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Factfile: Feeding the world

Could hi-tech farming eliminate hunger? Click on the bar to read the key arguments about the future of food production


Organic or intensive farming?

Improving knowledge

Sharing the food
Slovanian peasant farmer repairing irrigation system
Access to irrigation expertise could benefit farmers
Improving knowledge

Advocates of a "third way", which combines the best of intensive farming practices with many of the environmental concerns of organic devotees, talk about the importance of education and information.

They argue that, armed with knowledge, farmers would be better able to chose if, when and in what quantities chemicals should be used.

For example, if a farmer knows the exact amount of nutrients removed from the soil during a harvest, then he or she can avoid using too much or too little chemical fertilizer to replenish what has been lost.

Computers and modern measuring equipment can help in this process.

Advocates of this view point out that even organic farms pollute, though again knowledge makes it easier to minimise the problem.

For example, information about how excess nitrogen from the manure at an organic outdoor pig farm gets into the area's water would enable planners to site such farms to reduce such risks.

Knowledge about optimal farm sizes and how to house animals can improve animal welfare without raising costs.

This could result in better food, they argue, as animals which do not suffer often live longer, are better able to resist disease, and taste better after slaughter.

Similarly, farmers need knowledge about which crops and which planting methods capture the most light, keep down weeds and are resistant to insects.

And they need to learn how to reduce water wastage.

Modern technologies, such as drip irrigation, which takes water directly to the crop's roots and dramatically boosts productivity, can help here.

Scientists even warn that in some areas farmers should plough their fields less frequently or stop using the plough altogether in order to minimise damage to the soil.

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