Agriculture features prominently in the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Global Sustainability newly released sustanability report “Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A future worth choosing” (PDF). The message is clear: agriculture is a fundamental component of sustainable development, and smallholder farmers can help the world achieve the necessary transformations.
The report is launched 25 years after the pioneering Brundtland Commission report, which first introduced the concept of sustainable development. The High-level Panel has formulated a new vision for sustainable growth and prosperity, and the mechanisms needed to achieve it.
The report concludes that today’s agricultural practices are far from sustainable. Increased dependency on fossil-fuel-based inputs - partly a legacy of the Green Revolution -- explains why the global land use sector contributes to an estimated 25–32% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.
Even though yields are higher than ever before, increasing climate variability puts farmers at risk, which in turn might have negative consequences for production. Population growth is putting an additional pressure on resources; it is calculated that by 2050 the world will have to produce 70 percent more food. This means that in the years to come, we will have to find farming practices that protect and sustain ecosystems and biodiversity, while simultaneously boosting yields.
The problem, however, is that existing policies don’t sufficiently encourage existing sustainable practices that reduce the use of resources and emissions while protecting forests. Nor do they prepare the global agricultural sector for climate change. The scientific community can contribute a lot, and can spur policy makers into action. This echoes a recent analysis by international agricultural experts assessing food and farming outcomes from December’s climate talks.
According to the High-level Panel, one untapped resource is smallholder farmers, who have the potential to increase yields, stimulate rural economies and become export earners instead of only purchasing food products. To make this a reality, smallholder farmers need access to assets such as land and agricultural tools, markets, infrastructure and communication tools to check market prices for instance, credit and risk management such as crop insurance and social protection, as well as research and technology transfers.
The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) promotes the potential of the small scale farmers and seeks continuously to focus on their needs within its research and activities. For example, see our latest work on climate information serivces for farmers, and research on mechanisms for agricultural climate change mitigation incentives for smallholders (PDF).
The UN High Level Panel report mentions that the CGIAR is helping to lead research, policy guidance and knowledge-sharing in the field of agriculture. Together with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the CGIAR is seen as playing an increasingly important role for coordinated problem-solving within land management, water and agriculture.
Many of these recommendations resonate with the 7 key actions for achieving food security in a changing climate, released by the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change in November 2011.
CCAFS Coordinating Unit - University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Science, Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, Rolighedsvej 21, DK-1958 Frederiksberg C, Denmark, phone +45 35331046; Email ccafs [at] cgiar [dot] org, EAN 5790000279012
Lead Center - International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)