Is digital agriculture the key to revolutionize future farming in Africa?


By Emebet Tita and Dawit Solomon (CCAFS)|Dec 8, 2017|Low Emissions Development


Stakeholders discuss opportunities and challenges of digital agriculture in Africa.

Digital technology has significantly transformed all sectors of economic development. It has changed our way of living to the extent that it is difficult to imagine life without it. In developed countries, digital technologies and analytics are already transforming agriculture, making farm operations more insight-driven and efficient. However, agricultural productivity in developing countries, especially on the African continent, remains very low and the application of digital technologies still very limited.

Source: Digital Agriculture: Pathway to Prosperity | ICRISAT

In October 2017, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security in East Africa (CCAFS EA) in collaboration with the University of Copenhagen (UCPH), the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) Ethiopia, and Ethiopian Agricultural Research Center’s (EIAR) Climate and Geospatial Research Program brought together stakeholders from the private sector, government organizations and universities in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to explore digital agriculture and its potential to transform farming on the continent.

Stakeholders discussed the opportunities that digital agriculture presents and the existing challenges on the ground that need to be taken into consideration in order to successfully embrace and implement digital agriculture in Africa.

In his opening remarks, Dr. Dawit Solomon (CCAFS’s East Africa Regional Program Leader) highlighted that precision agriculture, internet-of-things, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology, crop and soil sensing, weed sensing, disease sensing, new breeding technologies, biologicals, biochips, and new breeding technologies are all innovations that once seemed farfetched but are now becoming an accessible and affordable reality, already in use in some corners of our world.  So how can African countries adopt and deploy these technologies? Can Africa learn from the developed world? Or as Dr. Campbell, Director of CCAFS, puts it, “can Africa leapfrog into a new world in agriculture similar to mobile banking?”

Dr. Svend Christensen, Professor, and Head of Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, emphasized that at the center of it all is data, and how we obtain and use it.

However, most participants highlighted, gathering data, standardizing the collection process and data storage are major challenges. Data collection is scattered and stored in different data silos, in different formats, by different organizations. It is difficult to determine how such data can be integrated and used to make reliable comparisons. Thus, it is evident that collaboration between different stakeholders involved in agriculture is key to obtain and use data efficiently, as well as to reduce the cost of obtaining data.

Dr. Mandefro Nigussie, Senior Advisor with Digital Green, also added the starting point should be establishing a clear understanding of the existing framework of digital agriculture in the different countries, which include the policies, data infrastructure and the stakeholders in play. This can serve as a basis to identify the gaps and leveraging points, in order to commission initiatives that can drive targeted solutions.

Finally, participants also noted that while the potential for digital agriculture in Africa is real, any successful solution should involve the farmer in the design process, focus on the farmer’s real-world needs and devise a two-way flow of information to and from the farmer. It is also necessary that governments create and implement policies conducive to the changing needs of the digital age we live in.

On the following day, selected participants attended the Global Green Growth Week Public-Private Sector roundtable discussion on Transforming African Agriculture organized by CCAFS in collaboration with the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) and the Green Climate Fund (GCF). As a result of the discussions, CCAFS East Africa is now leading the formation of a Public Private Partnership project that is aimed at tackling the challenges related to agriculture data infrastructure. The project is expected to create a digital platform and application, expected to reach over 50,000 smallholder farmers, which will serve as a tool to gather data, communicate and receive intelligence specific to climate, agro-metrology, and market information.

Following the meeting, CCAFS, UCPH, CIMMYT and the EIAR organized site visits for selected participants to the wheat research site at Kulumsa Agricultural Research Centre (KARC) and the Eteya-Huruta wheat belt in Oromia region located over 175 km outside Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

At KARC, participants observed the wheat nursery, test fields, and pilot farmers’ fields. KARC is working on breeding high yield, stem and yellow rust resistant wheat varieties to be distributed to farmers. Farmers are also trained on farm management good practices and provided with mechanization tools for rent.

