A couple of weeks ago at the G20 Meeting of Agricultural Ministers, world leaders in ag had quite a discussion about sustainable agriculture, the need for better farm technology, soil and crop losses and problems caused by intense weather events and climate change.

The G20 territories account for about 60% of all agricultural land and nearly 80% of world trade in food and agricultural commodities. Argentina, as current G20 president for 2018, proposed that the member nations “discuss ways to promote healthy, fertile and productive soils to improve food security and human health,” as well as discuss sustainable soil management.

There were definitely some sobering statistics shared during the meetings:

  • Global population is expected to rise from 7.6 billion currently to 8.5 billion by 2030.
  • The effects of hunger worldwide increased in 2016 to reach 815 million people.
  • Some 24 million acres of cropland is being lost every year due to soil erosion, and unharvested crops are becoming a serious issue.

Ag ministers issued a declaration at the end of their meetings inviting G20 members to “embark on a voluntary basis on country-specific or regional strategies for sustainable crop management that reconcile the objectives of increasing productivity with the protection of soils, water and biodiversity,” as well as work to improve agricultural resiliency against climate stress, sharing experiences and best practices.

Globally, progress is being made when it comes to adoption of conservation agriculture, according to a 2014 analysis by researchers Rolf Derpsch, Amir Kassam, Josef Kienzle and Theodor Fredrich. Conservation agriculture was defined as cropland that is in continuous no-till, permanent organic soil cover and diverse rotations. Some 383 million acres globally were in these practices at the time, up from 37 million acres in the early 1990s.

But 75% of those acres are in North and South America, followed by Australia and New Zealand (11.5%) Asia (6.6%), Russia and Ukraine (3.4%), Europe (1.4%) and Africa (0.8%).

I think it’s important and appropriate that our world leaders get these challenges with farm sustainability out in the open. But we have to talk about it honestly. Missing from the 8-page declaration is any mention of the real culprit for much of this worldwide soil loss — tillage. And there isn’t any mention of scientifically sound systems such as no-till, strip-till or reduced tillage, or even cover crops.

What we need is more accountability on the part of those who hold power over agricultural practices in their countries. When I was covering the World Congress on Conservation Agriculture a few years ago, where the above study on conservation agriculture was released, I was surprised to hear how much influence politicians have on the prospects for no-till and other conservation practices in some countries.

More needs to be done than politely suggesting countries start taking conservation seriously, although given recent events it doesn’t seem like our world leaders like having the status quo challenged.

Here’s hoping ag ministers meeting at G20 in Japan next year have some evidence that the ball is moving forward in places other than where it’s already popular.