Can the world produce 10 billion healthy diets while transitioning agriculture from a source of degradation to one of restoration? That’s the question a group of eminent scientists, academics, non-profit leaders and others grappled with as they advised CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) and EAT on their upcoming global Commission on sustainable agriculture.
Over 30 hand-picked experts gathered in Stockholm at the EAT Food Forum for WLE/EAT’s “Wake up and smell the coffee: Solutions for feeding 10B” event. WLE and EAT laid out the case for a commission that will speed up the process of agricultural transition.
WLE is readying the launch of a Commission on Sustainable Agricultural Intensification. The Commission will be tasked with bringing together the best knowledge and evidence to deliver a roadmap for supporting innovation in agricultural systems, particularly in the developing world. Solutions need to ensure they nourish people and stimulate jobs and growth – but all while building environmental health and climate resilience.
“We can’t just produce more. We have to produce better,” said Fabrice DeClerck, EAT Science Director, and a Commission lead. “As we launched EAT Lancet (the first full scientific review of what constitutes a healthy diet from a sustainable food system), we focused on dietary shifts. But when we looked at cropland use, bluewater use, nitrogen and phosphorus application, we saw the biggest impact comes in how we produce the food. We need to bring food production within the safe environmental limits while paying attention to climate.”
Many technologies and tools exist to help us reach that goal, but they aren’t being taken up quickly enough. The Commission will aim to create a clearer pathway for bringing good practices and innovations across farming systems in the developing world.
“We have many good technologies,” said WLE Program Director Izabella Koziell. “We’ve worked on how to scale solar irrigation in an environmentally and socially sustainable way. We’ve been looking at how to protect the most vulnerable farmers from floods using rapid assessment tools for insurance. We’ve developed low cost, rapid soil technologies so that farmers can assess their soil health and make better fertilizer decisions. So there are many solutions, but there is a real need building off the back of EAT Lancet to figure out how we are going to make the transition.”
The experts tackled several key issues the Commission will face including how to handle core debates such as organic vs. GMO and small-holder vs. industrial, as well as overcoming key barriers that might slow progress toward change.
One of the themes emerging from the group was to ensure the socio-political backdrop is part of any transformation. Change won’t come without solutions on those levels.
“Even where we have knowledge on how we can use fertilizer more efficiently, using this knowledge in the field was hard and that had a lot to do with current economic and political systems,” remarked one participant. “So, much of the system is directed to producing more of the same and that has to change.”
The experts agreed that the world really needs to speed up the process of transitioning to sustainable agricultural systems. But ways forward need to be based on firm political, economic and equity foundations.
“Prosperity and equity dimensions need to be front and center,” noted Koziell. “It’s about the political economy. While we may have ideas around the technical solutions, it’s the incentives, disincentives, equity issues that may have to be the bigger questions for the Commission.”
WLE will be launching a Commission Secretariat in the coming months and are seeking partners, Commissioners and authors. The Commission will release a major international report, aimed at guiding global and national decision-makers as the world embarks on a vital transformation of our global food systems.