Why not more farmers with sustainable methods

Strategies for the future

Agriculture is facing enormous challenges: with less energy and dwindling water and soil, it will have to feed almost ten billion people in 2050, and it should produce energy crops and biomass for the chemical industry. At the same time, the environmental pollution from agriculture must be significantly reduced so that it does not destroy its own ecological basis. This can succeed if the agriculture of the future is integrated into the natural ecological systems; only such sustainable agriculture can ensure a healthy diet for all people.

Diverse products and local markets: An important building block for sustainable agriculture worldwide. Photo (market in Java): Alex Lapuerta, from >> wikipedia commons, accessed 19.9.2009, license: >> c.c. 2.0.

Industrial agriculture has reached a dead end: The methods of increasing productivity that have been successful in recent decades, especially the use of mineral fertilizers and pesticides, have seriously damaged the environment (>> here) and are among the human activities that are essential for the functioning of natural ecosystems are most dangerous (>> here); at the same time, the foundations of their productivity are endangered by soil degradation, water shortages, the end of cheap oil and climate change (>> here). The challenge of the food supply of tomorrow is enormous: In the year 2050, almost 10 billion people will probably have to be fed (>> here); the global demand for grain, estimates the World Agriculture Council (see >> below), will grow by 75 percent between 2000 and 2050; which double after meat.

What should agriculture look like that feeds 10 billion people without destroying the environment?

At the same time, agricultural land is concreted over for roads, cities and industrial areas, and one third of the maize harvest in the USA and half of the vegetable oils in the EU are used in the production of fuels (>> here). The possibilities to expand the agricultural area can hardly compensate for these restrictions; There is potential arable land mainly in Argentina, Brazil, Russia and the Ukraine. The expansion there is at the expense of the natural ecosystem, in Brazil and Malaysia, for example, at the expense of the rainforests, which as carbon and water stores are important building blocks of the global earth ecosystem and have been better preserved. With the previous policy, agriculture will not be sustainable, that much is obvious.

What can another agriculture look like? There are two opposing positions: One is betting on “agro-high-tech” and “green genetic engineering”, which are supposed to bring about the next level of productivity increases that are supposed to ensure human nutrition in the future (see also >> here). On the contrary, the others rely on optimized peasant agriculture, which in rich countries should lead to the integration of agriculture into natural ecosystems and thus to sustainability, and which in poor countries benefits the poorest in particular.

The "green genetic engineering"

“Green genetic engineering” - the application of genetic engineering to plant breeding - is based on the first successful production of artificial DNA (“recombinant” or rDNA) in 1973: A DNA segment, eg a gene, is incorporated into a suitable carrier (known as a “vector”) of a different kind, built in; and this rDNA is transferred by the transmitter into a plant cell (you can find more about the technologies on the >> Hamburger Bildungsserver). For example, a gene from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, which produces a substance toxic to insects, was transferred to cotton - the resulting “transgenic Bt cotton” (transgenic means that cotton contains genes from another organism, Bt stands for Bacillus thuringiensis) is spurned by insects, the use of pesticides decreased. Another application was to make crops resistant to herbicides, for example through a gene that makes them resistant to glyphosate (brand name “Round-Up”). In this way, fields can be sprayed across the board without the crop suffering - this saves work and thus costs and has prevailed where it is allowed: transgenic, herbicide-tolerant plants now make up around half of corn and over 90 percent of soy cultivation in the USA, worldwide over a quarter of the corn and over half of the soybean cultivation.

