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Agri-Tech Innovations in Developing World Aim to Feed Hungry and Protect Environment
With close to 800 million people suffering from hunger, most in the southern hemisphere, the developing world is embracing innovative agricultural tech niques that promise increased food production while reducing environmental damage and achieving sustainability.
"If we make the best use of three locally available, renewable assets-natural, social, and human capital-we can generate productive and environmentally sustainable farming systems," researcher Jules Pretty said today during the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting.
Pretty, Professor of Environment and Society at the University of Essex, United Kingdom, joined agriculture experts and agronomists at a AAAS session entitled, "Sustainable Agriculture in the Developing World: Innovative Examples."
Examples from the Field
Koma Yang Siang, Executive Director of the Centre d'Etude et de Developpement Agricole, discussed recent innovations in Cambodian farming like the implementation of the Ecological System of Rice Intensification (SRI), and its successful impact on rice farmers.
The SRI trains farmers in the management of plant, soil, nutrient, water and pests, teaching them to transplant young seedlings, implement shallow transplanting, and maintain minimal water levels in their fields. According to Koma, 500 farmers have adopted these techniques, and 50 are converting their fields into a diversified and integrated farm or multi-purpose farm. Using SRI, Koma explained, farmers that traditionally used rain-fed rice farming can increase their rice yield from one or two tons to as many as three to six tons per hectare, without depending on the herbicides and pesticides that contribute to environmental degradation.
"Cambodia is heavily dependent on agriculture," Koma said. "We need to find a good solution for small farmers which make up around 85 percent of the total population. The Rice Intensification Program can be a good solution for the highly populated areas in Cambodia and Asia, in which the livelihood of a lot of people depends on rice."
According to Pretty, an additional challenge to maintaining necessary levels of food production is the resulting environmental degradation due to traditional agricultural practices. He cited Argentina as a nation that encouraged its grain farmers to stop tilling their soil, allowing for serious problems of soil erosion, fertility deterioration, water depletion and contamination and low productivity.
Called the "no-till system," the method widely adopted by Argentina was designed and first tested approximately 50 years ago in the United States. Utilization of the no-till system has expanded from a mere 3,000 hectares in the late 1970's to around 13 million hectares in Argentina, now accounting for about 50 percent of the lands in agricultural production, said Robert Peiretti, an agricultural engineer in Argentina.
Phrek Gypmnanistiri, Director of the Multiple Cropping Center at Chiang Mai University in Thailand, discussed the dynamic aspects of land-use changes among the highland ethnic communities of Northern Thailand to meet household food demand and income. With the introduction of diversified commercial farming systems, opium farming has been replaced, improving villager's livelihoods and income.
-- Nisha Narayanan