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Modern agricultural practices must change, concludes report to be presented at UNESCO

At a time of record high prices for agricultural products, the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD)* will release its report on the state of global agriculture on 15 April at UNESCO. The report considers such major issues as biofuels, GM crops, use of traditional know-how, impact of climate change, and underlines the pressing need to change the rules of modern agriculture.

Two of the report’s authors, Fabrice Dreyfus (SUPAGRO, Montpellier) and Marianne Lefort (Institut des sciences et industries du vivant et de l'environnement, Paris), will be present at the launch. Salvatore Arico, from UNESCO’s Division of Ecological and Earth Sciences, and Guilhem Calvo, a UNESCO consultant, will also attend.

“Business as usual is no longer an option,” the report stresses. The first conclusion: while agricultural science and technology has made it possible to greatly increase productivity in the last 50 years, the sharing of benefits has been far from equitable. Furthermore, progress has been achieved in many cases at a high social and environmental cost. The report’s authors therefore recommend that agricultural science place greater emphasis on safeguarding natural resources and on “agroecological” practices. These include using natural fertilizers and traditional seeds, intensifying natural processes and reducing the distance between agricultural production and the consumer.

The need for action is urgent. Since March 2007, soybean and wheat prices have increased by 87% and 130% respectively, and global grain stores are today at their lowest level on record. Prices of staple foods such as rice, maize and wheat are expected to continue to rise because of increased demand, especially in China and India, and because of the alternative use of maize and soybeans for bio-fuels. Furthermore, states the report, “35% of the Earth’s severely degraded land has been damaged by agricultural activities.”

In North America and Europe, the amount of agricultural research funded by the private sector has greatly increased, and this has largely determined the direction of the research conducted. Big transnational corporations thus wield considerable influence on agricultural science and its priorities.

Central and West Asia and North Africa retain a unique agricultural biodiversity, but this is starting to disappear. The region is particularly at risk from climate change and is likely in the coming years to suffer the negative consequences of limited water resources. Already nearly half of its renewable water resources are below the minimum level necessary for development.

In East and South Asia and the Pacific, the current agricultural development path is leading to increased pollution, notably from nitrogen. Climate change is sure to produce large-scale migratory movements. Between now and 2020, the amount of water available per person will decrease to approximately a third of what it was in 1950 or even less.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, increased yield from agricultural production has not led to a significant decrease in poverty, which still affects 37% of the population. Importing food has created dependence and disrupted local production. The authors recommend that governments prohibit the consumption and growing of genetically modified organisms in countries that are centres of origin of such crops, in order to prevent contamination and to preserve genetic diversity.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, agriculture accounts for an average of 32% of the region’s GDP. Water scarcity, however, affects nearly 80% of agricultural land. Loss of genetic diversity represents a problem because a number of species and grains that represent a very small part of global exchange are local food staples.

The report is the result of three years of cooperation between nearly 400 scientists, the governments of developed and developing countries, and representatives of civil society and the private sector. Its conclusions will be presented for approval to the plenary session of the IAASTD intergovernmental panel that will gather from 7 to 12 April in Johannesburg (South Africa).

The report will be launched simultaneously in several cities including Washington D.C., London and Nairobi.

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(*) Launched in 2002 by the World Bank and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) at the at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), is concerned with modern science and technology but also with local and traditional know-how and with productivity and the impact of agricultural activities on the environment. The initiative is sponsored by five UN agencies including UNESCO.

The presentation will take place on 15 April at UNESCO Headquarters, Room V.

  • Author(s):UNESCO Media Advisory No. 24-2008
  • Source:UNESCOPRESS
  • 07-04-2008
Europe and North America Latin America and the Caribbean Africa Arab States Asia Pacific