Stories tagged: sustainable agriculture

Professor Weifeng Zhang Wins IFA Norman Borlaug Award

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.

Investing in Technology Transfer to Ensure no Farmer is Left Behind

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.

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2017 in Review: Ten Top Moments from Farming First

2017 has been another action-packed year in the field of food security and farmer empowerment. Join Farming First as we look back on some of the most important moments throughout the year, featuring many of our supporters and partners.

1. Farming First Helps Chicago Council Highlight Food Security as Key to Peace and Prosperity

In March, Farming First travelled to Washington D.C. to act as media partner at the Chicago Council’s Global Food Security Symposium. Amid recent turbulent political shifts around the world, the central conference theme – Stability in the 21st Century – called on political leaders to make food security a pillar of national security policies. Ivo Daalder, President of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs commented, “a food secure world creates new economic opportunities at home and makes America and the world far safer.” Farming First filmed several supporters and stakeholders for Farming First TV while on the ground. Check out this interview with author Roger Thurow on the importance of good nutrition within the first 1,000 days of life, filmed as part of our SDG2 in 2 Minutes series: Continue reading

APR202017
Webinar: Best Practices for Nutrient Management

20 April 2017

15:00 CET

*** CLICK HERE TO REGISTER ***

A brand new handbook detailing the best ways to effectively manage nutrients on farms has been released, in an effort to help farmers achieve the triple win of boosting productivity, achieving resilience and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Join the International Fertilizer Association (IFA) and experts online for an interactive webinar on the findings of the Nutrient Management Handbook and the latest on soil health guidance.

Speakers:

  • Patrick Heffer, Director of Agriculture, IFA (International Fertilizer Association)
  • Adrian Johnston, Former Vice President, Africa & Asia, IPNI (International Plant Nutrition Institute)

Farmer representatives:

  • Max Schulman, Finish Farmer of cereals and oilseeds, and Representative of the Cereals Working party of CopaCogeca, Europe
  • Alan Madison, Madison Farm on Soybeans and Corn,  Illinois, USA

Join the expert panel to discuss critical questions such as:

  • Which nutrients are essential for plant growth?
  • Are organic, or mineral fertilizers more effective?
  • What are the challenges of nutrient management, and how can they be tackled?
  • How to implement best management practices ?
  • How can I use fertilizer in a way that will make my farm “climate-smart”?

Read more and download the Nutrient Management Handbook >>

MAY82017
Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock

8-12 May 2017

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

To be sustainable, livestock sector growth needs to simultaneously address key environmental, social, and economic challenges: growing natural resources scarcity, climate change, widespread poverty, food insecurity and global threats to animal and human health. The Agenda builds consensus on the path towards sustainability and catalyzes coherent and collective practice change through dialogue, consultation and joint analysis. Read more >>

Jhannel Tomlinson: Feeding the Appetite for Sustainable Tourism

In this guest blog, Jhannel Tomlinson, YPARD country representative for Jamaica, looks at the potential for growth in agro-tourism as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism gets under way. 

For the tourist hoping to experience authentic local cuisine on one of our famous golden beaches, they may be disappointed to know that only a small fraction of food in our hotels is provided by local farmers and fishermen, with the majority being imported from areas outside the Caribbean basin. Unfortunately, inconsistencies in quality and quantity of produce, natural disasters and limited access to inputs mean that our farmers are unable to meet the aggressive demands of the sector.

However, despite these challenges, there is a way for farmers and foreigners to take advantage of the fruits of our lands. Agro-tourism, a niche but growing market within the tourism industry, offers tourists an authentic experience embedded in local food and culture and combines “rural aesthetics” with agricultural production into a dynamic tourist package. It gives the traveller the opportunity to delve into environmental, cultural and agricultural activities. And, often nestled in verdant areas of low commercial development, the farmer can also create revenue. This seeding of the linkages between agriculture and tourism can be an opportunity for farmers who have been “left behind” to utilise their livelihoods to the benefit of themselves and their communities.

Strengthening the link: Tourism and agriculture

Nutrition, health and wellness are among global trends that have spurred the growth of agro-tourism, and the Caribbean is especially poised to take advantage of these benefits, given its climate produces a continuous growing season. It makes it easier for visitors to witness the movement of produce from “farm to fork”. For example, the Belmont Estate, in Grenada is a fair-trade certified business which offers a tour of the plantation where visitors are able to witness chocolate production. Woodford Market Garden, a small organic farm in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica, also provides a guided tour of its plant nurseries, open field plots and edible garden. In realizing this potential, policymakers across the Caribbean have formulated a regional strategy which seeks to provide the visions, goals and targets necessary to capitalize on the opportunities available to both tourism and agriculture. As a result, many institutions have been able to provide unique services to their guests effectively and have further been able to maintain successful and sustainable business models.

