Julia Jung and Lukas Hanke, The Green Innovation Centre India Continue reading
Professor Weifeng Zhang from the China Agricultural University in Beijing has been awarded the International Fertilizer Association’s Norman Borlaug Award for steering China towards smarter fertilizer use while also improving productivity.
At the turn of the century China faced one of its biggest challenges: how to feed a growing, increasingly urbanized population on less land.
The country’s food security relies on its 200 million smallholder farmers. Any hopes of China sustainably feeding itself relies on ensuring that they have all the right tools at their disposal to become more productive and efficient.
This year’s International Fertilizer Association’s Norman Borlaug Award winner, Professor Weifeng Zhang, has been an instrumental part of achieving this goal.
He has been a driving force behind several initiatives and government policies in recent years that have bolstered China’s ability to feed a growing population, while also reducing the environmental impact of more intensive farming.
This forward thinking has played a significant part in China’s ongoing development, which has already seen 800 million people lifted out of poverty and 155 million people spared from hunger and malnutrition since 1990.
His work to transform China’s agriculture has not only helped the country feed itself today, but also tomorrow.
“Under China’s economic reforms of the past 40 years, agriculture has swiftly stepped up to the challenge of feeding the country. The fresh objective of the last few years has been to find a way to continue to do so in a more efficient, more sustainable way,” said Prof. Zhang.
“This has involved a huge joint effort involving the government, industry and research institutes, and I’m delighted our work has been recognised with this award,” he added.
The national fertilizer database
With fertilizer use efficiency as low as 27 per cent in China at the turn of the century, poor nutrient management and productivity yield gaps had to be addressed.
Prof. Zhang’s research inspired several initiatives and government policies and reforms, bolstering China’s ability to feed its growing population, while also reducing the environmental impact of more intensive farming.
He helped to develop a national fertilizer database, which identified inefficiencies in fertilizer use. It also helped the government recognise that farmers were applying more mineral fertilizer than was effective, leading to diminished returns and putting additional strain on the environment.
In light of Prof. Zhang’s findings, the government introduced a “zero growth by 2020” policy for fertilizer use, while also reviewing public subsidies for farmers. The zero growth target was achieved by 2017, well ahead of schedule.
Adopting best scientific practices
To complement the national fertilizer database, Prof. Zhang helped China to also establish the Science and Technology Backyard initiative, which has helped promote cutting edge agricultural science. Agricultural scientists spend up to eight months of the year living in villages with farmers to help train them in best practices, including proper nutrient management.
This initiative identified 10 factors contributing to a yield gap, including poor fertilizer management, and helped shape a series of corrective measures. This led to an increase in nitrogen efficiency of 20 per cent, while farmers were able to achieve up to 97 per cent of their attainable yield, from as low as 67 per cent previously.
Such best management practices are underpinned by the 4R principles of applying the right nutrient source using the right dose at the right time and in the right place. This is highlighted in an industry handbook produced by the International Fertilizer Association (IFA), the World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO) and the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture (GACSA), which has also been translated into Chinese and is distributed to thousands of farmers and farm advisors.
Prof Zhang’s vision utilised a science-led approach to agriculture and leveraged community-based interventions to embed best practice among smallholder farmers. He helped to galvanise the state not only as a regulator and policymaker, but as an educator and community facilitator.
This helped ensure that his vision was instilled among smallholder farmers across China while equipping them with the right tools and science to boost their yields.
A blueprint for green success
By successfully helping China find the tools needed to maximise agricultural efficiency and close productivity gaps, Prof Zhang has given China, and the world, a roadmap for countries to adopt and scale up.
With global food security and climate change presenting an ongoing challenge, China can do yet more to make agriculture more sustainable. If these partnerships which Prof Zhang helped develop remain, it is a strong foundation on which to build greater resilience against the climate shocks that the country’s farmers will face.
Prof Zhang’s science-based approach to help agriculture become constantly smarter will help not only China adapt to changing climates and a growing, urbanised population, but can benefit the rest of the world as well.
Where in the world are agroecological approaches building soil health, beating pests and helping farmers stay productive while protecting the planet? Pedro Sanchez, Research Professor of Tropical Soils at the University of Florida Soil & Water Sciences Department continues our “Agroecology in Action” series with this guest post.
Simply put, agroecology is a form of agriculture that takes maximum advantage of ecological processes.
In some situations, nature is able to function as a closed system; take a tropical forest for example. When nutrients are finely balanced in the system, they are recycled, meaning there is no need for extra nutrient inputs to be added.
