Deservedly bad rap, or not?

What do you think of these?

The Food & Agriculture Organization accepts that agriculture is the main cause of global deforestation.

BirdLife International lists agriculture as the major threat to the viability of many bird species

The IPCC estimates that agriculture accounts for approximately 12% of total direct global anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases.

Extensive research evidence shows that agriculture impacts soil carbon and nutrients, tends to dry out soil profiles, and even affects regional weather patterns.

These statements about agriculture might trigger strong emotional responses but, when sober, most of us will admit that environmental costs to feeding people are an unfortunate reality.

Channel half the biomass production in the landscape into food that is distributed to a human population concentrated in cities will change the environment. It is unavoidable.

And the 7.5 billion people that rely on agriculture for their continued existence are grateful, as are 73 million domestic dogs living in the US who spend a lot of time barking at a similar number of cats.

Given that these people and their pets are here to stay, so too is agriculture.

The deforestation, biodiversity loss, greenhouse gas emissions, and soil degradation that typically accompany vegetation conversion for food production will stay too, unless we change a few things.

We can improve production efficiencies everywhere. Typically, this will mean intensification and modernization including through the increase in precision from web-enabled technologies. But it will also require more efficient use of natural capital, especially in soils and water, and more than a nod to how landscapes are configured.

We can remodel production systems and land management practices that we know degrade the environment. This might hurt profits a little but only to help meet future demand. Farmers still in the game will be able to sell long and reliably

We can undertake ecological rehabilitation and restoration on agricultural land. These are the processes that return vegetation to the landscape and carbon to the soil whilst still using land for production. Landholders will need financial and practical help to do this perhaps even being explicitly rewarded for their efforts.

These three options represent some heavy artillery.

Implement them intelligently in the right places and the right times and the bad rap can turn into a ballad.


Some further reading on the science of restoration ecology and agroecology and the practice of ecological restoration and conservation farming

Gonzalo-Turpin H, Couix N, Hazard L. 2008. Rethinking partnerships with the aim of producing knowledge with practical relevance: a case study in the field of ecological restoration. Ecol Soc 13:53.

Cabin RJ, Clewell A, Ingram M, McDonald T, Temperton V. 2010. Bridging restoration science and practice: results and analysis of a survey from the 2009 society for ecological restoration international meeting. Restor Ecol 18:783–8.

Evidence that society demands more from agricultural land than food, fiber, and fuel production

Klimek S, Kemmermann AR, Steinmann HH, Freese J, Isselstein J. 2008. Rewarding farmers for delivering vascular plant diversity in managed grasslands: A transdisciplinary case- study approach. Biol Conserv 141:2888–97.

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