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Reports

Bioproductivity, bioresources, agriculture : a tentative short selection of dedicated books, reports, research programs is presented.
These examples point to the central role bioproductivity / biomass / yield are playing in our societies and the need for a global integrated view on agriculture and ecology.

Reports

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment [7] is an international synthesis by over 1000 of the world’s leading biological scientists that analyses the state of the Earth’s ecosystems and provides summaries and guidelines for decision-makers. It concludes that human activity is having a significant and escalating impact on the biodiversity of world ecosystems, reducing both their resilience and biocapacity (AF8). The report refers to natural systems as humanity’s « life-support system », providing essential « ecosystem services ». The assessment evaluates 24 ecosystem services concluding that only four have shown improvement over the last 50 years, 15 are in serious decline, and five are in a precarious condition.


International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development – IAASTD
(http://www.agassessment.org/)
Report, Intergovernmental Plenary Session in Johannesburg, South Africa in April, 2008.

The IAASTD was initiated in 2002 by the World Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) as a global consultative exercise (…).

The IAASTD’s governance structure was a unique hybrid of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the nongovernmental Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA). The composition of the Bureau (…) was geographically balanced (experts in particular) and multistakeholder with 30 government and 30 civil society representatives (NGOs, producer and consumer groups, private sector entities and international organizations) in order to ensure ownership of the process and findings by a range of stakeholders. The reports draw on the work of hundreds of experts from all regions of the world who have participated in the preparation and peer review process.

The IAASTD development and sustainability goals are consistent with a subset of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) : the reduction of hunger and poverty, the improvement of rural livelihoods and human health, and facilitating equitable, socially, environmentally and economically sustainable development. Realizing these goals requires acknowledging the multifunctionality of agriculture. The challenge is to simultaneously meet development and sustainability goals while increasing agricultural production.
Meeting these goals has to be placed in the context of a rapidly changing world of urbanization, growing inequities, human migration, globalization, changing dietary preferences, climate change, environmental degradation, a trend toward biofuels and an increasing population. These conditions are affecting local and global food security and putting pressure on productive capacity and ecosystems. Hence there are unprecedented challenges ahead in providing food within a global trading system where there are other competing uses for agricultural and other natural resources. AKST alone cannot solve these problems, which are caused by complex political and social dynamics, but it can make a major contribution to meeting development and sustainability goals. Never before has it been more important for the world to generate and use AKST.
Given the focus on hunger, poverty and livelihoods, the IAASTD pays special attention to the current situation, issues and potential opportunities to redirect the current AKST system to improve the situation for poor rural people, especially small-scale farmers, rural laborers and others with limited resources. It addresses issues critical to formulating policy and provides information for decision makers confronting conflicting views on contentious issues such as the environmental consequences of productivity increases, environmental and human health impacts of transgenic crops, the consequences of bioenergy development on the environment and on the long-term availability and price of food, and the implications of climate change on agricultural production. The Bureau agreed that the scope of the assessment needed to go beyond the narrow confines of science and technology (S&T) and should encompass other types of relevant knowledge (e.g., knowledge held by agricultural producers, consumers and end users) and that it should also assess the role of institutions, organizations, governance, markets and trade.


The future of food and farming : challenges and choices for global sustainability
[8]
This 2011 report of the UK government analyses why the global food system is neither sustainable, nor efficient and will experience an unprecedented confluence of pressures over the next 40 years. A challenge to food security. it goes over the “perfect storm”, the combination of demographic growth, the reduction of resources required for food production and climate change.
Without change, the global food system will continue to degrade the environment and compromise the world’s capacity to produce food in the future, as well as contributing to climate change and the destruction of biodiversity (…) and widespread problems with soils water resources, over-fishing.

The report points to the need for policy-makers to take a much broader perspective than hitherto when making the choices before them – they need to consider the global food system.
In doing so, empowering farmers and communities at risk of food insecurity and socio-economic collapse appears as a top priority on the political agenda. Two key factors related to production and productivity concern human resources issues :

  • Strengthening rights to land and natural resources, such as water, fisheries and forests should be a high priority.
  • The revitalisation of extension services to increase the skills and knowledge base of food producers (often women) is critical to achieving sustainable increases in productivity in both low-income and high-income countries.

It has been estimated that the application of existing knowledge and technology could increase average yields (i.e. productivity) two- to three-fold in many parts of Africa, and twofold in the Russian Federation. Similarly, global productivity in aquaculture could, with limited changes to inputs, be raised by around 40%. However, in determining where and how much to invest in producing more food, policy-makers will need to consider a range of criteria rather than increases in production alone.


Sustainable food consumption and production in a resource-constrained world, EU commission – Standing Committee on agricultural research (SCAR)
, 3rd foresight exercise, February 2011 [9].
The report evaluates the multiple threats that represent the increasing scarcity of natural resources and destabilization of environmental systems. Many of today´s food production systems compromise the capacity of Earth to produce food in the future. Globally, and in many regions including Europe, food production is exceeding environmental limits or is close to doing so. ... In an era of scarcity, the imperative is to address production and consumption jointly in order to introduce the necessary feedbacks among them and to decouple food production from resource use.
Efficiency and resilience are the new priorities over production levels. This transition cannot be met by following the common narrative of increasing productivity. The narrative of “sufficiency” opens opportunities for transition into sustainable and equitable food systems by a systemic approach that deals with the complex interactions of the challenges founded on a better understanding of socio-ecological systems…
Coherence between food, energy, environmental and health policies and across all levels of governance are prerequisites for a timely transition to sustainable and equitable food systems.

