Global Investment in Sustainable Agriculture Needed

GLOBAL - An independent commission of scientific leaders from 13 countries has released a detailed set of recommendations to policy makers on how to achieve food security in the face of climate change. Recommendations include investment in sustainable agriculture and food systems; intensifying agriculture whilst reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing losses and waste in the food system.
calendar icon 29 March 2012
clock icon 4 minute read

In their report, the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change proposes specific policy responses to the global challenge of feeding a world confronted by climate change, population growth, poverty, food price spikes and degraded ecosystems. The report highlights specific opportunities under the mandates of the Rio+20 Earth Summit, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Group of 20 (G20) nations.

The Commission has outlined seven recommendations designed to be implemented concurrently by a constellation of governments, international institutions, investors, agricultural producers, consumers, food companies and researchers. They call for changes in policy, finance, agriculture, development aid, diet choices and food waste as well as revitalised investment in the knowledge systems to support these changes.

The Commission’s recommendations encourage significantly raising the level of global investment in sustainable agriculture and food systems in the next decade; sustainably intensifying agricultural production on the existing land base while reducing greenhouse gas emissions; and reducing losses and waste in the food system.

“Food insecurity and climate change are already inhibiting human well-being and economic growth throughout the world and these problems are poised to accelerate,” said Sir John Beddington, chair of the Commission. “Decisive policy action is required if we are to preserve the planet’s capacity to produce adequate food in the future.”

Science and Policy for Sustainable Agriculture

The report says that alternative agricultural practices have the potential to deliver benefits for both adaptation and mitigation of climate change. closing the gap between potential and actual yields for 16 major crops could increase productivity by more than 50 per cent.

Sustainably intensifying agricultural production on existing land, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, is one of the seven Commission recommendations.

“There have been some impressive successes in sustainably boosting agricultural production, but there is a lot more to be done,” says Commissioner Dr. Carlos Nobre of the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation. "Brazil has made strides in reducing poverty while protecting rainforests in the last seven years, but if we do not advance the science and practice of sustainable intensification, our forests and our farming economies will be at risk.”

In China, nearly 400 kilograms of chemical fertiliser are used on every hectare of farmland. This is an example of where unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions from inefficient farming practices can be stopped.

In Mexico, agriculture accounts for 77 per cent of domestic water use, in part due to substantial subsidies applied to the price of water and electricity for irrigation. By directing subsidies to promote economically and environmentally sound farming practices, natural resources can be conserved.

Reshaping Food Systems

In addition to tackling agriculture, the Commission’s recommendations explicitly recognize the “demand side” of food insecurity. “If we don’t start to make use of the tools at our disposal to encourage eating choices that are good for people and the planet, we must resign ourselves to a growing diet-related disease burden,” cautions Commissioner Dr Marion Guillou, president of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA).

The Commission also calls for policies and programmes explicitly designed to empower vulnerable populations. “Enabling smallholder farmers to invest in the productive capacity of their land has been shown to create economic and environmental resilience,” reports Commissioner Professor Tekalign Mamo, state minister and advisor to the Ethiopian Minister of Agriculture.

Decisive Action Needed for Future Generations

The Commission’s report presents a stark picture of the challenges ahead and calls for significantly raising the level of global investment in sustainable agriculture and food systems in the next decade.

The report points to opportunities across the whole food supply chain to protect the environment and the bottom line.

“To operate within a ‘safe space’ for people and the planet, we need to balance how much food we produce, how much we consume and waste and how much agriculture contributes to further climate change,” explains South African Commission Professor Bob Scholes of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

The report was released at the Planet Under Pressure conference where scientists from around the world are honing solutions for global sustainability challenges targeted to the Rio Summit, which will be held on 20-22 June in Brazil.

Further Reading

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