For All Generations: Making World Agriculture More Sustainable
Edited by Patrick Madden and Scott Chaplowe.
Publisher: Om Pub Consultants (June 25, 1997)
Publicly Funded Models Supporting Sustainable Agriculture: Four Model Profiles
by Roger Blobaum
Nearly five years have passed since representatives of 178 countries came together at the Earth Summit and endorsed Agenda 21, a global action plan to engender sustainability in social, economic, and environmental development. Earth Summit participants acknowledged the importance of sustainable agriculture as a development agenda item, raised questions about the Green Revolution approach, and called for a global transition to resource-conserving and environmentally sound food production systems.
The interface between agriculture and the environment was dealt with in Chapter 14 of Agenda 21, which was entitled Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (SARD). It called for 1) improving food security, 2) encouraging employment and income generation in rural areas, 3) ensuring the conservation of soil and water and other natural resources, and 4) enhancing environmental protection. The importance of a farmer-centered approach in realizing these aims was emphasized.
The NGO Sustainable Agriculture Treaty, developed during the Earth Summit by NGO and farmer representatives from around the world, went much further in challenging the agricultural status quo. It stated that the global socioeconomic and political system that promotes industrial agriculture in general, and the so-called Green Revolution in particular, is the root cause of the social and environmental crisis in agriculture. It contended that this kind of energy-intensive and chemical-dependent agriculture degrades soil fertility, intensifies drought impacts, pollutes water, causes soil salinization and compaction, destroys genetic resources, wastes fossil fuel energy, contaminates the food supply, and contributes to climate change.
The NGO document called for conservation of genetic resources and biodiversity, democratic and equitable distribution of land resources, taxing farm chemicals and using the proceeds to help producers convert to ecological methods, blocking inter-country shipment of banned or severely restricted farm chemicals, and substantial and continuing cuts in use of synthetic chemical pesticides and fertilizers.
The SARD and NGO documents attempted to deal with two global agricultural conflicts that were predominant five years ago and remain compelling issues today. One conflict involves agricultural globalization, mainly through trade liberalization and expansion, versus food self-reliance through development of regional and local food systems. The other conflict is between those promoting industrial agricultural production (with its emphasis on concentration, monocultures, and costly external inputs) and those endorsing a shift to ecological agriculture.
Overall SARD Progress
Although many of the changes called for in both the SARD and NGO documents are being supported by international agencies and demonstrated in NGO and farmer-initiated projects throughout the world, little has been done by most national governments to implement their sustainable agriculture commitments. The alternatives being demonstrated by farmers and NGOs, for the most part, are not being officially acknowledged and supported, nor are they being translated into national policies or programs.
Preliminary reports to the United Nations Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD) suggest that work has been started in many instances on policy changes called for by SARD. Sustainable agriculture does not appear to be a high priority in most cases, however, and most country reports have little to say about it. Any reported activity usually involves such incremental changes as the identification of issues, national planning initiatives, establishment of working groups, or drafting of proposed legislation.
The activities of working groups suggest that future policy changes may result. Bolivia, for example, has set up working groups to establish pest management networks, to promote the integrated plant nutrition approach, and to establish land reclamation programs for degraded areas. Thailand’s latest report outlines a comprehensive plan that would cut pesticide use by developing and promoting biopesticides, improving mass rearing of beneficial insects, and training farmers in integrated pest management (IPM) techniques.
It is also important to acknowledge specific policy initiatives that support SARD objectives. The removal of pesticide subsidies in a long list of countries, and of synthetic fertilizer subsidies in several, is a good example.
There are some outstanding SARD-responsive initiatives, and these programs stand out as models of what is possible in many parts of the world. This chapter is based on a World Sustainable Agriculture Association (WSAA) report that identified some outstanding models of national initiatives that encourage and support a global transition to resource-conserving and environmentally sound production systems. Some are programs mentioned in the latest country reports to the CSD. Academic journals, periodicals, government and NGO reports, conferences and workshops, and personal communications are the sources of information on others.
One of the most interesting findings of the WSAA report is that many of the models identified were in place before the Earth Summit process began. These include Indonesia’s farmer-based IPM program, Australia’s community-based Landcare program, China’s Green Food program, Sweden’s Pesticide Reduction program, the US Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, and the organic conversion payments programs initiated by Denmark, Sweden, and Germany.
Replication of SARD Models
Outstanding models can have a powerful impact, as illustrated by the replication of several by national governments, and the adoption of others by international agencies.
♦ The Indonesian Integrated Pest Management Program, described below, is being extended to other Asian countries, aswell as several African countries, through a global IPM facility funded by the World Bank, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP). Ghana’s national government also is reporting good results in its demonstration of the Indonesian model. 1PM has been declared national policy in China, Bhutan, Laos, Vietnam, and Madagascar.