Research programs

The chosen programs, among many others, illustrate what developments are underway on the production and productivity problematic through integrated approaches and platform facilities.

Yield booster program, Why is it important to improve crop productivity ? (http://www.vib.be/en/research/departments/Pages/VIB ; [10])
The global demand for plant-derived products such as feed and food is increasing dramatically, as illustrated by the recent doubling of the price of most commodity crops...

The main questions are :
How can we deal with these growing demands for food, feed and bio-energy ? How can we cope with the fact that we will have to produce more on less arable land, under environmentally more challenging conditions ?

There is an obvious and urgent need to further increase crop productivity. … As yield is the most important trait for breeding, a considerable amount of (eco)physiological research has been conducted on yield performance of crops. In contrast, surprisingly little is known about the molecular networks underpinning crop yield, partly because of its multifactorial nature in which many physiological processes, such as photosynthesis, water and mineral uptake, mobilization of starch and lipid reserves, and stress tolerance determine the resources available to new cells, tissues, and organs.
By using model plants, such as Arabidopsis thaliana and rice, scientists world-wide start to unravel the mechanisms that control plant growth and productivity under both optimal and environmentally less favourable conditions, such as drought.

The aim of the Yield Booster website is to provide the scientific community with information on genes and molecular mechanisms that govern plant growth and productivity through integrated approaches collectively called “systems biology”. Many key genes affecting crop yield and stress tolerance have been identified and spectacular increases in plant productivity have been obtained by using genetic engineering. One major area for biotechnological improvement is boosting up intrinsic crop yield in a sustainable manner with a minimum input of water, fertilizers, and agrochemicals. Biotechnological innovations are also expected to enhance the ability of plants to capture light energy and to convert it into useful products for mankind.

Global Change and Photosynthesis Research Unit [11]
Human activities are altering the composition of the atmosphere, affecting the Earth’s climate system and introducing invasive species, thus altering the capacity of native and agro-ecosystems to provide critical goods and services including food, fiber, fuel, clean air and water.

How (agro)ecosystems will respond to rapid changes in climate / CO2 and water balance are studied by the lab. Impacts of increasing atmospheric CO2 and tropospheric ozone on photosynthesis, canopy energy balance and productivity of soybean, corn, cotton, tomato are being studied in order to discover the mechanistic bases. Understanding these implications for agricultural crops is critical for developing cropping systems resilient to stresses induced by climate change.

In particular, inefficiencies in photosynthetic energy transduction from light interception to carbohydrate synthesis are studied in crops by comparing, for example, photosynthetic and photovoltaic efficiencies and recognizing the potential for improvement by optimizing antenna size to maximize photosynthetic efficiency.

The Genomic Ecology of Global Change Research Theme is developing experimentation under environmentally realistic conditions to investigate the molecular response of plants to meaningful changes in growth conditions and ecological interactions. The main questions are :

  • how changes in networks of genes affect (agro)ecosystem metabolism when challenged by elements of global change, including elevated atmospheric CO2 and ozone, increased drought, and altered interactions with insect herbivores and plant pathogens ;
  • how information obtained from genomes and metabolomes may be used to predict the effect of environmental changes on ecosystem function ;
  • how this information can be formulated into an overarching framework of mathematical modelling.

The Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis (CEES), Oslo [12]
The program primarily combines ecology and evolution (eco-evo). Ecosystems are under increasing pressure from both high exploitation rates and anthropogenic climate change. Environmental changes affect the ecology of species, causing novel selection pressures to which the species respond evolutionarily. Anthropogenic pressures / impacts on the biota reflect how ecology determines the course of evolution, which again determines future ecological dynamics.

The research program challenges further questions :
How do ecological structures and processes, as well as intrinsic processes, act as drivers of, or constraints on, evolution ? What determines the potential for adaptation to environmental change ? What mechanisms ? How long it takes to adapt ?
Approaches to elucidate such questions include :

  • the role of population structuring and evolvability, the potential for adaptation ;
  • extensive use of genetic markers and genomics information in current life history projects ;
  • finding causative genetic variation underlying adaptive events ;
  • epigenetic inheritance to assess trans-generational phenotypic plasticity ;
  • adaptive management of resources by integrating different data sources and key ecological processes.

References

  • Dorst J : La force du vivant. Flammarion ; 1979.
  • Griffon M : Nourrir la planète. Paris : Odile Jacob 2006.
  • Gressel J : Genetic glass ceilings : transgenics for crop biodiversity. Johns Hopkins Univ Pr ; 2008.
  • Sustainable food consumption and production in a resource-constrained world. 2011.

Publié ou mis à jour le 24 octobre 2013