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A new study published in the journal, Environmental Science and Policy highlights the need for increased funding for ecological agriculture research to learn more about this important practice and its crucial role in addressing the world food crisis and mitigating climate change.

Conducted by University of Hawaiʻi–West Oʻahu assistant professor of sustainable community food systems Albie Miles, Marcia DeLonge of the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, D.C. and Liz Carlisle of the University of California, Berkeley, the study yielded the following findings:

  • Much United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) research and extension funding is unrelated to sustainable agriculture. The USDA’s stated commitment to advancing sustainable agriculture is not backed up research dollars. Just 1.5 percent ($44 million) of the total USDA Research, Education, and Economics $2.8 billion budget is dedicated to agroecological projects.
  • Many projects are focused on enhancing yields of crops or animal products. The USDA dedicated 35 percent of analyzed research funds ($105 million) for the purpose of increasing agricultural efficiencies either by increasing crop production or decreasing pesticide use.
  • Fewer funds support substituting less damaging inputs into farming practices. Just 23 percent of analyzed funds ($69 million) are dedicated to ecological pest management, adopting alternative fertilizers, planting cover crops, and other practices that boost the health of farms, ranches and surrounding environments.
  • Ecological agriculture is crucial but lacked funding. Of the USDA’ $2.8 billion spent on Research, Education and Economics, only $12 million (4 percent of the total research budget) was spent on practices that encourage a transition to sustainable food systems. Today’s farms and ranches contribute to air and water pollution, climate change, public health problems, biodiversity loss, and other concerns.
  • More public funds are needed for agroecology and related socioeconomic supports.

“While modern agriculture has proven remarkably productive, it has simultaneously generated ecological and social impacts of global concern,” said Miles. “Given the profound influence of agriculture on environmental quality, human health and food security, a more ecologically benign form of agriculture will prove essential to any meaningful conservation strategy, including climate change adaptation and mitigation. The science of agroecology can help meet global food needs sustainably and efficiently, yet it has been largely neglected by the USDA and the international agriculture research institutions. Agriculture is one of the biggest problems, but it could be one of the most powerful solutions.”

The study, “Investing in the transition to sustainable agriculture,” is now available online and will be published in hardcopy in Environmental Science and Policy in January 2016. A summary of the study, “Counting on Agroecology: Why We Should Invest More in the Transition to Sustainable Agriculture” can be found at the Union of Concerned Scientists website.

More about the Sustainable Community Food Systems program at UH West Oʻahu

—By Julie Funasaki Yuen

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