Resource-Conserving Agriculture Increases Yields in Developing Countries

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Abstract or Summary

Despite great recent progress, hunger and poverty remain widespread and agriculturally driven environmental damage is widely prevalent. The idea of agricultural sustainability centers on the need to develop technologies and practices that do not have adverse effects on environmental goods and services, and that lead to improvements in food productivity. Here we show the extent to which 286 recent interventions in 57 poor countries covering 37 M ha (3% of the cultivated area in developing countries) have increased productivity on 12.6 M farms while improving the supply of critical environmental services. The average crop yield increase was 79% (geometric mean 64%). All crops showed water use efficiency gains, with the highest improvement in rainfed crops. Potential carbon sequestered amounted to an average of 0.35 t C ha-1 y-1. If a quarter of the total area under these farming systems adopted sustainability enhancing practices, we estimate global sequestration could be 0.1 Gt C y-1. Of projects with pesticide data, 77% resulted in a decline in pesticide use by 71% while yields grew by 42%. Although it is uncertain whether these approaches can meet future food needs, there are grounds for cautious optimism, particularly as poor farm households benefit more from their adoption.

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