Commission on Sustainable Agriculture Intensification

  • 17th October 2019
  • by secretary
Commission on Sustainable Agriculture Intensification. Over 30 hand-picked experts gathered in EAT Food Forum for the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE).
Stockholm at the

  • WLE and EAT laid out the case for a commission that will speed up the process of agricultural transition.
  • The Commission will be tasked with bringing together the best knowledge and evidence to deliver a roadmap for changing 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.

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 there is knowledge on how we can use fertilizer more efficiently, using this knowledge in the field is hard and that has a lot to do with current economic and political systems. 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.

“We can’t just produce more. We have to produce better. 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.”  Fabrice DeClerck, EAT Science Director, and a Commission lead. 

“We have the technologies. 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.” WLE Program Director Izabella Koziell.

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.

Currently, so-called solutions are often heralded as the solution to climate change—from planting millions of trees or sequestering carbon in farms. But placing all bets on any one of these alone will not resolve the myriad challenges facing the agriculture sector and those whose livelihoods depend on it.

  1. The first step is to face the reality that agriculture must be intertwined with preserving and restoring natural resources such as water, land, ecosystems and biodiversity of plants and animals, a practice known as sustainable natural resource management (NRM).
  2. The second step is to actively manage the various trade-offs and synergies that exist between agricultural growth and the environment. Policies that promote diverse diets, for instance, can enrich soils and build biodiversity through the introduction of alternative crops or forgotten foods, but they may mean convincing people accustomed to other foods to eat them.
  3. Thirdly, encouraging and investing in future solutions that tackle these multiple complexities at once will help deliver more food in ways that nourish both people and the environment. This is not a zero-sum game.
  4. But we also know that overcoming barriers to political and institutional apathy, vested interests, up-front costs of innovations and insufficient investment in the right type research and development is a critical aspect of this effort also—and that change in these areas is difficult and slow.