Report: Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century

A report titled ‘Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century’ has been recently published by the National Research Council (NRC), which functions under the auspices of the United States National Academies.  The document, that was sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, reviews current farming practices in the US and analyzes challenges and opportunities for moving agriculture toward more sustainable practices.

The committee responsible to organize the report has defined four goals for improving the agricultural industry’s environmental, social, and economic sustainability, which are:

  • Satisfy human food, feed, and fiber needs, and contribute to biofuel needs;
  • Enhance environmental quality and the resource base;
  • Sustain the economic viability of agriculture; and
  • Enhance the quality of life for farmers, farm workers, and society as a whole.

Achieving a balance of the four goals, and creating systems that can adapt to fluctuating conditions are the way to achieve greater sustainability, according to the committee.  Also, achieving the goals will require long-term research, education, outreach, and experimentation by the public and private sectors in partnership with farmers.

The report recognizes that decisions to employ new practices are influenced by external forces, such as science, markets, public policies, land tenure arrangements, and farmers values, knowledge, skills, and resources.

Based on the U.S. experience, the authors looked also at farming experiences in other regions, like the sub-Saharan Africa. They recommend a “systems” approach, rather than production-focused research,  to programs directed at helping the developing world.

The complete report is available for free online reading on the National Academies Press website.

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