Test fields from Eteya-Huruta wheat belt in Ethiopia’s Oromia region. Photo: Dawit Solomon (CCAFS)

Driving back to Addis Ababa, away from the fields, much like the one pictured above, one cannot help but imagine that soon the farmer on the field will be using his mobile phone to switch on and off a harvester, a drone is flying over-head conducting soil and field analysis and a satellite somewhere in space is connected to both, storing and exchanging the data in a cloud database, and connecting the different users in the ecosystem.

 

Article Disclaimer: This article was published by the CGIAR-CCAFS and retrieved on 12/20/2017 and posted here for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remain those of the authors. We will not be held accountable for the reliability and accuracy of the materials. If you need additional information on the published contents and materials, please contact the original authors and publisher. Please cite the authors, original source, and INDESEEM accordingly.


 

 

 

Moving closer to achieving climate-smart future for Southeast Asia


Written by Nguyen Thu Hang (Viet Nam News) on Dec 6, 2017


Fostering learning and sharing knowledge and experiences across Climate-Smart Villages and projects in Southeast Asia.

Based on the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS)’ Southeast Asia’s vision, by 2025, the Southeast Asian region has achieved a stable food supply, and communities, especially those in the most vulnerable areas, have already improved their climate change resilience through the adoption of climate-smart technologies and practices.

By this time, institutional, public, and private sector’s capacities to implement measures to cope with climate change are already strong, and climate change adaptation and mitigation measures are fully integrated into both regional and national development plans. These goals guided the implementation of its flagship projects (FP) under the program.

 

On its third annual meeting, CCAFS SEA looked at the four flagship projects’ progress in terms of achieving the goals abovementioned since the second phase of the program started. The annual meeting was held on the 20th of November in Hanoi, Vietnam.

The beginnings of CCAFS

The regional agenda and research portfolio of CCAFS SEA are put into four flagships (FPs), FP1 – priorities, and policies for climate-smart agriculture, FP2-climate-smart technologies, and practices, FP3–low emission development ad FP4–climate services and safety nets.

The Climate-Smart Village (CSV) project serves as the convergence point of the flagship projects. These are implemented to improve farming communities’ resilience to challenges brought about by climate change which are expected to be worsened by the region’s rapid economic growth.

At present, the projects of CCAFS SEA are mostly located in three countries of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia because they are among the most vulnerable countries to climate change in the region. However, there are also other projects implemented in the Philippines and Indonesia.

CCAFS flagship leaders Dr. Phil Thornton and Dr. Andy Jarvis, together with CCAFS SEA regional program leader Dr. Leocadio Sebastian, facilitated a special session on the future projects’ focus. Photo by Duong Minh Tuan/ICRAF

CSV achievements

During the review conducted during the event, participants discussed the successes and challenges faced by the flagship projects and looked at how much of the desired outputs and outcomes have already been achieved. The key emerging outcomes from CSV sites in Vietnam, Philippines, and Laos, have also been highlighted in the workshop.

For instance, in the first stage of the CSV project in Guinayangan Village in the Philippines’ Quezon Province, the implementers had successfully engaged with local governments. In addition, the incorporation of climate-smart agriculture into the local government’s agriculture extension services is expected to have benefitted from 5,000 farmers in Guinayangan Village. Guinayangan is also recognized as a learning site that influenced the implementation and rolls out of the Philippines’ Adaptation and Mitigation Initiative in Agriculture (AMIA) program.

As for the project of CSVs in the Mekong Basin, initial outcomes include eight climate-smart agriculture practices and technologies have been implemented with the engagement of 100 local households. For example, in Vietnam’s Ky Son Commune, implementers have successfully coordinated with local governments, same with Guinyangan. They have also helped 2,000 farmers in achieving stable incomes and two neighboring villages in selecting 3 CSAs as priorities for scale-out: stress-tolerant rice varieties, dry season water storage, and pest smart practices for adoption during the first year of the project’s second phase.

Meanwhile, Rohal Suong CSV in Cambodia is now poised to be selected as a demonstration site under IFAD-funded ASPIRE project (worth about USD 50 million).

A special poster session was held to showcase the significant outputs and emerging outcomes of the various CCAFS SEA’s regional projects. Photo by Duong Minh Tuan/ICRAF

Points for improvement

Despite the successes of CCAFS SEA in the first phase and the first year of its second phase, several challenges are still needed to be addressed in the remaining years in the second phase.

The biggest concern to be addressed now pertains to the mobilization of funding for the projects because the total budget left is not enough to run all the projects while most of them will end next year.

Aside from this, Dr. Andy Jarvis, one of the Flagship Leader of CCAFS stated that there is a need to re-design the projects to make it fit with the situation. To address this concern, Dr. Godefroy Grosjean, an expert from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), suggested three ways they can improve mobilization of financial resources for the projects in the region.

According to him, the first step that CCAFS should do is to recruit a joint position with the Food and Agriculture Organization for a climate finance expert. Second, it is advised to develop new agenda on climate finance, including fiscal reform, evaluation of business models, and carbon pricing. The third step is taking new methodology such as behavioral economics, he said.

Dr. Leocadio Sebastian, the Regional Program Leader at CCAFS SEA, also pointed out the gaps between discussions and the reality in the field where the projects were implemented. He called for all stakeholders to suggest solutions in order to cope with these challenges so that the projects would be smoothly run in the coming years.

Nguyen Thu Hang is a reporter for the Viet Nam News.


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New study: Up to 7 billion tonnes of Carbon Dioxide can be removed from the atmosphere each year through better soil management on farm land


by  | Nov 14, 2017


By better managing farmland soil, the amount of carbon stored in the top 30 centimeters of the soil could increase an extra 0.9 to 1.85 gigatons each year, say authors of a new study published today in Scientific Reports.

This is equivalent to carbon globally emitted by the transport sector (1.87 gigatons of Carbon); and equivalent to 3 – 7 billion tonnes of CO2 which could be removed from the atmosphere. For comparison, the US emits 5 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent each year (Edgar database, 2015).

The maps in the new study show how much carbon could be stored per hectare each year, which will be vital for designing global mitigation strategies, for achieving targets set out in the Paris Climate Agreement.

Since the industrial revolution, 50-70 percent of the carbon stored in the soil has been lost to the atmosphere, contributing to harmful greenhouse gas emissions in the form of carbon dioxide. Since farmland is already intensively managed, improving the way it is managed is a practical step to reduce carbon in the atmosphere, say authors.

Soil organic carbon (SOC) in the top 30 cm, currently (T0), on all available cropland soils globally (i.e. those not excluded from the analysis as high SOC soils or sandy soils). Maps were produced based upon a geospatial analysis of datasets from the SoilsGrids250 database19, using ESRI ArcGIS software (version 10.3; www.esri.com).

Soil organic carbon (SOC) in the top 30 cm, currently (T0), on all available cropland soils globally (i.e. those not excluded from the analysis as high SOC soils or sandy soils). Maps were produced based on a geospatial analysis of datasets from the SoilsGrids250 database 19, using ESRI ArcGIS software (version 10.3; www.esri.com).

Dr. Robert Zomer, from the Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences and lead author of the study, said: “Our findings show that turning soils into carbon sinks can sequester significant amounts of carbon in cropland soils. Our research shows soils can be part of the solution to combat climate change – and by doing so we can improve soil health.

The findings illustrate that most of the world’s carbon is stored in cooler, wetter, parts of the world in the northern hemisphere; and less in the tropics where it is hotter or drier. North America, Russia, and Europe currently store for over half of the world’s carbon in croplands.

The United States showed the highest total annual potential to store carbon in the soil, followed by India, China, Russian and Australia, if management is improved. The improved practices, among others, include, using compost or (green) manure, mulching, zero tillage, cover cropping, and other regenerative and natural climate solutions, such as agroforestry.

The annual increase in soil organic carbon (SOC) in the top 30 cm, on all available cropland soils globally (i.e. those not excluded from the analysis as high SOC or sandy soils) under the medium scenario (i.e. an increase in percent SOC of 0.27 over 20 years). Maps were produced based on a geospatial analysis of datasets from the SoilsGrids250 database19, using ESRI ArcGIS software (version 10.3; www.esri.com).

