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Developing countries can only build a green economy by adopting "profound policy reforms" to transform small-scale agriculture, argue Peter Messerli, from the Centre for Development and Environment in Switzerland, and colleagues.

The green economy — one where growth comes with environmental and economic benefits — is dominating policy debates, including those linked to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in June. But there are differences between the development agendas of industrialised, transition and developing countries.

While it remains to be seen whether transition countries can develop economically with a smaller ecological footprint, the authors argue that developing countries must focus on supporting "multifunctional agriculture" — small-scale agriculture that addresses the triple challenge of producing enough food, feed, fibre and fuel for a growing population; adapting to climate change; and mitigating climate change.

Small-scale agriculture, which provides livelihoods for 2.6 billion people in the developing world, will play a major role in supplying the extra 70 per cent of food and fodder needed to meet the needs of a growing global population. But it faces challenges from land degradation, water scarcity, and changes related to climate change such as floods and temperature extremes.

Moving towards "multifunctional" agriculture and a successful green economy cannot be left to market-based measures alone, say Messerli and colleagues. Policies will be needed to ensure that small-scale agriculture continues to generate jobs; increases productivity without substantial consumption of fossil fuels; helps to mitigate environmental stresses; and adapts to the impacts of climate change.

Link to full article in NCCR North–South [875kB]