SRI-grown Rice in China
According to conventional wisdom, the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte (pop. 2.5 million) has achieved something impossible. So, too, has the island of Cuba. They are feeding their hungry populations largely with local, low-input farming methods that enhance the environment rather than degrade it. They have achieved this, moreover, at a time of rising food prices when others have mostly retreated from their own food security goals.
The conventional wisdom contradicted by these examples is that high yielding agricultural systems necessarily reduce biodiversity. Sometimes this assumption is extended to become the ‘Borlaug hypothesis’ after Norman Borlaug, the architect of the green revolution. The Borlaug hypothesis states that the preservation of rainforests, an example of biodiversity, depends on intensive industrial production of sufficient food to allow for the luxury of unfarmed areas (e.g. Trewavas, 1999).
So, since Belo Horizonte and Cuba appear to have defied this logic, what is their secret? Are they succeeding in spite of their commitment to sustainability, or because of it? Or is conventional wisdom simply wrong? These pressing questions are explored in a new review, Food security and biodiversity: can we have both? by Michael Jahi Chappell and Liliana Lavalle, and published in the journal Agriculture and Human Values.