Environmental sustainability

Rural potential

Hunger and climate change are two huge global challenges policymakers must rise to. Agriculture and food processing are of crucial relevance.

Merle Becker is an occasional reporter for D+C/E+Z.

Agriculture is the cause of around 14 % of all greenhouse gas emissions, as an essay published by Deutsche Bank Research in September reports. The share rises even higher when deforestation is factored in. Low-income countries, according to the paper, account for three quarters of all climate relevant emissions from farms. This share too is expected to rise, because the world population is growing and because incomes are rising and consumption patterns are changing.


To feed a growing world population it will not do to simply produce more food. Experts stress that harvest losses must be reduced too (also note interview with ­Rashad Kaldany, page 392). Recent studies indicate that about one third of global food production gets thrown away instead of eaten. The greenhouse gas emissions caused by their production are thus completely useless. Rotting food, moreover, emits methan, a potent greenhouse gas. Claire Schaffnit-Chatterjee, the author of the DB Research study, calls for awareness campaigns to convince consumers, particularly in rich nations. Rising demand for bio fuels, she adds, contributes to food insecurity too since fuel crops often crowd out food crops.

Agriculture and forestry are of great relevance for mitigating climate change, the essay states. Combined, these two sectors offer about one third of the emissions-reduction potential that would limit global warming to two degrees Celsius on average. The report points out that it is easier and cheaper to reduce emissions in agriculture than in other sectors such as energy, for instance. The energy sector is said to be of great importance, but the technology needed tends to not be available yet. Agriculture and forestry, moreover, can sequester carbon that was emitted into the atmosphere.

To tap the potential, policymakers should act fast. DB Research proposes several options. Governments can either cap farm emissions by imposing legal limits or use market incentives, for instance taxes on greenhouse gas emissions. Awareness campaigns, moreover, would increase pressure on farms to gear production towards environmental sustainability. On top of all these measures, corporate social responsibility can make a difference. Policy coherence, the paper states, is needed for all kinds of action to have real impact.

The food processing industry matters too, according to Schaffnit-Chatterjee, since it determines what crops are culti­vated and what food products are marketed in what quality. Food supply could be provided in a more climate-compatible way, she argues, for instance by replacing animal proteins with plant protein. The author welcomes that multinational corporations are increasingly measuring their carbon footprints, but she points out that there is still is a lack of standards and regulations.

Out of control

To tackle the challenges, new models of farm financing are necessary. According to Schaffnit-Chatterjee these could either be based on market forces or managed by government agencies. In either case, the point is to make work easier for farmers and to reduce trans­action costs. The essay emphasises that all producers, including smallholders, are the target group and that globally ­active finance institutions could provide capital.

So far, the author bemoans, there is no cost-effective control of emissions from agriculture. According to her, governments’ agriculture policies tend to be biased towards agriculture systems that are not the most sustainable. Smallholder farmers have a role to play in mitigating change and must be given the means to do so, including secure land tenure.

Merle Becker

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The UN Sustainable Development Goals aim to transform economies in an environmentally sound manner, leaving no one behind.