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Tropentag, September 20 - 22, 2017 in Bonn

"Future Agriculture: Social-ecological transitions and bio-cultural shifts"

The Future of Agriculture: “Land-Use Change” or “Land Changing Uses”?

Anthony Simons

World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Office of the Director General, Kenya


Throughout history when it comes to feeding humanity we have moved through four main phases. In the first phase, we had 140,000 years of being hunter-gatherers and we got pretty good at it such that we were able to colonise most of the planet. Ten thousand years ago in the second phase we became rudimentary cultivators and in several locations created large enough food surpluses to enable population clusters of non-cultivators to form. Not all cultivators produced surplus though and many just subsisted or perished. The third phase over the past 500 years, albeit happening at different rates in different places, saw agriculture emerge as a major commercial enterprise and both provided livelihoods for rural dwellers as well as fed growing urban populations but this came at a high environmental and habitat use cost. And sadly in the developing world the subsisters and perishers still predominated. The “modernisation of agriculture” being the most recent fourth phase has seen food being produced from a third of all terrestrial land (1.5 billion hectares of arable land and 2.8 billion hectares of rangeland and pastures). This phase includes everything from the Asian Green Revolution, to factory farming to satellite guided machinery, but again disgracefully is augmented by a majority of subsisters. So after 5000 generations of humanity it seems pretty clear that agricultural landscapes are too important to ‘only' serve the function of food production. Agricultural landscapes must also serve environmental, social and economic functions as laid out in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Agricultural land needs to broaden its uses rather than changing more land to agriculture – not just for better functioning but also as we are running out of land. This presentation explores how trees - the longest lived lifeforms on Earth can deliver multiple benefits for the SDGs and to secure life on Earth. It sets out an agenda – including for research – on how we might secure these benefits while improving the way agriculture is carried out in both tropical and temperate settings. The presentation sets the ambition for transformation of agriculture and rural land management systems to be sustainable based on improving their productive resilience in an diversified and equitable manner.

Keywords: Agricultural transformation

Contact Address: Anthony Simons, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Office of the Director General, Off Un Avenue Gigiri, Nairobi, Kenya, e-mail: t.simons@cgiar.org

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