Supporting climate-friendly food production

This summer, record temperatures and limited rainfall parched vast areas of US cropland, and with Earth's surface air temperature projected to rise 0.69 degrees Celsius by 2030, global food production will be even more unpredictable, according to new research report, Innovations in Sustainable Agriculture: Supporting Climate-Friendly Food Production, conducted by the Worldwatch Institute.

Although agriculture is a major driver of human-caused climate change, contributing an estimated 25 to 30 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, when done sustainably it can be an important key to mitigating climate change, write report authors Danielle Nierenberg and Laura Reynolds.

Because of its reliance on healthy soil, adequate water, and a delicate balance of gases such as carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, farming is the human endeavour most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. But agriculture's strong inter-relationships with both climatic and environmental variables also make it a significant player in reducing climate-altering emissions as well as helping the world adapt to the realities of a warming planet.

"The good news is that agriculture can hold an important key to mitigating climate change," said Reynolds, Worldwatch's food and agriculture research associate. "Practices such as using animal manure rather than artificial fertiliser, planting trees on farms to reduce soil erosion and sequester carbon, and growing food in cities all hold huge potential for reducing agriculture's environmental footprint."

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that the global agricultural sector could potentially reduce and remove 80 to 88 per cent of the carbon dioxide that it currently emits.

By adopting more-sustainable approaches, small-scale agriculture in developing countries has the potential to contribute 70 per cent of agriculture's global mitigation of climate change. And many of these innovations have the potential to be replicated, adapted, and scaled up for application on larger farms, helping to improve water availability, increase diversity, and improve soil quality, as well as mitigate climate change.