Among the Millennium Goals that were set at the turn of the century were specific goals set for improving agriculture and food production and reducing global hunger and malnutrition.The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) highlighted some specific areas on which attention needed to be focused including working closely with civil society organizations, the domestic private sector and international partners to improve fertiliser supply and demand, ensuring a massive replenishment of soil nutrients on lands with nutrient-depleted soils worked by smallholder farmers, and conducting a massive training program for community-based workers to ensure expertise in soil nutrients, water supply and environmental management.After a year (2010) of extreme weather, food commodity price speculation and renewed fears of high food prices and food scarcity in 2011, one newspaper headlines in the UK seems to suggest that things are not getting any better. It reported that a study by the UK’s Commission for Rural Communities had found that 25% of the country’s farmers were living below the poverty line with an income of less than £20,000 a year and of these a third had made no profit for the last three years. Tenant farmers were particularly badly affected, especially those whose businesses depended on grazing livestock.
It is a situation that would be recognised by the many small farmers in developing countries across Africa and S Asia and presents a bleak picture. But there are a number of organisations working hard to develop more sustainable, environmentally friendly and affordable techniques for small farmers.They include the not for profit organisation Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux International (CABI) which has many projects across the world and recently celebrated its centenary at a two-day workshop in Delhi, India. CABI has worked with the Indian Government to help the country’s improve their yields and the quality of their crops – by helping them with techniques to manage pests and diseases, and by making sure they have access markets plus the knowledge and skills to meet international export standards. The work echoes on of the areas the FAO highlighted (see above).The Worldwatch Institute is another independent research organization working on issues around the environment and sustainability. It plans a comprehensive project for 2011, to be called The Nourishing of the Planet, which will assess the the state of agricultural innovations-from cropping methods to irrigation technology to agricultural policy – emphasising sustainability, diversity, and ecosystem health, as well as productivity.Both CABI and Worldwatch include private sector research, for example from Biopesticides Developers, as innovative thinkers and potential sources of solutions for improving agricultural productivity in a sustainable way – using low-chem agricultural products such as biopesticides, biofungicides and yield enhancers using materials from natural sources.
One positive news story that appeared this week (November 29 2010) was about an innovative thinker, a retired Dutch inventor called Pieter Hoff with a potential innovative solution to the problem of growing plants in dry regions. It’s a simple container, a bucket, fitted with a convex cover in which are two holes. It allows water to be trapped and for a plant to grow in what is effectively a microclimate. Water is dripped onto the plant at 50cc per day, which allows the plant to survive but not to grow properly which encourages it to develop tap roots so that it can search out water by itself. It has been proven to work better than daily watering and allows plants to grow in challenging areas where there may be little ground water or energy supply.It is innovators like these that could make all the difference in tackling the issues of increasing crop production to meet the projected growing world population in ways that are sustainable and that farmers can understand and afford.Copyright (c) 2010 Alison Withers