♦ The Organic Transition Payments initiatives developed in the late 1980s in Denmark, Sweden, and Germany have been extended to fanners in 15 European Union (EU) countries under the common legal framework of Regulation 2078/92. They also have been integrated into programs and other non-EU countries. In his five-year report on Earth Summit follow-up, the UN Secretary-General cites a growing awareness of organic agriculture as a promising development in SARD implementation. National program support also has helped lay the groundwork for development of international organic standards by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, a food standards program administered by FAO and the World Health Organization.
♦ Sweden’s Pesticide Reduction Programme is the model for agrochemicals reduction initiatives in several other industrialized countries. Canada and the Netherlands, for example, have opted to cut pesticide use by 50% by the year 2000, and Denmark has set a 25% pesticide reduction goal for 1997. The tax provisions of this program also are being replicated. Denmark levies a 20% tax on pesticides, Norway has a 13% tax on pesticides, and Sweden’s latest rate is US$2.50 per kilogram of pesticides.
Sustainable Agriculture Model Approaches
Most of the 20 models examined in the WSAA report2 demonstrate sustainable agriculture approaches that support overall SARD goals. These are the approaches and the specific country models where they are being demonstrated:
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) has become one of the most widely accepted approaches in Asia (Indonesian Integrated pest Management Program, China Green Food Development Center, and Hokkaido Green Agriculture Plan).
Pesticide reduction initiatives that include specific national goals are gaining acceptance in Europe (Swedish Pesticide Reduction Programme). A related approach is taxing pesticides and using the proceeds to fund sustainable agriculture research and extension (Swedish Pesticide Reduction Programme, Iowa Groundwater Protection Initiative).
Comprehensive national plans for a transition to sustainable agriculture that include research, extension, advisory services, marketing assistance, and organic conversion payments are being developed and implemented (Finnish Environmental Program for Rural Areas, Dutch Organic Farming and Marketing Program). These plans, in most cases, are national responses to Earth Summit commitments.
Payments to farmers for conversion to organic methods are available in nearly all European countries (Finnish Environmental Program for Rural Areas, Irish Rural Environment Protection Scheme, Dutch Organic Farming and Marketing Program).
Sustainable agriculture initiatives that rely heavily on local government and citizen groups are gaining acceptance (Hokkaido Green Agriculture Plan in Japan, and the National Landcare Program in Australia).
National and state initiatives that provide easy access to organic and sustainable agriculture information are well established in the United States (Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas, California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center).
Conversion of entire watersheds to organic agriculture to protect urban area water supplies is an innovative new approach (Padang Clean Water Program in South Korea). Similar initia- tives have been identified in Germany and France.
Urban agriculture planning and implementation is an approach that should gain increased global attention due to wide documentation by the UNDP and others, such as the Beijing Urban Farming System. UNDP also has led the way in the establishment of a global facility for urban agriculture at the International Development Research Centre (1DRC) in Canada.
Food marketing initiatives that link ecological farmers and urban consumers are receiving increasing attention and support from governments (Dutch Organic Farming and Marketing Program, Danish Organic Food Marketing Program, and South Korea’s Padang Clean Water Program).
Described below are four model profiles of publicly supported initiatives to support sustainable agriculture.
China: Beijing Urban Farming System
Description: The Beijing municipal government plans and manages food production in the municipal region to satisfy nearly all the food needs of a population of 11 million people. The region, made up of Beijing and the surrounding area, had 400,000 hectares under cultivation in 1996 and was self-sufficient in all food categories except grain and vegetables. The vegetable self-sufficiency is 70%. The overall municipal plan includes agriculture, forestry, fisheries, waste recycling, township enterprise, and livestock components.
Activities: All food production resources at the township level have been inventoried. Each township signs an agreement with the municipal government to limit commercial development to specific zones and to implement other farmland preservation measures. Livestock production wastes are composted, digested to produce biogas, or converted into granulated fertilizer. Utilization of “gray water” for irrigation is being demonstrated. Windbreaks are being planted to control dust storm damage.
Special Features: The official commitment to make the region self-sufficient in food is the most important special feature. The steady conversion of agricultural production to ecological methods also is significant. More than 40 villages and townships in the region have been developed as eco-agriculture demonstration projects since 1984. The China Green Food Development Center is now assisting these projects with conversion and marketing. It also has established more than 30 areas around Beijing for production of grain, vegetables, fruit, and wine that are marketed with the Green Food logo.
