Report of the Club of Rome 2018, Chapter 3.5: “Some Success Stories in Agriculture”

Original author: Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker, Anders Wijkman
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3.5.1 General Directions for Sustainable Agricultural Policy

To talk about the struggle for fertility and environmentally sustainable agriculture will require a separate book. In paragraph 1.8, we said that the currently dominant global agriculture is by no means sustainable and took the IAASTD report as a better alternative. The main findings of the report’s policy highlight the multifunctional nature of agriculture, which is a supplier of food, social security, ecosystem services, landscape value, and more. This contrasts with the approach of the agro-industry, which is separated from social and environmental features and focuses exclusively on maximum production.

The practice of sustainable agriculture was called agro-ecology, covering a wide range of systems adapted to local conditions and improved to meet local needs.

Common to all is the principle of environmental, economic and social sustainability. Agroecology preserves the soil and water supply, regenerates and preserves the natural fertility of the soil and encourages biodiversity; Agroecology yields are sustainable in the long term. It largely avoids agrochemicals by co-cultivating diverse crops and copying natural streams of sealed materials. Agroecology removes carbon and does not add it to harmful emissions. At the same time, it allows farmers to earn enough money for a living; Agroecology develops processing facilities to protect jobs in rural areas, while at the same time paying farmers a fair reward for their products and reasonable compensation for their work in protecting nature and climate.

Methods in support of these goals can be adopted by the governments of the North and the South and can include (1) ensuring safe access to land, water, seeds, information, credit and markets; (2) revising property laws to support women, farmers, and local or municipal organizations; (3) establishing more equitable regional and global trade agreements; (4) the revision of intellectual property laws in order to respect the rights of farmers and address the balance of interests and biodiversity; (5) investing in local infrastructure and agro-processing; and (6) increased government research and increased investment.

The recent UNEP International Resource Panel (IRP) report supports the IAASTD's criticism of current food systems, stating that they are responsible for 60% of the world's terrestrial biodiversity loss and about 24% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The IRP offers a “resource-intellectual” food system based on three principles: low environmental impact, sustainable use of renewable resources and efficient use of all resources. The IRP report shows that resource efficiency is up to 30% achievable!
However, instead of a detailed description of a sustainable agriculture and food system, we choose a modest and brief description of several examples.

3.5.2 Sustainable Agriculture in the Developing World

Some practical examples may illustrate the general directions of sustainable agriculture and the food system that help both farmers and consumers.

The global cocoa market is highly monopolized - 80% of production is controlled by two transnational companies. Most of the cocoa they buy is produced in West Africa, and it is almost impossible to track cocoa and determine the social and environmental conditions of production. German chocolate maker Ritter Sport was unhappy with this situation and decided to maintain more sustainable standards in cocoa production by adopting an ambitious goal: 100% of their cocoa should be sustainable by 2018.

Ritter Sport provided Nicaraguan small farmers with education and training programs since the 1990s and in 2001 assisted in creating the first Nicaraguan cocoa cooperative called “Kakaonika”, a term that turned out when they put two words: “cocoa” and “Nicaragua ". After 15 years, this initiative turned into cooperation with more than 3,500 farmers, who are now organized in more than 20 cooperatives. This enterprise is based on agroforestry systems as an environmentally sustainable alternative to cocoa monocultures. The combination of different types of plants allows farmers to get high-quality cocoa and increase revenues. The German partner has adopted a payment model that combines premiums based on quality at market price and fixed purchase volumes. It helps farmers plan and secure their future.

Together with the French chocolate maker CEMOI, Ritter Sport has now created a similar training and trading model in Côte d'Ivoire in Africa. The company views its initiatives as trading partnerships between equal companies, and not as a form of development assistance.

Another example of successful cooperative farming is found in Cuba. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the sudden withdrawal of food and oil support accelerated the agricultural crisis. Almost overnight, fuel, trucks, agricultural equipment, spare parts, fertilizers and pesticides became very scarce. More than 40% of state land was rebuilt into 2,000 new cooperatives, which were managed by workers, who also received garden space to grow food for their families. By 2000, more than 190,000 city dwellers also declared private land on a vacant urban area: small-scale urban production minimized the need for fuel for transport and agricultural equipment. The absence of agrochemicals necessitated agro-ecological production.

Production has increased significantly, and in Cuba’s cities the environment has been favorable for growing crops, often in combination with urban reforestation and ecological farming methods. Organic fertilizer, seed, irrigation and drainage, marketing and technical education programs supported crops and livestock. In these programs, over the past 12 years, more than 350,000 new, well-paid and productive jobs have been created.

