New study recommends seven steps to sustainable farming

By Tierney Smith

Urgent and decisive action is needed to develop a climate smart agricultural system that can feed a growing population, a team of experts have warned in a new report.

The Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change outlined seven key measures that will enable the planet to feed a population that is  expected to hit 9 billion by 2050, and at the same time cut waste and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Released at the Planet under Pressure Conference being held in London this week, the study reveals that while nearly a billion people on the planet currently go hungry, another billion over-consume to the point of illness.

Added to that – a third of agricultural production for human consumption is  lost or wasted every year.

Livestock farming can have a partiuclarly detremental impact on the envrionment, in terms of water reosurce use, land use and greenhouse gas emissions (© UN Photo/Creative Commons)

Dangerous climate change is expected to amplify food insecurity – whether from drought, floods, water salinisation or land degradation.

Agricultural production still also accounts for around a third of global greenhouse gas emissions – including those emissions from changes in land use for farming – something the commissioners say cannot be sustained.

“Food insecurity and climate change are already inhibiting human-well being and economic growth throughout the world, and these problems are poised to accelerate,” warns 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.”

Policy Recommendations:

1) Food security and sustainable agriculture must be integrated into national and global policy frameworks.

2) At the same time it should address food habits and re-shape them to develop sustainable consumption patterns worldwide and ensure basic nutritional needs are met.

Case study: In 2004 France responded to concerns over obesity by passing public health legislation requiring all advertisements for processed food and drinks to contain health information. Those companies who did not include this were charged a levy of 1.5% of their advertising budget which was put back into the national institute for health prevention and education.

“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,” says Commissioner Dr. Marion Guillou, president of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA).

3) There must be a significant rise in the level of global investment in sustainable agriculture over the next decade.

4) This should be twinned with specific programmes to assist populations and sector particularly vulnerable to climate change and food insecurity.

The report highlighted the need to invest in those most vulnerable to food insecurity, partiuclarly women(© UN Photo/Milton Grant)

Case study: The five-year Bangladesh Country Investment Plan sets out 12 priority investment programmes to improve food security and nutrition.

Key elements of the plan includes improving access to land and water resources, improving access to credit, encouraging private sector involvement and recognising the key role of women in food production.

Several projects aimed at empowering women and securing their rights to land are also taking place across Southern Africa. For example since 2009, ActionAid have been working in countries including Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe on the Women and Land Rights Project.

In Mexico, where extreme weather is making farmers reluctant to invest in their land and crops, index-based insurance – which automatically pays out when weather exceeds established levels – has given farmers back their livelihoods.

5) Farming itself should continue to ensure global populations are fed, but should do this while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other negative environmental impacts/

6) Waste from the agricultural sector and from the food system should also be reduced.

Case study: The UK agricultural industry’s Greenhouse Gas Action Plan aims to reduce emissions by three million tonnes of CO2e by 2018 to 2022 through strategic messages, technical advice and information to agricultural producers in all farming systems.

It aims to bring together the whole supply chain, while reducing greenhouse gases, allowing cost savings and protecting landscapes and biodiversity.

7) Finally the report calls for a comprehensive, shared and integrated information system to be put in place which takes into account human and ecological dimensions.

Only from breaking away from businesses as usual and implementing real change across the global food system will the world be able to achieve global food security and a stable environment, warns the commissioners.

The commission was established by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the global network of institutions working on food and poverty issues.

Read the full report “Achieving food security in the face of climate change” here.

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