“Regenerating soil organic carbon is a foundational strategy for conservation, through which we can provide food and water sustainably and help tackle climate change.  Analyses like this help us understand the importance of soil management for reaching climate goals. The question now is: how can we unlock this potential?” asked Dr. Deborah Bossio, Lead Soil Scientist at The Nature Conservancy.

Tropical soils are especially sensitive to management, as they lose carbon faster than their counterparts in temperate regions, due to higher temperatures and rainfalls. Dr. Rolf Sommer, CIAT’s principle soil scientist and part of the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land, and Ecosystems, which funded the study said:

“In western Kenya, over half of all carbon stored in the soil has been released to the atmosphere in the last 30-100 years. That’s roughly twice the speed we would see in other parts of the world like in parts of Europe.”

The authors point out that further research is needed to pinpoint which soil management practices are possible in specific areas to sequester more carbon. Especially in developing countries like Ethiopia, where carbon sequestration in soils could significantly reduce emissions and make agriculture carbon neutral, farmers are often very resource constrained, with few options to actively manage soils.

Soils are the basis of all food production. Healthier soils store more carbon and produce more food. Investing in better soil management will make our agricultural systems more productive and resilient to future shocks and stresses.

Dr. Louis Verchot

Co-author and Director of the Soil Research Area, International Center for Tropical Agriculture

Although there is vast potential, turning soils into a carbon sink requires climate-smart solutions and supportive policy enabling environments, to catalyze a change in countries outlined in the study.

Full citation: Zomer, Robert J.; Bossio, Deborah A.; Sommer, Rolf; Verchot, Louis V.. 2017. Global Sequestration Potential of Increased Organic Carbon in Cropland Soils. Scientific Reports . 7: 15554.

“Global Sequestration Potential of Increased Organic Carbon in Cropland Soils” was published in the online journal Scientific Reports on 14th November 2017.


Article Disclaimer: This article was published by the CIAT and retrieved on 11/24/2017 and posted here for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remain those of the authors. We will not be held accountable for the reliability and accuracy of the materials. If you need additional information on the published contents and materials, please contact the original authors and publisher. Please cite the authors, original source, and INDESEEM accordingly.


 

 

 

Global use of wastewater to irrigate agriculture at least 50 percent greater than thought

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Aerial view of sewage water treatment plant. (Stock image) Credit: © josefkubes / Fotolia

With 885 million consumers exposed to health risks, the study calls for urgent investments in improved sanitation.


Date: July 5, 2017, Source: IOP Publishing


Summary: The use of untreated wastewater from cities to irrigate crops downstream is 50 percent more widespread than previously thought, according to a new study.

The use of untreated wastewater from cities to irrigate crops downstream is 50 percent more widespread than previously thought, according to a new study published this week in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

The study relies on advanced modeling methods to provide the first truly comprehensive estimate of the global extent to which farmers use urban wastewater on irrigated cropland. Researchers analyzed data with geographic information systems (GIS) rather than depending on case study results, as in previous studies.

The researchers also assessed for the first time ‘indirect reuse’, which occurs when wastewater gets diluted but still remains a dominant component of surface water flows. Such situations account for the majority of agricultural water reuse worldwide but have been difficult to quantify on a global level due to different views of what constitutes diluted wastewater versus polluted water.

Considering consumer safety the foremost priority, study authors highlight the need to mitigate public health risks through measures taken along the entire food supply chain. This includes improved wastewater treatment, but also preventive steps on farms and in food handling since the capacity for water treatment is increasing only slowly in developing countries.

According to the study, farmers’ use of wastewater is most prevalent in regions where there are significant wastewater generation and water pollution. In these circumstances, and where safer water is in short supply, wastewater offers a consistent and reliable means of irrigating fields, including high-value crops, such as vegetables, which often require more water than staple foods. Where raw wastewater is available, farmers may tend to prefer it because of its high concentrations of nutrients, which can lessen the need to apply purchased fertilizers. In most cases, however, farmers’ use of this water is motivated by basic needs; they simply do not have alternatives.

