Worldwatch Institute Reports Innovations in Sustainable Agriculture

Recently the Worldwatch Institute released its 2011 State of the World Report, Nourishing the Planet, which focuses on global examples of innovations in sustainable agriculture and food systems. The report highlights innovation projects around the world, focusing specifically on examples that feature urban farming, are combating climate change, and reducing or preventing food waste. The 15 projects in Nourishing the Planet show particularly exciting and inspiring trends that Worldwatch hopes to see replicated far and wide, both in the developing world and beyond.

Much of the Worldwatch Institute's research, which is primarily concerned with the synthesis of the green economy, food and sustainable agriculture, and the climate and energy crisis, is conducted in sub-Saharan Africa. Researchers spent last year traveling around 25 African countries, visiting the places where hunger and agriculture are two of the most common characteristics, and earning about projects that bring hope to such areas. Almost 50 years after the Green Revolution, the global hunger problem is still extreme, with 239 million hungry in sub-Saharan Africa alone. However the projects like those picked up by Worldwatch vouch for innovative  and unconventional agriculture, rather than another, similar Green Revolution, which clearly has not solved the issue of hunger. Most importantly, the innovations are often prime examples of sustainable agriculture that addresses rural and community development problems through a holistic approach, strengthening the economy, restoring the environment, educating citizens, and building community for the future.

Not surprisingly, among the 15 featured projects were several school garden programs. In Uganda the Developing Innovations in School Cultivation program combines indigenous vegetable gardens, nutritional education , and food preparation into the curriculum. The goal of the program is not only  to teach children how to grow indigenous crops and thereby  help improve food security, but also with the intent to revitalize the country’s unique traditional food culture. Furthermore, the students are encouraged to think of agriculture and farming as a respectable prospective career, and something that's vital to the future health of their country.

Another highlight of the report is the role of traditional, pastoral-based people groups like Kenya's Masai in preserving Africa's biodiversity of plants and animals. This is particularly important in the wake of the Green Revolution and the monoculture specter that still looms large in many places. Projects that work to increase the land rights of the people who know the most about the importance of genetic biodiversity  like the Masai are cropping up, such as the African LIFE Network. There are also major efforts to restore soil health as a means to increase production, versus developing new seeds that will have higher yields. Restoring the health of the soil aids in trapping carbon, as does agro-forestry and other innovative agricultural methods.

Other examples of Africa's success in agriculture include collectives, farming opportunities for women, safe waste water irrigation, solar cooking, and rooftop co-operative farming. They are simple, low-cost, and effective in addressing both the root of the problem and the bigger picture. Additionally many of these are models that can be scaled up and adapted anywhere, from rural Southeast Asia to New York City. To learn more about the case studies and Worldwatch,  find the link to the Nourishing the Planet policy briefs on their blog.

photo credit: grant haynes