However today, several decades later, these yield increases from intensive high-input monoculture are becoming smaller, or even showing a reverse trend. A major cause is the pressure on the environment from modern intensive agriculture. Every country is suffering from similar problems of inappropriate use of resources, including the felling of forests, overuse of slopelands, and agricultural use of marginal lands leading to environmental deterioration. There is widespread degradation of the agricultural resource base, with a serious decline in the quality of many agricultural soils, waterways and forests. There has been a decline, not only in the quality of resources used for agriculture, but also in their quantity, as water and land are diverted for industrial use.
Sustainable agriculture needs a sustainable resource base. To celebrate its 30th Anniversary, the Center held a meeting to discuss the situation of the region's agricultual resources. Participants at this meeting discussed the present situation of agricultural resources on a regional and global level, and the major problems we face in trying to managing these resources efficiently. Most important, suggestions were made about ways in which the situation might be improved. The meeting was intended to provide useful information to countries in the region, and also to serve as a guide to the Center in the planning of its future work programs.
Major Issues in the Management of Agricultural Resources
The papers presented at the Seminar focused on three main themes:
- Strategic and thematic global goals in the management of agricultural resources;
- Global resources capacity and management mechanisms;
- Future activities and challenges.
Global Goals in the Management of Agricultural Resources
The first theme included discussions of one of the most important global goals in agriculture: food security. This included more than just supply and demand: it also considered food availability and safety, poverty alleviation and food affordability, global food trading and quality standards, and the environmental threshold and capacity.
Global Resource Capacity
The second theme, of global resource capacity, included discussions on planning and decision making tools, including the geographical approach (using remote sensing and other sources of data) and the statistical approach.
Activities and Challenges
The third theme, future activities and challenges, discussed the practical technology which could directly or indirectly benefit Asian smallholders by improving the ways in which agricultural resources are used and managed. One important technology is improved cropping systems, discussed in several paper presentations. Including a particular crop or variety in a rotation may have a marked impact on the nutrient uptake of the following crop. It was suggested during the Final Discussion that crop management may have the potential of reducing the need for fertilizers and other inputs, while giving farmers a better return. Another paper presentation discussed a program to achieve precision soil and plant nutrient management in the Philippines on rice farms. Methods of achieving this included the correction of micronutrient deficiencies and the promotion of compost.
Other paper presentations discussed the management of genetic resources, including the breeding of transgenic rice with new commercially valuable properties, and improved composting and recycling for livestock wastes and other agricultural by-products. Another case study discussed how good planning and an ecological approach could retain biological diversity in the rural ecosystem. The value of a multi-disciplinary approach to technology innovation was emphasized.
Improving the Management of Agricultural Resources
The Final Discussion emphasized that future activities and challenges should include a balanced approach to food and water security. There is a need for cutting edge technology, "Selecting the best of the best", including developing the potential of biotechnology. However, this should be combined with a consideration of who in Asia is benefiting from this technology. Those who are resource poor should be involved in technology development and transfer.
Furthermore, agriculture has multiple functions which are not reflected in the price of agricultural commodities. The failure of market prices to reflect environmental costs was suggested as an important issue, and perhaps could be termed "market failure".
Several participants suggested that the role of farmers as stewards of the rural landscape should be emphasized. In the management of agricultural resources, it is farmers who have most at stake. They are also the ones who are in practice doing most of the managing. FFTC should pay attention to farmers' needs and constraints, in developing information programs to manage agricultural resources more efficiently.
However, in the societies of today, farmers are also part of a complex series of linkages. Good management of resources can not just be left to individual farmers. It needs good government policies, and an understanding of the constraints affecting farmers.
The seminar provided the Center with valuable concepts and topics for its future work plans. One was the emphasis on evaluating the risks and benefits of new technology such as genetically modified crops, particularly from the viewpoint of Asian smallholders. Another was the necessity to monitor the status of important agricultural resources such as water, soil and biodiversity.
An important information need of Asian farmers is related to crop selection. This should be based on multiple factors, including prospective supply and demand, both domestic and international. Crop and variety selection is also a vital part of improved cropping systems, in which the management of plant nutrients and water integrates the needs, not of a single crop, but of multiple successive crops.
Good nutrient management is a cornerstone of sustainable agriculture. This includes the management of both macronutrients and micronutrients, and the use of recycled farm wastes and other organic fertilizers, Smallholders need reliable and cost effective methods of identifying the nutrient status of crops, and meeting nutrient and requirements in a sustainable way. Sustainable agriculture must not only protect the environment and consider the long-term impact of agriculture on the resource base. It must also be profitable for farmers, and sustain rural communities. Policy change may sometimes be as decisive as improved technology in improving the management of resources. This generally involves participation by local users in both planning and management, as in the PIM (Participatory Irrigation Management) irrigation programs.
Finally, the world's food supply depends in many regions on the availability of water. This is becoming an increasingly scarce resource, as demands for it increase. Water-saving strategies in irrigated cropping systems, and better adaptation of crops to limited water and nutrient availability, are key issues for research.
International Seminar on Issues in the Management of Agricultural Resources
Held at the Library Conference Hall, National Taiwan University
No. of papers presented: 15
No. of participants: 200
Cosponsors: National Taiwan University
Council of Agriculture, Executive Yuan, Taiwan ROC
Index of Images
Figure 1 Desertification As a Result of Climatic Change and Poor Land Management
Figure 2 Paddy Field Polluted by an Oil Spill