Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Food and Farming Solutions - Getting More Yield From Less Fertilizer

Humans have more than doubled the global nitrogen cycle via our gargantuan fertilizer use.  The impacts of our unsustainable food system have caused devastating levels of habitat destruction, biodiversity loss, soil and water pollution, toxin-induced cancer and other diseases, and an explosion in the spread of invasive weeds that, themselves, cost society $billions in damage annually.

In Amanda Little's Grist post, 'Can You Taste the Fuel in Your Food', the author visits with farmers and experts to talk solutions.

Reformers want to see a network of small and midsized organic farms that is organized into regional cooperatives. These aggregates would enable small farms to serve local markets but think like big farms, working together to make bulk purchases of equipment and aggregate distribution systems. They want to see crops and animals reintegrated into the same farms, naturally feeding and fertilizing one another, correcting the current system in which cattle, chickens, and pigs are concentrated on huge feedlots, producing an oversupply of nitrogen-rich manure far removed from croplands.

On the other hand, most agronomists will tell you that we can’t rapidly shift to growing food on a global level without chemical fertilizer and fossil fuel–powered machinery. The United Nations has predicted an increase in fertilizer use worldwide of roughly 35 percent by 2030. Jeffrey Sachs, the United Nations special advisor who wrote The End of Poverty, told me plainly that fertilizers will be necessary to human survival for the foreseeable future: “We will not feed 6.7 billion people on the planet without chemical fertilizers.” On weathered tropical soils like those of farmlands in large portions of Africa, says Sachs, fertilizers will play a key role. “In all the world but Africa, farmers are using around 100 kilograms per hectare on average of fertilizer. In Africa it’s essentially zero, which is one of the real reasons for the massive hunger there.”

I strongly agree with Jonathan Foley's recent piece arguing that the crisis in global land use -- clearly reflected in this Grist article -- is "The Other Inconvenient Truth".  It is a challenge akin to climate change in the level of urgency with which humanity needs to devise solutions.

Here at CVI, we are always on the lookout for opportunities to champion and develop sustainable land use solutions.  If you are seeking partners on related current or prospective programs, please do drop us a line. 

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