Africa, People, Prosperity, Planet, Asia Pacific

Meeting the global food transformation challenge – a producer perspective from the Global Agribusiness Alliance

Ruth Thomas | Apr 01, 2019

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This article was originally published by Medium and is republished with permission.

The recent EAT-Lancet Commission report, ‘Our Food in the Anthropocene: Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems,’ is a great first step in framing one of the biggest challenges of our time: how to feed a growing population with a healthy diet and within planetary boundaries.

The report sets out scientific targets for sustainable diets as well as sustainable agricultural production. Meeting this challenge will shape global agricultural policy for decades to come. We welcome the opportunity to engage in the next critical phase of work needed: what it will take to deliver a ‘healthy people, healthy planet’ food system? What are the big challenges that the supply-side faces? How can we best align sustainable supply with sustainable demand?

There are no easy answers to these questions says Tim Searchinger of Princeton University and the World Resources Institute ‘There is not one huge conceptual change where you do everything differently and everything will be ok. There is not one single answer. There are lots and lots of things we can and need to do’ (The Guardian 28 January 2019).

In supporting sustainable production within planetary boundaries, agricultural producers also recognize the key role of thriving rural economies. More than 70% of people living in poverty rely on agriculture for their livelihoods and agriculture provides 30% of the GDP in many low-income countries. There are huge social, environmental and economic implications to the scale of change needed in the production system ahead.

One of these challenges is migration from rural to urban areas as young would-be farmers seek a better quality of life. This trend poses key questions around how to build sustainable rural livelihoods and a thriving rural economy — essential elements of maintaining a strong agricultural system: how can farming be made more viable? Who is going to grow the food for 10 billion people? The good news is that forward-looking companies, including some GAA members, have started preparing to support the transition to more sustainable production systems by focusing on the needs of rural communities and the hundreds of thousands of hugely important smallholder farmers.

· Golden Agri-Resources (GAR)’s Alternative Livelihood Programme, launched in 2016, teaches villages sustainable agriculture practices. This is helping rural communities grow their own and more varied food crops, and to sell the excess in local markets to generate additional income. Offering farmers alternative, sustainable methods of land preparation, which at the same time guarantees food security for their families, significantly reduces forest fires started by villagers to clear land for agriculture.

Olam’s digital platform, AtSource, gives detailed social and environmental insights into the journey of agricultural raw materials and food ingredients — from the farm to manufacturing and retail customers. This is information that can help direct support and intervention where it is needed most, at scale.

And, while the challenges of gathering such data in highly fragmented and complex supply chains is immense, this data will enhance Olam’s ability to assess and positively influence the environmental footprint of the 4.7 million farmers in the company’s supply chain.

Putting essential social and environmental drivers at the heart of their strategies will enable companies to realize new opportunities: according to the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, moving to more sustainable food and land use systems could unlock USD$2.3 trillion of new value and create 800 million jobs globally by 2030.

Despite the questions surrounding how we deliver the EAT-Lancet goals one thing is clear: farmers must be at the heart of the solution to our sustainable food system.

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