Agriculture plays a key role in solving many current environmental problems, as highlighted yesterday in an FAO report presented at the meeting of its Committee on Agriculture in Rome (25-28 April).
"Agriculture is often responsible for damage to the environment by factors such as sustainable food production, the misuse of fuel, depletion of natural resources and overexploitation of ecosystems. But at the same time, farmers should be considered a key to stop the degradation of vital ecosystems, "said Alexander Müller, General Assistant Director of FAO.
'Political will is needed to reverse the degradation of ecosystems through changes in agricultural policies and practices and institutions. Agriculture has to be on center stage if it wants to preserve the ecological balance on which the current and future generations will live, "said Müller. “If there are no changes, -he added- environmental degradation could threaten agricultural productivity and food security.”
'Much of the debate on biodiversity, climate change and bioenergy is taking place without the effective participation of the agricultural sector and the ministries involved, "said Müller. 'You must change the situation. -he added- Furthermore, we urgently need a comprehensive analysis of the environmental problems associated with agriculture, a strategic framework for identifying suitable approaches in terms of ecological and economic.”
Despite the adoption of important international agreements on environment, carbon emissions continue to rise, species extinct and still desertification is a serious threat in many countries, according to the FAO report.
The degradation of environmental services may worsen significantly during the first half of this century, an obstacle to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
The world's population continues to grow in the future, which means that agricultural production and food availability should be increased to feed a growing population and reduce the amount of 854 million people who now suffer from hunger.
At the same time, it is expected that climate change will accelerate many of the pressures affecting the environment, as the long tradition of manufacturing systems will be destabilized by water shortages, salinity, aridity and rising temperatures. In addition, the expected growth of biofuel monoculture production may lead to an accelerated erosion of biodiversity.
"These changes pose great challenges because biodiversity is the raw material that breeders use to create new varieties of crops that are needed to safeguard the food and agriculture for future generations and to maintain a broad genetic base', the report warns.
Committee on Agriculture will also discuss ways to reduce environmental damage caused by livestock production.
The livestock sector has a growing role in the agricultural economy and provides employment and income for millions of people.
It is expected that global meat production to shift out of 229 million tonnes in 1999/2001 to 465 million tons in 2050, more than double. Milk production will turn 580 over 1 000 million tonnes. Most of these increases will occur in developing countries, especially China, India and Brazil. It is hoped that the intensive farming systems contribute to the bulk of growth. Livestock production provides employment to nearly 987 million poor people in rural areas.
But livestock production increases the pressure on many ecosystems and contributes to environmental problems worldwide. For example, between 10 and 20 percent of grasslands are degraded, mainly due to cattle. Livestock contributes to 9 percent of total emissions of carbon dioxide resulting from human activity, and 37 percent of methane emissions. With a share of 8 per cent of global consumption of water, livestock is also a key factor in the use and depletion of water resources.
'You must take drastic measures at technical and political levels to resolve the environmental impact of livestock production, which otherwise worsen dramatically, given the expected growth of the sector, "Müller concluded.