Balancing increasing food demand with sustainability in the developing world

By Brian Thomson

Agriculture is one of the main land uses and rural populations predominantly depend on the sector for their livelihoods, that was the topic up for discussion at an IFAD organised event at The Global Environment Facility's 6th Assembly in Da Nang, Vietnam.

IFAD's Roshan Cooke said that we are currently predicting that the world's population will reach 9 billion by 2050 and for that we need a 60 per cent increase in food production.

"So far increasing food production has brought with it a heavy cost for the environment and a massive reduction in agro-biodiversity," added Cooke.

Focusing on the energy needs of increasing food production, Professor Ralph Simms, a member of The GEF's Science and Technical Advisory Panel, explained that already 32 per cent of energy is consumed by the agro-food sector producing around 25 per cent of the world's greenhouse gases.

"We cannot meet the targets of the Paris Agreement without the food sector playing its part," said Simms. "We need a low carbon agro-economy while also meeting food security goals….we need a circular economy."

IFAD's Cooke responded that in order to move forward we need to show the private sector that sustainable agriculture can be profitable for both business and smallholder farmers in developing countries.

Ms Shamiso Najira, Deputy Director of the Environmental Affairs Department for the government of Malawi explained that because biomass is the main fuel source in her country the agroforestry sector contributes 89 per cent of Malawi's greenhouse gas emissions.

"As a country we need more engagement and incentives for working with the private sector," said Najira. "To do that we have created a window under our climate change fund for the private sector to deal with climate change issues."

A new report, The Business Advantage, produced by The International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and IFAD studied a selection of projects under IFAD's Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP). A main finding was that with the right motivation from the public sector substantial investment from the private sector can be attracted.

CIAT's Ms Le Nghiem, explained that at current levels public finance may not be adequate to meet the challenge so we must tap resources from the private sector.

"With the right approach you can leverage money – in our four case studies USD1.00 invested by IFAD leads to USD0.80-2.90 invested by the private sector. We are learning that to be successful we need right the motivation for the private sector to engage in climate change actions."

Demand for food, water and energy will continue to rise with a growing world population. Smallholder farmers, who produce approximately 70 per cent of the food consumed, increasingly face the challenge to enhance the productivity of the agricultural systems to meet growing needs while maintaining the sustainability of the productive landscape.

And the challenges in productivity and over utilisation of natural resources are exacerbated by climate change.

To meet this challenge, Mahamat Assouyout, from the African Development Bank, explained that key commodities in Africa need to be produced in a sustainable manner. He said the Bank is now focusing on a range of crops including key export commodities such as cocoa, coffee, cotton and cashew. He added that we need more investment to get business interested.

The event focused on the role of smallholder farmers and other rural populations in ensuring effective participatory integrated land-use management, which is essential for addressing the trade-offs in land uses.

Ms Nenenteiti Teariki, Director of Kirbati's Environment and Conservation Division said that food security is a national priority for her government.

"Changing life styles are undermining the existing food systems as we depend more and more on imported foods," said Teariki. "We focus on too few products for our food security and we need to focus more on biodiversity."

The event drew on experiences from IFAD in partnership with the GEF as well as research and policy oriented institutions that support countries in addressing the increasing food demand.

IUCN's Johnathan Davies said we are only just becoming aware of how big this issue is.

"For IUCN the important issue is biodiversity in agriculture," said Davies . "The real big issue is soil biodiversity and how it is being managed in sustainable farming systems. Soil biodiversity is the foundation of all ecosystem services for agriculture."

IFAD invests in smallholders, supporting them to overcome the productivity challenges and promotes sustainable agriculture practices that yield environmental benefits. The event highlighted participatory approaches in integrated land-use management and showed some of the innovative agricultural practices that improve food and nutrition security, promote sustainable development and have the potential for scaling up.