Agriculture – breeding, biodiversity and biomass

1) Lack of research to improve yields in non-industrial agriculture. The Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog comments on What are breeders selecting for?:

A new paper by H.E. Jones and colleagues compares cultivars of different ages under organic and non-organic systems, and concludes that modern varieties simply aren’t suited to organic systems.

2) The environmentalism of the poor. The poor want biomass not biodiversity is the unsurprising result on a new literature review from the Nature Conservancy reports

“People just don’t care about biodiversity,” said Craig Leisher of the US-based Nature Conservancy, at the meeting, ‘Linking biodiversity conservation and poverty reduction: what, why and how?’ held at the UK’s Zoological Society of London.Leisher, who conducted the research with Neil Larsen, also from the Nature Conservancy, gave the example of a poor fisherman, for whom the route out of poverty is to catch more fish — not more kinds of fish. …

But Matt Walpole, head of the UN Environment Programme’s Ecosystem Assessment Programme, and an author of the Science study, warned that the finding that biomass was more important than biodiversity was context-specific.

“If one thinks in terms of consumptive use then amount is important,” he said. But in agriculture, for example, biodiversity is important.

“Variability allows adaptability to variations in the ecosystem … if you’ve got variation then you are more resistant to shocks.”

3) Agriculture vs. Fish. On Nature’s Climate Feedback blog Olive Heffernan reports on PISCES Conference:

Jake Rice and … economist Serge Garcia, are concerned that measures to conserve marine biodiversity are in contradiction with policies to protect food security, with the likely upshot that both will fail to address their respective goals.

The conundrum is straightforward: by mid-century, there’ll be an additional 2 billion people on earth, each of whom will need to eat. In total, they’ll require an extra 3.65*108 of dietary protein. Forecasts suggest that we’ll need an 11% increase in irrigation for grain production just to keep pace with human population growth, not withstanding the impacts of climate change on crops and water availability. Right now, one-third of the world’s population relies on fish and fisheries products for at least one-fifth of their annual protein intake; if that continues to be the case, we’ll need around 70 million metric tonnes more fish protein by 2050, says Rice.

That’s something like 75-100% of current fish protein production. So how can we generate this and manage our fisheries? Rice outlines several possible options, each of which involves a conflict with environmental management. …

The problem, says Rice, is that these clearly conflicting policy goals aren’t being looked at by the same people at a high enough level. Now that the old problem of fisheries governance is being met with the newer problems of climate change and rapid population growth, we need a merger of these discussions, he says. He’d like to see the Convention on Biological Diversity pay more attention to the sustainable food dimension of their mandate and the Food and Agricultural Organization speaking with the CBD at a higher level. Eventually, says Rice, the UN General Assembly should be the forum to look at merging and prioritizing these policies.

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