The supporters of green genetic engineering hope that this technology will result in considerable increases in yields in the future and that the most important crops will be adapted to the conditions of agriculture in the future: they should become drought-resistant and handle nitrogen more efficiently. It is uncertain whether and when these hopes will be fulfilled, since the yields do not depend on just one gene, as in the examples described above, but on many factors, some of which are not even properly understood. Plants have more genes than animals (presumably because they cannot run away in adverse environmental conditions, but need a “genetic response” to as many situations as possible), and many critics of “green genetic engineering” doubt whether we really have an overview of all the effects of new genes. . They fear unwanted effects in the transfer of foreign genes, for example foods that contain harmful substances or cause allergies - and doubt that these can be proven through product tests (just as the effects of some additives remain controversial today). They fear that the use of herbicide-resistant crops will lead to an increase in herbicide use in the medium term, and that even the insect resistance of crops will lead to insects becoming more quickly resistant to the poisons produced there. If these or other problems emerge, genetically modified plants can no longer be “brought back”; on the contrary, the modified genes can also spread to non-transgenic varieties of the same species via normal genetic exchange.

The 2008 World Agriculture Report

In order to find an independent answer to the question of agriculture of the future, the World Bank and the World Food Organization (FAO) founded the World Agricultural Council IAASTD (International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development) in 2002, which is responsible for the state of agricultural knowledge and science and should examine and summarize technology (roughly analogous to the task of the Climate Council >> IPCC). In 2008 the council published its >> World Agriculture Report, in which it outlined its ideas for sustainable agriculture. The report not only takes into account the ecological costs of productivity increases to date, but also points out that the poorest in particular have benefited the least from them: despite the sharp rise in yields, hunger and malnutrition, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, have not been defeated (see also >> here). The proportion of those in sub-Saharan Africa living on less than $ 2 a day has remained the same at 50 percent of the population. So far, the large producers in emerging and industrialized countries who have been able to produce cheaper (and the population in rich countries, who have got cheaper and cheaper food as a result) have benefited. A policy of “business as usual” would intensify this development: The cultivation of fodder and fuel for the rich would compete for land with the cultivation of food for the poor, and if the market alone decides, the rich will win with their financial strength . Therefore, the fight against hunger and malnutrition as well as against rural poverty and equal opportunities for the World Agriculture Council must be taken just as seriously as challenges as ecological sustainability.

Multifunctional agriculture produces food, secures people's livelihoods and is part of ecological systems

The World Agriculture Report therefore emphasizes the "Multifunctionality”Agriculture: It not only serves to produce food and other products, but is also the basis of life for people and communities and the basis of their economy as well as a component of ecological systems that they use, maintain and improve. Agriculture has an important role to play in the fight against hunger and poverty; but this requires a reorientation of the previous agricultural policy. There is no such thing as a technical “silver bullet”. On the one hand, it depends on the scientists working with the local farmers to look for plants and cultivation methods that take cultural, social and scenic features into account; On the other hand, however, also to create the appropriate framework conditions: access to land for the poorest, loans, local markets.

Labor-intensive horticulture produces the highest yields

The good news is that contrary to popular belief, high productivity is by no means just the hallmark of industrial agriculture. In fact, the yields are highest in labor-intensive horticulture, and the use of manpower and knowledge also enables yields in organic farming that are sufficient to feed the world's population. This creates a perspective for the poor countries in particular, where labor is plentiful. A study (>> literature) published by Jules Pretty and Rachel Hine (University of Essex) of 208 sustainable agriculture projects in Africa, Asia and Latin America shows that sustainable agriculture can significantly increase yields there and significantly improve the food situation of smallholders ( 530). The opportunities for small farmers are not to compete with international agricultural corporations in wheat cultivation, but to grow labor-intensive crops such as vegetables in addition to their own needs, with which they earn additional income. They also benefit from the fact that they do not have to pay for seeds or chemicals in organic farming.

Organic farming

Organic farming uses the functional principles of the earth's ecosystem to increase the productivity of the farmed land; and thus builds on the chain of effects “healthy soil - healthy plants - healthy animals - healthy people”.