Yet despite these accomplishments, there is a specific group that represents an even greater opportunity for growing sustainable agriculture: youth.

The role of youth in ‘A-grow-tourism’

As in many parts of the world, the number of young people considering a future in agriculture sadly remains low, with many put off by the high risks and low levels of investment. Nevertheless, there are several worthwhile initiatives to help young people enter agriculture. The Caribbean Agriculture Forum for Youth (CAFY), the FAO/FIDA-Youth Caribe, the 4H Initiative, YPARD Country Chapters and IICA’s Virtual Business Incubator and Resource Hub for Caribbean Youth are among the programs and platforms that provide information and knowledge to young farmers and agropre- neurs across the Caribbean on the essential steps to becoming involved in and creating agriculture-based businesses.

And young people have a crucial role to play in helping to build the growing agro-tourism industry. With the majority of the world’s food being produced by ageing smallholder farmers, the next generation are more likely to adopt new, innovative ideas that have the potential to attract touristic interest and investment. Technology is one of the greatest tools of youths and Tech4Agri, a youth driven online media startup based in Trinidad and Tobago, is a testament to this. The platform helps realise the multitude of technological applications in agriculture and supports the development of young agropreneurs by providing an interesting and innovative agri-information service. Young agropreneurs could also develop similar platforms to promote agro-tourism, utilizing the internet for activities such as video blogs showcasing testimonials, meal preparations and on-farm activities, which can then be the basis for their marketing strategies.

Soaps, oils and lotions from the Yaphene line

Soaps, oils and lotions from the Yaphene line

The youth of the Caribbean is also perfectly placed to capitalize on the beauty and tranquility associated with agro-tourism, showcasing their talents in creating natural, organic, beauty treatments from the “fountain of youth”. Yaphene, a gourmet boutique based in St. Kitts, makes organic hair and skin care products using natural butters, oils, dried and fresh herbs and its vision is to become the island’s premier natural beauty product producer. Ibis Beauty Box is another modern, natural botanical skincare line that embodies the rich heritage of the Caribbean. Its inspiration stems from the indigenous and local Caribbean flora and the urge to create an extraordinary natural, organic and lifestyle brand.

While technology and beauty are important factors to consider, guests are often most intrigued by the delicious dishes that form the gastronomic component of agro-tourism. Taste of Eden, a business located in Paix Bouche, a village in Dominica, produces green seasonings and herbal tea bags. Tahomey Chocolate Company based in Haiti provides ongoing income for an estimated 50 people, and Dada B’s, a Jamaican based business in value-added agricultural products is seeking to become one of the Caribbean’s largest agricultural producers and food manufacturers (Caribbean 360, 2016). All three businesses are currently owned by young agropreneurs who stand to benefit from tourists’ desire to experience food being moved along the chain from the farm to final packaging. Chefs for Development, an effort being spear- headed by IICA and CTA further seeks take advantage of this by training young local chefs in both using and promoting local ingredients to prepare high quality dishes. Given such start-ups, it is evident that not all youth across the Caribbean have given up on agriculture; many are putting their time and effort into realizing their dreams. For the unconverted youth however, it is important to promote a change in the way agriculture is currently being perceived by increasing the awareness of different subsectors such as agrotourism and the opportunities that these markets hold for the youth.

While sensitization and improving awareness of opportunities are critical, targeted training will also prove useful in building skills in the sub-areas related to agriculture. Such training may encourage the youth to be more involved as it helps to view agriculture as more than just a mere farm but as a viable business. For these businesses to be able to materialize, governments should invest in their young agropreneurs by producing incentives, low interest loans and startup capital to these young business enthusiasts. Paolo Silveri, IFAD’s Country Programme Manager responsible for the design of the FAO/FIDA-Youth Caribe programme, said: ”With youth unemployment rates that are among the highest in the world, reinventing the role of Caribbean youth in agriculture is critical both for the region’s future and, more importantly, for young women and men themselves.”( FAO, 2015).

Agrotourism could well hold the greatest potential to increase the involvement of the youth in agriculture, opening up innovative and creative opportunities to build successful and sustainable businesses. Where there is a supportive environment, the youth will be able to find groundbreaking ways to create a future for themselves while contributing to the overall well-being of their communities.

Photo collage credit (l-r):
Belmont Estate IICA/CTA,2015
Fermented beans on display during the chocolate tour at Belmont Estate
Woodford Market Garden Woodford Market Garden, 2016
Lush green vegetables in the gardens at Woodford
Yaphene Yaphene n Flauriel Foods, 2016 
Soaps, oils and lotions from the Yaphene line