Hans R. Herren 2015-02-23 23:28:10
The dominant narrative for nourishing the world in 2050 tends to focus on the need to double production in order to keep up with current population projections of 9 billion people, as well as changing consumption patterns. While intensive agriculture has delivered impressive yield increases in the past, the focus on yield maximization has exhausted its resource base for the long run, with an estimated 1.9 billion ha of land already affected by degradation, at an annual cost of $40 billion. In our work with key actors in agricultural development from the field to the policy levels, Biovision Foundation and the Millennium Institute aim to move beyond this reductionist narrative by building on the paradigmatic shift of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology for Development (IAASTD), which outlines that business as usual, i.e., the Green Revolution model, is no longer an option. Supported by the UNEP’s 2011 Green Economy Report (www.unep.org/greeneconomy/GreenEconomyReport/tabid/29846/Default.aspx), agro-ecological approaches in particular are predicted to produce higher and more stable yields, better soil quality, and ultimately more calories, while significantly reducing water use, land under cultivation, deforestation, and contribution to climate change. The report used the Millennium Institute’s Threshold 21 model (www.millennium-institute.org/integrated_planning/tools/T21/index.html), a system dynamics tool for describing and analyzing complex systems in support of integrated development planning. Currently, 842 million people are suffering from hunger—even though we already produce twice the number of calories necessary to feed the world’s population. At the same time, obesity has doubled since 1980, and an estimated 1.4 billion adults are overweight. As a result, future pathways to nourish the world by 2050 need to consider the complexities of our food systems: who should produce which food where and how? Food system analyses reveal that large efficiency gains can be obtained from production to consumption. On-farm losses amount to 40% of total losses in developing countries, while household and municipal consumption account for up to 50% of total losses in developed countries. These losses of global calories are aggravated by changing consumption patterns— particularly meat-based diets reliant on animal feed—and by channeling food crops to biofuel production. Therefore, what we need are sustainable solutions to address pre-harvest and post-harvest losses in developing countries while simultaneously decreasing waste in the global north. To address these challenges, we are working with national governments in three countries (Ethiopia, Kenya, and Senegal) to introduce system dynamics modeling and scenario approaches to support multi-stakeholder assessments of their agriculture and food systems. These pilot programs are aimed at developing guidelines for country-led assessments of agriculture and food systems, as recommended by the Rio+20 summit, which emphasized the need for sustainable agricultural policies to improve food security and eradicate hunger with regard to the challenges of climate change, natural resource limitations, and changing demand. These activities will also inform the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) up to 2030 that are now being developed. In the framework of our systemic approach to development, we are also working with scientists and smallholder farmers in East Africa to establish sustainable and innovative production alternatives. With our long-term partners, such as the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) in Kenya and national research organizations, we have successfully implemented projects that showcase how knowledge-intensive solutions dramatically improve farmers’ yields and income. One example is the Push-Pull method, adopted by over 90,000 farmers in East Africa (www.push-pull.net). It builds on intercropping corn with Desmodium as a nitrogen-fixing legume, which repels pests and eliminates Striga, while the volatiles of a border crop, such as Napier grass, attract the pests. Additional benefits include control of soil erosion and increased soil fertility, fodder, and dairy production. Push-Pull is an exemplary agro-ecological approach, the more so when included in agroforestry systems and extended beyond corn. Yields are easily doubled or even tripled with such systems without additional off-farm inputs, while the crop’s resilience in the face of weather extremes and pests is significantly improved. We also ensure that such knowledge-intensive innovations are disseminated to farmers via the Farmer Communication Program (including the Infonet platform, www.infonetbiovision. org). As a complementing element in the circle from research to field testing and dissemination, we also bring these achievements into the policy development area for evidencebased decision-making. Despite these efforts, and the evidence that agro-ecological approaches are the most promising way forward for environmental, social, and economic reasons (for example, the rate of return for biological control of the cassava mealybug in Africa was $247 for every $1 invested, discounted over 20 years; it benefited over 200 million farmers and saved an estimated 20 million lives), agro-ecological research and its dissemination remain grossly underfunded compared with investments in seed breeding. To nourish the world in 2050, we advocate a systemic, holistic, and causal approach in dealing with the constraints and complexities encountered along the food value chain, from production to consumption. Hans R. Herren, (wearing cap in above photo) entomologist, farmer, and development specialist, is President of the Biovision Foundation, Zurich, Switzerland (www.biovision.ch), and President of the Millennium Institute, Washington, D.C., USA (www.millennium-institute.org). He received the 1995 World Food Prize and the 2013 Right Livelihood Award. Top photo Monahan | Dreamstime. Opposite page and inset photos courtesy of Biovision Foundation.
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