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Agriculture must be seen as part of broader social-ecological system

Agricultural research needs to be brought into a world where governance, institutions, human wellbeing and ecosystem services all matter. Photo: N. Palmer (CIAT)
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By Bruce Campbell

Agricultural research is still dominated by a focus on technologies and practices – at the scale of farm fields. The Planet Under Pressure conference brings home the shift that is needed: if we are interested in sustainable food and farming, then we have to broaden the agenda to cover distribution, storage, and consumption; to cover nutrition and waste. We also have to broaden the agenda to cover multiple environmental dimensions: land health, water, biodiversity, greenhouse gasses, etc. And this must go way beyond “technologies and practices” – to giving as much attention to governance and institutions, multiple dimensions of human wellbeing. Given the world of trade-offs that we operate in, it is crucial to incorporate work on access, power and inequality.

Fortunately, the research community seems ready for the shift. Today, the new programme on ecosystem change and society (PECS) was presented by the International Council for Science (ICSU). The programme will consist of detailed place-based case studies of different kinds of systems, from the arctic to tropics, including land and water systems. One working group in PECS will focus on agricultural landscapes. You can read more about this initiative in a recent article published in the journal Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability.

By bringing agricultural research into a world where governance, institutions, human wellbeing, ecosystem services and natural capital all matter, we can truly begin to address the necessary actions for transforming the global food system, and safeguarding it from a changing climate.


Bruce Campbell is the Program Director of the CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). Follow the coverage of the Planet Under Pressure conference all week on our blog as well as twitter @cgiarclimate and Facebook. You can also see the full list of CGIAR events and stories from the conference.