Sustainable agriculture: where are we on SDGs implementation?

Feeding the 10 billion people projected to live on planet earth in 2050 must aim to go beyond producing more with less to balancing the focus on quality and diversity, linking productivity to sustainability and addressing the needs of people.

The information in this document was compiled as background reading material for the 54th Brussels Briefing taking place on 27 February 2019.

In ACP countries, agriculture (including fisheries and livestock) is and will remain a main contributor to food security, employment and a driver of economic growth. However, the sector needs to be more attractive for a new generation of farmers, youth and women across the value chain.

Looking back, major improvements in agricultural productivity have been recorded over recent decades to satisfy the food demand of a growing global population. But progress has often come with social and environmental costs, including water scarcity, soil degradation, ecosystem stress, biodiversity loss, decreasing fish stocks and forest cover, and high levels of greenhouse gas emissions.54 Sustainable agriculture is the only way to feed a growing a population and transmitting our land to future generations as the consequences of depletion are irreversible.

The future lies on the transformation of our food systems towards enhanced sustainability, eradication of poverty, healthy and educated population who can make a living from agriculture in rural areas and urban and peri-urban spaces and inclusiveness to decrease the inequality gap affecting smallholders.

An enabling environment with supportive regulations and adequate incentives for the new generation to invest in agriculture and unlocking the potential of the private sector will be a key part of the future of farming. Social protection systems are needed for the most vulnerable and resilience building strategies to be able to anticipate, respond to and recover from shocks and crises which include diversification of sources of income, storage facilities and sustainable farming practices.

Establishing SDG national implementation platforms to develop more integrated programmes and policies, better interlink different goals and targets, monitor progress and identify and address barriers to change will be crucial to enable real transformation, signalling the way forward for sustainable food and agriculture to help countries realise their development objectives.55

Women play a critical role throughout agri-food value chains, in the management of natural resources and in ensuring food and nutrition security and well-being of the family. Therefore, the development of gender-responsive value chains, the use of sex-disaggregated reporting should be strengthened in order to better capture women’s contributions and to better measure efforts to reach, benefit and empower women as well as address gender inequalities and specific vulnerabilities of women and girls.

Some key issues to transform our agriculture to achieve the SDGs as listed by FAO include:

  • Improving productivity through increased access to lack access to resources and services and adequate rural infrastructure to support food producers. Creating the conditions for inclusive rural transformation requires investing in basic infrastructure, restore soil health and apply sustainable land and resources management practices, and providing greater access to land, resources, services, finance, technologies and energy.
  • Connect smallholders to markets to generate greater income through stronger entrepreneurial and business skills and capacities including through the use of technologies like mobile phones and apps to access price information quickly, transparently and accurately. Youth are not equipped with the needed skills to address market gaps and often as individual entrepreneurs not supported by organisations or institutional set-ups (cooperatives, SMEs…) and having difficulties to access credit and technologies.
  • Encourage diversification of production and income: integrated crop-livestock systems, agroforestry and combining paddy rice with aquaculture have shown to increase productivity, producing more with less to help satisfy the demand of a rising and increasingly urbanised global population. Combining farm and off-farm activities helps ensure that rural households earn an income during the lean season or in the face of extreme climate events
  • Build producers’ knowledge and develop their capacities: farmers need new skills and businesses approaches to capture better gains in modern value chains from farm to fork.
  • Mainstream biodiversity conservation and protect ecosystem functions: conserving and using a wide range of domestic plant and animal diversity provides adaptability and resilience to climate change, emerging diseases, pressures on feed and water supplies and shifting market demands and enhances sustainable development, food security and nutrition.
  • Reduce losses, encourage reuse and recycle, and promote sustainable consumption: incentives for resilient and sustainable consumption and production are needed in food systems and value chains. Better knowledge and technologies can improve post-harvest losses, increases farmers’ incomes and improve the efficiency of food systems. Greater commitments to a circular economy in food and agriculture will support sustainable food systems.
  • Promote secure tenure rights and access to land supports better and long-term investment from farmers, conserve natural resources and generally promote more productive and sustainable practices.
  • Improve nutrition and promote balanced diets: The costs of malnutrition in all its forms are very high to society. Diversified and safe food is critical for a balanced nutritional status of producers and consumers. To support nutrition-sensitive agriculture, local consumption of fresh food needs to be promoted, nutrition education awareness programmes disseminated, and concrete actions taken at all stages of the food chain.
  • Address and adapt to climate change: Climate change is a reality for many farmers and food producers across the world and the effects of increasingly volatile and extreme weather patterns are damaging infrastructure, harvests, fish stocks and eroding natural resources. Studies indicate that climate change could add 12 percent to 2030 food prices in Africa, where food consumption of the poorest households amounts to over 60 percent of their total spending (FAO). For development to be climate-resilient, greater access to technologies, markets, information and credit for investment will be required to adapt the production systems and practices. An integrated farming system, which include mixed cropping, crop-livestock, agroforestry, tree-crop-livestock as well as aquaculture, shows higher resilience to climatic variability and provides more ecosystem services.
  • Investment and Finance need to increase in support of rural infrastructure and to address liquidity problems faced by farmers to develop local economies.

A whole range of innovative approaches to rural finance and forms of investment are now available, such as agricultural investment funds, investment promotion, guarantee funds and ICT, to increase the level of financing while lowering the risks to investors.

Capacity building on research, data collection, analysis and assessments on SDG2 and its linkages with the other SDGs are essential.

The integrated and transformative nature of the 2030 Agenda requires policies, innovative approaches and partnerships which support intersectoral linkages and collaboration as well as investments in Research and Development (R&D) and advisory services including farmer knowledge systems.

The food and agriculture sector must take an integrated approach to sustainability that includes taking stock of the relevant sectoral policies, mapping and analysing synergies and trade-offs between the economic, social and environmental spheres, assessing the state of the sustainability of food systems and agriculture and identifying key issues, their causes and drivers.