FAO Director-General argues for move from input intense to knowledge intense food production

It seems almost too obvious to keep going on about global food supply being reliant on natural and social capitals, but it is these that will need to be used differently to achieve future food sustainability.

A timely reminder of such challenges came in a speech to European lawmakers at the end of May when José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) told them to achieve sustainable development we must “transform current agriculture and food systems”.

Speaking to members of the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, he said: “Massive agriculture intensification is contributing to increased deforestation, water scarcity, soil depletion and the level of greenhouse gas emission.”

He said in transforming agriculture and food systems it was important to include supporting smallholders and family farmers, reducing pesticide and chemical use, and improving land conservation practices. While he acknowledged the role high-input and resource intensive farming systems had played in substantially increasing production, it has come at a high cost to the environment.

He argued: “We have to move from input intense to knowledge intense production systems. Today, it is fundamental not only to increase production, but to do it in a way that does not damage the environment. Nourishing people must go hand in hand with nurturing the planet.”

In his address the FAO Director-General focused on four main issues: climate change; the spread of transboundary pests and diseases; food loss and waste; and the importance of not only eradicating hunger, but all forms of malnutrition in the world.

Speaking about climate change he said that in agriculture both adaptation and mitigation are important and that there is no trade-off between the two. He said the FAO supports countries through different initiatives and approaches including climate-smart agriculture, agroecology and agro-forestry.