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UNECE Regional Workshop on Agri -Environmental Statistics (in cooperation with FAO & EUROSTAT) Budva (Montenegro), 13-15 May, 2013 Impact of Agriculture on the Environment. Salar Tayyib FAO Regional Statistician for Europe and Central Asia.

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salar tayyib fao regional statistician for europe and central asia

UNECE Regional Workshop on Agri-Environmental Statistics(in cooperation with FAO & EUROSTAT)Budva (Montenegro), 13-15 May, 2013Impact of Agriculture on the Environment

Salar Tayyib

FAO Regional Statistician

for Europe and Central Asia

growth in agriculture
Growth in Agriculture

Dramatic change in agriculture since end of World War II following the “Green Revolution” (most markedly as of the 60’s):

  • Food and fibre productivity greatly increased due to new technologies (incl. cross breeding), mechanization, increased chemical use, specialization and government policies for maximizing production
  • These changes allowed fewer farmers to intensively produce the majority of the food and fibre; and utilize(/exploit) larger areas of land
growth in agriculture1
Growth in Agriculture

Today agriculture accounts for the major share of human use of land.

  • Pasture and crops around 35% of the earth's land area
  • Over two-thirds of human water use is for agriculture
growth in agriculture2
Growth in Agriculture

Not an unmixed blessing:


  • More and cheaper food (vital for food security)
  • Carbon capture, rural landscape preservation


  • major anthropogenic source of greenhouse gases (CH4 & N2O)
  • Ground and sea water contamination (due fertilizers & pesticides)
  • Topsoil depletion (due to erosion/salinization, machinery)
  • Extent and methods of agriculture, forestry and fishing are leading causes of loss of planet’s biodiversity

Socio-economic aspects:

  • Considerable overall external costs of the three sectors
  • The decline of family farms
  • Continued neglect of the living & working conditions for farm labourers
unsustainable agriculture
Unsustainable Agriculture

The FAO definition of sustainable agricultural:

“The management and conservation of the natural resource base, and the orientation of technological and institutional change in such a manner as to ensure the attainment and continued satisfaction of human needs for present and future generations.

Such development conserves land, water, plant and animal genetic resources, is environmentally non-degrading, technically appropriate, economically viable and socially acceptable."

unsustainable farming
Unsustainable farming

Unsustainable farming affects the basis for its own future

through land degradation, salinization,

over-extraction of water and

reduction of genetic diversity in crops /livestock.

Unsustainable agricultural (esp. intensive mono-crop systems)

and certain aquaculture practices

present a great and immediate threat to species and ecosystems.

impact of unsustainable agriculture
Impact of Unsustainable Agriculture

Negative environmental impacts from unsustainable farming :

  • Land conversion & habitat loss
  • Soil erosion and degradation
  • Wasteful water usage
  • Pollution (water & land)
  • Climate change (GHG emissions, air pollution)
  • Loss of Biodiversity (genetic erosion)
land conversion habitat loss
Land Conversion & Habitat Loss
  • Pastures & cropland cover around 40% of global land
  • Land needed for agriculture is continually expanding
  • to meet increasing demand for food
  • - resulting in large-scale clearing of natural habitats to make room for
  • intensive monocultures (conversion of rainforests to Palm oil plantations in
  • southeast Asia)
  • Areas with high biodiversity will be effected
  • Aquaculture is also in direct competition with
  • natural marine and freshwater habitats for space
  • - some European fish farms have been placed in the migratory
  • routes of wild salmon. In Latin America, mangrove forests have
  • been cleared to make space for shrimp farms
  • In addition: some 12 mln. ha of land lost to desertification annually
soil erosion and degradation
Soil Erosion and Degradation
  • Soil erosion usually occurs after conversion of natural vegetation to
  • agricultural land – ploughing exposes fertile topsoil which is blown away by wind or washed
  • away by rain and irrigation (polluting agrochemicals also carried away)
  • Loss of fertile soil leads to soil degradation
  • In the last 50 years about one-third of the world’s arable land has been lost through erosion and other degradation. The problem persists, with a reported loss rate of about 10 mln. ha/year.