“The de facto reuse of urban wastewater is understandable, given the combination of increasing water pollution and declining freshwater availability, as seen in many developing countries,” said Anne Thebo, a recent graduate of the University of California, Berkeley in the USA and lead author of the study. “As long as investment in wastewater treatment lags far behind population growth, large numbers of consumers eating raw produce will face heightened threats to food safety.”

Results show that 65 percent of all irrigated areas are within 40 km downstream of urban centers and are affected by wastewater flows to a large degree. Of the total area of 35.9 million hectares, 29.3 million hectares are in countries with very limited wastewater treatment, exposing 885 million urban consumers as well as farmers and food vendors to serious health risks. Five countries — China, India, Pakistan, Mexico, and Iran — account for most of this cropland. These new findings supersede a widely cited 2004 estimate, based on case studies in some 70 countries and expert opinion, which had put the cropland area irrigated with wastewater at a maximum of 20 million hectares.

“Gaining a better grasp of where, why and to what extent farmers use wastewater for irrigation is an important step toward addressing the problem,” said second author Pay Drechsel of the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), who leads the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land, and Ecosystems. “While actions aimed at protecting human health are the first priority, we can also limit the hazards through a variety of tested approaches aimed at safely recovering and reusing valuable resources from wastewater. These include the water itself but also energy, organic matter, and nutrients, all of which agriculture needs. Through such approaches, we have been helping the World Health Organisation (WHO) respond to the wastewater challenge over the years.”

“We hope this new study will focus the attention of policy makers and sanitation experts on the need to fulfill Sustainable Development Goal 6, particularly target 3, which calls for halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and increasing recycling and safe water reuse,” added Drechsel.

“One major challenge is to cultivate behavior change from farm to fork, especially where risk awareness is low. Another consists of larger scale efforts to put the recovery and reuse of resources from wastewater and other waste on a business footing to make its management more attractive for the public and private sectors. Safe resource recovery and reuse have significant potential to address the health and environmental risks, while at the same time making cities more resilient and agriculture more sustainable, contributing to more circular economies.”


Story Source:

Materials provided by IOP PublishingNote: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. A L Thebo, P Drechsel, E F Lambin, K L Nelson. A global, spatially-explicit assessment of irrigated croplands influenced by urban wastewater flowsEnvironmental Research Letters, 2017; 12 (7): 074008 DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/aa75d1

 


Article Disclaimer: This article was published by the Science Daily and retrieved on 07/28/2017 and posted here for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remain those of the authors. We will not be held accountable for the reliability and accuracy of the materials. If you need additional information on the published contents and materials, please contact the original authors and publisher. Please cite the authors, original source, and INDESEEM accordingly.


 

Agricultural scientists urge new global crop alliance to secure future food supply

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Farmer Gashu Lema’s son harvests improved variety “Kubsa” wheat

EL BATAN, Mexico (CIMMYT) – At a time when weather patterns are becoming less predictable and population pressures on food supply are increasing, a group of crop scientists are laying the groundwork for an international crop network to systematically tackle threats to global food security.

Research focused on specific crops achieves progressive genetic gains, but scientists need to adopt a more internationally oriented and integrated approach to leverage technology, expertise and infrastructure with greater efficiency and purpose, said Matthew Reynolds, a distinguished scientist and wheat breeder at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in an opinion piece published this week in the journal Science.

Already 795 million poor people do not get enough food to eat, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). By 2030, the number of people living in poverty could increase between 35 and 122 million in large measure because of the impact of climate change on the agricultural sector, the FAO reports.

“We understand how to make crops more resilient to heat and drought, but we’re at a point where we need to accelerate our work.” said Reynolds, backed by a team of co-authors from the scientific community. “Since these problems are transnational in nature, a more global network could accelerate our efforts while increasing efficiency and helping to avoid duplication.”

Scientists plan to deploy the new Global Crop Improvement Network (GCIN) to take comparative approaches across all major crops and environments to enhance such traits as root access to water using remote sensing, which often requires costly mobile, airborne or satellite technology.

Through successful wheat-specific collaboration, since the early 1960s, the International Wheat Improvement Network (IWIN), part of the CGIAR-affiliated group of agricultural researchers, has made economically efficient and environmentally sound impacts in crop improvement, which serve as a template for the projected success of GCIN.

