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New partnerships for sustainable agriculture

Reveals vital but overlooked ingredients for spreading innovative sustainable agriculture techniques -- mainly institutional collaboration, farmer participation, and political support.

Executive Summary

The world's farmers face a major challenge achieving food security for 5.7 billion people while producing crops sustainably. Growing evidence of the rising costs, diminishing returns, and harmful impacts of chemical-intensive production methods are prompting the public and producers to try alternatives to conventional farming practices. Promising new initiatives are showing that sustainable agricultural practices can be environmentally safe, socially equitable, and economically sound, as well as keeping pace with growing demand for food.

New Partnerships for Sustainable Agriculture, a new World Resources Institute study edited by Dr. Ann Thrupp, reveals vital but overlooked ingredients for spreading innovative sustainable agriculture techniques -- mainly institutional collaboration, farmer participation, and political support. Nine cases from North America, South America, Africa, and Asia demonstrate that shifting from conventional to sustainable agriculture requires not just new technology, but human will and political support. Dynamic partnerships of farmers, communities, governments, researchers, and non-governmental organizations are needed to make sustainable agriculture work and to ensure food security. But farmers must be empowered to lead, make decisions, adopt new ways, and whole communities may need to take part in these efforts.

The good news embedded in this report is that sustainable agriculture can produce more food for more people. It reveals practical ways that people are using to work together to make agriculture both safer and more productive over the long term. Look at these examples:

  • In Bangladesh, farmers who eliminated pesticides and used integrated pest management (IPM) enjoyed an 11 percent increase in rice production. Farmers who did not use IPM saw no yield increase.
  • In the Philippines, rice farmers had yield increases from 5-15 percent after enrolling in the national IPM program.
  • In Peru, IPM led to a 35 percent drop in Andean potato weevil infestation and the profits increased by $154 per hectare of farmland.
  • In Senegal, farmers who used natural crop protection and soil conservation techniques reduced pesticide costs and increased their yields.
  • In California (the United States), almond and walnut farmers volunteered to reduce their use of pesticides. Organophosphate insecticide use fell from 35 percent to zero, pre-emergence herbicide use from 24 to 6 percent, and applications of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer dropped by 46 percent. Cover crop yield increased from 12 to 92 percent.

    Yet, expansion of these partnerships is often impeded by contradictory policies, lack of information, pressures by agro-chemical companies, insufficient resources, and other significant constraints. If these political, economic, and institutional barriers are resolved, the world's farmers can deliver on the promise of alternative agriculture. Dr. Thrupp and collaborators suggest ways to overcome these constraints and to expand successful initiatives. The key recommendations to make progress in sustainable agriculture include improving training opportunities, strengthening and multiplying partnerships, applying agro-ecological principles, improving the information flow, changing government policies, revamping agrochemical companies' advertising and marketing strategies, and increasing donor and local support.

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