Healthy soil

Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are prohibited; instead, the soil life is promoted with organic matter. In order to achieve as closed material cycles as possible on the farm, agriculture and animal husbandry are coupled; In addition to vegetable waste, animal dung can also be applied to the arable land. (Agriculture without animal husbandry is possible, then the manure is replaced by green manure - the cultivation of fertilizer plants; however, landless animal husbandry is not allowed.) Special fertilizer plants are grown for nitrogen supply: legumes such as beans, peas, lupins or clover, which are grown with the help of Bacteria can bind atmospheric nitrogen.

Healthy plants

When cultivating, a sophisticated crop rotation and timely soil cultivation are set in ways that are suitable for the respective location in order to obtain healthy plants. These are more resistant to pests; if necessary, pests can be combated by encouraging their natural opponents - aphids, for example, with ladybirds. Crop plants and crop rotation that are appropriate to the location also prevent weeds, which can also be regulated mechanically if necessary, for example with a hoe.

Healthy animals

Another principle of organic farming is animal welfare and feeding, which includes free exercise and sufficient space in the barn, daylight and fresh air, as well as unimpeded access to feeding places and drinking troughs. Animal husbandry is also restricted in order to be able to grow forage predominantly in-house and to prevent over-fertilization of the fields.

Healthy people

Organic foods contain less nitrate and fewer residues of chemical pesticides than those from conventional agriculture, and processed organic foods do not contain any colorings, flavor enhancers or artificial flavorings. Whether or not people who eat organic foods are actually healthier is difficult to prove because too many other factors affect their health.

Can organic farming feed the world?

Numerous studies, such as those by Pretty and Hine (see above) and the World Agriculture Report, show that organic farming could produce enough food for a growing world population - provided that the average meat consumption falls below the current 37 kilos per capita per year. On average, however, a German eats around 60 kilos a year - in a fair world we would have to cut our meat consumption by more than half in order to make it possible for the world population to be fed with organic farming. The good news: It's even healthier for us (more >> here).

Agro-ecological systems

For the World Agriculture Council, the high-yield, horticultural-like cultivation methods also include integrated systems that combine the cultivation of crops, trees, livestock and fish; Such multifunctional systems also have less negative effects on natural ecosystems - on the contrary: In many tropical countries, agro-forestry, in which the products of forest trees are used and food crops are grown below them, can both make deforested land usable again and improve the food situation. According to the recommendations of the World Agriculture Council, such systems would have to be included much more in research in the future, for example in order to better understand the fundamentals of natural pest control and to make them more effective.

Agro-ecological systems integrate agriculture into natural ecosystems

Such systems, which are based on the energy and material flows of natural ecosystems (>> here), also exist in other climatic zones, such as that developed by Takao Furuno in Japan Aigamo method of rice cultivation: Aigamo is a type of duck, the ducks eat insects and weeds in the young rice fields (but not the rice plants, which are too hard due to silicate deposits), their excretions fertilize the fields and their constant upheaval leads to the rice plants getting better root. When the rice plants are larger, the ducks are moved to stables for fattening and fish are used instead to control weeds. The rice yield with this method without the use of fertilizers and pesticides is just as high as with conventional rice cultivation, but the farmers earn extra money with duck eggs, duck meat and fish. What all these systems have in common is an intensification of biological processes: soil life, photosynthesis and biological cycles. Therefore, they can also be referred to as ecological intensification (380) can be summarized.

Promotion of the diversity of species and varieties

The positive consequences of sustainable, agro-ecological agriculture include the promotion of biodiversity and variety in agriculture through the cultivation of several species and the required crop rotations, which make life more difficult for pests and weeds: This reduces our diet's dependence on a few species . Agriculture itself also depends on the preservation of the wild precursors of our crops, which often contain characteristics that have been lost in crops that have been optimized for yield, but are needed when the environmental conditions change. For example, in the USA in the 1970s, a harmful fungus could only be stopped by introducing varieties with new genes (for information on maintaining biodiversity, see >> here). These reasons also apply to the preservation of old types of fruit and domestic animals - quite apart from the fact that they often taste even better.

