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GFAR

The Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) brings together all those working to strengthen and transform agricultural research for development around the world. As part of this role, GFAR is working with New Agriculturist to showcase and raise awareness of important initiatives and their outcomes, to update and inspire others.

How to achieve a sustainable global food system

More investment in sustainable agriculture and food systems is necessary (© IRRI)
More investment in sustainable agriculture and food systems is necessary
© IRRI

Early in 2011, the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change took up the challenge of proposing specific policy responses to the global prospect of feeding a world confronted by climate change, population growth, poverty, food price spikes and degraded ecosystems. The Commissioners began their work by reviewing the major components and drivers of the global food system including the role of changing diet patterns, the link between poverty, natural resource degradation and low crop yields, the need to address inefficiencies in food supply chains, gaps in agricultural investment, and the patterns of globalised food trade, food production subsidies and food price volatility.

"As a Commission, we were charged with harvesting the wealth of scientific knowledge and practical solutions that have been accumulated by recent assessment reports on food security and climate change," says Professor Judi Wakhungu, executive director of the African Center for Technology Studies. "Together, we carefully distilled the seven most important ways for policymakers to make global food security and climate stabilization a reality."

Seven recommendations

The Commissioners released their final report in March 2012, which outlines 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.

Policy makers need better tools and data for analysing options and trade-offs (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
Policy makers need better tools and data for analysing options and trade-offs
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

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 are other notable recommendations. "Farms of every size all over the world are fundamental to human nutrition and economic well-being, but they are also facing critical choices with significant implications for the way we manage the planet for long term sufficiency," says U.S. Commissioner Professor Molly Jahn of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The report cites recent evidence that closing the gap between potential and actual yields for 16 major crops could increase productivity by more than 50 per cent and also discusses the need for more research on understudied edible species. Sustainably intensifying agricultural production on existing land, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, and improving data and decision support for land managers and policymakers, are two of the leading recommendations.

Successful innovations

Examples of successful innovation from 13 countries are also used to complement the seven recommendations. To show that higher yields and climate benefits are possible through upscaling of integrated crop management techniques, for example, the report describes findings of higher rice yields and significantly reduced use of nitrogen fertiliser, seeds, water and pesticides on farms in Vietnam. "To produce enough food for our rapidly growing population, much greater investment is needed to dramatically increase agricultural yields now and in the long-term," states Commissioner Dr. Nguyen Van Bo, president of the Viet Nam Academy of Agricultural Science. "In Viet Nam, we have established model programs to boost rice productivity and quality, mitigate greenhouse gases and increase income for farmers."

More efficient production and more opportunities to market their produce can create sustainable livelihoods while helping to meet growing demand for food (© The Gates Foundation)
More efficient production and more opportunities to market their produce can create sustainable livelihoods while helping to meet growing demand for food
© The Gates Foundation

The report also highlights the East Africa Dairy Development Project, as an example of how improved market access and post-harvest loss reduction can empower marginalised food producers. And to illustrate the importance of investment, the report points to China's ten per cent annual increase in agricultural R&D since 2001 and the resulting reduction in poverty (seven people out of poverty for every US$1,500 of investment). "We have an opportunity and a plan to stop unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions from inefficient farming practices," explains Commissioner Professor Lin Erda, director of the Research Centre of Agriculture and Climate Change at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences. "We are mobilizing public policies and budgets towards low-emission crop breeds and conservation of land, water and energy."

The Commission's recommendations dovetail with GCARD's six-point plan for transforming agricultural research for development around the world, calling for increased support for revitalised extension services, farmer-to-farmer exchanges and direct researcher engagement with smallholder farm communities to adapt holistic farming techniques to local assets. They emphasise the importance of deliberate strategies to engage women farmers. In this regard, the report highlights the efforts of Bangladesh through its five-year US$7.8 billion Bangladesh Country Investment Plan (BCIP) to invest in smallholders and food security. With its focus on scaling up successful innovations and recognising the key role of women in food production, the BCIP addresses the need for extension services, such as farmer field schools, to promote agricultural adaptation to climate change.

The report points to opportunities across the whole food supply chain to protect the environment and the bottom line. "Many public and private sector leaders are already taking steps to overcome technical, social, financial and political barriers to a sustainable food system," says Dr. Bruce Campbell, director of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security. "The Commission's work spells out who needs to do what to take these early efforts to the next level."

Integrated Crop Management helps farmers to boost production while adapting to climatic changes and resource scarcity (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
Integrated Crop Management helps farmers to boost production while adapting to climatic changes and resource scarcity
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

For each of their seven recommendations, the Commission's final report characterises the current policy landscape, the major opportunities for positive change and the roles that specific communities can play. 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. A number of the Commissioners have co-authored a recent Policy Forum article - What next for agriculture after Durban? - that articulates key roles for the research community in pursuing policy progress for agriculture.

* Chaired by Sir John Beddington, the Commission drew upon the diverse expertise of its members which include senior natural and social scientists working in agriculture, climate, food and nutrition, economics, and natural resources in governmental, academic and civil society institutions in Australia, Brazil, Bangladesh, China, Ethiopia, France, Kenya, India, Mexico, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States and Vietnam
* The Commission has created an animated video to illustrate why and how humanity must transform the way food is produced, distributed and consumed in response to changes in climate, global population, eating patterns and the environment.

Written by: Dr Christine Negra, Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change

Date published: May 2012

 

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