Are today’s food and agricultural systems capable of meeting the needs of a global population that is projected to reach more than nine billion in the mid-century? Can we achieve the required production increases, even if this implies adding pressure to already dwindling land and water resources, and do so in a context of climate change? Hence, this article will try to answer these questions, laying out and analysing key global trends that are influencing and will influence food and agriculture in the coming decades, together with the associated challenges to face ahead.
The first role for agriculture is sustaining ecosystems, thus shifting agriculture from a source of degradation to a driver of restoration and ecosystem health. This is critical for several reasons. Today about 40% of all liveable land area in the world is dominated by crop agriculture. Agricultural expansion is by far the leading cause of tropical deforestation. If we include grasslands used for ranching and pastoralism, agriculture dominates 80-90% of liveable land area. Scientific advances are rapidly improving the potential of new agricultural systems and agro-ecological management at landscape scales. Humankind are at the dawn of a new era of scientific innovation for agricultural systems: more sophisticated studies of the root biome of crops and grasses are showing new ways to manage rhizobium and catalyse rapid plant growth, and suppress pests and diseases. New methods for tracking movement of specific molecules through the watershed are enabling targeted management of agricultural wastes.
Second, agriculture will play a central role in locally-led development. For more than 50 years, the major directions for agricultural development have been set in national capitals and in the boardrooms of major food industry and agribusiness companies. During this century, we must see a move towards designing agriculture as a foundation for locally-led development, context-specific and local stakeholder-led.
Third, agriculture has a fundamental role to play as a partner in sustainable city-regions. Strong local leadership is not just emerging in rural regions – cities are becoming key catalysts for change in agriculture. This is critical considering that two-thirds of the global population is projected to live in cities by 2050 – though large rural populations remain, especially in Africa. Moreover, cities are recognizing their responsibility to support biodiversity conservation and address climate change, as well to seek resilient sources of water and food, and maintain other essential ecosystem services. These are all areas that rely on partnership with peri-urban and rural areas. There are numerous examples of innovative urban-rural partnerships all over the world, also recognized in the new Milan Urban Food Policy Pact .
Global policy commitments, and their application at the local level, will be drivers of inclusive agriculture green growth. Leaders across all sectors need to engage to mobilize sustainable food systems, and at all levels: UN agencies should act at the international level; inter-agency coordination should be ensured at the national level; and, last but not least, at the local level, multi-stakeholder landscape initiatives should be built and/or strengthened, creating linkages with agri-business supply chains.
Achieving inclusive agricultural green growth requires action by the finance community – public, private and philanthropic – which should establish financial mechanisms to fund agricultural investments that sustain ecosystems, support integrated local investment programs, finance rural-urban partnerships, and fund integrated landscape management. An example of this new way of financing change is the Tropical Landscapes Finance Facility, which has been established for Indonesia, and may soon be replicated in other countries
The Facility channels private sector funding to small-holders and other key actors in landscapes that improve agricultural productivity in ways that are sensitive to environmental and social conditions. By focusing on productivity increases on existing agricultural land, including on degraded land, the Facility supports new public policies to protect and restore high conservation and carbon value lands, including natural forests and peatlands. To truly support sustainable landscapes, public policy and incentives must support coherence across land uses and stakeholder needs throughout landscapes.
A course on sustainable land use taught by Tim Christophersen at the Partnerships for Action on a Green Economy (PAGE)’ Academy in Turin, Italy, in October 2016.
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PenulisAhmad Fathullah Afidaputra
(IAAS LC UGM)