The disadvantage of these agro-ecological methods: They are more labor-intensive (which is an advantage for poor countries, but a disadvantage for rich industrialized countries, because here the demand for labor is in competition with that of industry and the wages paid there); In addition, they require precise knowledge of the local soil and water conditions as well as a feeling for ecological interrelationships, and are thus the exact opposite of the “complete solutions” of the agro-industry, where fertilizers, pesticides and the customized seeds from a few large corporations, and increasingly even from a single source.

The agro-industrial complex

As a result of the systematic promotion of industrial agriculture - in Europe today over half of the EU budget, approx. 55 billion euros per year, goes to the agricultural sector, and to a large extent to industrial agriculture - an agro-industrial complex has emerged from the manufacturers of mineral fertilizers, pesticides and seeds to the owners of factory farms. This funding was successful (>> here), but this success was not based on permanent foundations. But now the companies of the agro-industrial complex have invested billions in the technologies and methods of industrial agriculture, and fear for the return on these investments should this model change. They therefore use their financial resources successfully in lobbying and promise a further development of this agriculture with agro-high-tech: Genetic engineering should make the plants resistant to total herbicides and pests, increase yields, arm the plants against drought and make them more durable (that the scientists in the World Agricultural Council not believing in this “panacea” led the representatives of the agrochemical companies to leave the council in protest before the results were presented); Precision farming by means of computers and GPS on the tractors is intended to increase the efficiency of agriculture. This lobbying is successful where it meets with the interests of consumption at low prices (>> here) or the state bureaucracy in quantity and the release of labor for industry: Agro-high-tech is primarily set by the USA, but also by the EU and China, which probably spends more money on green genetic engineering than any other country.

The subsidies not only cement industrial agriculture, they also have another effect: With their help, surpluses from rich countries are brought to world markets at low prices. Farmers in poor countries cannot compete with these prices and are forced out of business (>> here). At the same time, the rich countries protect their own markets (read: their agro-industry) with tariffs on agricultural products, thereby damaging the poor countries even more. (The consequences for their nutrition are then reduced by foundations worth billions such as the Rockefeller and Ford Foundation, which already promoted the Green Revolution. A new player is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which wants to bring the Green Revolution to Africa - is controversial, whether even the resources of a Bill Gate are enough to make transgenic seeds affordable for African smallholders.)

Basically, the debate about future agriculture is an example of the fundamental discussion about how we deal with the earth's ecosystem: On the one hand, there is a technical system that regards the soil as a location to which the necessary nutrients and water are supplied to with optimized, transgenic seeds to achieve the highest possible yields cost-effectively. This has made it possible in the past to decouple agriculture to an impressive extent from natural risks and to make food one of the many commodities that are sold in a market. However, all other living things in the fields are regarded as “pests”. On the other hand, there is the vision to use natural ecological systems for cultivation, which is not possible on the previous industrial scale due to the necessary understanding of the respective ecosystems, and therefore arouses resistance from those who have invested their money here. (But not only that: also many smaller farmers who could only survive as part-time farmers have long been dependent on the labor-saving blessings of industry in order to maintain their agriculture alongside another occupation.) For the followers of this vision, food is much more than Any commodity, but as a basic prerequisite for survival (similar to water) must not only be treated according to the laws of cost optimization, but must be available to all people independently of this - and not as alms, but rather self-generated if possible. Food is at the same time a connection between humans and nature and the basis of local economic structures.

Depending on which point of view one adheres to, the developments in agriculture are assessed: Some see the concentration in the development and marketing of seeds as luck, since such large companies are emerging that have the financial means to invest in green genetic engineering; For others, it is a nightmare, as the transgenic seeds developed in this way are expensive and also patented, and so do not serve the purpose of independent food production, but drive small farmers off the land. So the question is: which approach is really sustainable?

What is sustainable agriculture?