Another successful method of organic farming is the "Rice Intensification System" (SRI). It aims to mobilize biological processes that are already present in agricultural plants and in the soil that supports them. It was started in Madagascar in the 1980s by a Jesuit priest and local farmers, who identified methods that improved production in irrigated rice plantations. They gradually expanded to a dry production of rice and many other grains and vegetables.

SRI is a work in progress, "not a material set of components ... that will be used to implement the agricultural revolution [but] ... a set of ideas or developments." Thus, SRI is rarely accepted by market players who seek to sell goods. These ideas were actively disseminated by the mechanisms of civil society and have now reached many developing countries.

SRI innovations include planting seedlings rather than scattering seeds; separate plants; root stimulation mainly due to the construction and maintenance of natural fertility with decomposed organic materials that stimulate soil organisms; avoiding overwetting is particularly useful for irrigated rice, where it has been found that intermittent flooding yields higher yields than traditional methods; and soil aeration during growth.

Proved benefits include: improved yields (sometimes double sizes or more), achieved without the use of improved varieties or agrochemical materials; less need for external costs in general, including savings on water and seeds; and carbon sequestration.

Another new approach to crop management uses the natural relationship between plants and insects. When scientists investigated the ecology of a widespread grassland pest in East Africa, they found that the addition of selected forage plants to the corn fields significantly improved the yield of grain crops and the overall production of the farm. The so-called “push-pull” technology, which emerged from their research, uses natural chemicals for plants that cause insect pests from the intended culture and attract them to other host plants that can withstand the attack. Along the way, scientists have discovered intriguing new properties in the fodder bean crop, desmodium. Being nutritious for dairy cows, it also repels insect pests of maize and significantly reduces damage from swaths, a destructive parasitic weed. In short, the push-pull system improves food security and incomes of farmers in an environmentally friendly way - an ideal contribution to the long-term struggle to reduce hunger and poverty in Africa.

Such examples show that sustainable agriculture is not only possible, but can be extremely beneficial for both people and the environment. Of course, not all environmental initiatives are economically self-sufficient. Funded by donations, many NGOs work in partnership with small-scale companies around the world, providing education and practical participation in various ways. Expanding educational and research programs in partnership with small farmers in the world should be one of the main areas of official development assistance coming from the developed world.

3.5.3 Contributions of the developed world

You can also improve the practice of industrial farming in the developed world. In New South Wales, Australia, Gilgai Farms manages 2,800 hectares of land, transforming the traditional crop / livestock system into a system of holistic management, originally developed by Allan Savori. The farm is multifaceted and produces cattle, sheep (primarily for wool), grain crops, local hardwoods (forest belts and wood) and eucalyptus mallie plantations (to reduce carbon emissions). Keeping livestock in cages imitates the intensity of grazing wild herds, moving the cattle through several pens. Critics claim that the benefits have not been proven, but actual farms in Australia, USA, Argentina,

Gilgai Farms is an example. They gradually create perennial pastures, restore native grasses and use organic preparations for the cultivation of soil microorganisms and the soil in general. Soil damage and high cash costs are minimized, and throughput is increased by about 50%. Profit from the whole farm reflects this success. The carbon footprint of farms is minimized, while emissions of about six tons of CO2 equivalents per hectare per year are reduced.

Harold and Ross Wilkin run an organic farm near Danforth, Illinois, returning excellent returns to investors through Iroquois Valley Farms (IVF), a radical investment company based on long-term capital rather than working capital. The success of IVF depends on the premium paid by global consumers for organic food, enough to balance the three years needed to transform land into organic status in the United States. It also requires long-term investment.

Such initiatives can be encouraged by the governments of developed countries, such as the Danish government, which in 2016 announced that it intends to double the area engaged in organic farming by 2020. This initiative is also good news for the future of agriculture.

To be continued ...

For the translation, thanks to Diana Sheremieva. If you are interested, I invite you to join the "flashmob" to translate a 220-page report. Write in a personal or email

More translations of the report of the Club of Rome 2018


Chapter 1.1.1 “Different types of crises and feelings of helplessness”
Chapter 1.1.2: “Financing”
Chapter 1.1.3: “An Empty World Against Full Peace”

Chapter 3.1: “Regenerative Economics”
Chapter 3.3: “Blue Economy”
Chapter 3.4: “ Decentralized Energy ”
Chapter 3.5:“ Some Success Stories in Agriculture ”
Chapter 3.10:“ Tax on Bits ”
Chapter 3.11:“ Financial Sector Reforms ”
Chapter 3.12:“ Economic System Reforms ”
Chapter 3.13:“ Philanthropy, Investments, Crowdsors and Blockchains ”
Chapter 3.14: “Not a single GDP ...”
Chapter 3.15: “Collective Leadership”
Chapter 3.16: “Ch big government "
Chapter 3.17:" Actions at the national level: China and Bhutan "
Chapter 3.18: “Literacy for the Future”


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