Is biodiverse agriculture an anachronism? Or is it a vital part of a food-secure future?
Given the need to feed an estimated 2.4 billion more people by the year 2050, the drive toward large-scale, single-crop farming around the world may seem inexorable.
But there's an important downside to this trend, argues Timothy Johns, Professor of Human Nutrition at McGill University in Montreal, in a paper to be presented Saturday, Feb. 15, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago.
Diets for most people around the world are becoming increasingly limited in biological and nutritional diversity. "Large-scale agriculture is characteristically simplified and less diverse than small-holder agriculture," Prof. Johns cautions. "This is true in genetic, ecological and nutritional terms."
Small farmers, by contrast, in many places continue to grow a range of species and multiple varieties that form the basis of their diet and nutrition. Use of a range of wild species of fruit, vegetables, condiments and medicines, as well as wild animal-sourced foods, increase the likelihood that subsistence farmers with access to natural ecosystems meet their nutrition and health needs.
The problem is that smallholder farmers in developing countries often have low productivity and little likelihood of generating the profits needed to rise above poverty level, says Prof. Johns, who directs the McGill Canadian Field Studies in Africa program. In particular, the smallholder farms in sub-Saharan Africa, which account for more than 90 percent of agricultural production and the primary livelihood of 65 percent of the population, need to be more productive.
When they have access to improved technology, however, smallholder farmers can be both more productive and more sustainable than large-scale, intensive agriculture. Using family members in farming reduces labor and supervision costs, while a more intim
|Contact: Chris Chipello|