Scientists within IWIN undertake breeding efforts aimed at 12 different wheat mega-environments, testing new wheat genotypes at 700 field sites in more than 90 countries. Each year they produce some 1,000 high-yielding, disease-resistant wheat lines, which are delivered as international public goods.

A recent study on wheat improvement shows that CGIAR varieties cover about half of the world’s wheat growing area, through IWIN, delivering an economic punch of from $2.2 billion to more than $3 billion a year for resource-poor farmers and consumers.

“The benefit cost ratio of the investment is 100 to 1, even without taking into account the avoided cost of disease pandemics and the land saved from cultivation due to increased yields; economic analysis indicate at least 20 million hectares of natural ecosystem have been spared the plough,” Reynolds said.

“High transaction costs and instability of crop funding have hamstrung urgently needed research,” he added. “This is senseless in light of the extraordinary return on investment to IWIN which could be transferred to GCIN.”

Through a crop-wide collaboration, international scientists can boost benefits from practical work with national agricultural research systems, improving the value of “in kind contributions,” he said.

Aims include standardizing data and phenotyping techniques to best practises, ensuring that information can be shared and understood worldwide.

This approach will also encourage upstream researchers to venture from working exclusively in controlled facilities to realistic field environments, bringing cutting edge technologies with them, Reynolds said.

Data sharing could lead to more accurate descriptions of environments and experimental treatments. Currently, data is often only available selectively and a network would promote it through open access programs.

The benefits of integrated research through the CGIAR group of agricultural researchers and the FAO are well established, but the network under discussion could enhance and improve information sharing transnationally.

Experimental fields – or field laboratories – which are essential for translating scientific breakthroughs to improved crop yields, could at times benefit from more strategic relocation. Often they are in certain areas due to historical, financial or political reasons, not because of current practical needs, Reynolds explained.

Climate change is expected to lead to overall warmer temperatures and increase the intensity of droughts, floods and storms, negatively affecting food security and livelihoods. Climate modelling indicates that sea levels will rise and patterns of flooding and drought will change due to glacial melt at high altitudes.

Higher temperatures will affect crop yields and erratic rainfall could affect both yields and quality. For poor people spending most of their income on food, related price hikes could make it much more difficult to cope.

“A more globally oriented, problem-solving research effort will increase the efficiency of global investment in agriculture and help ensure food security,” Reynolds said, adding that public-private partnerships could be harnessed to drive globally coordinated research.


Article Disclaimer: This article was published by the CGIAR and retrieved on 07/28/2017 and posted here for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remain those of the authors. We will not be held accountable for the reliability and accuracy of the materials. If you need additional information on the published contents and materials, please contact the original authors and publisher. Please cite the authors, original source, and INDESEEM accordingly.


 

New planters promote environmentally-friendly farming in Pakistan

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Direct seeding of rice with a multicrop direct-seeded rice planter in Sheikhupura, Punjab. Photo: Abdul Khaliq

ByJune 23, 2017


Article Disclaimer: This article was published by the CIMMYT and retrieved on 06/23/2017 and posted at INDESEEM for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remain those of the authors. We will not be held accountable for the reliability and accuracy of the materials. If you need additional information on the published contents and materials, please contact the original authors and publisher. Please cite the authors, original source, and INDESEEM accordingly.


 

 

Sustainable agriculture for healthy forests

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Farmers are beginning to transform agriculture in Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula through techniques that allow them to grow more on less land, reducing deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions. Above, slash and burn agriculture (right) compared to a non-burn strategy in a milpa system. Photo: J. Van Loon/CIMMYT

June 5, 2017

TEXCOCO, Mexico (CIMMYT) –  Farmers in Mexico’s ecologically-fragile Yucatán Peninsula are beginning to adopt innovative practices to manage traditional mixed-cropping systems called “milpas” that can slow or even stop deforestation and soil degradation.

Agriculture is the second-largest emitter of global greenhouse gas emissions and largest driver of deforestation, making the sector one of the top contributors to climate change and biodiversity loss.

