Low greenhouse gas agriculture
We would like to draw your attention to the following FAO publication entitled “Low Greenhouse Gas Agriculture: Mitigation and Adaptation Potential of Sustainable Farming Systems”. Published in May 2008, it argues that organic agriculture offers valuable techniques that could mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. The paper examines current farming practices and uses scientific data of mainly long-term field experiments as case studies for low greenhouse gas agriculture.
Mitigation options include crop rotations and improved farming systems design; nutrient and manure management; livestock management, pasture and fodder supply improvement; and maintaining fertile soils and restoration of degraded land. These mitigation options challenge farmers and policy-makers to change practices and, inter alia, to improve development of no-till cropping, agro-forestry and integrated crop and animal farming, and to decrease use of external inputs in food and agriculture.
The paper also elucidates the adaptive capacity of agro-ecological farming system approaches, using organic system case studies from the scientific literature. The potential of ecologically managed farms to adapt to climate change lies in farmer knowledge; improved soil stability; and use of biodiversity.
The conclusions of the paper are reproduced below. The full publication can be downloaded at ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/010/ai781e/ai781e00.pdf
LOW GREENHOUSE GAS AGRICULTURE: MITIGATION AND ADAPTATION POTENTIAL OF SUSTAINABLE FARMING SYSTEMS
Biological diversity is the keystone for ecologically based food and fiber production systems. Many components of sustainable and organic agriculture can be applied to improve all farming systems, including conventional ones. Considering the growing concern of elevated atmospheric greenhouse gases, the complex economics and availability of fossil fuels, and the deterioration of the environment and health conditions, a shift away from intense reliance on heavy chemical inputs to an intense biologically based agriculture and food system is possible today.
Sustainable and organic agriculture offer multiple opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and counteract global warming. Improving energy efficiency by better managing agricultural and food inputs can make a positive contribution to reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. For example, organic agriculture reduces energy requirements for production systems by 25 to 50 percent compared to conventional chemical-based agriculture. Reducing greenhouse gases through their sequestration in soil has even greater potential to mitigate climate change. Carbon is sequestered through an increase of the beneficial soil organic matter content. Improving soil sequestration of greenhouse gases is desirable in both low- and high-yield crop and animal systems. However, soil improvement is particularly important for agriculture in developing countries where crop inputs such as chemical fertilizers and pesticides are not readily available, their costs are prohibitive, they require equipment, and knowledge for their proper application is not widespread.
In order to reduce trade-offs among food security, climate change and ecosystem degradation, productive and ecologically sustainable agriculture with strongly reduced greenhouse gas emissions is crucial. In that context, organic agriculture represents a multi-targeted and multifunctional strategy; it offers an interesting concept that is being implemented quite successfully by a growing number of pioneer farms and food chains.
Many components of organic agriculture can be implemented within other sustainable farming systems, and organic agriculture might be a starting point for an ecological intensification of food production. The system-oriented and participative concept of organic agriculture, combined with sustainable cutting-edge technology, might offer greatly needed solutions in the face of climate change.