The way the world grows its food will have to change radically to better serve the poor and hungry if the world is to cope with a growing population and climate change while avoiding social breakdown and environmental collapse. That is the message from the report of the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) that was released today, 15 April 2008. The graphics featured in this report were prepared by GRID-Arendal.
The report addresses major issues as bio fuels, GM crops, use of traditional know-how, impact of climate change, and it underlines the pressing need to change the rules of modern agriculture at a time when "Business as usual is no longer an option."
“While agricultural science and technology has made it possible to greatly increase productivity in the last 50 years, the sharing of benefits has been far from equitable," says the report. "Furthermore, progress has been achieved in many cases at a high social and environmental cost."
The report incorporates a global assessment as well as five sub-global assessments in acknowledgement that the challenges in Africa are not identical to the challenges in Asia or Latin America. By taking a 'bottom-up' approach, the report aims to understand the needs of those most vulnerable to threats to the security of their food and livelihood.
The authors of the report recommend that agricultural science put greater emphasis on safeguarding natural resources and on "agro ecological" practices.
The report stressed that "The need for action is urgent," especially that since March of last year, soybean and wheat prices have increased by 87 percent and 130 percent respectively, where also global grain stores are "at their lowest level on record" at the present time. "Prices of staple foods such as rice, maize and wheat are expected to continue to rise because of increased demand, especially in China and India, and because of the alternative use of maize and soybeans for bio-fuels," the report indicates. It also notes that "35 percent of the Earths severely degraded land has been damaged by agricultural activities."
The report is the result of three years of cooperation between nearly 400 scientists, the governments of developed and developing countries, and representatives of civil society and the private sector.
IAASTD was launched as an inter-governmental process in 2002 by the World Bank and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg. It is concerned with modern science and technology but also with local and traditional know-how and with productivity and the impact of agricultural activities on the environment. The initiative is co-sponsored by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural organization (UNESCO), and the World Health Organization (WHO).