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Environment

Ecoagriculture is the key in global hunger fight, reports Worldwatch

Estimates put the number of undernourished people worldwide at just under 1 billion. The 2011 State of the World report examines the fight on global hunger and urges ecoagriculture as a solution.

Wheat harvesting in Texas, USA

Worldwatch stresses a move away from industrial agriculture

Instead of pitting nature against agriculture, harmonize the two: that's the most important recommendation on fighting global hunger from this year's State of the World report by the Worldwatch Institute.

Expanding access to nutrition and food are in the spotlight in this year's topical, forward-thinking and problem-oriented study. In 2010, Worldwatch examined issues related to sustainable consumption and culture.

"The key finding of the report is that agriculture should no longer be viewed as a sector that produces goods separately from the natural environment - a sector where people try as hard as possible to control which nutrients and which plants they can cultivate, regardless of their environment," said Tobias Reichert of the Worldwatch affiliate, Germanwatch.

"Instead, we have to try to create as many synergies between agriculture and nature as possible. It should not be only directed at just producing a specific crop or a certain quantity of milk or meat, it should be understood within a more complex system." Reichert told Deutsche Welle.

Tomatoes and other crops in bins

Artificial pesticides need to go, says Tobias Reichert of Germanwatch

Concrete solutions

Reichert helped work on the German edition of Worldwatch's report, which will appear in Germany in March.

"The 2011 edition emphasizes bringing ecological processes into agriculture - for instance, by replacing artificial fertilizer or artificial pesticides. That's in contrast to the approaches that have become common since the Green Revolution and in conventional farming," Reichert said.

Although the "Green Revolution" in agriculture in the 1970s led to a boom in output, Worldwatch doesn't think this can be repeated without further eroding the ecological conditions that make production sustainable. The authors of the report focus on local and regional solutions to increasing crop yields that don't require large injections of traditional inputs like fertilisers and pesticides.

Local and low-tech

Many of the solutions the authors recommend are drawn from the experience of African farmers. Worldwatch authors travelled the continent for a year to discover local methods of dealing with agricultural problems.

Many of the tips they collected can be adopted without any high-tech backing. In that sense, it's the opposite of the industrial agricultural solutions that have long been presented as solutions to the global hunger crisis. The strategies suggested in the report can be as simple as growing plants that live longer.

"When you grow them the first time you can keep them for 2-3 years and you don't have to reinvent the wheel every year like go from seeds to adult plants. That takes time," says a trainer from Africa in one of the Worldwatch videos.

A woman works in a field in Kenya

80 percent of Africans work in agriculture

The man works with Ecoya Mali, a local NGO that offers courses to formers while simultaneously collecting their know-how and experience. The authors of the State of the World report believe first-hand knowledge from farmers in Africa can be valuable for a world-wide audience. Their local and low-tech approach could be a model for others.

"The foundation of agriculture cannot be the importation of food from other countries using other energy sources like oil and gas," stressed Reichert. "Instead, we need to focus more on the resources native to a given region that can be used more productively and more in harmony with ecological processes."

Not just hunger at stake

Environmental activists aren't the only ones sure to keep an eye on Worldwatch's report. The institute claims that adopting new methods in agriculture could reduce poverty and crime, while slowing climate change.

"The progress showcased through this report will inform governments, policymakers, NGOs, and donors that seek to curb hunger and poverty, providing a clear roadmap for expanding or replicating these successes elsewhere," said Worldwatch Institute President Christopher Flavin.

"We need the world's influencers of agricultural development to commit to longstanding support for farmers, who make up 80 percent of the population in Africa," Flavin added.

The nearly 250-page English version of the study will be translated into 18 languages and distributed both online and in 28 countries.

Author: Helle Jeppesen (gsw)
Editor: Anke Rasper

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