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Kiwis Planting the Seeds for Curbing Agricultural Emissions

Mary Catherine O'Connor | Thursday October 15th, 2009 | 1 Comment

New Zealand may not jump to mind as a guiding force in mitigating climate change, but if it can lead the charge to boost agricultural efficiencies, this island nation may just emerge as an important player.

Tim Groser, New Zealand minister of trade and associate minister for climate-change issues, wrote for the Wall Street Journal last week that last month New Zealand Prime Minister John Key proposed that countries form an alliance to address the role of agriculture in climate change, in order coordinate efforts and commit more investment and political will toward research and new technologies and practices to boost agricultural efficiencies. Groser called the response to this proposal “overwhelmingly positive” and says the US, India, Australia and the Netherlands have expressed interest in joining such as effort.The challenges this alliance would face are significant, as is the payoff for improving agricultural practices.

Each year, agriculture contributes about 14% of all human-induced greenhouse gases—about as much as running every car, boat and plane on the planet. Yet agriculture’s role in mitigating climate change has received little attention and very little research funding, especially when compared to the huge sums spent on areas like electric cars, renewable energy or carbon capture and storage. –Tim Groser

But the greatest challenge will be reducing agricultural emissions while at the same time boosting food production to meet the needs of the estimated 9.1 billion human beings that will make up the world’s population by 2050. Yikes. If hunger is already an epidemic, how can we possibly meet that demand?

The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), which held a forum this week called How to Feed the World 2050, says the only way to meet future food needs will be to devote more land to farming and to increase “net investments of $83bn (£52.5bn) a year – an increase of 50% – in agriculture in developing countries,” the BBC reports.

At the same time, however, climate change is likely to lead to water shortages and increased pests. Plus, farmers are expected to be competing against biofuel producers for farmable land. In fact, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf told delegates at the forum that climate change could “reduce potential [food] output by up to 30% in Africa and up to 21% in Asia.”

So climate change and food production clearly must be addressed in tandem, and New Zealand’s government wants to lead the work because, as Groser notes, it’s in a unique position. “Almost half our greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture. Agriculture also dominates our export profile. We are the first and so far the only country in the world to have included agriculture in an emissions trading scheme,” he writes.

Important areas of research will be finding ways to prevent nitrogen and carbon loss in soil, which weakens its ability to produce healthy crops. New Zealand’s intention is that science will drive the efforts to less agricultural emissions, with the governments coordinating to provide strategy. “There is no organization today that brings together research into reducing emissions from agriculture in this way,” he writes.

According to Diouf, boosting food production will require “a special focus on smallholder farmers, women and rural households and their access to land, water and high quality seeds… and other modern inputs.”


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  • William J. Broderick

    The USDA’s “Alternative Farming Systems Information Center (AFSIC) specializes in identifying resources about sustainable food systems and practices in support of USDA’s effort to ensure a sustainable future for agriculture and farmers worldwide.”
    http://afsic.nal.usda.gov/