Increasing yields on existing agricultural land is the future

Speaking at one of IFAD’s Climate and Environment Lectures, Doctor Tim Searchinger focused  his analysis of the livestock industry in developing countries and its potential for sustainable intensification.

Tim Searchinger is a Research Scholar at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School, and also a Senior Fellow of the World Resources Institute, where he is the technical director of its World Resources Report on global agriculture.

''In the specific countries we have looked at, there are win-win opportunities to boost the productivity and incomes for small farmers in ways that protect forests and reduce greenhouse gas(GHG) emissions'', Searchinger  said.

Climate smart agriculture (CSA) is an essential part of the work that IFAD is doing in rural areas. But increasing yields in a sustainable way without expanding the amount of farm land or overusing the current land is a tough process. Climate smart agriculture can hold the key.

Searchinger discussed three separate case studies: Vietnam, Colombia and Zambia, and then tied them together to discuss implications at the global level. He stated that with growing populations the agriculture sector will have to expand, but simultaneously must reduce emissions by 70 per cent by 2050.

In Colombia and Vietnam, a detailed analysis of inefficient livestock systems has identified  opportunities for improvements in beef and dairy systems, with associated  consequences for production, income, land use and emissions.

''Colombia has a difference in emissions of a factor of 6 (of CO2e/Kg of meat) from one region to another'', he said. This means the amount of emissions per kilogram of meat or litre of milk are up to six times that of cattle raised using  climate-smart practices.

''So the problem is, we need to produce 70 percent more food. Doing that without increasing emissions at all is going to be very, very hard. Doing that in the developing world without increasing emissions at all is probably impossible. But by being more efficient in our use of land, animals and inputs, we can hold down emissions a lot,''.

Boosting the productivity of livestock is an enormous opportunity to reduce greenhouse gases. Agriculture currently accounts for 13 per cent of all emissions. If CSA can be scaled up, there may still be a rise in net emissions, but it will be a fraction of what emissions would be in a business as usual scenario, and they will be  offset even further by  increased productivity and yields.