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Mainstreaming environment and climate change - Agriculture

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This paper analyses the relationship between agriculture and nature. It notes that agriculture degrades the environment by way of the conversion of forests, grasslands and other habitats for agricultural use; degradation of soil quality, pollution of soil and water through excessive or inappropriate use of pesticides and fertilisers; emissions; loss of crop and livestock genetic diversity through the spread of monocultures. However, the paper goes on to argue that if agriculture can harm the environment, it can also sustain it. Agricultural systems, both modern and traditional, that rely on ecosystem management can conserve biodiversity, enhance ecosystem functions and help cope with the impacts of climate change. The report notes that preserving and enhancing food security in the decades to come will require strategies for tackling three key environmental issues posed by farming: decreasing diversity, water scarcity, and climate change.Declining agricultural biodiversity erodes wild food resources that provide nutritionally and economically important food reserves for vulnerable groups. Lack of water is a constraint to producing food for hundreds of millions of people. Carbon emissions from agricultural production contribute to climate change. On the other hand, the impacts of climate change effects such as saltwater intrusion, shorter growing seasons, higher temperatures, changing patterns of pests and diseases, and more frequent floods and droughts serve to damage crops, degrade land and reduce food production. To address the three key issues, the paper gives the following recommendations:

On-farm conservation is required to ensure ongoing genetic diversity by allowing species to continue to adapt and evolve with changing natural surroundings.
Low external input farming is needed as it minimises purchased inputs and makes the fullest possible use of indigenous knowledge.
There is a need for mechanisms which encourage the marketing and use of local, traditional breeds and varieties of crops and livestock to help maintain the diversity of farming systems and boost resistance to pests and diseases.
Improving the efficiency of irrigation (by changing the timing of irrigation or using technologies such as drip irrigation) is required to help reduce both water demands and poverty.
Governments need to ensure that National Adaptation Plans of Action, Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions and Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers speak to each other and present a coherent strategy fuelled by common domestic objectives.
There is a need for strengthening local organisations and institutions, and enhancing local people’s capacity to take part in planning, management, governance and evaluation.
There is a need to provide financial support through microcredit and micro insurance schemes, social safety nets, and payments for environmental services in supporting sustainable agriculture for the poor.
Disseminating information about sustainable agriculture needs to be done effectively to help increase farmers’ capacity to make short- and long-term planning decisions and technology choices.