Erosion clogs & pollutes waterways:

  • Leads to sedimentation of rivers, lakes, coastal areas. Causing serious
  • damage to freshwater/marine habitats
  • - and to the local communities that depend on these habitats
  • Pesticides and fertilizers carried away with rainwater and irrigation pollute
  • waterways and harm wildlife

Deforestation also leads to soil erosion and increased flooding.

wasteful water usage
Wasteful Water Usage
  • The agricultural sector consumes about 70% of the planet's
  • accessible freshwater - more than twice that of industry (23%)
  •  With a waste factor of around 60% !
  • Big food producing countries (US, China, Spain) are
  • close to reaching their renewable water resource limits
  • Main causes of wasteful and unsustainable water use are:
  • leaky irrigation systems
  • inefficient field application methods
  • cultivation of thirsty crops not suited to the specific environment
  • Unsustainable water use harms the environment by:
  • Depleting ground water supplies
  • Excessive irrigation can increase soil salinity and wash pollutants
  • and sediment into rivers
pollution water land
Pollution (water & land)
  • Use of pesticides, fertilizers (phosphates) and other agrochemicals
  • has increased hugely since the 1950s
  • Some application methods – e.g. pesticide spraying by aeroplane –
  • lead to pollution of adjacent land, rivers or wetlands
  • - Beneficial insects (e.g. bees) can be poisoned or killed, as can other animals
  • eating poisoned insects
  • Inappropriate water management/irrigation: agrochemical run-off to
  • adjacent rivers/lakes/groundwater lead to contamination
  • Rivers carry these agrochemicals into the marine environment
  • causing marine “dead zones”
  • Eutrophication:
  • explosive growth of algae due to nutrition over-supply
  • (e.g. phosphates) leading to oxygen depletion (hypoxia)
  • and death of river/marine life.
  • Future use of pesticides expected
  • to grow more slowly
  • - concern about pollution and loss of biodiversity
  • in developed countries is resulting in restraining
  • regulations and higher taxes
  • - growing demand for organic crops
  • produced without chemical inputs
  • Increases in use of "smart" pesticides, resistant crop varieties and
  • ecological methods of pest control (IPM) are foreseen
climate change ghg emissions
Climate Change (GHG emissions)
  • Agriculture (livestock, manure management, land clearing)
  • according to most sources contributes around
  • 15% of global greenhouse gas (GHG)emissions
  • If food production processes are included then that contribution almost doubles
  • (incl. related energy use, transport, etc.)
  • Most abundant GHGs:
  • water vapour (H2O)
  • carbon dioxide (CO2),
  • methane (CH4)
  • nitrous oxide (N2O)
  • ozone (O3)
  • Rice production is one of the single-largest producers of methane (CH4)
  • Deforestation accounts for a similar percentage of
  • GHG gas emissions as agriculture itself
climate change ghg emissions1
Climate Change (GHG emissions)

Agriculture and deforestation

contribute by about 30%

of all global GHG emissions

ghg nitrogen emissions
GHG: Nitrogen emissions

Percentage of annual nitrogen emissions from different sources (1998):

(adapted from 1998 studies)

  • Projections to 2030 imply a slower growth of nitrogen
  • fertilizer use. With more efficiency the increase in total
  • use between 1997-99 and 2030 could be as low as 37%
  • Current use in many developing countries, however, is
  • very inefficient.
  • - In China (largest consumer of nitrogen fertilizer):
  • up to half the nitrogen applied is lost by volatilization
air pollution plant biomass
Air pollution: Plant Biomass

Burning of plant biomass: major source of air pollutants

(incl. carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide & smoke particles)

Human activity is responsible for about 90% of biomass burning through the deliberate burning of forest vegetation, of pastures and of crop residues to promote re-growth and destroy pest habitats

air pollution ammonia ch 3 in fertilizers
Air Pollution: Ammonia (CH3)(in fertilizers)
  • One of the major causes of acid rain
  • - more acidifying than sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (N2O)
  • - damages trees, acidifies soils/lakes/rivers; harms biodiversity
  • Projections imply a 60% increase in ammonia emissions
  • from agriculture (particularly from livestock animal excrete)
  • in both developed and developing countries by 2030
loss of biodiversity
Loss of Biodiversity
  • Traditional and local crops and farm animals are being progressively replaced
  • with more genetically uniform, modern varieties. This is causing the genetic
  • erosion of crops and livestock species around the world.
  • Agricultural crops have lost more than 70% of their genetic diversity in
  • the last century


