Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Sustainable crops for farmers in the Sertão, Brazil

04.09.2006
The Sertão is the hinterland of the Nordeste region. It is semi-arid, and has traditionally been a zone of extensive animal production. However, some thirty years ago, population growth reduced land availability and necessitated a switch to more intensive production systems. The State opted to promote the Green Revolution. However, due to the difficulty of taking account of the climatic and thus economic risks, the operation was a failure.

In the hope of rectifying matters, controlled, or so-called "agroecological", modernization was launched a decade ago. It is based on the assumption that systems can be made more productive by changing farming practices. In particular, the idea is to make better use of the available water, soils and biodiversity so as to produce more biomass.

The aim is also to manage biomass more efficiently, so as both to feed ever-larger numbers of animals and ensure that minerals and organic matter are returned to the soil and thus to crops. The need now is to judge the efficacy of these new practices. What indicators should be chosen with a view to sustainable development?

To answer that question, researchers at CIRAD and EMBRAPA suggested a methodology for establishing indicators of production system sustainability. It comprised three stages: establishing a conceptual framework, padding out that framework with field surveys, and comparing the suggested indicators with those put forward by farmers, to ensure their relevance.

The first two stages resulted in a set of eight indicators: changes in the area of native vegetation, mineral balance, production revenues and costs, fodder balance, the proportion of the fodder balance drawn from outside the farm, changes in animal numbers, changes in security areas and diversification of sources of agricultural income. They resulted from a conceptual framework based on three tenets. Firstly, the production areas and biomass flows within the farm were characterized so as to understand and assess the farmer's production strategy. Farming practices are geared towards producing and managing biomass flows.

It is those flows that change a farm's resource status from an initial situation at the start of the farming season to a final situation at the end. For instance, harvesting fodder crops reduces the mineral reserves in a plot at the end of the season and increases fodder supplies at farm level. These changes are quantifiable and can be expressed as a balance. The proposed indicators thus correspond to end-of-season balances of the farm's resource status.

The researchers then talked to farmers. For farmers, a farm is sustainable if it enables them to feed their family and animals. It is difficult for them to identify the problems on their farm. In general, they put them down to climatic conditions alone. They also have trouble ranking criteria that are in fact interrelated and are often just different ways of qualifying the same thing. The criteria established by farmers, such as obtaining larger areas of land, improving their profits or increasing herd size, all belonged to the list established by the researchers. They also reflect aspects that were not in the list of criteria, such as labour constraints, which suggested it would be wise to include an assessment of the "labour" resource in the analysis.

Such an approach enables farmers to understand how their farming systems function, by placing their sustainability criteria in a grid that includes biomass flows and resource balances. It enables them to rank their problems and identify the real difficulties they face. The indicators have now been applied to around ten farms. In particular, the results have led farmers to rethink the fodder supply and demand balance. They have also prompted them to think about how they might diversify their supply. The analysis framework is thus a way of helping farmers think about their practices and the possibilities of changing them.

This study has already contributed to a change in practices among the farmers who took part. The next step is to validate the sustainability indicators by taking account of the parameters that are missing: the labour resource, which is a major production factor, and water resource flows.

Helen Burford | alfa
Further information:
http://www.cirad.fr/en/actualite/communique.php?id=518

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht Fighting a destructive crop disease with mathematics
21.06.2017 | University of Cambridge

nachricht Unusual soybean coloration sheds a light on gene silencing
20.06.2017 | University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences

All articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>