Fifteen percent of global emissions is due mostly to agricultural expansion into tropical forests. Rising populations and changes in dietary preferences for more energy intense foods, like beef and soybean, are expected to boost agricultural emissions a further 15 percent by 2030.

Agricultural expansion and resulting deforestation of tropical areas also threaten more than half of all the world’s plant and animal species, contributing significantly to what many scientists say is Earth’s sixth mass extinction.

“Sustainable agriculture can bring large benefits to tropical areas by optimizing land use while improving farm management and techniques for farmers,” said Jelle Van Loon, a mechanization expert at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) who is working with farming communities in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula – an area compromising much of the largest remaining tropical rainforest in the Americas after the Amazon.

Nearly 80 percent of vegetation has been deforested or degraded in the peninsula, with more than 80,000 hectares being cut down annually.

“Agriculture in the Yucatán Peninsula is extremely diverse – there’s everything from industrial farms that operate around forest areas to small community farmers practicing the traditional milpa system in the interior,” said Van Loon.

Milpa farming – a traditional mixed cropping system in which maize, beans, and squash are grown – contributes to about 16 percent of deforestation in the region, and is typically practiced by subsistence farmers through slash and burn agriculture.

Milpa systems vary across communities in the region,” said Van Loon. “Sometimes plots are burned, farmed and left within two to three years for a new plot, and others are more permanent.”

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A technician learns how to operate a two-wheeled tractor. Technicians working with CIMMYT will perform field trials evaluating the efficiency of equipment like this in their work areas. Photo: J. Van Loon/CIMMYT

Van Loon is working with a team of CIMMYT scientists and other partners in the region to see how farmers can apply sustainable technologies and practices across the peninsula’s milpa systems, as well as large-scale mechanized farms that operate in the area.
“It’s extremely important that the unique circumstances of each community are taken into account when new technologies are being promoted,” said Van Loon, citing that many programs exist to support local communities, but is often challenging to organize support in an integrated fashion that’s adjusted to local conditions.

Milpa provides more than crops for food – the slash and burn system also provides game and timber for these communities, so there are many factors that need to be taken into account when we try and promote sustainable practices.”

Two years ago CIMMYT successfully trialed a sustainable agriculture initiative with farmers in Hopelchén, a small community in Campeche where indigenous and Mennonite farmers grow maize following traditional farming practices.

Decades of soil degradation had forced farmers to convert rainforest areas into growing fields to continue farming, but when the farmers adopted sustainable intensification methods such as minimal soil movement, surface cover of crop residues and crop rotations, they were able to achieve higher yields even after two months of drought.

The Hopelchén farmers prove the dual benefits of sustainable agriculture in forest areas – forests that would otherwise have been cut down for farmland are preserved, acting as a ‘carbon sink’ by absorbing carbon dioxide that would have been free in the atmosphere, further contributing to climate change. These practices also help farmers adapt to the effects of climate change, like drought and erratic rainfall.

“In order to get adoption right, we are really taking a system-wide approach,” said Van Loon. “We want to integrate mechanization, soil quality, planting density and other approaches like inter-planting with trees to improve biodiversity to get the most efficient system possible.” Van Loon will specifically work with communities to explore mechanization opportunities, from improved hand tools to lightweight motorized equipment like two-wheel tractors.

“The goal is to optimize the benefits from the land that farmers are working, find ways to reduce pressure on opening new land and as such slow the rate of deforestation, preserve biodiversity and provide farmers with techniques for improved and more sustainable practices,” said Van Loon. “Ultimately, we’d like to see these practices adopted across the peninsula.”


CIMMYT is leading sustainable intensification efforts in the Yucatan through the Sustainable Modernization of Traditional Agriculture (MasAgro) program, along with CitiBanamex, Fundación Haciendas del Mundo Maya, local partners, non-governmental organizations and the Mexican government.  


 


Article Disclaimer: This article was published by The CIMMYT – International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center and retrieved on 06/20/2017 and posted at INDESEEM for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remain those of the authors. We will not be held accountable for the reliability and accuracy of the materials. If you need additional information on the published contents and materials, please contact the original authors and publisher. Please cite the authors, original source, and INDESEEM accordingly.