Agricultural development in Asia and the Pacific has had its bright spots in terms of research and development in securing basic food needs and food reserves. The last decades have been marked by the continuing development of new hybrids and many open pollinated, high yielding varieties that double if not triple yields per unit area. This breakthrough provided alternative technologies for countries that had limited arable lands (generally Pacific Island countries, particularly the Small Island States) and countries that had been losing their lands to unabated high population growth, urbanization, industrialization and even pollution (generally Asian countries like China, Indonesia, the Philippines and others). Unfortunately, because of the urgency of improving food security, agricultural policy and infrastructure support in many Asian and Pacific countries were generally built around two basic short-term objectives with short-term benefits: improving crop yields and improving the incomes of small and resource poor farmers, with minimal measures to ensure that high yielding plants be provided with adequate and balanced plant nutrients to avoid serious soil fertility depletion. Thus, glaring enough in many countries in the region, despite the availability of high yielding plants and irrigation, is the stagnation of yields and decline of soil fertility brought about by (a) unsound fertilizer policies and (b) inadequate national efforts in monitoring and evaluating the combined impacts of fertilizer use and high yields on soil degradation, particularly fertilizer-induced soil nutrient deficiencies.
In most instances, government policy-makers focused on providing support in the form of subsidies for high yielding seeds and irrigation, but rarely provided adequate support for proper and balanced plant nutrition. Fertilizers, wherever they are a part of government support, are heavily in favour of Urea, the main fertilizer whose impact on the physical appearance of the plants is easily recognizable by the farmers. The net result was the excessive use of Urea which eventually created an unfavourable balance of nitrogen (N) with phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) nutrients. This nutrient imbalance has been recognized as the emerging major culprit in the decline and stagnation of food crop production and the general decline in soil fertility and production capacity in practically all countries in Asia and the Pacific region. A case in point was cited by the experience in India, which reported that as food production increased with time, the number of elements becoming deficient in soils and crops also increased. Micronutrient deficiencies in soils over long periods of nutrient supply imbalance in intensively used croplands are also emerging as yield limiting factors. Nutrient imbalances in intensively used agricultural lands can create a time-bound domino effect on the emergence of deficiencies of secondary and micronutrients.
As a way to strengthen awareness and improve common understanding of the complex dynamics of sustainable crop production, soil nutrient management and soil stability between and among scientists and land use practitioners in Asia-Pacific, FAO conducted a three day “Regional Workshop on Improving Plant Nutrient Management for Better Farmer Livelihoods, Food Security and Environmental Sustainability”. Participants from 17 countries in the region discussed, elaborated on and identified country-relevant issues and gaps, and exchanged ideas and recommendations to collectively formulate technical and policy measures with particular focus on developing both country and regional options and actions for making Integrated Plant Nutrient Management (IPNM) the alternative technology for sustainable crop production and soil fertility management.
As a result of the thorough exchange of information and experiences on IPNM by the participants, the workshop opened up a new agenda that, in addition to ensuring food security, recognized the emerging role of the agricultural sector in promoting soil and land use stability. This will, therefore, require creation of an enabling agricultural policy environment that will incorporate social and environmental responsibility in overall crop production to ensure that all lands put into cultivation shall not in any manner lead to the degradation of human health, biodiversity and the environment. It is hoped that the result of this workshop will lead to greater awareness of and capacity building for farm level nutrient management, more specifically in enhancing the capacity of farmers to use organic and inorganic fertilizers safely, and in protecting the regions’ soil resources.
Assistant Director-General and
Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations