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Tue, 22 Nov 2016

Feed the world

A James Cook University scientist has come up with a novel approach to feed the world’s growing population and look after the environment at the same time.

JCU’s Professor Iain Gordon is the lead author of a new book outlining how agriculture and the environment can benefit each other.

He said the need is pressing. “Feeding the world's growing human population is increasingly challenging, especially as more people adopt a western diet and lifestyle.

“It’s thought that meeting the food needs of nine billion people in the future will require over 120 million hectares of land being converted to cropland in developing countries alone.”

Professor Gordon said that means things have to change.

“We’ll end up with lose-lose if we continue on as we are. Nature will be relegated to a small percentage of protected areas. Agriculture will have to be highly intensified relying on large amounts of inputs of fertiliser, herbicides, pesticides and water, with significant negative impacts on nature.”

He said there are substantial political barriers to change, with environment a lower priority than agriculture within all levels of government, but alternate ways of operating are available.

“We could, as one example, provide habitats for pollinators on agricultural land. We’d avoid the situation they have in China where, because of the large amounts of pesticides used, much of the fruit grown in that country now relies on people hand-pollinating the trees. That’s a massive labour investment when nature could do the job for free.”

Professor Gordon said what the book proposes is different from ‘nature-friendly farming’ where farmers instigate practices such as setting aside farming land for biodiversity.

“Nature-friendly farming is about supporting biodiversity on agricultural land without necessarily focusing on the potential benefits that biodiversity can play in supporting agriculture. The focus has been on protecting one from the impacts of the other. We’re arguing now that nature and agriculture can, and should, work together and ultimately benefit from one another.”

The book, Food Production and Nature Conservation, will be launched on November 22.

Link to pics: http://bit.ly/2fZ6grW

Contacts

Contact:  Professor Iain Gordon
P: (07) 4781 6514
E: dvctes@jcu.edu.au