- Climate change, depletion of natural resources and stagnating cereal yields threaten world food security. World demand for maize, rice and wheat is projected to increase 33 percent by 2050. But one-third of farm land is degraded, and agriculture’s share of water is falling. Cereal production is further constrained by diminishing returns to high-input agriculture and the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change.
- Severest impacts will be felt by the most vulnerable. As climate change in Asia pushes wheat into less productive rainfed areas, low-income consumers will face steep food price increases. Population growth could deepen Africa’s dependence on imported rice. Declining productivity may triple the developing world’s maize imports by 2050.
- Ecosystem-based agriculture is the only viable option for increasing cereal production sustainably. FAO’s ‘Save and Grow’ model of agriculture draws on nature’s contributions to crop growth. Its five components – conservation agriculture, healthy soils, improved crops and varieties, efficient water use, and integrated pest management – provide eco-friendly technologies that make efficient use of inputs, protect the environment, build resilience to climate change, and contribute to rural development.
- Cereal growers in developing countries are adopting key Save and Grow recommendations. Significant steps toward sustainable intensification have been taken by smallholder farmers in developing countries. Innovations include: zero-tillage, greater use of pulses and nitrogen-fixing legumes to improve soil fertility, adoption of more productive and nutritious cereal varieties, water technologies that produce ‘more crop per drop’, and pest and disease control that promotes agro-ecosystem health.
- Ecosystem-based agriculture is restoring production in major grain belts where the Green Revolution has faltered. In South Asia, farmers use a range of resource-conserving technologies for cereal production, including direct-seeding, surface mulching, raised bed planting, and dry-seeding of rice. Wheat growers in Kazakhstan have stopped ploughing on some 1.4 million ha of land. In Brazil, a zero-till maize/livestock system is replacing soybean monocropping.
- Save and Grow practices have raised the productivity of low-input farming systems. In Southern Africa, leguminous trees provide nitrogen-rich residues that boost maize yields. In East Africa, two serious maize pests have been overcome by harnessing chemical interactions among plants and insects. In Central America, an agroforestry system preserves trees, conserves soil and water, doubles yields of maize and beans, and resists hurricanes.
- The way forward. Key challenges for policymakers include: supporting farmer adoption of sustainable production systems; increasing investment in agriculture; establishing and protecting producers’ rights to resources; promoting fairer, more efficient markets and value chains; increasing support to long-term agricultural research and development; promoting technological innovations adapted to smallholder needs; strengthening formal and informal seed systems; and revitalizing agricultural education and training.
Save and Grow series
Factsheets: Farming systems that save and grow
- Maize/livestock: 'Push-pull' fights pests, boosts milk production
- Rice: Higher yields from healthy plants in healthy soil
- Maize/forestry: More maize, less erosion on tropical hillsides
- Wheat/legumes: The extra benefits of legumes-before-wheat
- Maize/livestock: ‘Nutrient pumps’ feed cattle, nourish maize
- Rice/wheat: Conservation agriculture the key to food security
- Maize/legumes: Traditional system makes more productive use of land
- Rice/aquaculture: A richer harvest from paddy fields
- Maize/forestry: Where trees and shrubs cost less than fertilizer
- Wheat: Farmers stop ploughing on Kazakhstani steppe
- Rice/maize: High yielding hybrids help adapt to climate change