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Food, Conservation and Environmental Change: Is Compromise Possible?

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Session Description: 

Overview & Relevance:
Land use change in the tropics is occurring for a number of reasons, most of which revolve around population growth, poverty, and government policies. The relative importance for each contributing factor depends on the agroclimate zone and country in question. throughout much of the tropics, land use change has been characterized by intensification of lowland agricultural systems, and has been driven by population growth and the need to expand food resources, incomes and employmnet. Rising food demand and persistent poverty have also contributed to a large share of tropical forest conversion and reangeland degredation. Another important reason for land use change in all systems, particularly tropical forests, has to do with economic pressures on the third world to produce foreign exchange for debt reduction. These pressures have become more acute during the past decade as a resulot of increased barriers to world trade. finally, forest conversion has been accelerated by a wide range of governmental policies that often ignore the long-term social value of tropical resources. These policies include preferential leasing codes for forests, governmentla control over local common land (such as grazing space), and programs designed to simply occupy natioanl land through the exploitation of untapped forest areas.

The combination of these factors has important implications ofr biologcial diversity and gloabl atmospheric and climate schange. However, land use changes have generally been made with little references to their potential global consequences. Loss of biological diversity as a result of tropical land us echange is an issue that has garnered much attention, but until recently had been discussed by biologists in isolation from agronomists, economists, and developers. Likewise, the impact of tropical deforestation and land use change on greenhouse hases, climate, and atmospherica checmistry is being vigorously discussed in the scientific community, but again, mostly in isolation from the disciplines that plan and foster change. This AGCI session presented an opportunity for researchers in all of these disciplines to discuss the issues together.

Clearly, the solution to the problems assocaited with rapidly changing and intesifying land use must involve limits to human population growth. In the short-term, though, population growth is a reality. In this AGCI session, we explored multi-disciplinary appraoches to decision making that will maximize food production, debt reduction, and poverty alleviation, while minimizing the impact of land use changes on natural resources, biodiversity, and atmospheric processes.

Central Question
What are the short- and long-term compromises that can be made to reconcile food and other resource needs of growing human populations, especially in the tropics, with the need to conserve biological diversity and the need to reduce emissions of tracce gases to the amtmosphere?

The concept of this workshop was to explore the present state of knowledge of, and identify promising new approaches to, an understanding of the complex interrelationships between food production, human development, and the ability of the environment to withstand these pressures.

The main themes discussed included:
• food production in the tropics
• ecological/environmental issues associated with food production in the tropics
• population issues
• chemical inputs from agriculture
• agroecological approaches to food production
• extensive production of food crops
Working Group Topics:
• the link between fertilizer price policies, fertilizer efficiency, and nitrogen and carbon fluxes
• the economic and ecological impacts of herbicide use
• the viability of integrated pest management strategies
• the impact of new seed technologies on genetic diversity
• the economic and ecological implications of promoting rice production in upland areas
• interactions among cropping systems, chemical inputs, and trace gas fluxes

Workshop Topic (s): 
  • Ecosystems
  • Human Contributions & Responses
  • Land-Use/Land-Cover Change