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International commission offers road map to sustainable agriculture

An independent commission of scientific leaders from 13 countries today released a detailed set of recommendations to policymakers on how to achieve food security in the face of climate change.

In their report, the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change proposes specific policy responses to the global challenge of feeding a world confronted by climate change, population growth, poverty, food price spikes and degraded ecosystems. The report highlights specific opportunities under the mandates of the Rio+20 Earth Summit, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Group of 20 (G20) nations.

"Food insecurity and climate change are already inhibiting human well-being and economic growth throughout the world and these problems are poised to accelerate," said Sir John Beddington, chair of the commission. "Decisive policy action is required if we are to preserve the planet's capacity to produce adequate food in the future."

The report was released today at the Planet Under Pressure conference where scientists from around the world are honing solutions for global sustainability challenges targeted to the Rio Summit to be held June 20-22 in Brazil.

The commission was created in 2011 and charged with identifying the best research-based approaches toward global food security in the face of climate change. The new report, available at, outlines seven recommendations they hope to see implemented concurrently by a constellation of governments, international institutions, investors, agricultural producers, consumers, food companies and researchers. They call for changes in policy, finance, agriculture, development aid, diet choices, and food waste as well as revitalized investment in the knowledge systems to support these changes.

"It's past time to realize that farms of every size all over the world are fundamental to providing for human nutritional demands and economic well-being, but they also face critical choices with significant implications for the way we manage the planet for long-term sufficiency," says U.S. Commissioner Molly Jahn, a professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Further, changes in agricultural practices have the potential to deliver benefits for both adaptation and mitigation of climate change. For example, in China, nearly 400 kilograms of chemical fertilizer are used on every hectare of farmland and, in Mexico, agriculture accounts for 77 percent of domestic water use, in part due to substantial subsidies for water and electricity used for irrigation.

Such practices offer both challenges and opportunities to refocus policies and budgets, say Jahn and the other commissioners, and they have urged the UNFCCC to establish a work program that addresses these issues together under the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice.

In addition to tackling agriculture, the commission's recommendations explicitly recognize the "demand side" of food insecurity, calling for policies and programs to support healthy and sustainable eating as well as those explicitly designed to empower vulnerable populations.

In particular, they underscore the need for improved data and decision support for land managers and policy makers. "The elements of the food system – soil, water, climate, energy, people – are intimately connected and it is critical that we understand how they work together as a system, and get that information into the hands of those who need it most," Jahn says.

The commission's report presents a stark picture of the challenges ahead and calls for decisive action on a global scale to ensure a "safe operating space" [link] for current and future generations.

"Many public and private sector leaders are already taking steps to overcome technical, social, financial and political barriers to a sustainable food system," says Bruce Campbell, director of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, which convened the commission in February 2011. "The commission's work spells out who needs to do what to take these early efforts to the next level."

The commission is financially supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development. The commission brings together senior natural and social scientists working in agriculture, climate, food and nutrition, economics, and natural resources from Australia, Brazil, Bangladesh, China, Ethiopia, France, Kenya, India, Mexico, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States and Vietnam. Additional materials can be found at

Commission Recommendations:

1. Integrate food security and sustainable agriculture into global and national policies

2. Significantly raise the level of global investment in sustainable agriculture and food systems in the next decade

3. Sustainably intensify agricultural production while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other negative environmental impacts of agriculture

4. Target populations and sectors that are most vulnerable to climate change and food insecurity

5. Reshape food access and consumption patterns to ensure basic nutritional needs are met and to foster healthy and sustainable eating habits worldwide

6. Reduce loss and waste in food systems, particularly from infrastructure, farming practices, processing, distribution and household habits

7. Create comprehensive, shared, integrated information systems that encompass human and ecological dimensions

-- Jill Sakai,, (608) 262-9772

Molly Jahn | EurekAlert!
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