Food and Fertilizer Technology Center - publications

Jun. 01, 2002

Issues in the Management of Agricultural Resources


Over the past few decades, the technology of the
Green Revolution has expanded food production all over the
region. Indeed, the Center was established in 1970 in order to
collect and disseminate information about this new technology.
The aim was to help the region's farmers increase food
production and improve their incomes. In the short term, the
technology of chemical fertilizers and high-yielding varieties has
been very successful, and has increased crop yields wherever
it has been adopted.

However today, several decades later, these
yield increases from intensive high-input monoculture are
becoming smaller, or even showing a reverse trend. A major cause is
the pressure on the environment from modern
intensive agriculture. Every country is suffering from similar
problems of inappropriate use of resources, including the felling
of forests, overuse of slopelands, and agricultural use of
marginal lands leading to environmental deterioration. There
is widespread degradation of the agricultural resource
base, with a serious decline in the quality of many
agricultural soils, waterways and forests. There has been a decline,
not only in the quality of resources used for agriculture, but
also in their quantity, as water and land are diverted for industrial
use.



Sustainable agriculture needs a sustainable
resource base. To celebrate its 30th Anniversary, the Center held
a meeting to discuss the situation of the region's
agricultual resources. Participants at this meeting discussed the
present situation of agricultural resources on a regional and
global level, and the major problems we face in trying to
managing these resources efficiently. Most important, suggestions
were made about ways in which the situation might be
improved. The meeting was intended to provide useful information
to countries in the region, and also to serve as a guide to
the Center in the planning of its future work programs.



Major Issues in the Management of Agricultural Resources



The papers presented at the Seminar focused on
three main themes:

  • Strategic and thematic global goals in the
    management of agricultural resources;
  • Global resources capacity and
    management mechanisms;
  • Future activities and challenges.


Global Goals in the Management of Agricultural Resources



The first theme included discussions of one of the
most important global goals in agriculture: food security.
This included more than just supply and demand: it also
considered food availability and safety, poverty alleviation
and food affordability, global food trading and quality
standards, and the environmental threshold and capacity.



Global Resource Capacity



The second theme, of global resource capacity,
included discussions on planning and decision making
tools, including the geographical approach (using remote
sensing and other sources of data) and the statistical approach.



Activities and Challenges



The third theme, future activities and challenges,
discussed the practical technology which could directly
or indirectly benefit Asian smallholders by improving the
ways in which agricultural resources are used and managed.
One important technology is improved cropping systems,
discussed in several paper presentations. Including a
particular crop or variety in a rotation may have a marked impact on
the nutrient uptake of the following crop. It was suggested
during the Final Discussion that crop management may have
the potential of reducing the need for fertilizers and other
inputs, while giving farmers a better return. Another paper
presentation discussed a program to achieve precision soil and
plant nutrient management in the Philippines on rice farms.
Methods of achieving this included the correction of
micronutrient deficiencies and the promotion of compost.



Other paper presentations discussed the
management of genetic resources, including the breeding of
transgenic rice with new commercially valuable properties, and
improved composting and recycling for livestock wastes
and other agricultural by-products. Another case study
discussed how good planning and an ecological approach could
retain biological diversity in the rural ecosystem. The value of
a multi-disciplinary approach to technology innovation
was emphasized.



Improving the Management of Agricultural Resources



The Final Discussion emphasized that future
activities and challenges should include a balanced approach to
food and water security. There is a need for cutting edge
technology, "Selecting the best of the best", including
developing the potential of biotechnology. However, this should
be combined with a consideration of who in Asia is
benefiting from this technology. Those who are resource poor should
be involved in technology development and transfer.



Furthermore, agriculture has multiple functions
which are not reflected in the price of agricultural
commodities. The failure of market prices to reflect environmental
costs was suggested as an important issue, and perhaps could
be termed "market failure".



Several participants suggested that the role of
farmers as stewards of the rural landscape should be emphasized.
In the management of agricultural resources, it is farmers
who have most at stake. They are also the ones who are in
practice doing most of the managing. FFTC should pay attention
to farmers' needs and constraints, in developing
information programs to manage agricultural resources more efficiently.



However, in the societies of today, farmers are
also part of a complex series of linkages. Good management
of resources can not just be left to individual farmers. It
needs good government policies, and an understanding of
the constraints affecting farmers.



Conclusion



The seminar provided the Center with
valuable concepts and topics for its future work plans. One was
the emphasis on evaluating the risks and benefits of new
technology such as genetically modified crops, particularly from
the viewpoint of Asian smallholders. Another was the
necessity to monitor the status of important agricultural resources
such as water, soil and biodiversity.



An important information need of Asian farmers
is related to crop selection. This should be based on
multiple factors, including prospective supply and demand,
both domestic and international. Crop and variety selection
is also a vital part of improved cropping systems, in which
the management of plant nutrients and water integrates
the needs, not of a single crop, but of multiple successive crops.



Good nutrient management is a cornerstone
of sustainable agriculture. This includes the management
of both macronutrients and micronutrients, and the use
of recycled farm wastes and other organic
fertilizers, Smallholders need reliable and cost effective methods
of identifying the nutrient status of crops, and meeting
nutrient and requirements in a sustainable way. Sustainable
agriculture must not only protect the environment and consider
the long-term impact of agriculture on the resource base. It
must also be profitable for farmers, and sustain rural communities.
Policy change may sometimes be as decisive as
improved technology in improving the management of resources.
This generally involves participation by local users in both
planning and management, as in the PIM (Participatory
Irrigation Management) irrigation programs.



Finally, the world's food supply depends in
many regions on the availability of water. This is becoming
an increasingly scarce resource, as demands for it
increase. Water-saving strategies in irrigated cropping systems,
and better adaptation of crops to limited water and
nutrient availability, are key issues for research.



International Seminar on Issues in the Management of Agricultural Resources



Held at the Library Conference Hall, National
Taiwan University



No. of papers presented: 15



No. of participants: 200



Cosponsors: National Taiwan University



Council of Agriculture, Executive Yuan,
Taiwan ROC

Index of Images



  • Figure 1 Desertification As a Result of Climatic Change and Poor Land Management

    Figure 1 Desertification As a Result of Climatic Change and Poor Land Management


  • Figure 2 Paddy Field Polluted by an Oil Spill

    Figure 2 Paddy Field Polluted by an Oil Spill





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