Over the last fifty years agriculture in Europe has changed a lot. Agriculture is now an industry, with production schemes and marketing methods. Only a small percentage of the population is involved in agriculture, many more in food processing and distribution. Developing countries face similar developments.
Increasingly we see reports on negative impacts of agriculture on the environment, and vice versa. Industrialized production of livestock or inappropriate applications of fertilizer or pesticides have damaged the reputation of agriculture. Part of the greenhouse gases, which cause environmental problems and climate change, originate from agricultural activities, e.g. rice production or cattle farming.
On the other hand agriculture is also affected by environmental changes, most directly by climate change. The frequency and severity of droughts and floods are increasing. Droughts in southern Europe, the Middle East and Africa have a direct impact on crop yields. Floods not only destroy crops directly; their indirect impact on soil degradation may also be significant. Increased incidence of pests, such as locusts in Africa, is likely due to increased temperatures. An intact environment is a prerequisite for the production of healthy food, in Europe as well as in developing countries. Because people in developing countries depend much more on agriculture for their livelihood, the balance between agriculture and the environment is even more important in developing countries than it is in Europe.
In Africa soil erosion and/or water shortages can directly induce desertification and thus lead to drastically reduced agricultural production. The production is very often below the level of subsistence. People then do not have the purchasing power for education and health. Governments are lacking the funds to import food from other countries or regions.
In order to reduce negative impact from interactions between agriculture and environment, more research is required. The tasks are complex and time-consuming. The Agriculture and Environment Foundation wants to make a contribution through support of scientific research, particulary in and for developing countries.
Possible areas of research are:
- Breeding of varieties adapted to scarce water resources
- New concepts for feeding ruminants producing lower levels of methane and other greenhouse gases
- Development of alternatives to ‘slash and burn’
- Improvements in rice production
- Development of afforestation schedules/programs accepted and implemented by the people concerned