Agriculture however, requires a regular harvesting of crops. This results in large amounts of essential nutrients being removed from the soil. Agroecological approaches must return these vital components to the soil, to ensure the soil stays healthy and can continue to grow the crops we require. This can be achieved through efficient fertilization— mineral, organic, or for the best results, both. Continue reading
Fertilizer is one third of the agro-input technological trinity (improved seed, irrigation, and fertilizer). Its use has been particularly successful in addressing food security-related issues in several countries in Asia and South America, for example during the Green Revolution. However, judicious fertilizer use is an over-arching issue in both developed and developing economies. In sub-Saharan Africa, average fertilizer use is less than 25 kilograms per hectare, while parts of Asia and other developed economies face overuse or unbalanced fertilization. Both conditions lead to low crop productivity and declining soil fertility. Improving the “uptake efficiency” of fertilizers (that is, ensuring as much fertilizer is used by the plant as possible) can mitigate the climactic and social effects of both over- and under-use of fertilizers.
In Europe, North America, and many parts of Asia, the agricultural practice of allowing plant nutrient reserves to become depleted (nutrient mining) for farming ceased several decades ago. Unfortunately, nutrient mining continues in many other parts of the world. The low use or absent use of fertilizers and other nutrient sources not only makes the agriculture system more vulnerable to climate variability, it exacerbates climate change by reducing soil’s ability to capture carbon from the atmosphere. On the other hand, excessive and imbalanced fertilization results in soil acidification, eutrophication of water bodies, air pollution, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Toward helping farmers profitably practice low-emission agriculture, IFDC promotes climate-smart management approaches and technologies, including the use of balanced fertilizers, urea deep placement (UDP), and integrated soil fertility management (ISFM).
Since losses associated with nitrogen-based fertilizers form a significant part of agriculture’s contribution to global GHG emissions, increasing nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) is paramount. In developing countries, NUE can be as low as 30 percent, meaning plants use only 30 per cent of the nitrogen applied.
Our research demonstrates that improved management practices and balanced plant nutrition, including incorporating appropriate amounts of secondary and micronutrients (SMNs), increase nitrogen uptake and boost farm yields by 20 to 50 percent across various sub-Saharan soils and crops. These fertilizers also increase plant tolerance to drought and can improve water use efficiency by 250 percent. This use efficiency also results in more nutritional crops: IFDC found that some formulations can increase the amount of zinc in grains by as much as 65 percent.
Urea Deep Placement
IFDC has pioneered the development of UDP technology in several countries in Asia and Africa. The technology, the application of 1- to 3-gram urea briquettes 7 centimeters below the soil surface, decreases urea use by 30 percent while increasing yields by 15 percent in rice. Emissions from nitrous oxide, a GHG 40 times more potent than carbon dioxide, are decreased by 60 to 80 percent through the use of UDP.
With the assistance of the Government of Bangladesh, we helped more than 2.5 million Bangladeshi rice farmers adopt UDP. The savings produced, along with higher yields, has these farmers earning $220 more per hectare. Additionally, the Government of Bangladesh saves $30 million per year on fertilizer subsidies.
In Africa, the story is the same. In Mali alone, adopting fertilizer deep placement (FDP) on 5,900 hectares has saved nearly 457 tons of urea, allowing farmers to bring an additional 4,000 hectares under rice cultivation, producing an additional 14,000 tons of paddy rice production.
Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM)
Balanced nutrition and UDP are part of our ISFM approach. Other ISFM strategies include crop rotation, legume introduction, and crop-livestock integration systems.
Fertile and productive soils are vital components of stable societies, and ISFM strategies protect these. As one ancient Sanskrit text states, “Upon this handful of soil our survival depends. Husband it, and it will grow our food, our fuel and our shelter and surround us with beauty. Abuse it and the soil will collapse and die, taking humanity with it.” Our reliance on the soil is as strong today as it was then. Unfortunately, many soils have been mined by continuous cereal cultivation, producing a trend of decreasing yields and organic matter.
ISFM practices help reverse these trends by increasing yields and incorporating biomass back into the soil. IFDC-assisted farmers in sub-Saharan Africa using ISFM have more than doubled their productivity and increased incomes by 20-50 percent. In addition to increasing incomes, soil may be our strongest ally in practicing low-emission agriculture, as in only a matter of decades, soils benefiting from ISFM can sequester up to 1,000 kilograms of carbon per hectare per year.
The Next Steps
These current practices have ensured greater global food security and enabled farmers to profitably practice low-emission agriculture. Despite this, new and novel technologies will be needed to meet the challenges of a growing population while still safeguarding the environment. To this end, we must continue supporting research in these areas to bring about next generation fertilizers and management practices. This approach must transform the fertilizer industry across the entire value chain, starting with the research and formulation of new plant nutrition products and extending to enabling farmers to market higher quality products that are more nutritious and produced in an environmentally friendly manner.
Neste post convidado, David Roquetti, Diretor Executivo da Associação Nacional Para Difusão de Adubos (ANDA), analisa as inovações que podem transformar a agricultura na América Latina.
Durante muito tempo, o Brasil foi “o país do futuro”. Mas pelo menos em uma área, este sonho já é realidade. Nos últimos 40 anos, o Brasil liderou uma revolução verde na América Latina, transformando a agricultura tropical e se aproveitando de todos os benefícios dos nossos incomparáveis recursos naturais.
