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).
Farmers should be involved in preserving vital ecosystems.
“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
“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
“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.
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
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
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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