Sustainable farm practices improve Third World food production

Crop yields on farms in developing countries that used sustainable agriculture rose nearly 80 percent in four years, according to a study scheduled for publication in the Feb. 15 issue of the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science & Technology. The study, the largest of its kind to date -- 286 farm projects in 57 countries -- concludes that sustainable agriculture protects the environment in these countries while substantially improving the lives of farmers who adopt the resource-conserving practices.

Yields increased by an average of 79 percent during the study, according to corresponding author Jules Pretty of the University of Essex in England. Working with colleagues in Thailand, China, Sri Lanka and Mexico, Pretty found nearly all of the farm projects increased their yields, and harvests of some crops like maize, potatoes and beans increased 100 percent.

Sustainable agriculture practices, such as conservation tillage and integrated pest control, also reduced pesticide use and increased carbon sequestration. In addition, sustainable farming practices require less water, an important factor given that predictions suggest by 2025 most developing countries will face physical or economic water shortages, Pretty says.

About 800 million people in the developing world are short of food and agriculturally driven environmental damage threatens to worsen the problem. "Although it is uncertain whether these approaches can meet future food needs, there are grounds for cautious optimism, particularly as poor farm households benefit more from the their adoption," Pretty says.

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The American Chemical Society -- the world's largest scientific society -- is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

The online version of the research paper cited above was initially published Dec. 21 on the journal's Web site. Journalists can arrange access to this site by sending an e-mail to newsroom@acs.org or calling the contact person for this release.


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