Save and Grow

Save and Grow in practice:
maize rice wheat

A guide to sustainable cereal production

FAO, 2016

José Graziano da Silva


Let us imagine a different world in the year 2030 – a better world for our children and their children. Hunger and poverty have been eliminated. Food systems are productive and sustainable. Our societies are inclusive, our cities are safe, there is decent employment for all workers, and gender equality has finally been attained.

That vision of 2030 is embodied in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the blueprint for world development recently adopted by the United Nations. Achieving those goals will depend crucially on progress in agriculture. Most of the world’s hungry and extremely poor live in rural areas. They include millions of smallholder farmers who are bearing the brunt of today’s major global changes: widening economic inequality, relentless degradation of the ecosystems on which food production depends, and the quickening pace of climate change, which threatens crop yields worldwide.

Achieving the SDGs requires a transition to a more productive, inclusive and sustainable agriculture – one that strengthens rural livelihoods and ensures food security for all, while reducing agriculture’s demands on natural resources and building resilience to climate change.

This book is a contribution to creating the world we want. Maize, rice and wheat are fundamental to world food security. Although the 2014 global cereal harvest was an all-time record, most of it was grown in a few key production areas, where farmers are paying the price of decades of intensive monocropping: soil degradation, groundwater depletion and a marked slow-down in the rate of yield increases. In vast areas of the developing world, farmers obtain barely a fraction of potential yields, owing to natural resource constraints and lack of access to the knowledge and technologies that would enhance their productivity. Climate change adds new pressures on cereals, including rising temperatures and a higher incidence of pests, diseases, droughts and floods.

We must safeguard production in the world’s grain belts and rice bowls, and increase yields in countries where production has to substantially improve as populations grow. Needed is a new paradigm of cereals production, one that is both highly productive and environmentally sustainable. FAO’s model of ecosystem-based agriculture, Save and Grow, meets that need, through farming systems that incorporate conservation agriculture, healthy soils, improved crops and varieties, efficient use of water, and integrated pest management.

This practical guide to sustainable cereals production reviews progress in the adoption of Save and Grow practices by smallholder farmers in the developing world. It then presents examples of Save and Grow farming systems that are producing more grain per hectare and generating significant social, economic and environmental benefits. It shows how Save and Grow practices helped restore production in wheat-growing regions of India and Kazakhstan, where Green Revolution technologies had faltered, and raised the productivity of low-input maize systems practised by farmers in Central America and East Africa.

The examples here highlight the rewards of integrating cereals with animal production and forestry. In Asia, farming families that raise fish in their rice fields harvest more rice and have more nourishing diets. In Brazil, a maize/livestock system is replacing unsustainable soybean monoculture. In Zambia, keeping nitrogen-rich trees in maize fields is more cost-effective than mineral fertilizer.

Save and Grow has proven itself in farmers’ fields. The challenge now is to upscale the approach in national programmes. That will require a revitalized global partnership for development and major increases in investment in agriculture. With such commitment, Save and Grow will help us meet the SDGs. It will increase cereal production, keep ecosystems healthy, strengthen resilience to climate change, and progressively improve land and soil quality. By raising the productivity and incomes of smallholders, it will promote the inclusive economic growth needed to free millions of rural people from abject poverty. Linking smallholder production to well-designed social protection programmes will ensure food security and nutrition for the most vulnerable and help eradicate hunger and malnutrition forever.

Humanity has the knowledge, the technologies and the sense of common purpose needed to transform the vision of a hunger-free world into reality. There is no time to lose.

José Graziano da Silva
Food and Agriculture Organization
of the United Nations


Save and Grow in practice: maize, rice, wheat (FAO, 2016) can be purchased from [email protected]

Save and grow in practice: maize, rice, wheat - cover

“Presents clearly defined guidelines for sustainable production in developing countries.”
Sanjay Rajaram
World Food Prizewinner, 2014

“Timely and important. Provides excellent examples and makes principles very clear.”
Jules Pretty
University of Essex (UK)

Save and Grow in practice: maize, rice, wheat A guide to sustainable cereal production (FAO, 2016)
ISBN 978-92-5-108519-6
120 pp. 182 x 257 mm, paperback

How to order this book
Write to: [email protected]

See also...