龙8娱乐app下载报道Sustainable Intensification: Closing the Crop Yield Gap_龙8娱乐app下载官网资讯


The world needs to be able to grow more food on the same amount of land. Is sustainable intensification the answer?

The global agriculture sector has a serious problem to solve. The UN鈥檚 Food and Agricultureal Organization (FAO) puts it bluntly: 鈥淚f global population and food consumption trends continue, by 2050 the world will need 60 percent more food than is available today.鈥 But, according to the FAO, 12 million hectares of arable soil disappear every year around the world. If more isn鈥檛 done to reverse course, we have only 60 seasons of good soil left.

The only viable option, according to the FAO, is to make agriculture sustainable. Promoting sustainable agriculture is at the center of the UN鈥檚 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a global development program launched in September 2015. For the FAO, sustainable agriculture isn鈥檛 just about alleviating farming鈥檚 adverse effects on the environment; it鈥檚 a key part of the UN鈥檚 overall development goals and includes improving the economic and social well-being of those who farm. (See 鈥淭he 2030 Target.鈥)

To that end, the FAO promotes what鈥檚 known as sustainable intensification of agriculture鈥攖he art and science of producing more food on the same amount of land, without negatively affecting the environment. The method, according to the FAO, 鈥渓ooks at whole landscapes, territories, and ecosystems to optimize resource utilization and management.鈥 But can this kind of sustainable agriculture make the necessary difference in agriculture鈥檚 efforts to feed the world?

Sustainable progress

鈥淪ustainability isn鈥檛 just about productivity and the environment,鈥 says John Reganold, Regents Professor of Soil Science and Agroecology鈥痑t Washington State University. 鈥淚t鈥檚 also about economic sustainability. Are you making money, are you spending too much on your inputs, and so on鈥攁s well as social well-being: Are you paying your workers a fair wage? Does your farm benefit the community? Over the past 40 or 50 years, we鈥檝e concentrated on only one of the four main sustainability goals鈥攑roduction. But all of the factors must be taken into account if we want to achieve our long-term goals.鈥

鈥淪ustainability isn鈥檛 just about productivity and the environment. It鈥檚 also about economic sustainability.鈥 鈥擩ohn Reganold, Washington State University.

Having researched sustainable farming for the past 35 years, Reganold has a bigger-picture view of the landscape, which is why the results of a paper he recently co-authored are especially reassuring. According to the paper, about a third of the world鈥檚 farms have successfully adopted sustainable intensification practices. It鈥檚 a positive step, and a sign of the changing perspectives across the globe. But there鈥檚 still a lot to be done and considered if we are to achieve true sustainability.

Sustainable intensification can be implemented via an astonishing array of practical applications. In a bid to identify and assess them all, Reganold鈥檚 paper established seven primary categories of agricultural change, including integrated pest and irrigation water management, integrated crop and biodiversity redesign, and intensive small and patch-scale systems.

Each of these categories contains many specific agricultural interventions, from no-till farming to agroforestry (planting trees alongside crops). The sheer number of possible practices makes it hard to assess the success of a particular farm, let alone our global progress. 鈥淒ifferent farmers, scientists, and policy-makers have different ideas of the definition,鈥 says Reganold. 鈥淎mong the main practices that farmers can use to build the soil, improve their environmental impact, and improve their yields in the long term are cover crops, complex crop rotations, and zero or minimum tillage.鈥

Hands-on experience

All of these practices can be witnessed in action on the Eastern Shore of Maryland at Chesapeake Farms, which is owned by Corteva Agriscience. More than just a working farm, this 3,300-acre operation is designed to demonstrate a host of environmental protection activities, including cover crops, buffer strips, and wildlife management.

鈥淩ather than just hearing about these practices, visitors can come here to see what they look like and how they really work,鈥 says site leader Mark Conner. 鈥淪ince we鈥檙e within a couple of hours of Washington, D.C., policy-makers and regulators also come here to see a real farm and to understand what鈥檚 happening in the areas they鈥檙e responsible for.鈥

About a third of the world鈥檚 farms have successfully adopted sustainable intensification practices.

Cover crops, for example, have many potential benefits: preventing erosion, enhancing the soil, and providing essential nutrients for the next crop to be planted, to name a few. Buffer strips鈥攕ections of non-farmed vegetation between a field and a body of water鈥 help maintain the purity of the area鈥檚 waterways.

Technology can also play a vital role in sustainable intensification. 鈥淲e use farm-management software to monitor and optimize the productivity of our fields,鈥 says Conner. One example: an agronomy program that helps farmers manage how much nitrogen is being applied to a field. The app creates a map based on the previous history of the field, and then uses GPS to apply the appropriate amount of nitrogen to each specific area. 鈥淭his technology ensures we鈥檙e getting the maximum benefit from the least amount of application,鈥 says Conner.

Closing the yield gap

Technology can make a significant difference to both a farmer鈥檚 productivity and carbon footprint. And in the developing world, where such innovations are needed most, many farmers don鈥檛 have the access to the information, technology, or financial resources they need.

鈥淭here are studies that show where the greatest yield gaps are in the world, places where they鈥檙e still very far from achieving the yields they could achieve,鈥 says Reganold. 鈥淭hese are the areas where we could really have a more dramatic effect on improving yields. Places like sub-Saharan Africa, eastern Europe, parts of South Asia, and a lot of Latin America.鈥

Part of the problem is structural. Farmers with smaller plots cannot muster the resources to participate in the most advanced parts of the agriculture ecosystem. Of course, as Reganold points out, 鈥渢here isn鈥檛 just one reason. A lot of it comes down to affordability: being able to buy the best seed, being able to afford pesticides, being able to buy the right equipment and implement the right soil management practices.鈥 But it also depends on the quality of the soil itself. 鈥淭here are places in sub-Saharan Africa,鈥 he notes, 鈥渨here even adding synthetic fertilizer doesn鈥檛 do a lot because the soil is so degraded.鈥

A question of balance

What needs to happen if we are to reach, or at least approximate, the UN鈥檚 2030 goals? 鈥淭hree things can get us there faster,鈥 says Reganold. 鈥淢ore farmers converting to the sustainable systems we鈥檝e discussed; government policies that support farmers鈥 efforts to convert to these systems; and consumers changing their diets to reduce the impact on the environment.鈥 Curtailing food waste would also take a lot of pressure off the farmers who have to produce our food.

There is no single solution to the challenge of feeding the world sustainably. Meeting that challenge will require that farmers, consumers, and policy-makers work together to produce the changes needed to carry us to 2030鈥攁nd beyond.

The 2030 Target

鈥淏y 2030, ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality.鈥

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