Recognizing that a paradigm shift to the sustainable intensification of agricultural crop production is required to ensure future global food security, FAO has established the Programme on Sustainable Crop Production Intensification (SCPI). The Programme aims to find intensification solutions through an ecosystem approach, drawing on nature's contribution to crop growth with appropriate external inputs applied at the right time and in the right amount. This approach relies less on fossil fuel-based inputs, which reduces producers’ fuel costs and makes production more resilient to fluctuations in energy prices.

Lower energy consumption through sustainable intensification

Farming systems for sustainable crop production intensification are based on three technical principles:

  • simultaneous achievement of increased agricultural productivity and enhancement of natural capital and ecosystem services;
  • higher rates of efficiency in the use of key inputs, including water, nutrients, pesticides, energy, land and labour; and
  • the use of managed and natural biodiversity to build system resilience to abiotic, biotic and economic stresses.

FAO’s SCPI Programme works with Member States to:

  • avoid mechanical tillage;
  • promote the judicious use of organic and inorganic fertilizer;
  • incorporate integrated management of pests, diseases and weeds to reduce the need for pesticides; and
  • encourage efficient water management.

All of these practices contribute to reducing the use of fossil fuels.

Conservation agriculture

Soil tillage for land preparation is the single most energy-consuming operation in a cropping cycle. Reducing mechanical tillage can lower fossil fuel consumption and save costs and labour. For many years FAO has promoted conservation agriculture, which promotes zero tillage as a way of making agriculture both sustainable and profitable. The results from a study carried out from 1998 to 2003 on conservation agriculture at the smallholder level in Paraguay indicated that crop yields improved, while fertilizer, herbicide and fuel inputs were reduced.

Lower production costs from reduced quantities of fossil fuel-based inputs and higher crop yields has lead to higher incomes with positive impacts on smallholder farmer livelihoods. To date, FAO has generated a considerable body of knowledge on reference material for extensionists, professors, agronomy students, technicians in general, and farmers to illustrate the benefits of conservation agricultureand to facilitate the adoption of no-tillage cultivation, the use of green manures and the practice of crop rotation in small farms.

Bioenergy crop production

The set of sustainability indicators for bioenergy developed by GBEP, with the contribution of FAO, provides useful tools to measure the sustainability of bioenergy crop production.

BEFS has compiled a set of good environmental practices that can be implemented by bioenergy feedstock producers so as to minimize the risk of negative environmental impacts from their operations, and to ensure that modern bioenergy delivers on its climate change mitigation potential.

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last updated:  Tuesday, February 5, 2013