As part of our agroecology in action series, Arianna Giuliodori, Secretary General of the World Farmers’ Organization talks to Farming First about how technologies and innovations should be made more widely available for farmers.
Farming lies at the heart of many of the world’s most urgent challenges. The farming sector will therefore play a key role in defining the path for future sustainable solutions.
Protecting our environment for future generations is a prime example. Every day, the world’s farmers go to their fields with three objectives. To provide nutritious food for their families and the global market. To earn a living, ensuring that their families can experience decent livelihood. And more importantly than ever, to protect the environment they rely on, which is their vital ‘production factor’.
Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. Farmers are on the frontline of this change, as the lives and livelihoods of those who feed, clothe and fuel the world are directly affected by a changing climate and weather extremes.
At the same time, agriculture is expected to meet the future needs of an estimated 10 billion population by 2050. Consequently, agricultural production will not only need to increase but also to improve. In other terms, it is not only about “producing more” but also “producing better”. Along with food, global demand for water, energy and land will also increase, putting additional pressure on the world’s natural resources and threatening the very ecosystems we rely upon.
Agriculture and the environment are inextricably linked. The concept of agroecology seeks to balance food production with environmental protection, while putting the needs of people producing and consuming food, first.
Farmers, who have access to the right tools and technologies are able to make better decisions that support both sustainability in its three dimensions (environmental, social and economic), as well as productivity. When empowered, farmers are mighty allies in the journey towards sustainability worldwide.
To achieve this objective, farmers must be on the cutting edge of the innovations available to optimise the use of natural resources in agriculture. It is necessary to invest in R&D from the perspectives of the farmers, so that their very specific needs and expectations can be met and the best available knowledge can reach each and every farmer on the farm.
Conservation agriculture in South Africa
For example, there are a number of best management practices that farmers can adopt to improve the quantity and quality of our freshwater supply that are worth sharing.
In South Africa, conservation is going a long way to restore degraded soils. Three key pillars of conservation agriculture are practiced: reduced tillage of the soil, permanent soil cover, and diversification of crops grown in sequences. This can also be supported by the integrated use of both organic and mineral fertilizers, where appropriate. As a result, farmers are seeing both higher productivity and profitability, as well as improvements in soil health and the environment. We call this “green prosperity”. In addition, as less mechanically ploughing is carried out, carbon emissions will go down. Soil moisture increases, thus improving resilience in times of drought – a recurrent challenge in South Africa.
Cocoa producers commit to climate change mitigation in the Ivory Coast
Furthermore, farmers can be empowered to preserve natural ecosystems, alongside farming activities. WFO Ivorian member organization RIAD – Réseau Ivoirien pour une Agriculture Durable is carrying out a reforestation project, focusing on creating areas of community forests in five cocoa-producing regions in Ivory Coast. Tropical forests play a key role in fighting against climate change. These forests also satisfy the essential local needs by regulating the temperatures, helping generate rainfall, and purifying the air and water. Healthy forests help rural communities thrive.
The management of plots of land will be entrusted to cocoa producers and their organizations under the supervision of forest rangers. The main objective of the project is to enhance climate change mitigation by increasing the forest cover. This will be a win-win for the farmers, as it will mitigate the rise in the average temperatures and its related effects, as forests facilitate bio sequestration of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Biodiesel production using sunflowers
Solutions to reduce use of fossil fuels on farms also exist. Several years ago, Alfred Papst, an Austrian farmer began pressing the oil out of sunflower seeds and mixing it with diesel for use as a substitute fuel for his tractors. This novel approach convinced other farmers in the Fürstenfeld region to look further into the possibility of using vegetable oil as a fuel. Quickly, people began advocating for local fuel production and eventually, a joint venture was formed “FürstenÖLfeld” was formed. The oil mill, which has been in operation since September 2005, is located on the grounds of a biogas plant, where part of the press cake can be used for the production of heat and electricity. The vegetable oil production system is operated in a continuous process and has a capacity to produce up to 60 kg of oil-bearing seeds per hour – enough to produce 37,200 litres of vegetable oil.
The raw material “sunflower” is grown by the members of the vegetable oil joint venture. This ensures long-term availability of the raw material supply. The vegetable oil mill produces about 30,000 litres of vegetable oil per year. On average, that volume is sufficient to farm approximately 280 hectares of land per year using a locally produced, eco-friendly fuel. If this environmentally sustainable raw material could be utilised for mobility purposes, the carbon dioxide footprint would be reduced by some 81 tonnes per year.
These best practices should not remain as an exception. These stories first need to be told, and then incentivized or made financially viable.
We therefore need an ambitious framework particularly for farmers in developing countries, so that farmers can embrace innovation, adopt new technologies and improve their livelihoods through access to market. It is about financing their empowerment, their investments and their skills acquisition, with a special attention to tailor-made local solutions, being aware that “one size fits all” cannot be the right answer.
True transformation requires greater ambition, innovation and the scaling up to ensure no farmer is left behind. Farmers of the world stand ready to actively contribute to this challenging and exciting process.