Knowledge for better food systems

Special issue on food security in Science: Smart Investments in Sustainable Food Production

The journal Science has published a special issue on food security. A particularly interesting paper looks at mixed-crop livestock systems.
The journal Science has published a special issue on food security. A particularly interesting paper looks at mixed-crop livestock systems. Smart Investments in Sustainable Food Production: Revisiting Mixed Crop-Livestock Systems, Herrero M, Thornton P K, Notenbaert A M, Wood S, Msangi S, Freeman H A Bossio D, Dixon J, Peters M, van de Steeg J, Lynam J, Parthasarathy Rao P, Macmillan S, Gerard B, McDermott J, Sere; C, and Rosegrant M. (2010), in Science 12 February 2010: 822-825. This paper looks at the role, and emphasises the importance, of small-holder mixed crop-livestock systems; these produce about half of the world's food (with livestock reared mostly on grass, browse, and nonfood biomass) while also supplying manure, traction, insurance against hard times and income from livestock products. It argues that small-holder farmers should be the first target for policies to intensify production through the use of carefully managed inputs of fertilizer, water, and feed to minimize waste and environmental impact, supported by improved access to markets, new varieties, and technologies. It argues that the usual culprits, such as inefficient aid delivery,government corruption, and political unrest, are a barrier to progress but are not the most important problem. Rather, it involves a fundamental failure to appreciate the range of different agricultural systems that are expected to feed our planet in the coming decades and their policy needs. The authors look at the different needs of intensive crop-livestock and extensive crop-livestock systems and conclude by saying that, to reduce poverty while increasing food supplies and maintaining functional ecosystems, will require well-regulated and differential growth in crop and livestock production. It will require public and private investments in the more-extensive mixed agricultural systems neglected in the past. It will require higher public and donor funding for research and development in the livestock sector, which historically has been lower than those for food crops, often by a factor of 10 or more. It will require differentiated and nuanced policies able to assess the trade-offs between agro-ecosystem services and human well-being. And it will require that governments and donors, together with scientists and other stakeholders, precisely target technological, investment, and policy options to suit different farming systems and regions.

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