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Agriculture key player to stop degradation of vital ecosystems
Environmental degradation could threaten agricultural productivity and food security
25 April 2007, Rome – Agriculture offers important solutions for many of today’s environmental problems, FAO said today in a report prepared for its Committee on Agriculture meeting in Rome (25-28 April 2007).

“Agriculture is often responsible for environmental degradation, such as non-sustainable food production, poor fuel use, natural resource depletion and habitat exploitation. But at the same time farmers should be considered as key players in stopping degradation of vital ecosystems,” said Alexander Müller, FAO Assistant Director-General.

“It needs the political will to reverse the degradation of ecosystems through the change of agricultural policies, institutions and practices. Agriculture has to be at the centre stage if we want to preserve an ecological balance on which current and future generations can depend,” Müller said.

“Without changing gear, environmental degradation could threaten agricultural productivity and food security.”

“Much of the discussion regarding biodiversity, climate change and bioenergy is currently taking place without the effective participation of the agricultural sector and ministries,” Müller said.

“This needs to be changed. Furthermore, we urgently need a global analysis about the environmental risks associated with agriculture, a strategic framework for identifying ecologically and economically sound approaches,” he said.

Degrading ecosystems

Despite the approval of major environmental agreements, carbon emissions continue to rise, species are becoming extinct and desertification is still of great concern in many countries, the FAO report said.

Degradation of ecosystem services could grow significantly worse during the first half of this century – a barrier to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

World population will continue to rise in the future, which means that agricultural production and food availability must increase, in order to feed a growing population and reduce the number of currently 854 million hungry people.

At the same time, climate change is expected to accelerate many pressures on the environment, as long-established production systems become destabilized by water shortages, salinity, aridity and rising temperatures. Furthermore, the expected growth of biofuel monoculture production may lead to accelerated erosion of biodiversity.

“These changes pose great challenges because biodiversity is the raw material that breeders use to create the new crop varieties that will be needed to safeguard biodiversity for food and agriculture for future generations as well as maintaining a broad gene pool,” the report said.

Livestock’s shadow

The FAO Committee on Agriculture will also discuss how to reduce the environmental damages caused by livestock production.

The livestock sector plays a growing role in the agricultural economy and provides employment and income for millions of people.

Global production of meat is projected to more than double from 229 million tonnes in 1999/2001 to 465 million tonnes in 2050, milk production is expected to increase from 580 to 1 043 million tonnes.

The bulk of growth in meat and milk production will occur in developing countries, mainly China, India and Brazil.

It is expected that intensive systems will contribute to most of production growth.

Livestock production provides support to an estimated 987 million poor people in rural areas.

But livestock production stresses many ecosystems and contributes to global environmental problems.

For example, between 10 to 20 percent of all grassland is degraded, mainly by livestock. Livestock contribute about nine percent of total carbon-dioxide emissions produced by human activities, but 37 percent of methane. With a share of about eight percent of global water use, livestock is also a key factor in water use and depletion.

“Major political and technical corrections need to be taken to address the environmental impact of livestock production that will otherwise worsen dramatically, given the projected expansion of the livestock sector,” Müller said.

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FAO/I. Balderi

Desertification is still of great concern in many countries.

FAO/J. van Acker

Farmers should be involved in preserving vital ecosystems.

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Agriculture key player to stop degradation of vital ecosystems
Environmental degradation could threaten agricultural productivity and food security
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