Scope: Government-planned urban farming has been promoted since the 1960s in all large Chinese municipalities, and most have succeeded in becoming self-sufficient in the production of fruits, vegetables, and livestock. Farmland preservation, waste recycling, and marketing are components of these long-range plans. The newest additions are cooperation with local processing and other food-related enterprises and the steady conversion of production to ecological methods.
Government Agency Involvement: These planning initiatives are usually headed by a vice mayor and formally implemented by representatives of national and municipal government agencies, the Ministry of Agriculture is providing funding for projects Planned and implemented by the China Green Food Development Center.
NGO Linkages: NGOs that are potential participants are too new and too small to become active participants at the present time.
Literature Citations: Van der Bliek. 1992. Urban Agricul- Possibilities for Ecological Agriculture in Urban Envi-ronments as a Strategy for Sustainable Cities. Leusden, the Netherlands: ETC Foundation. United Nations Development. Programme. 1996. “Urban Agriculture: Food, Jobs, and Sustainable Cities,” Publication Series for Habitat II. Volume One. New York.
Contact: Wang Zhaoming Beijing Agriculture Green Food Office Beijing Agriculture Bureau No. 19, Beisanhuanzhong Road 100029 Beijing, CHINA Phone: 62012244 ext. 2252
2. Ethiopia: Farmer-Based Conservation of Plant Genetic Resources.
Description: This biodiversity conservation project, established by the government of Ethiopia, links farmers and their indigenous cultivated crop varieties (landraces) with genetic resource conservation efforts of the nation’s Plant Genetic Resources Center. It supplements past efforts that have focused on maintaining genetic diversity in gene banks.
Activities: Scientists, extension agents, and farmers are trained and equipped to identify and conserve seeds and other reproductive materials in local surroundings where they have been selected by farmers for drought resistance and other distinctive properties. The program includes research on farmer knowledge of indigenous crops, potential risks of loss of genetic diversity on different kinds of farms and communities, and the extent of genetic diversity in target crops. A community-based network of local farmer conservators also is being organized.
Special Features: This is the first major national or regional program to integrate the informal sector of genetic resource conservation (farmers) with the formal sector (genetic research institutions). It also provides a link between the holders of genetic diversity in Ethiopia and the international conservation network. Indigenous landraces are genetically diverse and well adapted to local agro-ecological and socio-cultural conditions, characteristics of primary importance for the majority of the world’s farmers working in low-input subsistence agriculture. They also are indispensable for modern crop improvement efforts because of their importance to plant breeders as sources of resistance to disease, pests, drought, and other stress conditions.
Publicly Funded Models
Scope: This is a nationwide five-year genetic resources conservation initiative that adds a farm-level dimension to what is regarded by the international community as a first-rate germplasm national conservation effort. It also is designed to strengthen Ethiopia’s 20-year-old Plant Genetic Resources Center.
Government Agency Involvement: The Ministry of Natural Resources Development and Environmental Protection is the implementing agency. The Plant Genetic Resource Center, a government facility, provides technical assistance to farmer participants and plays a central role in the overall coordination and monitoring of program activities. Extension workers from the Ministry of Agriculture play a role in the training of farmers and in organizing workshops and other educational events.
NGO Linkages: The Unitarian Service Committee of Canada, through its Seeds of Survival Program for Africa, has been providing support for farmer-based landrace conservation since 1989. The African Biodiversity Network, set up in 1991 by the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment, also is involved.
Publications Available: Ethiopia — A Dynamic Farmer-Based Approach to the Conservation of African Plant Genetic Resources, a 1994 project document, is available from the Global Environment Facility of the United Nations Development Programme.
Literature Citations: Woerde, M. 1992. “Ethiopia: A Gene Bank Working with Farmers,” in Growing Diversity: Genetic Resources and Local Food Security, edited by D. Cooper, R. Vellve, and H. Hobbelink, London, IT, pp.78-96.
Contact: GEF/Executive Coordinator United Nations Development Programme One United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017 USA Phone: 212-906-5044; Fax: 212-906-6998
3. Indonesia: Integrated Pest Management Program
Description: This national program was initiated by the Indonesian government after a Presidential order ended pesticide subsidies, banned the use of 57 brands of broad-spectrum pesticides and launched a local-level IPM farm school training effort. This program trained 140,000 rice producers and 1,100 pest observers, and resulted in a 60% cut in pesticide use without any loss in yield.
Activities: The training component, which emphasized a “learn by doing” approach, taught farmers the theory and application of IPM. It also encouraged and assisted them in understanding and monitoring the ecological dynamics of their fields. Research activities included studies of insects in rice-based ecosystems and an occupational health study to obtain reliable data on pesticide exposure and poisoning. Other activities included training of technical level personnel, operation of regional in-service centers to upgrade the skills of agricultural professionals,