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UN calls for eco-friendly farming to boost yields
by Staff Writers
Rome (AFP) June 13, 2011

The United Nations food agency on Monday called for greater use of environmentally sustainable techniques by poor farmers in order to increase crop intensity to feed the world's growing population.

"The new approach calls for targeting mainly smallholder farmers in developing countries," the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said in a statement accompanying a report entitled "Save and Grow".

"Helping low-income farm families in developing countries... economise on cost of production and build healthy agro-ecosystems will enable them to maximise yields and invest the savings in their health and education," it said.

"In order to grow, agriculture must learn to save," it said, pointing to lower crop yields in recent years despite an increase in environmentally unsustainable farming practices aimed at increasing intensive farming.

The eco-friendly techniques recommended by FAO include using plant residues to cover over fields, rotating cereals cultivation with soil-enriching legumes, more precise irrigation for fields and better use of fertilizers.

"Such methods help adapt crops to climate change and not only help grow more food but also contribute to reducing crops' water needs by 30 percent and energy costs by up to 60 percent," the report said.

"In some cases crop yields can be increased six-fold, as shown by trials with maize held recently in southern Africa," it said.

"Average yields from farms practicing the techniques in 57 low-income countries increased almost 80 percent," it added.

FAO called on governments both in the developed and in the developing world to increase investments in order to provide incentives for poor farmers to adopt the new, more environmentally friendly farming techniques.

earlier related report
Russia likely to end ban on EU vegetables
Nizhny Novgorod, Russia (UPI) Jun 10, 2011 - Russia agreed to end its ban on vegetable imports from EU farmers after a high-powered EU intervention during annual talks, called to explore ways of integrating Moscow into the European mainstream.

There was evidence of much horse-trading as Russia, true to analysts' expectations, proceeded to turn its blanket ban on EU vegetables to its political advantage and extract concessions on other aspects of collaboration between the two sides.

Russia is the largest importer of EU vegetables and bought $868 million worth of EU vegetables last year.

Moscow barred the agricultural produce last week after an outbreak of E. coli outbreak in Germany, initially blamed on Spanish cucumbers and now said to be borne by German bean sprouts.

A conclusive outcome of scientific investigations is still awaited but E. coli outbreaks traced to Germany have claimed 30 lives and affected 3,000 people worldwide. Hundreds of those hit are critically ill.

Despite strong and ill-concealed European reservations on Russian interpretations of democracy and the country's record on human rights, EU leaders found themselves bending over backward to find parities between Brussels and Moscow, mainly to have the politically explosive Russian ban lifted at the earliest.

The ban has saddled the EU's leaders with a whole range of compensation claims and other costs that are likely to run into billions of dollars. European negotiators led by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU President Herman Van Rompuy appeared anxious to secure Moscow's reprieve.

Last week Russia mocked the European Union for falling short on health and hygiene safeguards that caused the spread of E. coli, which starts with stomach bug symptoms but is fatal when it develops into hemolytic uremic syndrome. HUS destroys red blood cells and causes severe kidney problems, leading to severe injury eventually causing death.

Barroso told reporters Russia would lift the ban but after the EU signs certificates for the safety of the vegetables. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was less forthright, saying the ban could end soon.

EU negotiators offered Russia another sweetener at the summit, promising to help Moscow with its World Trade Organization application. The vegetable ban allowed Brussels to point out to Moscow that WTO rules would rule out such a measure.

Russia is impatient to join the WTO and hopes the EU will help. The main economic stumbling blocks are Russian limits on EU farm exports and tough rules on auto manufacture but those are overshadowed by concerns over Russian performance on human rights.

The EU hasn't been short on pragmatism, however. It ranks as the biggest foreign investor and depends on Russia for the bulk of its natural gas needs.

Trade between the two sides exceeded $306 billion in 2010, so European leaders want Moscow to make the right kind of gestures or statements on human rights so as not to cause Brussels undue embarrassment when faced with domestic activists critical of Russian conduct, analysts said.

Van Rompuy said at the news conference the Brussels team raised concerns about human rights and the rule of law and fairer treatment of foreign business and investors.

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