What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Highlight: the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association (NASFAM) in Malawi, PAEPARD

FAO launches new standards for plant genebanks, FAO

Africa and India cultivate agricultural research ties, SciDev.Net

Who will pay for ecosystem services?, IIED

It’s not the ‘skipping’ three who should be questioned, it’s the wasteful supermarkets, The Independent

Pesticides halve bees’ pollen gathering ability, research shows, The Guardian

Natural Gas and Albacore: What Tuna Says About the Future of Mozambique, New Security Beat

Press Briefing of H.E. Mrs. Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, PAEPARD

Fertilizer nutrient imbalance to limit food production in Africa, IIASA

Genetic weapon against insects raises hope and fear in farming, New York Times [Read more…]

When will we run out of land?

ID-100170505Between 1980 and 2000 over half of new agricultural land in the tropics was created through cutting down intact forest. Land clearing for crop production is a major issue for the maintenance of biodiversity and environmental stability but growing human demand for food is only one of several pressures on land, a resource that is rapidly shrinking.

Recently we at Agriculture for Impact came across a paper investigating global land scarcity, a topic much discussed in One Billion Hungry and on this blog. Published in 2011, the paper by Dr Lambin of Stanford University and Dr Meyfroidt of the University of Louvain, entitled Global land use change, economic globalization and the looming land scarcity, documents the processes that are driving global land use change and estimates when we might run out of land.

Of the total ice free land on the planet (13,300 million hectares), around 4,000Mha is suitable for rain-fed agriculture. The amount of land that is currently uncultivated, that isn’t forested, protected or populated by more than 25 people per km2 is estimated at 445Mha and occurs mainly in the cerrados and grasslands of Latin America and the savannahs of Africa, which are important in themselves for biodiversity conservation and livestock grazing. The paper’s authors calculate low and high estimates of the amount of land needed to supply demand for different competing land uses:

Cropland for human food – an additional 2.7-4.9Mha each year depending on food waste, diets and efficiency.

Biofuels – 1.5-3.9Mha per year based on current biofuel mandates

Pasture – 0-5Mha per year based on the projected intensification of livestock systems

Urbanisation – 1.6-3.3Mha per year

Industrial forestry – 1.9-3.6Mha per year

Protected areas – 0.9-2.7Mha per year

Land degradation – 1-2.9Mha of land will be lost each year

Added together and balanced against current available land, and assuming that some deforestation will occur, means that current land reserves will run out by the late 2020s at the earliest and 2050 at the latest, and this is excluding the impacts of climate change. [Read more…]

Innovation in the agriculture, forestry and other land uses sector could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by half

SmithA new paper by Smith et al published in Global Change Biology asks the question, How much land-based greenhouse gas mitigation can be achieved without compromising food security and environmental goals? Authors attempt to answer this question by modelling the potential of supply- and demand-side mitigation options available in the Agriculture, Forestry and other land uses sector, as well as their impacts on one another and on food security.

On the supply side such practices as alternative uses for biomass, and land sparing, have the potential to reduce emissions by 1.5 to 4.3 Gt CO2 equivalent per year at carbon prices of between $20 and $100. For 2011, the International Energy Agency estimated annual emissions as 31.6 Gt CO2 equivalent. Seeking to reduce the carbon footprint of the AFOLU sector while at the same time increasing food production, is a core aim of sustainable intensification, which advocates using inputs in a more judicious manner to achieve greater outputs.

On the demand-side measures such as reducing food waste and shifting to less resource-intensive diets could reduce emissions between 1.5 and 15.6 Gt CO2 equivalent per year. Such solutions may also aid in the fight against food insecurity and hunger.

The paper advocates for action to be taken on both the supply- and demand-sides, which when their maximum potentials are totalled could mean a halving of total global greenhouse gas emissions. Sonja Vermuelen, Head of Research at CGIAR’s research programme on Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), in her blog on the paper, indicates the importance of policy, both for stimulating a shift to sustainable intensification but also the considerable changes in consumer behaviour that will be required. Political leadership, determination and significant innovation will be needed if we are to reach this goal.