MEKARN Workshop 2008: Organic rabbit production from forages
Sustainable farming system must respond to present challenges (climatic change) and future needs (production of food, feed and fuel). The priorities should be: the maximization of biomass production from available resources of soil, water and people; recycling of all wastes; and selection of technologies that will result in a carbon negative footprint.
Farmers in industrialized countries will have the most difficulties in adapting to this strategy because of the impacts of urbanization and their almost complete dependence on products derived from fossil fuels. Developing countries in tropical latitudes, that still have most of the population in rural areas, are better placed for a future when localization will replace globalization as the basis of sustainable life-styles.
Future farming systems must respond to present challenges (climatic change) and future needs (production of food, feed and fuel). They should be based on:
maximizing biomass production from available resources of soil, water and people;
fractionationof the biomass for diverse end uses;
recycling of all wastes;
selection of technologies that will result in a carbon negative footprint.
Priorities for research and human resource development, based on the above strategy, will be different from those that have dominated agricultural practices during the “oil” age now nearing its peak of production if not already in decline. Before the discovery of oil, agricultural practices were sustainable. They were based on crop rotations, usually including a nitrogen-fixing legume, recycling of live stock manure as fertilizer, with power on the farm provided by animals and people. Productivity per unit area of land was much less, but so was the population the land had to support. The discovery of oil led to its use to produce fertilizers, other agrochemicals and machinery, with resultant higher productivity, which is turn facilitated a dramatic increase in the world population (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Discovery and use of oil facilitated the dramatic increase in world population in the last 100 years (source Campbell 2002)
Now we are faced with a future in which the world population will continue to increase but the means to support it will be in decline. Already, the imbalance between demand and supply of almost all available resources is resulting in massive increases in prices of food and fuel. The UNESCO report (UNESCO 2008) on future research priorities has highlighted the need to reconsider many of the current agricultural practices, in many cases with recommendations to replace them with many of the systems that were the basis of agriculture before the age of oil.
The focus of much of the present day research in agriculture is inappropriate for the changes that are already taking place and which will become more acute in the not too distant future. A classic example is the closing of Faculties of Poultry Science in most of the Universities in the USA, which can no longer compete for staff and resources with the vertically integrated large scale poultry enterprises in the private sector. This industry which depended on cheap cereal grains and cheap transport is now faced with a situation in which these resources have more than doubled in price at a time when demand for the product is falling through the economic crisis reducing the spending power of customers. Intensive enterprises with other livestock species – pigs, rabbits, dairy and beef cattle - are facing similar problems.
What should be the new focus? In the developed countries the production of meat and dairy products needs to be reduced, freeing cereal grains and protein meals for direct human consumption. Indirect effects will be an improvement in human health through a reduction in obesity. Future agricultural production systems must give increasing emphasis to the role of live stock as major sources of power and fertilizer. Farm sizes need to be reduced to facilitate such activities. The aim has to be a greater degree of self-sufficiency with feed for live stock being produced on the farm. Productivity of live stock will decline as high nutrient density feeds – cereal grains and protein meals – will have priority for human needs. Genetically modified (for higher productivity) live stock will almost certainly be at a disadvantage compared with their “unimproved” counterparts, when they have to produce and survive in an environment constrained by feeds with low nutritional density and imbalanced sources of nutrients.
The development of the Internet, and increasing availability of low price computers, have brought about major advantages to researchers in developing countries. Access to knowledge is no longer restricted to the conventional library where information is stored in books and journals. Not only is most of new knowledge (and increasingly old knowledge) available on the Internet but the Internet Search Engines make it possible to access that knowledge instantaneously and in many cases at zero cost. This has important implications for research institutions in developing country, which invariably are ill-served with library facilities.
The efficient management of natural resources for live stock production in a world increasingly less dependent on oil will require a major change in the way that research are conducted. The first step is to develop awareness of the available resources in a given region; this should be followed by research aimed to develop more efficient use of these resources; and finally the development of appropriate farming systems based on the research findings.
Translating this strategy into a forum for improving research capabilities requires that the researchers become part of the production environment so that they can learn by their own experiences. The four components that facilitate this approach are:
an experimental farm dedicated to research and demonstrations of sustainable farming systems, in which researchers can live and learn by participating in practical activities that encourage acquisition of knowledge and skills – both practical and theoretical;
low-cost portable computers
24 hour access to the Internet;
support from facilitators able to offer guidance on how to make best use of the above features
The research and training projects financed by SidaSAREC, initiated in Vietnam in 1994, and expanded in 2001 into the SE Asia region (http://www.mekarn.org), have from the outset embodied the above principles. The positive outcome is evident in the report presented by Ogle (2008).
Campbell C J 2002 Petroleum and people; Population and Environment 24/3 November
Ogle B 2008 The MEKARN MSc Program: A Novel Approach to Postgraduate Training in Sustainable Tropical Livestock-Based Systems. AAAP Satellite Symposium, Hanoi, Vietnam
UNESCO 2008 Executive Summary of the Synthesis Report of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). UNESCO, Paris
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