  • 30 crops account for 90% of calories consumed by people
  • 14 animal species account for 90% of all livestock production

The loss of genetic diversity reduces the potential for modern crops to adapt to, or be bred for, changing conditions – directly threatening long-term food security

loss of biodiversity1
Loss of Biodiversity

Biodiversity is lost when overall area available for wildlife is reduced and natural habitats fragmented due to:

  • deforestation
  • field consolidation (with reduction in field margins & hedgerows)
  • drainage of wetlands for farming
  • use of pesticides & herbicides which destroy many insects & other plants, and reduce food supplies for higher animals
  • Some of the affected life forms may be important soil nutrient recyclers, crop pollinators (e.g. bees) and predators of pests
cattle breeding
Cattle breeding
  • Besides:
  • Soil erosion
  • GHG emissions
  • etc.
  • significant use of antibiotics, growth hormones, vitamins

without sufficient understanding of their overall impacts.

- can lead to bacterial resistance in the animals and in the environment, and can be passed on to bacteria that infect humans

- the effects of growth hormones in the production of meat may be passed on to people

  • virtually no research has been undertaken on the impact of these inputs

Cotton is the largest money-making non-food crop produced in the world

  • most important production impacts are the use of agrochemicals (especially pesticides) and huge amounts of water

- in developing countries, estimates suggest that

half of the total pesticides used on all crops

are applied to cotton

  • Estimates indicate cotton represents more than half

of irrigated land in the world.

- many areas devoted to cotton growing are experiencing serious salinisation(alkaline soil)

- Half of the irrigated land in Uzbekistan has lost productivity due to salinisationfrom

cotton growing

ghg climate change some ve news
GHG -> Climate Changesome +ve news (?!)
  • Climate change will affect agriculture, forestry and fishery in complex ways, positive as well as negative.
  • Carbon dioxide causes plant stomata to narrow, so water losses are reduced and the efficiency of water use improves.
  • Increasing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide will also stimulate photo-synthesis and have a fertilizing effect on many crops
  • Global warming in the temperate latitudes: areas suitable for cropping will expand; length of the growing period will increase; crop yields will improve and forests may grow faster (benefits developed countries only)
  • These gains, however, have to be set against the loss of some fertile land to flooding, particularly on coastal plains.
  • Temperature rise will also expand the range of many agricultural pests and increase the ability of pest populations to survive the winter and attack spring crops. In oceans, temperature rise may reduce plankton growth, bleach coral reefs and disrupt fish breeding and feeding patterns.
  • Cold-water species such as cod may find their range reduced.
  • Higher global temperatures will also bring higher rainfall.
  • northern Latin America are projected to receive less rainfall than before.
  • The climate is also expected to become more variable than at present, with increases in the frequency and severity of extreme events such as cyclones, floods, hailstorms and droughts. These will bring greater fluctuations in crop yields and local food supplies and higher risks of landslides and erosion damage.Mean sea level is projected to rise by 15 to 20 cm by 2030 and by 50 cm by 2100. The rise will lead to the loss of low-lying land through flooding, seawater intrusions and storm surges.
ghg climate change
GHG -> Climate Change
  • Rising temperatures will expand range of many agricultural pests and increase the ability of pest populations to survive the winter and attack spring crops.
  • In oceans, temperature rise may reduce plankton growth, bleach coral reefs and disrupt fish breeding and feeding patterns.
  • Cold-water species such as cod may find their range reduced.
  • Frequency and severity of extreme climatic events will increase (cyclones. hail, etc.)  greater fluctuations in crop yields and local food supplies

 higher risks of landslides and erosion damage

ghg climate change1
GHG -> Climate Change
  • The adverse impacts of climate change will fall disproportionately on the poor.

- Hardest hit will be small-scale farmers and other low-income groups in areas prone to drought, flooding, etc. and fishers affected by falling catches caused by higher sea temperatures and shifts in currents (and over-fishing!)

  • Many of the areas at risk

from rising sea levels

are currently poor

and may not enjoy the resources

to pay for flood protection