Una nuova rivoluzione agricola è alle porte: è intelligente, è glocale ed è orientata verso i piccoli agricoltori.
In 2000, the Millennium Declaration (MD) promoted the target to ''halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger''.
However, the global financial crisis and the subsequent economic instability have inevitably hindered hunger eradication, vanishing in this way the first of the Millennium Development Goals. Food security still remains a global issue: in 2016, 108 million of individuals are recorded to be affected by this condition and the phenomenon does not tend to decline. Moreover, in the last decades the challenge has become twofold: beside eradicating hunger and poverty, stabilizing the global climate is the new necessity.
In adopting the goals of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the international community took responsibility for building a sustainable future; this perspective, combined with the twofold challenge, requires a profound transformation of food and agriculture systems worldwide.
Eliminating rural poverty is crucial to eradicating hunger and poverty globally. Nowadays, the sheer number of smallholder farm families (Figure 1) in developing countries – around 475 million – justifies a specific focus on the threat posed by climate change to their livelihoods and the urgent need to transform those livelihoods along sustainable pathways. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to eradicate global poverty and end hunger without building resilience to climate change in smallholder agriculture through the widespread adoption of sustainable land, water, fisheries and forestry management practices (FAO Report, 2016).
In this challenging framework, traditional green agriculture techniques are not sufficient anymore. A new agriculture revolution is rising: it is smart, it is glocal and it is smallholder – farmers oriented.
There is no single answer: new techniques and technologies are diversified and customized to different needs. Facing different constraints and opportunities, rural populations across the world do have different possible pathways out of poverty. Those with good linkages to rapidly expanding markets have a different set of opportunities with respect to those in more remote areas. Demography also matters; in sub-Saharan Africa, the future agricultural population will be young, with smaller areas of land to farm; in parts of Asia, the population is likely to be older and farm sizes bigger. In some cases, farmland consolidation will be needed to facilitate access to high value market chains.
The Figure 2 synthetizes the most recent improved agriculture technologies, highlighting the change in 2050 in the number of people at risk of poverty after the adoption of improved technologies.
The most suitable improved agricultural technology varies according to local, environmental and socio – economic factors: nevertheless, some common characteristics can be identified.
1) Improved agricultural technologies are labour – intensive. Preserving and boosting high level of productivity is crucial to ensure food for the entire population (Figure 3), but an intense use of machine and mechanized techniques is simply not pursuable in developing countries; on the contrary, in order to use local resources and avoid large mechanized importation, techniques which uses labour – intense methodologies might provide the right answer.
2) Improved agricultural technologies are smart. Using labour for boosting productivity in agriculture does not mean to go back on the technological ladder. Smart farming is becoming cheap and affordable; collecting data on humidity, temperature and other crop performance characteristics creates an extremely valuable box of information that can improve efficiency and efficacy of local landraces and workers.
3) Improved agricultural technologies are territorial. Productivity of agriculture is intrinsically related to the productivity of landraces, the local variety which has been cultivated for centuries in the area and have acquired resilience to the local climate, such as resistance to drought or high temperature variation.
4) Improved agricultural technologies are innovative. Tradition traces the path, but it is innovation to allow us to run through it in the most suitable way. Indeed, territorial landraces alone might not be a sufficient tool to improve the productivity and the profitability of smallholder farmers alone: innovation and new improvements in the rural field (or in other research fields) are also key ingredients for sustainable growth. On – gene breeding, genetic improvements of landraces and in-situ cultivation are just some of the several examples that can be made to support this thesis.
5) Improved agricultural technologies are communitarian. Smallholder farmers are a mass movement nowadays and their strength relies in being more than the sum of single farmer households. Participatory instruments such as seed banks and living lab community are raising in reply of a global need that goes under the name of farmers’ empowerment.
Figure 4 summarizes the five characteristics.
Sustainable Development Goals are ambitious and difficult to meet. However, failing would transfer the message that sustainable development is a fancy concept, which can be postponed over and over. Improved agricultural technologies do exist today and are not an abstract approach (Figure 5). Examples can be found in Asia and Africa, as well as in Latin America. In this perspective, QF opens with this article a new column devoted to the new Agricultural revolution: less up-to-the-news with respect to the one called Industry 4.0, but as least as powerful.
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