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OPINION: Climate change demands a new era of agricultural innovation

by Jaime Adams | United States Department of Agriculture
Friday, 18 March 2022 11:45 GMT

Sogin, 60, and Sukardi, 70, pick hydroponic vegetables at their home on a small farm amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Jakarta, Indonesia, May 17, 2020. REUTERS/Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

A risky cocktail of global warming, conflict and the pandemic is leaving more people without enough food to eat – a situation that calls for climate-smart farming practices

Jaime Adams is senior advisor for international affairs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Today we face intersecting challenges of global hunger and the climate crisis. Nearly 1 billion people are hungry, and even more are food-insecure, meaning they struggle to get enough to eat. Conflicts and a global pandemic continue to impact food supply chains and increase global food insecurity.

As climate change continues to affect global temperature, weather and seasonality, longstanding agricultural practices are undermined, leaving many farmers struggling to find solutions. Subsequently, the world’s rapidly growing population is reliant on an increasingly vulnerable food production system.

With the global population continuing to grow and projected to increase by almost 3 billion by the end of the century, we need definitive action to rise to the challenge of feeding a growing population. New technologies, products, and approaches are needed to mitigate and adapt to climate change while sustainably increasing agricultural productivity, farmer incomes, and economic growth.

Growing up in the heart of rural America’s ‘corn belt’, many of my friends and neighbors were from multi-generational farms. I remember stories about the importance of taking care of the land that they depended on year after year. Critical to their livelihood, they strived to be efficient and effective by limiting unnecessary inputs, noting tight profit margins. They were excited to use new innovations, products and processes to sustainably increase productivity and incomes.  

I have had the privilege to speak with farmers all over the world and their passionate stories have a common thread. They want to produce enough food to feed the world, manage an efficient agricultural operation, and improve the livelihoods of their families and communities. One way to address these challenges is to create a surge of solutions through climate-smart agricultural innovation, empowering agriculture to be part of the solution to address the climate crisis and create co-benefits of climate action.

The United States government, in partnership with the United Arab Emirates, has been quick to act, launching a global coalition to encourage innovation in support of climate-smart farming, the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM for Climate), at COP26 in Glasgow. At launch, AIM for Climate had over 80 government and non-government partners collectively pledging an initial $4 billion towards climate-smart agriculture and food systems innovation over five years (2021-2025), and the United States intends to mobilize $1 billion.

Now with over 160 partners, the initiative continues to grow rapidly and at the AIM for Climate’s first Ministerial Meeting, held at Expo 2020 in Dubai in February, the initiative welcomed Chile, Costa Rica, Egypt, the European Commission, Guyana, Mozambique, and Turkey. There, AIM for Climate announced an ambitious goal to double spending on climate-smart agricultural innovation from the initial $4 billion announced at COP26 to $8 billion by COP27.

Raising global ambition and driving more rapid and transformative climate action in all countries – which includes enabling science-based and data-driven decision and policy-making – will be key. Most importantly, investment in climate-smart agriculture innovation will enable the world to meet nutritional needs, increase agricultural productivity, improve livelihoods, conserve nature and biodiversity, build resilience to climate change, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and sequester carbon.

Innovation does not happen overnight; in fact, the innovation pipeline is often 5-10 years long. Some studies cite more than a $5-billion-per-year investment gap globally in climate-smart agricultural innovation, especially when compared to other sectors such as clean energy. We need all innovation – by government, business, nonprofit groups and others - to address the challenges we face, including precision agriculture, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, sensors, hydroponics, genetics and robotics, to name just a few. 

By working together as a global coalition, AIM for Climate can accelerate ideas and innovation, implement well thought-out solutions and coordinate responses to attain the maximum impact. This is the future of agriculture and food systems unlike no other.