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Save and Grow in practice: maize, rice, wheat

A guide to sustainable cereal production

This guide describes the practical application of FAO’s ‘Save and Grow’ model of sustainable crop production intensification to the world’s key food security crops: maize, rice and wheat. With examples from Africa, Asia and Latin America, it shows how ecosystem-based farming systems are helping smallholder farmers to boost cereal yields, strengthen their livelihoods, reduce pressure on the environment, and build resilience to climate change. The guide will be a valuable reference for policymakers and development practitioners during the global transition to sustainable food and agriculture.

Key messages

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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

2013: Save and Grow: Cassava
A guide to sustainable production intensification


2011Save and Grow: A policymaker’s guide to the sustainable intensification of smallholder crop production
A policymaker’s guide to the sustainable intensificationof smallholder crop production