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David Brazier, IWMI.

Podcast: Andrew Noble on feeding the future

Compelling discussion, commentary, stories on agriculture within thriving ecosystems.

It is no coincidence that we're launching the Thrive podcast today, World Environment Day. The theme this year is sustainable consumption and production, and that's exactly what drives the podcast's first guest.

Andrew Noble is Director of the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems. A soil scientist by training, his career has been spent developing the idea that only a holistic approach to agriculture can deliver the kind of sustainability that is all about. That means innovative solutions to formidable problems, like planting liquorice to restore croplands lost to salinity.

Women working on a farm in India. Photo: Hamish John Appleby/IWMI Women working on a farm in India.
Photo: Hamish John Appleby/IWMI

It also means recognising that current approaches to mineral fertilisers need to be rethought in the context of farming systems. Ecosystem services -- the things nature provides for free that support human lives -- have to be protected and valued if we are to stand any chance of feeding the world's growing population in the long-term.

These are just some of the topics Andrew Noble talks about, explaining how he reached his present understanding and how he hopes the future will unfold. 

The focus of farming systems will have to shift. At the moment, research and development focuses on boosting productivity, with not much regard for the environmental consequences. To achieve sustainable intensification, we need to think more about the management of ecosystems and farm systems within them. "The world’s two billion small-scale farmers will be the pioneers called upon to deliver this vital change," was how he put it in a recent article.

He's optimistic that change is possible, citing a growing groundswell of opinion among crop scientists that business as usual is not going to deliver the sustainable food systems, resilient and able to adapt to climate change, that we need to feed the future.

"Using ecosystems as part of the solution will be essentially the game changer," he says. 

Listen to the podcast:

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