Sustainable agriculture would be based on the principles of organic farming in many respects: The fertility of soils cannot be maintained in the long term with mineral fertilizers, the price for the use of pesticides and herbicides is too high (>> here). But it is not identical with this one. Today, many organic products have long come from large farms in the USA and Latin America, where the >> above rules do not apply, but where closed nutrient cycles can no longer be realized in the company and animal dung is not transported in an environmentally friendly way over hundreds of kilometers in trucks; and wages are paid on which the farm laborers cannot live. Sustainable agriculture will need more workers and will therefore have to pay higher wages in order to be attractive to industry. At least a basic supply of food should come from regional sources (for reasons of promoting regional agriculture and as protection against the effects of rising oil / transport prices); But even this requirement is not absolute: apples from New Zealand can be more environmentally friendly in the spring than local apples that have been stored in a cold store all winter; In any case, in Central Europe, for example, the range of vegetables from regional sources alone would be rather sad in winter. Global trade is not always and fundamentally wrong and harmful to the environment: it makes more ecological sense to grow grain in regions with sufficient rainfall and export it to dry regions than to cultivate it in North Africa with the help of fossil groundwater. Agricultural products can be a form of indirect water exports and thus compensate for the differences in water availability in the world (more about “virtual water” >> here).

This compensation must be weighed against the contribution to climate change that comes with the transport. Sustainable agriculture must reduce its contribution to climate change not only in terms of transport, but also in other respects: Therefore, an expansion of agricultural land at the expense of rainforests is not an acceptable way to increase yield; Climate protection also requires less use of nitrogen fertilizers (which promotes the formation of the >> greenhouse gas nitrous oxide); Work must also be done in agro-ecological agriculture to reduce methane production from cattle stomachs and rice fields and to reduce energy consumption. In the field of climate protection, there is particular interest in soil cultivation techniques that do not require plowing (“no-till”) no-till farming): Plowing reduces the carbon content in the soil, and not plowing reduces this loss. In the United States, plowing abandonment has trapped 1.4 billion tons of carbon in farmland over the past 30 years. Further advantages are reduced soil erosion from wind and water (see excursus).

Agriculture without a plow

Plowing plays an important role in conventional agriculture: dung and weeds are worked into the soil, which is aerated and warms up faster in spring without an insulating layer of plants. This gives the seed optimal starting conditions. But plowing also has a price: until the plants are large, the arable soil is exposed to wind and water without protection. Many arable soils are now badly damaged by erosion (>> here)), and after the “Dust Bowl” from 1931 to 1939, farmers in the USA began to experiment with arable farming without a plow. Agronomist Edward Faulkner claimed in 1943 that plowing was unnecessary. The method is now widespread, especially in the USA, Brazil, Argentina, Canada and Australia - in the USA over a fifth of the arable land is tilled without a plow. There are now modern no-till machines that only open small furrows in the ground and bring in the seeds there. In Europe, Africa and Asia, on the other hand, ploughless farming has so far been an exotic species. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is now calling for this type of soil cultivation to be expanded, as much more carbon remains in the soil than when plowing.

In organic farming, however, this technique is not widespread, since plowing is an important component of mechanical weed control and it makes it easier to bring the nutrients from animal husbandry into the soil. Because of the organic matter in the soil and the lack of energy-intensive artificial fertilizers, organic farming is indeed more climate-friendly than conventional agriculture, >> more, but tillage without the plow shows that there can also be conflicting interests.

The methane production in rice cultivation can be reduced by the "semi-dry rice cultivation"; In China, this has already reduced methane emissions from rice fields by two thirds. New methods and types of rice can further reduce water requirements in the future.

What sustainable agriculture would mean for consumers

Two things would have to change for the citizens of the rich countries who have so far benefited most from industrial agriculture: Food would become more expensive because the great advantage of industrial agriculture, low-cost cultivation on a large scale and the most suitable (= cheapest) regions would disappear if the focus was on ecological systems and more local production. Estimates of the additional costs vary; at a realistic value of 30 percent, for example, the proportion that an average German spends on food would rise from 14.5 to almost 20 percent - greed would no longer be cool (see also the box "Our role as consumers" below Otherwise, the proportion could decrease again if we threw away less food).

