Food and Agriculture: The future of sustainability

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Food and Agriculture: The future of sustainability

a disproportionately negative effect on the world’s

most vulnerable populations.

Respondents from this group agreed on the need to

focus on ongoing productivity growth, but point to

the need to do so using less energy and chemical

intensive inputs, and responding to serious and

growing natural resource constraints, particularly

in water and soils. Meeting these challenges

requires technological innovation and “sustainable

intensification” but also a new mindset and consensus

around policies that incentivize a more prudent use of

limited resources. In addition to the need to focus on

productivity growth, respondents view poverty as a

major stumbling block for global food security.

The Importance of technology and

innovation

Respondents all shared a sense of technological

optimism. Technological improvements to allow

agricultural productivity to keep pace with an

expanding population were perceived as a key priority.

Reference was made to the shared finding across

recent forward looking exercises (IAASTD, FAO/

OECD, IFPRI, UK foresight’s Global Food and Farming

Futures report, Agrimonde’s Scenarios and Challenges

for Feeding the World in 2050 study), namely that

technology will continue to be critically important

because of the need to increase productivity, but that

as indicated in the IAASTD, “business as usual is not

an option” and that agricultural intensification must be

socially and ecologically sustainable.

Sustainable intensification

The importance of agricultural biotechnology for

increasing yield and reducing pesticide use, and for

facilitating greater drought tolerance and more efficient

nitrogen uptake was stressed by several respondents

from this group. But several cautionary notes were

also struck:

• new legal arrangements were seen as necessary

by one respondent to ensure the economic benefits

granted to the patent holders by intellectual

property rights and provide sufficient access for

those in urgent need of innovations to avoid hunger

• the need for a global standard (or at least increased

harmonization of standards) for cultivation and

commercialization of GM crops was emphasized.

Presently, national approval systems operate at

different timeframes, resulting in asynchronous

authorizations, meaning that a GM transaction may

have been approved in a country of export but not

yet in a country of import, which can lead to trade

disruptions

• key questions about the possible detrimental

impacts of GM crops (and hormones) have not yet

properly been solved

• the societal debate over GM crops and other

types of innovation in food production needs to be

carefully conducted.

Whereas only one particular reference was made to

another potential technological innovation – artificial

photosynthesis – the need for both public and

private sector investment to facilitate “breakthrough

innovations” was emphasized, which nicely

encapsulated the widely shared view/optimism

that human ingenuity, when coupled with sufficient

resources, would lead to new solutions to meet

the pressing challenges facing the global food and

agricultural system.

3. Main challenges and priorities of global thought leaders

Sustainability issues cannot be ignored, which

militate for an intensification of agriculture

which must be ecologically and socially

sustainable, implying a set of formidable

challenges for many diverse actors.

Michel Petit

Shifts in research and development to

facilitate innovation

There is a need for “new metrics,” i.e. calories

per hectare, yield per input to guide us towards

technological innovations to reach greater efficiency. 139

Food and Agriculture: The future of sustainability 31

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