Saturday, 15 July 2006

Biologically Intensive Agriculture - Renewing Earth and Its People.

John Beeby, Molecular Diagnostic Lab, Cornell Univ, 344 Halseyville Road, Ithaca, NY 14850, John W. Doran, Univ of Nebraska and USDA-ARS cooperator, 116 Keim Hall, East Campus, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE 68583, and John Jeavons, Ecology Action, 5798 Ridgewood Road, Willits, CA 95490.

The common challenge faced by all people on earth is balancing the needs of the earth with the needs of people for food, shelter, and an acceptable quality of life. Twentieth-century food production was shaped by technical revolutions in mechanization, irrigation, fertilization, plant breeding, energy and information technologies. Our next revolution will be a return to using biological basics to meet many of the greatest threats of the new millennium as identified by the 2000 UN Millennium Summit: poverty, war, environmental degradation, and disease (AIDS). Green revolution and industrial agricultural technologies in the past have produced enough food to meet the needs of our increasing world population, yet today almost one billion people in the world are hungry and nutritionally insecure; the food is not accessible to those who need it the most. Several models exist for helping the poor and hungry. If you give a hungry person a fish, you feed them for one day; if you teach them to fish, you enable them to meet their own needs. For the hungry to be able to feed themselves, they must be provided useful and appropriate tools and knowledge and access to farmable land. Grow Biointensive agriculture is a means to meet the needs of the poor and disenfranchised. With Grow Biointensive agriculture, simple, human-powered tools, open-pollinated seeds and a collection of ecological techniques allows a farmer to produce food and some income sustainably on a small area of land (<0.05 ha). Key components of Grow Biointensive agriculture include: Double-dug, raised beds until soil structure is optimized; on-farm compost production by growing carbon-rich and leguminous compost crops; close crop spacing; continuous crop production; food crops that provide high levels of calories and nutrients from a small area; and careful selection of income crops to provide maximum income while minimizing soil nutrient exportation. Grow Biointensive agriculture, compared to conventional agriculture, uses: 70-90% less water (due to the establishment of higher soil organic matter levels, near continuous soil coverage by crops, and adequate fertility for root and plant health); 50 to 100% fewer purchased inputs; 99% less energy (for example, 43 calories are produced from biointensively grown onions per calorie used compared to 1 calorie produced per calorie used from conventionally grown U.S. onions). Grow Biointensive agriculture can rebuild eroded and depleted soils, and sequester significant amounts of carbon. Over the past three decades, this system of farming has been used successfully in over 130 countries, and specific examples of the successes biologically intensive agriculture has had in feeding people in Argentina and Kenya are described in other papers in this symposium. In the years to come, we expect Grow Biointensive agriculture to continue to enable farmers, even those with limited land, resources and money, to help alleviate hunger in their communities and the world.

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