Food from sustainable agriculture is becoming more expensive and there is less meat

Second: The current proportion of meat, but also of dairy products, from cheese to ice cream, in the diet cannot be sustainably produced. In terms of health, less meat would even be an advantage (see also the following box), but health advantages are not enough to change our habits (otherwise there would be neither smokers nor alcoholics).

Our role as consumers

Our lust for meat

Two thirds of the agricultural area are pastureland, mostly in regions with little precipitation and steppe vegetation. There arable farming is usually not possible or not very productive; the herds of cattle, sheep and goats here are the livelihoods of millions of people. Seen globally, they are "nutritional supplements" and not humans' local competitors. In industrial agriculture, however, animal husbandry looks different: The animals in the stables are fed with plants that grow on the same fertile soil as the plants for our food. Or even with the same plants: 40 percent of the grain harvest ends up in animal stomachs. This also applies to ruminants who actually need grass and other fiber-rich food - in German dairy cows this basic feed only makes up a third of the diet, the rest is concentrated feed such as grain and soy (300).

The production of fodder to produce one kilo of meat takes three to ten times the area (on average seven times as much) as for the same amount of grain, depending on the species - a fattening pig needs one ton of feed until it is ready for slaughter, a bull even six tons . A diet with a lot of meat therefore needs more land than a diet with less meat; a third of the world's arable land is already used for forage production (300). In addition, animal husbandry has its own environmental impact: water and energy consumption, vast amounts of excrement, massive use of antibiotics for prevention and therapy (>> more). Our 20 billion farm animals pollute the biosphere more than the seven billion people (excluding industrial production).

The FAO estimates that global meat consumption will double again by 2050, primarily due to increasing consumption in populous emerging countries such as China and India; the additional meat alone would require over 1 billion tons of feed grain. If everyone in the world were to eat as much meat as we do, the entire grain harvest would have to be fed! Is organic meat the solution? With the amount of 60 kilograms of meat consumed by the average German today, organic meat simply cannot be produced for all of humanity; and organic beef contributes less, but still noticeably, to climate change. A sustainable diet in rich countries therefore also means eating less meat - instead of an average of 60, only 20 kilograms per year. This restriction of meat consumption and more fruit and vegetables in the diet would only be beneficial for people's health: 20 kilograms of meat per year also corresponds to the amounts recommended by the German Nutrition Society (see also >> A healthier world). (A completely vegetarian diet, on the other hand, would mean that we would only have to live on a third of the agricultural area that is suitable as arable land.)

Avarice is not cool

In countries with high labor costs, the higher workload in organic farming leads to higher food costs - while conventional agriculture benefits from cheap energy and does not have to pay for the groundwater pollution it causes. The future of agriculture therefore also depends on the willingness of consumers to accept higher prices for responsibly produced goods: Anyone who wants to buy a chicken for 1.50 euros in the supermarket must not complain about hormone meat and factory farming - such prices are included animal-friendly husbandry and natural feed cannot be achieved. For a higher price, consumers not only get a clear conscience, but often healthier food as well: Milk and butter from cows that eat pasture grass contains around twice as many omega-3 fatty acids (which, among other things, are supposed to reduce the risk of heart attacks) like milk from barn cows, and tastes better too. More and more consumers are noticing this - Irish Kerrygold butter (which is made from pasture milk) is now the market leader in Germany and has a market share of 13 percent.

It is an open question how much public support would be for policies that lead to higher prices and less meat on the plate. To portray the agro-industrial complex as the sole cause of the problems in agriculture is in any case too easy. Some experts therefore fear that the necessary changes will only be triggered by serious crises, such as rising oil prices, which would make the production of mineral fertilizers and global trade much more expensive); Others believe that the change of course could get under way without a crisis if the costs of the damage that has been borne by the general public up to now were reflected in the prices of the products of conventional foods, i.e. the prices told the truth about the actual costs ( >> more).

