Working Group on Sustainable Agriculture --  Recommendations (2008-2010)

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1.     Provide a reasonable living for those working in agriculture and contribute to the viability of rural communities

We need to reverse the current trend of monocultures of cropland and large, industrial livestock farms. Many small farmers have had to abandon their land and move to urban slums in an effort to support their families.

Governments and international agencies should support sustainable agriculture by helping small farmers, pastorailists and the indigenous to maintain and improve their holdings, should invest in training programs to upgrade farming skills and should encourage co-operatives for sharing the costs of equipment, such as harvesting equipment, and for marketing of produce.

2.     Reduce as far as possible its negative impact on the environment and particularly the climate


Methods to reduce the environmental impact of agricultural land use and which promote soil fertility should be adopted, such as: conservation or zero-tillage, mixed rotations with cover crops and green manures, applying composts and manures to the soil, using agro-forestry, cultivating perennial grasses, and use of soil conservation techniques to prevent erosion.

Emerging technologies that explore growing flesh in a laboratory should be explored as an alternative method of farming. 

The use of inorganic nitrogen fertilizers should be reduced and replaced with targeted and slow-release fertilizers. Integrated pest management should be adopted rather than pesticides, as these are also energy-intensive to produce and should be restricted, as far as possible, to emergency use. Ideally farms should grow their own animal feed and absorb their own animal wastes. 

Current Animal agriculture technology is responsible for 18% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, particularly methane and nitrous oxide – which both have a much higher global warming potential (GWP) than carbon dioxide.  

With 60 billion farm animals used globally every year, and global meat production predicted to double by 2050, international organizations and governments must urgently address the issue of production of animal protein in its current form. 

Sustainable agriculture must reduce large concentrations of livestock as well as reducing overall numbers of animals.  Using emerging technologies this could probably be done without harm to economies


3.     Protect biodiversity in all its aspects 

On-farm solutions to maintaining and promoting biodiversity include minimizing or abandoning use of toxic pesticides, maintaining or planting hedgerows and wide borders around crop-land, preserving agricultural wetlands and planting trees, which can also be used to provide shelter for free range pigs, cattle and chickens, promote better air quality and are vital to bird life. 

Governments should invest in research and support for organic farming which can have a beneficial effect in maintaining and promoting biodiversity and which promotes the health of the soil.

Governments should also invest in technologies and conservation methods to prevent the elimination and even foster the return of species. 

With a third of livestock species under threat, farmers should be encouraged to rear traditional or local breeds of animals, which are often hardier and well suited to local conditions. In the transition phase (towards sustainable farming), farmers should be assisted in finding premium markets for products from such animals.  

4.     Protect the welfare of farm and working animals, as well as the indigenous, small farmers and pastoralists. 

In industrial “factory farms” the animals are often unable to carry out normal behaviors and are kept in confined, often overcrowded conditions. Sustainable agriculture must be sustainable for the animals, too, as they are sentient beings, capable of suffering.  

International development agencies and governments should promote higher welfare farming. Farm animals should be kept in conditions which promote their health and welfare, preferably with an outdoor range for grazing or foraging and for exercise. Indoor housing should provide material such as straw, wood shavings or rice husks as bedding material.  

Working animals are frequently worked too hard and often suffer from hunger or thirst, parasitic diseases and sores. 

Schemes to allow farmers on low incomes to access veterinary care for livestock and working animals should be a priority for governments and development agencies. They should also assist farmers with marketing produce from higher welfare, non-industrial farms. 

5.     Produce the kind of food which will contribute to healthy and affordable diets for both humans and farm animals. 

Meat and dairy are expensive commodities to produce under current technology and an have adverse impacts on global food and water resources, can damage the environment, including the climate, and can end up contributing to high rates of certain non-communicable diseases in humans. In addition, large concentrations of animal numbers in intensive farms provide ideal conditions for transmission and mutation of zoonoses (diseases transmitted from animals to humans) and viruses.

This working group does not propose moving away from dairy to soy, which is both impractical and would violate cultural norms; but it does propose a reduction in fat intakes and the development of alternative biological technologies that could create create healthier diary products. 

Governments and international agencies must tackle the growing obesity crisis, as the “western” diet, with its high proportion of meats and dairy products, spreads globally. Related conditions such as type-2 diabetes, certain heart conditions and cancers are on the increase, causing much human suffering and a massive strain on medical and health resources.  

There is sufficient research to show that a plant-based diet high in fruits and vegetables, with reduced red meats is best. Governments and intergovernmental agencies should promote such diets. One method would be to promote contraction and convergence policies, where those on western diets cut back their consumption of meat and dairy, whilst allowing those, e.g. in sub-Saharan Africa, to increase their consumption, with both converging at a level which is sustainable for human health and for the planet’s resources and the environment.  

Around a third of the world’s cereal harvest and over 90% of soya is used for animal feed. This land could be used to grow crops for human food. In addition, feeding cereals to animals is an inefficient way to feed people. It takes 4.5 plant-derived calories to produce one calorie of egg or milk and 9 plant-derived calories to produce one calorie of beef or lamb meat.  None the less, it would be in ppropriate to recommend switching from diary to soy, and even impractical in many instances..  S S 

With a further use of cereals for biofuel production, there is a growing global food crisis as the price of cereals is becoming unsustainable for the poor. Current Livestock production technology is also water-intensive, especially the indoor, intensive systems. Reducing livestock numbers would free up food crops to provide food for the swelling human population. 

In the future, cereals and soya should be grown primarily for human consumption, with animal farming being undertaken in smaller farming units where farmers can take care of and pride in their livestock and where environmental and human health can be protected and promoted.  This could be accomplished with new technologies to develop meat in laboratories.