Closing the Knowledge Gap: How the USDA Could Tap the Potential of Biologically Diversified Farming Systems
AbstractModern agriculture has proven highly productive, yet has simultaneously generated environmental and social impacts of global concern. Pressing environmental issues call into question the ability of the current model of industrial agriculture to sustain adequate yields without undermining the natural resource base upon which it depends. Meanwhile, global food needs are projected to double by 2050, raising questions over the need to further intensify agricultural production. Current research demonstrates that biologically diversified farming systems can meet global food needs sustainably and efficiently, as they outperform chemically managed monocultures across a wide range of globally important ecosystem services while producing sufficient yields and reducing resource waste throughout the food system. Research and development related to diversified systems, however, commands less than two percent of public agricultural research funding. We argue that this "knowledge gap" is at the crux of the "yield gap" that is often raised as the impediment to transitioning a greater share of global agriculture to diversified, agroecological production. If United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) research, education, and extension were to shift significantly toward agroecology and biologically diversified farming systems, the potential to address global resource challenges would be enormous. Here we present a broad framework for how the USDA could use existing infrastructure to address the challenges of food and farming in the twenty-first century and beyond.
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