February 2, 2012

Time for a New Paradigm

By Dr. Emile Frison, Director General
Bioversity International, Rome, Italy

In recent years, evidence has been accumulating about the need for change in agriculture. The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development report, the 2010 report to the UN by the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, and FAO’s Save and Grow report, among others, have all highlighted that different approaches are required to achieve food security in a sustainable manner.

The G20, a group comprised of the 20 biggest economies in the world, has joined the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and others, in making urgent calls for more investment in agriculture, including agricultural research. But the type of agriculture in which we invest is a critical decision. Agriculture gives us more than food and products; it also provides other benefits such as ecosystem services. Simply investing more in ‘business as usual’ will not be sufficient.  Addressing the needs of the billion chronically hungry in a sustainable way will require a rethink of the agricultural model.

What is needed in this redesign? There needs to be a shift in objectives, from maximizing the productivity of a few major staple crops to simultaneously addressing how to improve livelihoods and nutrition of rural communities, and increase the resilience, stability and sustainability of the production system. It will also require taking into account the full range of ecosystem services provided by agricultural landscapes and making better use of a broader range of agricultural biodiversity. Such an approach will also help reconcile the objectives of agricultural production and nature conservation in more diverse agricultural landscapes instead of opposing and segregating these goals in intensive agriculture areas on the one hand and protected areas on the other hand.

The Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative seeks to address these issues and develop ways to realize this shift to a new agricultural paradigm. As one of the co-organizing agencies, Bioversity International has already started a review of its evidence base in preparation for the Initiative’s Global Review. We know from working for many years and in many parts of the world, that successful innovative approaches by smallholder farmers, policymakers, food companies, and conservation and grassroots organizations are already happening in the field.

Participants in this effort will be from government planning agencies, leading research centers and think tanks, donors, the private sector, farmer and community-based organizations from around the world.  Through this international collaborative effort we can share knowledge as the first step to affect real change in agricultural approaches.

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1 Comment

  • Tim Gieseke
    February 19, 2012 at 7:10pm

    Yes, I agree that a new paradigm is needed as well as your observation that it is emerging through numerous innovative approaches. My experience is that these new paradigms begin the integration of ecological and economical values within the context of agriculture production management. Applying an ecocommerce model to a Minnesota, USA ag water quality effort I identified four systematic principles; symbiotic demand, strategic doing, shared governance and scaleable geo-intelligence, that allowed the process to flow. Embedded in the process was a “market signal” that allowed land owners to make kitchen table decisions about daily, seasonally and yearly opportunties. This allowed natural resource decisions to be made within the same realm as production resource decisions, obviously many of the resources are one of the same.