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CLIMATE ACTION PROGRAMME

24 January 2011

Report advocates tech innovation in food agriculture

A Foresight report released today (24th January 2011) suggests ways to make food farming more sustainable, endorsing technology such as genetic modification to reduce the impacts of climate change and increase food security.

New science or technology could enhance interventions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), suggests the Foresight report, "Global Food and Farming Futures."

Many farmers and activists anticipate that the report will help the move to radical reform and help to end protectionist agricultural policies, thus allowing the industry to play its full part in helping to meet climate challenges, while providing more food security to all.

Genetically modified organisms (GMO's), cloned livestock and nanotechnology should not automatically be excluded on ethical or moral grounds, states the report, although there is a need to respect a contrary opinion. Scientist Sir Paul Nurse says that the science behind new processes and technologies need to be communicated with society to achieve public trust, and allow informed opinions to be made about what technology is adopted, and when.

Global Crop Diversity Trust announced in December 2010 the search to save the wild relatives of many essential food crops, to protect global food supplies against climate change and strengthen future food security. Essential traits could be bred into crops to make them more versatile when faced with dramatic climate changes, it said.

According to the partners of the project, on average a new crop variety takes 7-10 years to breed, so it is essential for the work to start as soon as possible, and further investment to be made.

The human and environmental safety of any new technology needs to be rigorously established before its deployment, with open and transparent decision-making taking place, states today's Foresight report.

Other technological areas advocated include precision agriculture to reduce the volume of fertiliser applied to crops, plant breeding to improve their nitrogen use, and genetically improving the fodder for beef and dairy cattle to reduce GHG emissions.

The report emphasises the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation as factors driving limited resources of food, energy, water and materials towards critical thresholds. New technology can help to improve efficiency and any actions that reduce the pressure on the food system can help to manage the effects of climate change, states the report.

Applying existing knowledge and technology to increase sustainable food production will have positive effects on reducing GHG emissions and the report emphasises that this can occur without loss of production or productivity.

Developing better and more comprehensive ways of measuring GHG emissions in the global food system should be a priority, highlights the report. "Agriculture itself is estimated to contribute 12–14% of greenhouse gas emissions, including those associated with fertiliser production.

The single most important contribution of agriculture to GHG emissions is through the use of nitrogen fertilisers. According to the report, with improved efficiency via technology, fertiliser use could be reduced significantly.

Sustainable agriculture and waste reduction could help to achieve greater food security, particularly in developing countries. Scientist Sir Paul Nurse says that the science behind new processes and technologies need to be communicated with society to achieve public trust, and allow informed opinions to be made about what technology is adopted, and when.

Author: Marianna Keen | Climate Action

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