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Forests, Food & Farming Next Frontier in Climate Emergency

Ruth Richardson is Executive Director, Global Alliance for the Future of Food.

TORONTO, Canada, Aug 16 2019 (IPS) - The special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)  on climate and land, launched last week, makes it clear that without drastic changes in land use, agriculture and human diets, we will fall significantly short of targets to hold global temperature rise below 1.5°C. 

Agriculture and food systems are identified as they key drivers of land degradation and desertification, with carbon emissions and extractive activities affecting 75 per cent of the Earth’s land surface. Now, as forests, food, and farming become the next frontier in the climate emergency, there is an urgent need to accelerate creative and effective solutions.

It is against this backdrop that a new report  – Beacons of Hope: Accelerating Transformations to Sustainable Food Systems – showcases 21 initiatives from across the world that are already working in diverse ways to achieve sustainable, equitable and secure food systems.

Each Beacons of Hope is disrupting the status quo and regenerating landscapes, enhancing livelihoods, restoring people’s health and wellbeing, reconnecting with Indigenous and cultural knowledge, and more, in order to achieve a resilient food future.

There is an opportunity to learn from these initiatives, as well as apply those learnings to facilitate and accelerate more food systems transformations.

The report makes the case for why we must pinpoint the drivers of change and seize the opportunities they bring. Climate change is called out as the predominant overriding challenge facing Beacons of Hope and is identified as a key driver of change across food systems.

An awareness of the health impacts of current food systems and the desire to improve community health and well-being also emerged as important drivers of change across many Beacons of Hope. As well, migration and immigration – the movement of people from rural to urban areas, as well as across borders – was found to significantly impact agriculture and health outcomes.

Yet, though food systems are vulnerable and complex, this report makes clear that they can be transformed to provide the people- and nature-based climate solutions we urgently need to address a multitude of issues – from climate emergency, urbanization, and the need for healthier and more sustainable diets.


In Andhra Pradesh, India


In particular, the report details that we need to accelerate agroecological approaches as a way to achieve transformation with many Beacons of Hope putting agroecological principles at the core of their work and their vision of the future.

Take for example how the Climate Resilient Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) initiative in Andhra Pradesh, India, promotes food resilience through traditional, chemical-free farming and agroecological processes and plans to scale from 180,000 farmers today to a massive 6 million by 2024.

At the same time, the Agroecology Case Studies (from the Oakland Institute) present evidence that agroecology can provide better yields, pest management, soil fertility, increased biodiversity, and increased farmer incomes compared to conventional farming.

Both these Beacons of Hope challenge the dominant narrative around food production that pressures national governments to privilege industrialized agriculture and foreign investment over local natural resource management through agroecology.

They also demonstrate that knowledge transfer and skills training, through farmer-to-farmer mentoring, is fundamental to not only building the capacity of farmers and communities over time, but to also challenge top-down approaches to reform and/or single-focused interventions that can cause unintended consequences.

As forests, food, and farming become the next frontier in the climate emergency, there is an urgent need to accelerate creative and effective solutions

Another of the Beacons of Hope – Agricultures Network (AN) is producing regional and global magazines that put farmers at the center of the development of agriculture, and thereby, is facilitating knowledge co-creation between farmer communities, researchers, civil society actors, and others.

Crucially, AN brings to life how sustainable food production also: reduces inequality; fosters healthy society, soil, and environment; and reduces youth unemployment.

Another key takeaway from the report is that new market mechanisms should be identified, developed, and supported by policy and practice. Environmental and social externalities should be internalized by policy and markets in order to balance the playing field on which initiatives addressing sustainability are currently disadvantaged.

This is something that was done, in part, at the Community Markets for Conservation (COMACO) in Zambia. Established in 2009, this Beacon of Hope channels market incentives to rural economies, promoting income generation, biodiversity conservation, and food security by training poachers to be farmers and farmers to be stewards of the land.

Now, thanks to this initiative, the farmers involved are able to grow their own food and create a livelihood outside of elephant hunting, which benefits the environment as well as the health of the smallholder farmers and their families.

Ultimately, there’s little doubt that we need systemic change, new policies, and a shift in power dynamics in order to realize a safe, resilient, and fair food future. We need to see systems-thinking in order to facilitate transformative processes in place-based, contextual ways.

Equally, we need to see long-term thinking, and creative partnerships and investment from across the private sector, civil society, and government committed to transforming food systems. Only then can we ensure that the negative externalities are minimized and positive benefits — economic, social, ecological, and cultural — are enhanced and properly valued.

The Beacons of Hope show us that transformation is not only possible, but is already happening. This creates space for hope, possibility, and opportunity through the groundswell of people transforming our food systems in beneficial, dynamic, and significant ways, through nature- and people-based solutions accelerating meaningful food systems transformations at this critical time.

For more about the Beacons of Hope, visit:

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