The American Academy of Microbiology have recently published a report in which they claim that improving the understanding of the interaction between plants and microbes can increase agricultural productivity by 20% while reducing fertilizer and pesticide requirements by 20%.
“Microbes are essential partners in all aspects of plant physiology, but human efforts to improve plant productivity have focused solely on the plant,” says Ian Sanders of University of Lausanne, chair of the colloquium that produced the report. “Optimizing the microbial communities that live in, on and around plants, can substantially reduce the need for chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.”
I am always a little suspicious of grandiose claims made by vested interests - the sub-text of the paper written by the pre-eminent scientists of the American Society for Microbiology is, after all, claiming that if we are to meet the world's food needs we must invest more aggressively in microbiology, which is a little too convenient.
At the same time, the research does highlight how little we actually know about the delicate eco-system of micro-organisms that co-exist with plants and their role in crop development and our current approach of saturating the soil with toxic chemicals. Is this approach worth funding?
Category: Food security: Farming