As we pick up this ripe avocado in a Western European supermarket, we rarely think about the farmer who brought this seed to life, let alone how our modern food and farming systems are both a driver and a victim. climate change and the loss of nature. But we are sleepwalking in this crisis. Madagascar is now facing what is the very first famine created by climate change in modern history. It’s time to wake up and see all that is at stake with irreversible consequences.
Agriculture, which is now responsible for around a third of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and 80 percent of tropical deforestation, may also be the solution to tackle and adapt to climate change. . Farmers and primary producers, who are the stewards of these lands, have a critical role to play in helping the global transition to a net zero, nature-friendly and equitable future.
The question then is: how can we realign incentives and shift systems to accelerate this transition that puts farmers’ livelihoods at the center?
Farming as usual is no longer an option
Food and agricultural systems, and the way they use natural resources, are the main drivers of our current climate and biodiversity crises.
It is not just an ecological crisis. Today, $ 400 billion a year is lost in productivity due to the degradation of 52 percent of agricultural production land. It is predicted that further land degradation could reduce global food productivity by 12 percent, thereby increasing food prices by 30 percent over the next 25 years. Put simply, this could mean that an average American would spend $ 780 more on food each year. Poorer countries, where people already spend up to 50 percent of their income on food, compared to 7 percent in the United States, would be much more affected. The status quo is no longer an option.
In addition to ecological and economic fallout, land and soil degradation and unpredictable extreme weather conditions create humanitarian challenges. Between 2010 and 2015, the number of Central American migrants to the United States quintupled, coinciding with a dry spell that left many people without sufficient food. Madagascar is currently experiencing a terrible famine and unimaginable suffering. And for the first time in modern history, it was caused solely by climate change.
The science and the evidence are clear. We need to transform our farming practices not only to reduce their impact on the climate and nature, but also to become more resilient to inevitable changes. We need to make the transition to net zero, nature-friendly and equitable food systems.
The good news is that agriculture can be part of the solution to current ecological and climate crises. Regenerative agriculture, for example, could reduce emissions from the agriculture sector by nearly 50% over the next five years in the United States, while creating up to $ 4 billion in economic value. Other solutions include agroforestry, precision agriculture and green ammonia.
Agriculture could also be crucial for economic growth and could be the key to post-pandemic recovery. The growth of the agricultural sector is two to four times more effective in raising the incomes of the poorest compared to other sectors. Some 65 percent of the world’s working poor adults make a living from agriculture.
Bringing together the public and private across food supply chains will help overcome key challenges for evolution and help farmers buy into solutions.
However, for this to work, we need to put the farmers who work hard to produce our food at the center of the conversation. In the United States, for every dollar spent on food, only 7.8 cents goes to farmers. For farmers to invest in sustainable food production practices, we must work with them, understand their needs and challenges, finance the transition and provide equitable economic opportunities.
100 million farmers
Recognizing this, the World Economic Forum recently launched its 100 Million Farmers Platform to help government leaders and private stakeholders around the world take action to transform food systems in a number of ways. The time for change is now, we need to move from talk to action. We will start to test and apply models for the future together with the farmers. Bringing together public and private stakeholders across food supply chains in precompetitive spaces will overcome key challenges to scale and help farmers adhere to solutions.
We need to think nationally and regionally to create global change. By bringing together different groups, all located in the same areas, we will encourage agricultural transitions to meet local needs and ensure local ownership.
The silos between food, nature and climate agendas, too often considered separately, must be broken. The role of food and agricultural systems in addressing the climate crisis is still largely absent from Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement. Many countries still look at agriculture and environmental concerns separately, which helps explain the persistence of subsidies and incentives that encourage harmful behaviors, such as the overuse of fertilizers and pesticides. By putting food systems at the forefront of climate solutions, we can address potential tradeoffs and increase the likelihood of meeting the interrelated goals of climate, nature, land degradation and food security.
Last but not least, we must work with and for farmers. Farmers will be active stakeholders in the coalitions. They will and should be an active voice in shaping the shared narrative. They will be at the forefront of representing the food agenda. We must develop solutions that encourage 100 million farmers to adopt regenerative and climate-smart practices. But it will also provide consumers with the awareness and visibility necessary to support and claim these practices.
The time for change is now – we have so much to gain and so little to lose. If we are to be successful, we must harness the power of public-private collaboration along the value chain, develop a set of recognized science-based and economically relevant practices, and keep farmers, with their knowledge. and their experience, at the center of the journey.