A push to farm smarter – not bigger – to feed the world’s hungry

With famine in Africa and food prices at record highs, governments and agencies around the globe are looking to educate small farmers about more efficient, sustainable agriculture practices.

Texcoco, Mexico; and New Delhi

For more than 30 years, Porfirio Bastida never considered changing the way he farms his 1.2 acre cornfield in Texcoco, in the central Mexican highlands.

But rainfall patterns were changing and water seemed to be scarcer. Each year, he says, he was investing more and harvesting less.

So he joined forces with a nearby research institute called the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). It helped him switch from the practices he’d employed his whole life to conservation-agriculture techniques: rotating crops, not tilling, leaving residue from the previous harvest to act as a sponge atop the land.

“The land gives to us, and we have to give something back,” says the wiry farmer, in dark pants and honey-colored imitation-crocodile boots. The practices, he says, are not only good for the environment. He has doubled his production in three years, he says, and is investing half. “Many are abandoning their land, but for me, this land is sacred. … I am happy to have this little piece of land and conserve it.”

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