So far our food only seems cheap because the prices are not telling the truth

The end of hunger

The solution to hunger in poor countries is even more complex: it is not only and not primarily a question of food production (>> here), but the consequence of complex social, political, economic and ecological problems. The World Agriculture Council therefore sees the change in the subsidy structure as the most important prerequisite for poor countries to benefit from trade in agricultural products. For him, transparent, fair prices for farmers are an essential contribution to the social development of rural areas; local markets for fresh produce could also improve the quality of the food purchased. The promotion of such markets, small loans for farmers, the support of “fair trade” initiatives and organic farming could help to build regional and national institutions, which on the one hand secure the regional food supply and in the long term help the countries and their small farmers to survive on the world market . Regional markets can also part of the so-called "post-harvest losses"Help avoid, which go back to a lack of storage facilities and poor transport routes (and which are the counterpart to the waste of food in the rich industrialized countries).

The programs to promote sustainable agriculture in Switzerland, Denmark and Sweden (and the promotion of organic farming as part of Renate Künast's agricultural turnaround in Germany) show that the changeover is possible with specific demands. There are also examples of this from developing countries: In Indonesia, 56 pesticides for rice cultivation were banned in 1986 and an integrated pest management program was introduced instead with the help of the FAO, the World Bank and USAID. Over a million farmers were trained - the use of pesticides fell sharply (a quarter of farmers no longer use them at all), and yields rose by 0.5 tonnes per hectare. (Speaking of chemicals: The World Agricultural Council calls for the abandonment of dangerous chemicals of WHO category 1a / 1b, at least in those countries that have “limited possibilities” to ensure the implementation of occupational health and safety and food safety standards, protecting agricultural workers and consumers from the risks these chemicals should protect.)

the next steps

Regardless of the discussion about the question of whether we are ready to pay more for food and eat less meat for sustainable agriculture, there are also great reserves in the breeding of new varieties and the further development of the technology used in agriculture. An expansion of the cultivation areas only makes sense to the areas in Europe and North America that are currently fallow for economic reasons, but which are only a drop in the ocean on a global scale.

New breeds and more efficient agricultural technology

With many high-yielding varieties, the yield can hardly be increased: In the case of cereal types, the grains already make up more than half of the dry matter - but the plant cannot produce any grains without roots and leaves. But there are species that still have potential, such as the South American quinoa and amaranth. In addition, the main task of breeding is to achieve these yields with lower demands on fertilization (and thus to reduce dependence on mineral fertilizers); in increasing the resistance of plants, for example against salt, pathogens and harmful insects (less use of pesticides) and in adapting plants to the consequences of climate change. In a broader sense, it is also about the development of cultivation systems that promote, not destroy, soil fertility; And there is also great potential in improving warehousing and sales: a large part of the harvest is lost on the way to the consumer, especially in warm and humid climates. There are already tried and tested methods for irrigation in regions with a lack of water: drip irrigation, which is widespread in Cyprus and Israel and is used in our greenhouses. Your disadvantage: it is more expensive. For poor countries, however, there are very similar procedures in which perforated plastic tubes are used. In the interests of the sustainable use of water, these processes must be used much more widely - even in Europe, where water can become scarce with increasing dry periods. In Bangladesh, smallholders were able to improve their productivity with pedal pumps for irrigation and gain new prospects for the future. Such initiatives also help spark the entrepreneurial spirit - the parts for the pumps were made by 75 small private companies and the pumps were sold by local dealers. (The pedal pumps are a project of the non-profit >> International Development Enterprises).

Future in the cities?

In 2050, if today's trends continue, 6 billion people will live in cities, two thirds of the total population (>> more). Since the land is becoming scarce (>> more), there are considerations to bring agriculture to the cities, to the people. In future high-rise buildings, the plants could grow in a nutrient solution made from the residents' wastewater. At least this is the vision of the Vertical Farm Project in the USA. More: >> www.verticalfarm.org. Also in China's eco-city Dongtan (>> here), which is being built near Shanghai, at least as much food should be produced as the arable land that was lost in the construction of the city would have produced (>> website).

