Integrated Planning and Management of Land ResourcesFAOCSDUNEP
World Summit on Sustainable Development, South Africa 2002

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Message 37

Subject: Message 37 - Intervention by Brian Lewis, Another Perspective on Questions 3 and 4 Date: Sat, 17 Mar 2001 18:37:37 +0100 From: RIO10-Moderator To: "'RIO10-L@mailserv.fao.org'" Dear Colleagues: I sit before you as one of the blind men who was asked to describe an elephant. I know that what I have to say is limited by the place where the elephant stops in front of me and where my hands come to rest. I wish to share with you what it is I believe is that "elephant" which walks the land about which we are writing, The question of root problems with land presents a problem of ever increasing complexity. Raised to the macro-level of discussion, "land" becomes an issue of war, strife, famine, plenty, opportunity and much more. For on the land is produced and destroyed the complexity and diversity of all life as we know it. In the recent past, a new and potentially disastrous condition regarding land has arisen. Actually this issue is not "new" from an historical perspective as the destruction of the land's productive capacity in our human history has always lead to the collapse of the societies upon which it had been built. Stepping back further in time, we can also recognize this to be true for other life forms, which suddenly or rapidly became extinct as land lost its ability to provide them with food. The recent use of intensive systems of mono-crop agricultural production has contributed to both an increase in production and an increase in topsoil loss and destruction. It is interesting to note that since China has adopted intensive agricultural production techniques and methods, that as much as 30% of its topsoil has been lost. The soil's natural life support system, humus, is being depleted at rates much more rapid than nature can rebuild it on its own. Topsoil is estimated to be eroding and being used as much as many times faster than it can be replaced by nature. Some estimate that only another 50 to 100 years of topsoil remain if present agricultural production practices continue. An ancient and successful method of bio-intensive farming has recently been "rediscovered." These practices were developed during the "agricultural revolution" which occurred as early as 10,000 years ago. These practices permitted and supported the development of ever larger, more complex, and more successful human societies in all parts of our world. It has been that when such practices were abandoned that food production fell. Do we have a lesson or lessons to learn from the results, which appear to be inevitable when these ancient bio-intensive practices are abandoned? Amongst these ancient lessons for horticulture and animal husbandry are the following principles and practices: o The use of compost (humus) for soil fertility and nutrients o A whole, interrelated farming system o Synergistic planting of crop combinations so plants which are grown together enhance each other o Deep soil preparation, which develops good soil structure o Close plant spacing It has been established that bio-intensive horticulture practices miniaturization of agriculture can build the soil up to 60 times faster than in nature, while also making possible: Very substantial water consumption per unit of production 50% and more reduction in costs and application of purchased fertilizer More than 70% reduction in energy used per unit of production More than a 100% improvement in soil fertility while productivity increases and resource use decreases Many multiple increase in caloric production per unit of area Very substantial increase in income per unit of area In a ten gram amount of cured compost, about one inch in diameter, many thousand millions of microbial life form can live in harmony. Life makes more life. Gandhi observed, "To forget how to dig the earth and treat the soil is to forget ourselves." In Candide, Voltaire directs the way as "The whole world is a garden and what a wonderful place this would be if only each of us took care of our part of the garden." I believe it important to note there are some indications that during the year 2014 to 2022, there will probably not be enough land to produce all the nutrition needed for most of the world's population using current standard agriculture practices. Most of the current practices are growing only food but no organic matter for the production of the soil nurturing humus needed to ensure the development of a healthy soil. However, "sustainable bio-intensive" farming alone (or sustainable farming practice) is not the answer. If not used properly, these practices too deplete the soil more rapidly than other farming practices because of the high yields. In contrast, when used properly, so that all "wastes" are recycled and enough organic matter is grown on the farm to insure enough compost to both create and maintain soil fertility-then bio-intensive horticulture can create soil conditions rapidly and maintain sustainable soil fertility. On the other hand, to use only one agricultural approach to grow food could also be unhealthy. This would be yet another form of "mono-cropping" in a living world ecosystem that needs diversity. We should consider the development of truly sustainable agricultural practices to include a collage of: Indigenous farming Natural Rainfall "arid" farming No-till Fukuoka food raising Bio-intensive mini-farming Traditional Asian blue-green algal wet rice farming Agro-forestry Built into The REED Program (http://www.reedprogram,com ) is knowledge, experience, and expertise to instil these practices into programs that can be followed, learned, adapted as conditions and circumstances require. Each of us has tremendous potential to heal our earth. We must begin by educating ourselves, then sharing what we have learned by teaching people the importance of growing soil. The new challenge will be discovering how to live better on fewer resources. It is possible. Let us begin. Perhaps another of my blind friends can provide a worthy description of yet other parts of this complex "elephant." Brian Lewis, The REED Program

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