An issue dear to my heart is how to assist developing countries in formulating a sustainable agricultural system to be able to cope with the future.
A perfect storm
Along with environmental degradation, the world is fast approaching a collusion of three global trends that together may well constitute a perfect storm. First we have historically high food prices, second we have an ever more erratic climate, and what ties these two trends together is an eroding soil quality worldwide.
The cost of food
According to the UN, global commodity food prices are up again, and are now at a higher price point than in 2007 and 2008, when we had riots in several countries including Somalia, Egypt, Haiti and Cameroon.
Climate gone haywire
The scientists of the UNs IPCC report that there will be more frequent warm spells, heat waves and heavy rainfall globally. Furthermore, the panel concludes that there will be an increase in droughts, tropical cyclones and extreme high tides. This leads to poor harvests, further exacerbating the problems of agriculture in the developing world, as climate uncertainty is the worst position to be in for a farmer. At our rose farms, we have concluded that the single biggest climate change effect that we face is that the climate has become more erratic. If we would know that we will have 50% more rain next October, then we could plan for it. But as the climate has been behaving, we simply cannot plan ahead.
The disappearing soil
If you look at the developing world, the fast economic growth of the last 20 years has led to the most intense urbanization in world history. Couple this with the intense industrial agriculture needed to feed an ever more concentrated growing population, you quickly realize that the protection of soil quality is a major challenge for sustainable resource use in the developing world.
In Africa, for example, already three-quarters of farm land is severely degraded (Eswaran et al., 1997; Stocking 2003) and soil quality is down. Soil quality/soil health is an area of study that sees soil not just as a growing medium, but rather as a living, dynamic and ever-so-subtly changing environment. It is imperative for sustainable production of food that soil health is retained, avoiding the unnecessary accumulation of contaminants and an unhealthy reliance on inputs of fossil energy.
Growing a solution – Could organic farming be the solution?
The Rodale Institute reported in 2008 that “if the world’s 3.5 billion acres of arable land were placed under organic production, 40% of global carbon emissions would be immediately sequestered”. But in the same year, only 87 million acres worldwide were farmed organically, representing approximately 0.8% of total world farmland.
As an organic farmer, I have seen the benefits of this method, in all its simplicity. Moreover, it is the only integral approach to agriculture that places top priority on soil health. Healthy soil is important, as soil is a critical buffer medium for hydrologic and biogeochemical processes and therefore can mitigate the effects of extreme weather conditions and uncertainty in the availability of water. I believe the developed world should make more of a concerted effort to assist the developing world in implementing organic and sustainable farming practices.
Author: John Nevado is an ecological rose farmer in Ecuador. Nevado Roses produces millions of sustainable roses every year for export all around the world to discerning customers. John Nevado was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2006.
Picture Credit: Caroline Bennett