Today’s newly released white paper from Solutions from the Land (SfL) notes that the 21st century is now fully under way, amid weather-related crop failures; locust plagues; wildfires and deforestation; regional conflicts; loss of biodiversity; erosion of ecosystem health and functionality; a changing climate; and the spillover of 2020’s global pandemic into 2021.
Our 20th century agricultural production and conservation systems are increasingly under stress and are proving to be inadequate to manage the risks and uncertainties of 21st century production. SfL’s report promotes solution pathways that better boost not only food security, but energy, healthy ecosystems and livelihoods as well.
The paper highlights an overarching objective of the vision for 21st century agricultural and forestry production systems: attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 17 objectives set in 2015 for 2030 by UN members to call for (among other outcomes) the elimination of hunger, the restoration of clean water resources, the development of clean energy and the mitigation of a changing climate.
To address these multiple outcomes, agriculture is critical, and must be defined through the lens of a broader reality of living as opposed to simply surviving. SfL’s report sets out this vision, with pathways to promote the resilience needed to maintain abundance in the years to come.
The farmers, foresters and ranchers of today must address the proliferating and varied challenges surrounding hunger, livelihoods, water scarcity, clean water, healthy soil, ecosystem resilience, climate change, greenhouse gases and a whole range of local and global realities. To meet them, the paper offers a lengthy list of technologies and innovations being applied to support precision agriculture, agricultural ecosystem and biodiversity management, and easier, more effective ways for farmers and others in farming landscapes to communicate and collaborate.
Advanced science is also uncovering processes in microbiology, plant biology, agroecology and landscape ecology – at field, farm and landscape scales – that can be harnessed to develop nature-positive production systems and maximize the experiential or indigenous experience of farmers. Inventions from in every field of technology, data and biological science are rapidly moving past conceptualization to experimental trials and mainstream uses.
“Yet despite these advances,” the report warns, “without the full engagement of farmers, foresters and their partners, our capacity to transform the systems of agriculture for the future will be compromised. The development of a more dynamic and robust toolbox is essential, but will be insufficient without the voice, experience, and understanding that the stewards of the land provide as they move beyond timely projections to address changes and threats in real time.” In other words, those on the front line must have support and resources to strike new ground in managing their lands and shaping their working landscapes.
A vision for working landscapes of the future offered by the paper brings production, environmental, food, and nutrition policies into harmony and streamlines regulations that are too often overlapping and contradictory. It is a model that engages with farmers to sharpen a shared focus on outcomes, not prescriptive mandates that tell farmers how to farm.
The vision calls for strategies anchored by the three overlapping climate smart agriculture (CSA) pillars: 1) sustainable intensification of production, 2) adaptive management and 3) greenhouse gas reduction. The paper notes that a CSA approach does not prioritize any one of the pillars and represents the simultaneous co-benefits that accrue from their pursuit. Subsequently, a “many pathways” approach to managing working lands recognizes the tremendous diversity of agricultural landscapes and ecosystems, and enables producers to utilize the systems and practices that best support their own unique situations and circumstances.
Thanks to hard work, indigenous knowledge, innovation and technology, and uncommon collaboration among those who make their living off the land, agriculture is poised to bloom, grow, and emerge as a primary solution pathway towards the achievement of worldwide sustainable development goals. SfL invites partners across the planet to join in this epic quest and movement to position farmers, ranchers and foresters at the forefront of addressing global challenges.