PC Mulugeta Ayene / WLE

CGIAR Science Council urges focus on urbanization in Agriculture & Food Systems 2050 Report

The CGIAR Independent Science and Partnership Council (ISPC) recently launched 'Agriculture & Food Systems to 2050 - Global Trends, Challenges and Opportunities.' The foresight report is an outcome of an ISPC assessment conducted in 2017 by mostly non-CGIAR strategic thinkers & discussants, to explore the pressures on the global agri-food system between now and 2050.  

The report highlights the threats and challenges to agriculture globally, but also discusses the opportunities, notably in relation to increasing urbanization. This is an important wake-up call for the CGIAR, which has traditionally a more rural focus.

Rapid urbanization in the developing world is one of the major trends impacting agri-food systems. By 2050, 82.4% of the world’s urban population will be based in less-developed regions. National food systems are being transformed with not only more diverse diets, higher per-capita spending on food and increased volume, but also through significant changes to the supply-chain.

This opens up growth opportunities for smallholders by enabling them to participate in these value chains, the report finds. To meet the growing needs of cities, agriculture will need to transition into a business; but this increasing pressure on scarce water and land resources to meet these needs, in particular in the rural-urban interface, which could be further compounded by climate change.

“Urbanization is not something we can avoid, but we really need to think about how this impacts the supply of safe food, and the pressure on our land and water resources in that process.” says Pay Drechsel, Strategic Program Leader of the International Water Management Institute for Rural-Urban Linkages (RUL), and co-lead of WLE’s research theme on Sustaining Rural-Urban Linkages. “Our research needs to drive sustainability and innovation to be able to support rural systems and urban growth, and address the challenges that this presents. New thinking is required to understand urban foodsheds, the resilience of city-region food systems including options for a circular economy, for example in view of food waste”.

The CGIAR Research Programme on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) has implemented several key projects through its RUL research flagship, such as catalyzing increased business thinking and private sector engagement in resource recovery and reuse (RRR) throughout nine countries, with a special focus on fecal sludge based businesses in Ghana and South Asia. Most recently, WLE participated at Science Forum 2018 organized by ISPC, and contributed to the discussion on tradeoffs and synergies among SDGs.

The ISPC report also highlights the importance of agricultural research in the context of the 2030 agenda, and suggests strategic directions for CGIAR donors, scientists, and policy makers’ decisions in the immediate and longer term.