are being used unsustainably; agriculture accounts for 70% of freshwater use and of that 15%-35% is used unsustainably; 75% of crop diversity has been lost since 1900; 70% of fish stocks are being harvested unsustainably; about 5.2m hectares of forest are lost every year; and agriculture and land use change account for 14% and 17% of global greenhouse gas emissions respectively.

While large-scale agriculture is a major driver of environmental degradation, 500m smallholder farms are an important part of the equation. They account for 60% of global agriculture, manage vast areas of land, and through ingenuity and sweat manage to feed about one-third of humanity (providing up to 80% of food in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia). They also make up the largest share of the developing world's undernourished. Large numbers of smallholders are women heads of households or indigenous peoples – they live in the most ecologically and climatically vulnerable landscapes, such as hillsides, drylands and floodplains, and rely directly on weather-dependent natural resources.

For some years now, a combination of enlightened government officials, community groups, civil society organisations, thinktanks and international aid agencies such as the International Fund for Agricultural Development (Ifad) have been developing a more sustainable approach to agriculture, with great success and huge potential to include smallholders. Examples (often overlapping) include sustainable land management and conservation agriculture, agroforestry, sustainable forest management, watershed management, integrated pest management, and organic agriculture.

Baffled? In essence, these typically create or maintain healthy landscapes with maintained groundcover, diverse production systems and fertile soil that can retain moisture and nutrients….

Goats being raised by Rwandan women as part of a farm cooperative funded by micro-finance. Shot by configmanager, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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