Agriculture is in every SDG: Part 2

By Alice MarksStory-2-SDGsIn Part 1 of this series Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 1-8 were explored to demonstrate that a healthy agriculture sector underpins so much of the international development agenda. For the SDGs to succeed, agriculture needs to be an integral part of discussions around every one of the global goals. Here is how it fits into goals 9 – 17:

9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

Neil Palmer (CIAT)

Road in Uganda Credit: Neil Palmer (CIAT)

Strong agricultural value chains offer the opportunity to capture added value at each stage of the production, marketing and consumption process. There are a myriad of opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship in the agriculture and food sectors, from ‘farm to fork’: from mechanisation at the farm level to retail management and marketing for both domestic and international markets. However, according to ONE, poor infrastructure is reported by African companies as the biggest barrier to doing business in Africa. Improving roads, railways and airports facilitates access to national and international markets and boosts agricultural businesses. Meanwhile infrastructure for digital technology such as electricity, internet and cell coverage also help smallholder farmers access information on best prices, weather forecasts, and allows them to share knowledge and expertise.

10. Reduced Inequalities

Despite the progress achieved through the MDGs, poverty remains a predominantly rural problem with more than 70% of those in extreme poverty located in rural areas. Agricultural development has been shown to accelerate the reduction of inequality, especially in the medium to long run, and particularly with regards to reducing poverty and poverty gaps. Agricultural cooperatives can be particularly powerful tools for this purpose, as they can help rural people to access financial services, agricultural inputs, information and output markets. This creates better opportunities than would be possible for the individual farmers, and supports an empowering social environment

11. Sustainable Cities and Communities

Louis Putzel for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Credit: Louis Putzel, CIFOR

According to UN figures, in 1950 only 30% of the world’s population lived in cities, but rapid urbanisation has seen this figure rise to 54% in 2014, and is expected to continue to rise to 66% by 2050. This trend has a significant impact for the development of sustainable food systems and rural areas. In order to support sustainable cities, local agricultural sectors will need to adapt to increased localised pressure on natural resources such as water, as well as ensuring the production and delivery of nutritious and affordable food to urban populations. In 2012, sub-Saharan African countries spent $37.7 billion on food imports. Where this demand can be met locally, potentially through urban and peri-urban agriculture, it offers a chance for farm households to seize opportunities along agribusiness value chains.

12. Responsible Consumption and Production

While 44% of sub-Saharan Africans suffer from food insecurity, globally 30% of food produced is wasted. According to UNEP there is a global trend towards overconsumption, but while food is wasted through the behaviour of consumers and retailers, it is also lost earlier in the chain through poor post-harvest procedures and at the processing stage in the supply chain. One way that this situation can be improved is through better warehousing. For example, Agroways (U) Ltd. warehouse in Jinja, Uganda offers transport, cleaning, drying, grading and storage services to smallholder farmers at affordable prices ensuring that spoilage, rot and infestation are reduced. This reduces post-harvest loss so that more produce gets to markets.

13. Climate Action


Drought tolerant crops. Credit genetic literacy project

While agriculture is a big contributor to climate change, emitting 13% of total GHG emissions, it is also inherently vulnerable to climatic changes and extremes. Mean temperatures in Africa are set to rise faster than the global average, and the corresponding agricultural losses will amount to 2% to 7% of GDP by 2100. However, agriculture can offer a major hand in helping to alleviate this impact. With the right training and incentives, such as payment for ecosystem services (PES), farmers can build resilience and reduce GHG emissions. There are a number of ways this can be done, for example through effective soil carbon sequestration. For more information of other ways that agriculture can be part of the climate solution, take a look at the 2015 Montpellier Panel report, The Farms of Change.

14. Life below water

Overuse of nitrogen-based fertilisers in agriculture can cause high levels of nitrogen to be washed into rivers, lakes and seas. This can cause algal blooms, where algae grows, dies and decomposes so quickly that oxygen is removed from the water and animal life cannot be sustained, causing so-called ‘dead zones‘. One technique which may reduce these occurrences is micro-dosing, which helps to raise yields and reduce the environmental impact of excessive input use by using fertilisers more efficiently, and thereby reducing the amount which may be washed out of the soils into rivers and oceans.

15. Life on land

Credit: Curt Carnemark, World Bank

Credit: Curt Carnemark, World Bank

According to the World Resources Intitute, croplands and pasture occupy about half of the globe that is not already covered by ice, water, or desert. The continuing conversion of forests, savannahs and peatlands to agricultural land contributes about 11% of GHG emissions and is the main cause of ecosystem degradation and loss of biodiversity. As this is unsustainable, a three-pronged approach is needed that reduces the growth in food consumption, increases food production on existing agricultural land (for example using sustainable intensification techniques), and reduces the environmental impact of food production.

16. Peace and justice

Agriculture can be more productive when there is peace – farmers in conflict zones risk exposure to attack while working in fields or theft of money or livestock at markets. In addition, the risk of conflict may deter external investors from investing in agricultural value chains. According to Landesa, a significant number of conflicts are related to land and land-related issues, and they can be major contributors to instability, civil wars and migration. Meanwhile the FAO identifies land tenure security as an essential prerequisite for successful agricultural development. Without tenure security farmers are unlikely to invest in sustainable land management practices such as agroforestry or water conservation if they fear they may be forced from the land. Stable, fair and transparent legislation which create enabling environments is therefore essential for sustainable agricultural development.

17. Partnerships for the goals

Photo credit: UNDCF

Microfinance initiatives. Photo credit: UNDCF

With proper care and good policies, public and private partnerships can be a driving force for poverty reduction and sustainable agricultural development. For example, microfinance and micro-insurance initiatives can allow rural farmers to invest in their land and equipment (for examples see One Acre Fund). Technology, particularly communication technology, can provide farmers and rural communities with better information including weather forecasts and improved agricultural techniques. Trade partnerships too can facilitate access to international markets, with the potential to increase incomes through the sale of agricultural goods. However, for these to be successful in reducing poverty they need to be implemented with the interests of the farmers at heart, so strong policy and governance are important factors for success.

Agriculture underpins so much that we think of as a ‘good’ livelihood, not only for farmers but all along the agribusiness value chain to the consumer and beyond. As such it’s difficult to imagine how the SDGs are achievable without working towards a sustainable future for agriculture. As policy makers are turning their attention away from signing up to the SDGs, and towards the implementation and funding of these goals, we must hope that agriculture will play the central role that it desperately needs and deserves.

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