A report from the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), compiled from the work of over 50 experts and subtitled “Wake Up Before It Is Too Late,” found much of the blame for persistently high green house emissions goes to agriculture. But agriculture is also the source of many promising mitigation strategies. The authors, though approaching the issue from a variety of backgrounds, stand strongly behind the need for a paradigm shift in food production, away from industrial input-heavy monoculture farming to greater focus on smallholders taking advantage of diverse production systems that reflect agriculture’s role in supporting multiple functions and benefits.
Since the 2008 global food crisis, the need to think more broadly about agricultural production has been apparent. The report refuses to take simply “growing more food at less cost to the environment” as a given. In his introductory chapter, Ulrich Hoffman of the UNCTAD Secretariat argues for a transformation toward climate-friendly agriculture, consisting of mosaic agroecological production practices, and stresses thinking in “systems”. And this fundamental transformation of agriculture must not neglect the interconnections between different elements in the food system, to improve resilience to fluctuating markets, climate change, droughts, and soil degradation. Farmers are seen to function not only as food producers, but as stewards of valuable ecosystem services.
One reason for the frustration is that there is tremendous unmet potential in the agricultural system for tackling a series of interlinked problems that threaten to grow far more devastating in the future. Agricultural landscapes have the potential to, if properly managed, keep large amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere through capture in the soil or the use of agroforestry. In addition, a food system that focuses on building local and diversified capacity is freed from the imperative to import and export, and the associated challenges and carbon footprint. The advantages to refocusing trade and agriculture, however, should not be seen as exclusive to climate change, but radiating across a range of social problems such as poverty, gender inequality, food security, and conservation.
To accomplish these wide-ranging changes the report recommends that holistic management should take place on a landscape level rather than a farm level. By seeking to manage complex interactions between components of agricultural systems and ecosystems of the wider landscape, as well as the trade and governance elements, the resulting diversification and improved provision of ecosystem services can contribute to climate change mitigation efforts and help build resilience for those most in need.
Wake Up Before It Is Too Late: Make Agriculture Truly Sustainable Now for Food Security in a Changing Climate – UNCTAD Trade and Environment Review 2013