Dominic Moran and Jorie Knook
Climate change is already having a significant impact on agriculture through greater weather variability and the increasing frequency of extreme events. International policy is rightly focused on adapting and transforming agricultural and food production systems to reduce vulnerability. But agriculture also has a role in terms of climate change mitigation. The agricultural sector accounts for approximately a third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, including related emissions from land-use change and deforestation. Farmers and land managers have a significant role to play because emissions reduction measures can be taken to increase soil carbon sequestration, manage fertilizer application, and improve ruminant nutrition and waste. There is also potential to improve overall productivity in some systems, thereby reducing emissions per unit of product. The global significance of such actions should not be underestimated. Existing research shows that some of these measures are low cost relative to the costs of reducing emissions in other sectors such as energy or heavy industry. Some measures are apparently cost-negative or win–win, in that they have the potential to reduce emissions and save production costs. However, the mitigation potential is also hindered by the biophysical complexity of agricultural systems and institutional and behavioral barriers limiting the adoption of these measures in developed and developing countries. This includes formal agreement on how agricultural mitigation should be treated in national obligations, commitments or targets, and the nature of policy incentives that can be deployed in different farming systems and along food chains beyond the farm gate. These challenges also overlap growing concern about global food security, which highlights additional stressors, including demographic change, natural resource scarcity, and economic convergence in consumption preferences, particularly for livestock products. The focus on reducing emissions through modified food consumption and reduced waste is a recent agenda that is proving more controversial than dealing with emissions related to production.
Edward B. Barbier
Globally, around 1.5 billion people in developing countries, or approximately 35% of the rural population, can be found on less-favored agricultural land (LFAL), which is susceptible to low productivity and degradation because the agricultural potential is constrained biophysically by terrain, poor soil quality, or limited rainfall. Around 323 million people in such areas also live in locations that are highly remote, and thus have limited access to infrastructure and markets. The households in such locations often face a vicious cycle of declining livelihoods, increased ecological degradation and loss of resource commons, and declining ecosystem services on which they depend. In short, these poor households are prone to a poverty-environment trap. Policies to eradicate poverty, therefore, need to be targeted to improve the economic livelihood, productivity, and income of the households located on remote LFAL. The specific elements of such a strategy include involving the poor in paying for ecosystem service schemes and other measures that enhance the environments on which the poor depend; targeting investments directly to improving the livelihoods of the rural poor, thus reducing their dependence on exploiting environmental resources; and tackling the lack of access by the rural poor in less-favored areas to well-functioning and affordable markets for credit, insurance, and land, as well as the high transportation and transaction costs that prohibit the poorest households in remote areas to engage in off-farm employment and limit smallholder participation in national and global markets.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Environmental Science. Please check back later for the full article.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an ecosystem management operational framework to make ecologically and economically sound environmental management decisions in ways that are selective for the pest encountered while minimizing effects not related to the problem at hand. The strength of IPM research and use is to constantly adapt methods and applications of the science behind adaptive decision making to ensure that the most modern and comprehensive problem-solving skills and techniques will be used to manage pest issues. Pests are ubiquitous in every human-managed ecosystem, most commonly encountered in production agriculture and forestry. Pests are also encountered by homeowners and in other environmental management regimes related to ecological restoration, just to name a few IPM use situations. IPM has been practiced by humans throughout the development of human agricultural practices, for major stable food and fiber crops since the advent of agriculture. However, the specific scientific discipline of truly integrating multiple management techniques, from pesticide application, to fertilizer regimes, to resistant plant variety selection, to ecological and cultural management, and finally to cost-benefit analyses to ensure the techniques used are comprehensive for the pest and the rest of the agricultural production system is a relatively new science, first rigorously tested and reviewed in the 1940s. The greatest strengths of the discipline are also its weakness; by being pest-taxon, crop specific, and flexible for a given environmental or management situation, there is a constant need for refinement of IPM decision making processes in very specific situations to be the most efficient and useful in a given pest situation. Given the number of sub-discipline inputs into the robust decision-making framework, many specialists need to be invested in the specific IPM program, or a highly trained and dedicated group must be accountable for wrangling diverse disciplines into a cohesive management regime. Finally, given the vast number of pests and pathogens that affect a production system, it is nearly impossible to have an IPM program for every crop, for every pest, in every system; yet this is what is called upon from the farmers or land managers in nearly every situation. Given the modern push to have answers ready at the push of a button, the discipline of IPM will continue to be refined to remain relevant and at the forefront of safe, efficient, environmentally accountable, and ultimately sustainable sciences in modern ever-changing agricultural production systems.
Theodore J. K. Radovich
Organic farming occupies a unique position among the world’s agricultural systems. While not the only available model for sustainable food production, organic farmers and their supporters have been the most vocal advocates for a fully integrated agriculture that recognizes a link between the health of the land, the food it produces, and those that consume it. Advocacy for the biological basis of agriculture and the deliberate restriction or prohibition of many agricultural inputs arose in response to potential and observed negative environmental impacts of new agricultural technologies introduced in the 20th century. A primary focus of organic farming is to enhance soil ecological function by building soil organic matter that in turn enhances the biota that soil health and the health of the agroecosystem depends on.
The rapid growth in demand for organic products in the late 20th and early 21st centuries is based on consumer perception that organically grown food is better for the environment and human health. Although there have been some documented trends in chemical quality differences between organic and non-organic products, the meaningful impact of the magnitude of these differences is unclear. There is stronger evidence to suggest that organic systems pose less risk to the environment, particularly with regard to water quality; however, as intensity of management in organic farming increases, the potential risk to the environment is expected to also increase. In the early 21st century there has been much discussion centered on the apparent bifurcation of organic farming into two approaches: “input substitution” and “system redesign.” The former approach is a more recent phenomenon associated with pragmatic considerations of scaling up the size of operations and long distance shipping to take advantage of distant markets. Critics argue that this approach represents a “conventionalization” of organic agriculture that will erode potential benefits of organic farming to the environment, human health, and social welfare. A current challenge of organic farming systems is to reconcile the different views among organic producers regarding issues arising from the rapid growth of organic farming.