Policy changes

Improving farming and protecting the future

Agricultural policy must improve water and oil efficiency in farming, reduce topsoil erosion, extend seed-bank archives, and urgently research ecosystem-failures


Agricultural policy must improve water and oil efficiency in farming, reduce topsoil erosion, extend seed-bank archives, and urgently research ecosystem-failures. In terms of farming, governments should encourage far-greater water productivity – if necessary by charging for extraction of water from aquifers – and incentives should be offered to biotech corporations to fast-track cost-effective alternatives to the current oil-based products used for everything from powering farm machinery to making pesticides.

Agriculture itself must be streamlined to reduce inefficient use of such oil-derived products. And topsoil must be protected from erosion – for instance by using ‘no till’ approaches that do not require farmers to plough their land or irrigate as much. This is an emerging form of agriculture that allows farmers to grow crops without disturbing the soil – and so reduces topsoil erosion. The land also tends to need less water. In contrast, advanced techniques such as hydroponics require very little water and no soil – but need a higher level of skill and discipline.

As a protection against the extinction of plant species, especially those from rainforests, the international community must continue to fund and extend comprehensive seed-banks. It now appears that most seeds stored in carefully-controlled refrigeration facilities can be kept alive for maybe a thousand years. A few plants that have what are known as ‘recalcitrant’ seeds (such as avocado, cocoa, lychee, mango and rubber) cannot be protected in this way because the seeds do not survive long-term storage. But for these species, the plants themselves can be constantly recultivated.

Finally, urgent analyses of systemic ecosystem failures (whether of bees or rainforests) must reflect their full economic impacts so that – linking back to the tabs relating to Industrialization Crises – the True Costing of activities such as hand-pollination or maintaining hedgerows can be built into policy making.