Week in Review

Farming Needs “Climate-Smart” Revolution, More Sustainable Development

Chelsey Firor ’12

In his BBC article about sustainable farming practices, Richard Black states that major changes are needed in agriculture and food consumption around the world if future generations are to be adequately fed.  Farming produces substantial waste and greenhouse gas emissions. At the Planet Under Pressure conference, a final report on this issue was released which states that the global food system is especially susceptible to abrupt and rapid changes, which can lead to a crises. The food issue is interconnected with many other issues such as water and energy security, biodiversity, ecosystems, and livelihoods. The goal of having sustainable consumption and production in our food system is very important for achieving sustainable development.

This report originated from the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change, which was created after a year of assessment and analysis by scientists and policymakers. The Commission gives policymakers a summary of how to achieve food security in the face of climate change. The threats to our security are steadily intensifying pressure on humanity and world governments to transform the way food is produced, distributed, and consumed.

The Commission was chaired by Professor Sir John Beddington, the UK government’s chief scientific adviser. “If you’re going to generate enough food both to address the poverty of a billion people not getting enough food, with another billion [in the global population] in 13 years’ time, you’ve got to massively increase agriculture,” Professor Beddington told BBC News. He added, “You can’t do it using the same agricultural techniques we’ve used before, because that would seriously increase greenhouse gas emissions for the whole world, with climate change knock-ons.”

Farming is responsible for about one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, although the figure is hard to pin down as a large portion comes from land clearance, for which emissions are notoriously difficult to measure. Agriculture is going to have reduced crop yields overall because of climate change, and different regions are impacted more than others. For example, South Africa’s climate is very susceptible to small changes in its environment.

What is needed is agriculture that is “climate smart,” that generates more output without the greenhouse gas emissions that accompany basic techniques of farming and plowing grassland or cutting down rainforests. The use of genetically modified organisms (GMO) is one proposed approach, if they are proven safe. GMOs are not affected by disease, are resistant to pests, herbicides, and harsh environmental conditions, and have increased nutritional value.

Farmers need more investment and better information; governments need to put sustainable farming at the heart of national policies. The Planet Under Pressure report also recommends changes around food waste, especially in developed nations. “The less we waste food, the less food we have to produce, the less greenhouse gases are emitted,” noted Dr. Christine Negra, the Commission’s coordinator. In the next 20 years the world population will increase to over 8 billion people, and while the world is getting more prosperous, the demand for basic commodities like food, water, and energy will be rising as with the population.

According to the article, the reality of the situation is very difficult and ending hunger is one of the greatest challenges. Protecting the poor from sharp price increases through government intervention and greater liberalization of the food trade is extremely important. We need to hold governments and food producers to account. This involves developing measures on their progress in reducing hunger, combating climate change and environmental degradation, and boosting food production.

One reply on “Farming Needs “Climate-Smart” Revolution, More Sustainable Development”

Interesting report, with lots to think about – thank you. Add to this that many U.S. health problems – diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks, obesity – as well as the cost of health care, would lessened if we ate more plants, less processed foods, and as the Dalai Lama has genlty suggested “eat less,” all this would seem a no-brainer. But we are very stubborn about change…

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