Antigamente importador líquido, o nosso país já é o maior produtor global de açúcar, café e suco de laranja, e o segundo maior produtor de carne bovina, galinha e soja.
Além de ser um grande produtor de alimentos, fibras e energia, o Brasil também é um líder na preservação do meio ambiente, com dois terços do seu território de vegetação nativa preservado ou protegido. Então, com 13,5% da terra arável do mundo, e 15,2% dos recursos hídricos renováveis do planeta, o Brasil tem mostrado como maximizar o seu potencial de produtividade.
Uma das chaves do sucesso, foi uma melhor compreensão da fertilidade do solo, principalmente no cerrado, uma região antigamente considerada marginal para agricultura intensiva.
Durante os últimos 40 anos, o uso de fertilizantes no Brasil aumentou quase 180%, gerando produtividades quase 165% mais altas. Ao mesmo tempo, no entanto, o uso da terra aumentou por menos do que 40%. Isso porque inovações, como melhores fertilizantes e outros insumos, pouparam quase 130 milhões de hectares a serem convertidos em terras agrícolas entre 1976 e 2016, e contribuíram para maiores produtividades nas terras agrícolas já cultivadas.
Embora demonstremos que podemos maximizar o potencial do Brasil para a produtividade, até nos climas mais desafiadores, chegou o momento de assegurar que as altas produtividades sejam completamente sustentáveis. Se vamos garantir a nossa segurança alimentar e a sobrevivência dos nossos preciosos recursos naturais, precisamos de uma segunda revolução verde. Isso significa que temos que encontrar maneiras inovadoras de manter o nosso alto rendimento sem comprometer os nossos recursos naturais.
Felizmente, os nossos pesquisadores já estão fazendo contribuições, tornando a agricultura ainda mais sustentável.
Um exemplo é a expansão de sistemas integrados de agricultura e pecuária que cobrem 11,5 milhões de hectares do país. Estes sistemas integrados e complementares capturam o potencial regenerativo da agricultura: o gado contribui com fertilizantes e aumenta a captura de carbono nos solos, e os resíduos da colheita fornecem alimentação aos animais. Isso nos ajuda a satisfazer a crescente demanda de carne de uma maneira sustentável.
Em outro exemplo, Dr. Heitor Cantarella, vencedor do Prêmio IFA Norman Borlaug este ano, mostrou no seu trabalho no Instituto Agronômico de Campinas (IAC) que é possível reduzir as emissões de óxido nitroso associados com a produção de cana-de-açúcar – um dos nossos cultivos mais importantes – em 95%.
Dr. Cantarella demonstrou que do uso de inibidores de nitrificação, aplicados a fertilizantes nitrogenados usados em cana-de-açúcar, reduzem a taxa conversão de amônio para nitrato. Isso torna a produção de etanol mais ecológica, uma intervenção importante dado que a indústria de biocombustíveis no Brasil está crescendo.
Uma técnica parecida para fertilizantes de fósforo foi desenvolvida pela equipe do Dr. Cantarella, que resultou em colheitas 25% mais altas de cana-de-açúcar.
Outra inovação importante, defendida por Alfredo Scheid Lopes – outro vencedor brasileiro do Prêmio IFA Norman Borlaug – era a aplicação de calcário e fertilizantes nos solos ácidos e pobres, da região dos Cerrados no Brasil, até então considerados marginais para produção agrícola intensiva, para melhorar a produção de plantas com pouca tolerância à acidez e deficiência generalizada dos nutrientes de plantas. Essa foi uma contribuição importante que, além de garantir a segurança alimentar, evitou o desmatamento de novas áreas sob vegetação de florestas nativas.
Estes são todos bons exemplos, mas para proteger o nosso futuro, temos que melhorar constantemente, e produzir mais com menos. Agora, o Brasil é uma força no negócio de agricultura, mas os benefícios vão ser limitados se não continuarmos focando e envidando esforços em tornar a agricultura brasileira cada vez mais sustentável.
A segunda revolução precisa de mais heróis como o Dr. Cantarella para assumir o desafio de alimentar o Brasil, os seus solos, e o mundo hoje, amanhã e no futuro.
In this guest post, David Roquetti, Executive Director of Brazil’s national fertilizer association (ANDA in Portuguese), reviews the innovations that can transform agriculture in the Latin America powerhouse once again.
Leia a matéria em português: Chegou a Hora Para a Segunda Revolução Verde no Brasil
For so long, Brazil has been the “country of the future” but in at least one area, we have already made this dream come true. Over the last 40 years, Brazil has led a Green Revolution throughout Latin America, transforming tropical agriculture and enjoying the full benefits of our unparalleled natural resources.
From once being a net importer, our country is now the world’s largest producer and exporter of sugar, coffee and orange juice, and the second largest producer of beef, broiler chicken and soybean.
Besides a major producer of food, fibres and energy, Brazil is also a leading power in environmental preservation with around two thirds of its territory with native vegetation preserved or protected. Continue reading