International Pressure to Transform Agriculture

iucn agriculture report

A new report by the IUCN, Approaches to Sustainable Agriculture, describes agriculture as a core issue for the conservation sector now, and into the future. The report recognises agriculture as not only integral to our survival, but also as one of the most significant drivers of biodiversity loss, climate change and pollution.

· Agriculture must undergo transformational change if the planet is to avoid catastrophic climate change, biodiversity loss, and water pollution from farm chemicals

· Some local and regional farmers are undergoing such changes

· The diversity of alternative agricultural practices, such as organic, biodynamic and regenerative practices share similar attributes – soil health, biodiversity restoration and avoiding or minimising chemical fertilisers and pesticides

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) is the world’s largest conservation organisation consisting of 211 governments/agencies, 1200 non-government member organisations and 17,000 experts making up the six Commissions covering education, protected areas, law, ecosystem management, policy and species survival. The IUCN is the principle non-government advisor to the United Nations on environment policy.

The future of agriculture is a vital issue for the Douglas Shire, due to a number of reasons, including:

  • the globalisation of agriculture
  • consumer demand
  • the two World Heritage areas surrounding Douglas Shire, and
  • the dependency of the tourism economy on these natural treasures.

Globally, 50% of all habitable land is used for agriculture. In Australia the rate is 60% and in Queensland, 81%.
Uninhabitable land – for example, glaciers, sand, rocks is estimated to be 29% of the total land area.

Another metric for agricultural impact on the planet is that 96% of mammal biomass (ie body weight) is constituted by humans and their domestic animals – cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, horses, dogs etc. The remaining 4% of the planet’s mammal biomass is made up of wild animals.

“We know that we must set ourselves on the path to sustainable agriculture, and fast – the question is not if, but how?”

IUCN Report Approaches to Sustainable Agriculture

“Our path towards sustainable agriculture has to be a common effort: from international and national authorities and decision makers, to all stakeholders along the food value chain, producers, retailers, consumers and also environmental actors such as NGOs (non-government organisations). With the enhancement and sharing of knowledge and perspectives, we can better band together towards a common vision and transformation of our food system. This paper is an important step on the path towards this goal, and we hope that it may serve as an important tool in its own right.”

IUCN Report Approaches to Sustainable Agriculture

To that end, the IUCN, together with the European Commission, the round tables on the green architecture of the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), have brought together farmer and environmental organisations to discuss ways to enhance the future CAP’s environmental performance.

Agriculture is a core feature of Europe’s Green Deal. It may well become so in the US, which has made climate change the centrepiece of its economic recovery package.

Australia will need to get its act together to avoid paying carbon tax at the borders of the EU and US. Not only in relation to climate policy, but with other environmental imperatives such as biodiversity, protected areas and pollution.

The Report examines approaches to sustainable agriculture including:

  • agroecology
  • nature-inclusive agriculture
  • permaculture
  • biodynamic agriculture
  • organic farming
  • conservation agriculture
  • regenerative agriculture
  • carbon farming
  • climate-smart agriculture
  • high nature value farming
  • low external input agriculture
  • circular agriculture
  • ecological intensification, and
  • sustainable intensification.

These approaches share similar sustainable practices, including:

  • crop rotation
  • cover and companion cropping
  • mixed and intercropping
  • the reduction of synthetic pesticide and mineral fertiliser use
  • no or minimal tillage
  • lower livestock densities
  • managed and free-range grazing
  • crop diversification
  • mixing farming and forestry
  • mixed crop and animal farming
  • nutrient balancing
  • recovery and reuse, and
  • the inclusion of landscape elements such as hedgerows (corridors in Australia).

“Without being exhaustive, we may nevertheless conclude that all the practices listed can be considered “sustainable agricultural practices”, the Report says.

Douglas Shire farmers are becoming increasingly familiar with some of these practices. Recent forums such as Regen Cane advocating Regenerative Agriculture, and Project Catalyst, a World Wildlife Fund/CocaCola initiative funding innovative farming practices, are educating, informing and inspiring local farmers.

A crucial factor underpinning another common challenge is the lack of common metrics and indicators.
“A lack of quantitative evidence of the benefits of these approaches will convince neither farmers, consumers, nor policy makers to adopt and promote them,” the IUCN Report says.

This is where “environmental markets” come in.

There is a cost to the transformational change needed to make agriculture sustainable, to restore ecosystems and to avoid mass extinctions. This cost can only be met if ecosystem services, (such as clean air and water) are paid for, and not consumed free of charge.
Those ecosystem services could be funded through paying a higher price for food, in a payment direct to farmers, for example sequestering carbon or driven by the demand of consumers for “ethical food and fibre”.

Mike Berwick AM, Commissioner, World Commission on Protected Areas