Friday, 14 July 2006 - 1:15 PM

Biologically Intensive Agriculture: Moving towards a Sustainable Future for All.

John W. Doran, University of Nebraska and USDA-ARS cooperator, 116 Keim Hall, East Campus, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE 68583, Cheryl Palm, Tropical Agriculture Program, The Earth Institute at Columbia University, Room 117 Monell Hall, Lamont Campus, 61 Route 9W, P.O. Box 1000, Palisades, NY 10964, Frederick Kirschenmann, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011, and Ken Cassman, University of Nebraska, 377 Plant Science, Dept. of Agronomy & Horticulture, Lincoln, NE 68583-0724.

Our scientific and technological advances during the last fifty some years have allowed us to keep up with a doubling of the world population, produce two to three times more food per unit area of land and save one billion people from starvation. However, the current industrialized infrastructure of our agriculture and society as a whole has also been associated with unprecedented global and environmental degradation and a continued widening income gap between rich and poor. Today, over 800 million people in the world are malnourished and hungry and one billion earn less than one dollar US per day. We are challenged to find resource-friendly ways to meet needs for food and fiber while maintaining environmental stability and conserving resources for future generations. As agricultural scientists, we must translate technology and science into practices that people of the land can embrace to sustain not only themselves but the environments and resources on which we all depend. Alternative forms of agriculture such as Biologically Intensive Agriculture (BIA) can meet the local needs of the poor and disenfranchised in areas with access to sufficient organic inputs. They have the potential to produce green revolution-type yields in small areas (<0.1ha), with only locally-available resources through use of specialized tillage, green manure cover crops, intensive companion crop planting, and application of compost. Compared to conventional agriculture these systems can use 70 to 90% less water, 50 to 100% fewer purchased inputs, 99% less fossil-fuel energy, and greatly rebuild eroded and depleted soils. Over the past three decades, BIA has been effective in over 130 countries, resulting in meeting the basic nutritional and caloric needs of BIA producers while conserving or building soil, environmental, and natural resources. Our major objective is to evaluate the potential for BIA to meet the food and environmental needs of urban and rural poor and to provide a conceptual framework for future agricultural systems to meet the needs of both the people and the land. The claims of BIA will be discussed and compared with best management science-based conventional management for their ability to feed the poor while sustaining essential soil, water, air, food and economic resources. The appropriate methods for making such comparisons will also be discussed. Several case studies will be shared that demonstrate the successful use of BIA in meeting the food, nutritional, and economic needs of the poor.

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