Agriculture and Climate Change

The future yields of agriculture will also depend on whether we can get the >> climate change under control. Cultivated plants are dependent on certain climatic conditions; extreme weather events such as heavy rain and drought or strong storms damage productivity. By the year 2050, a quarter of food production could be lost due to environmental damage (UNEP 2009), India, Australia, Africa and China are likely to be particularly affected (>> more). Therefore >> strategies against climate change are always strategies for a safe diet.

Agriculture and (agro) energy

The German Advisory Council on Global Change was clear in its guard rails for sustainable energy policy (>> here): The cultivation of bioenergy crops must not be at the expense of the food supply. But since the US has used corn as a raw material for the production of their freedom fuel discovered bioethanol, the world market price has risen by 80 percent - in Mexico the price for cornmeal doubled in 2006. People starve to death because they cannot afford food (>> here) - the use of bioenergy could result in total ethical damage to the automotive society. Only the production of bioenergy from residues from food crops, such as the straw from the grain fields, is sustainable (see also >> Energy from Biomass). At the same time, agriculture is also an important energy consumer. The dependence on fossil fuels also declines as the use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides declines; In many other areas (agricultural machinery) and in food production and distribution, however, an efficiency revolution is necessary - as in the rest of society (>> more).

The future of fishing

Three quarters of all fish stocks are exploited to the biologically justifiable limit or already overfished (>> more), the increase in fish consumption has been based exclusively on increasing fish farming in aquaculture since the 1980s. In view of the declining meat production in sustainable agriculture, its importance could increase even more than is already foreseeable. This has advantages: fish is a considerably better feed processor than chickens, pigs and cattle. But many of today's aquacultures are more like factory farming (>> more); And this is not unproblematic with fish either: fish are very susceptible to stress, and for some fish species tight quarters mean stress. So far we hardly know what species-appropriate animal husbandry would mean for fish anyway; this is also the reason why so far only a few species can be bred successfully at all. There is still a considerable need for research here. It is known how the environmental impact of aquaculture can be reduced: Fish farms can be operated in the deep sea, where ocean currents distribute excrement and leftover food; in the meantime, work is even being carried out on autonomously floating cages (see box on the right). In the case of feed, work is being carried out to increase the vegetable content. In the future, sustainable fish farms based on the model of the MSC (>> here) are to be labeled with a seal from the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC). Fish farms that produce organic fish products are already feeding their fish with waste from fish filleting companies (and not with specially caught feed fish, which lead to overfishing of new species). In addition, pests are combated with biological means, for example by using cleaner fish against sea lice. The main obstacle here again: These methods are more expensive; and as long as external costs are not factored into production costs, environmental degradation seems cheaper than sustainable aquaculture.

Web tips

>> Sustainable agriculture in Africa, Asia and Latin America: detailed information on the projects that were evaluated in the study by Pretty & Hine (2001) (website of the University of Essex, Environment & Science Unit, in English); see also >> here on the subject.

>> Information portal Oekolandbau.de

>> Federation of the Organic Food Industry:
>> 25 questions and answers about organic farming and organic food

 Websites of organic farming organizations:
>> IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agroculture Movements, in English) >> Bioland >> demeter >> Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC)

Continue with:
>> World Agriculture Report 2008 - The report of the World Agriculture Council

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© Jürgen Paeger 2006 - 2019

The documentary film Taste the waste von Valentin Thurn raised awareness of the enormous waste of food in 2011. Overall, around half of the food produced is thrown away unused, of which at least two thirds can be avoided.

The Effects of fish farming on the environment MIT researcher Cliff Goudey wants to reduce this by using ball cages that float autonomously in the sea - this should better distribute the droppings and leftover food. >> more