United Nations: Major Crops Must Become More Sustainable

Jan 8, 2015

To support a growing population, farmers worldwide need to emphasize the sustainable growth of three major foods: corn, wheat and rice, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization

Corn, wheat and rice make up some of the most crucial ingredients to diets across the world. With a booming global population, FAO says in the next 35 years farmers will need to ratchet up production of these three commodities to 3 billion tons – that’s half a billion tons more than the record harvest of 2013.

But it’s not just a matter of producing more crops, according to William Meyers, director of international agriculture programs at the University of Missouri.

“We also have to take into account the environment, the climate change that’s happening and the sustainability of these production methods and systems that we need in the future,” he said.

Indeed, diminishing natural resources, such as water and fossil fuels, are compounding the problem of producing more food for a growing planet. The FAO also reports that soil contamination is another growing issue. Ultimately, the U.N. says improving the production of these foods will help keep soil healthy, use water more efficiently and put less pressure on the environment supporting the agriculture.

Stepping in to help educate farmers in areas with little access to new techniques or practices can help alleviate the impact of heavy agriculture while improving production numbers, Meyers said.

“In a lot of places in the world where production needs to be increased to (meet the level of) consumption, there’s a lot of potential for increased production of different commodities,” Meyers said.

By giving these farmers a chance to try new technologies and practices, they can churn out more crops without impacting the environment as harshly, he said.

The FAO points to several countries as examples of movement in the right direction of sustainability. In China, farmers have been planting various types of rice in the same field which has cut down on fungal diseases. Water runoff has been reduced in Morocco through the elimination soil tillage on wheat farmland.  And in Zambia, farmers are using the leaves of acacia trees as a natural fertilizer to enrich the farmland with nitrogen.

FAO also says government and extension services support of farm operations is crucial in helping them adopt these ecosystem-friendly farming practices.