U.S. President Barack Obama, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences all agree: genetically modified crops are essential to help the world’s poor and ensure food security in the face of climate change. These respected sources are convinced agricultural biotechnology presents no risks that are not outweighed by benefits and that without it the world will not be able to feed its growing population.
The biotech approach to agriculture places emphasis on monocropping and requires expensive inputs of fuel, chemicals, technology and patented seeds. It relies on foreign intervention in developing countries and sees agriculture in terms of individual products rather than as an interconnected web of life.
So the biotech industry and its apologists will likely take issue with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report calling for a very different agricultural vision.
An Ecosystem’s Approach to Agriculture
The preface of An Ecosystem Services Approach to Water and Food Security sets out a sustainable vision:
“It is clear that enormous opportunities exist to increase food production in ways that make optimal and sustainable use of water and other resources. This means that we can feed a global population without massive and irreversible damage to our ecosystems. It also means that ensuring food security, managing water resources and protecting ecosystems must be considered as a single policy rather than as separate, and sometimes competing, choices.
“This approach calls for a fundamental shift in perspective and a deeper understanding of the enormous economic importance of ecosystems and the broad suite of services they provide. For example, well-managed agroecosystems not only provide food, fiber and animal products, they also generate services such as flood mitigation, groundwater recharge, erosion control and habitats for plants, birds, fish and other animals.
“It also requires intersectoral collaboration, because only then can policies and practices change. The overarching recommendation of this synthesis is that future sustainability requires an integrated approach to managing multipurpose agroecosystems in a landscape or river basin setting.”
Share This Report with Decision Makers
Even if there were no potential risks (see Related Care2 Stories below) associated with genetic engineering, the industrial approach to agriculture would not ultimately be sustainable. It views agriculture as discrete from its surroundings rather than intimately connected and responsible to the broader environment.
The UNEP report, prepared in partnership with the International Water Management Institute, identifies three things that must change: how we view our ecosystem assets, how we manage water resources in river basins and how we approach food production. They list the steps to take to shift intensive-farming practices to an integrated approach that can ensure both food security and a sustainable ecosystem.
An Ecosystems Services Approach to Water and Food Security is an attractive, readable and intelligent document to share with politicians, aid organizations, philanthropist, and any decision-makers whose policies direct the future of agriculture.
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