Summary: One of our key focuses over the coming decades, both financially and socially, must be on making our food production more efficient. But this doesn't necessarily mean more industrial scale farming. It means using technology and new approaches to make the type of agriculture we want financially viable. There are ways of growing more with less, and precision agriculture is an important contributor to of this. We need to focus more on these “easy” wins, but we also need to do so in a way that respects the financial reality faced by many farmers.
Why this is important: The role of agriculture in delivering net zero, regenerating our environment and enhancing our social systems is often the “elephant in the room” that we just don't talk about in a coherent way. Food prices and food security are massive political issues in many countries, and we argue that with increasing urbanisation we have become disconnected from where our food comes from, effectively exporting the negative impacts in return for low prices and year round availability.
The big theme: Our global food production system contributes roughly one third of all global GHG emissions. Close to 70% of this comes from agriculture and related changes in land use, with the rest coming from activities such as transportation and packaging. And with expected increases in food production, industry emissions might increase by up to 80% by 2050. There is no single silver bullet to solving this challenge in an economically viable way, but there are many actions that together can make a real difference.
Summary of a study published in Nature
- In a 2022 report for Nature titled Roadmap for achieving net-zero emissions in global food systems by 2050, the authors highlighted that “even if fossil fuel emissions stopped now, current trends in global food systems would prevent the achievement of the 1.5 °C target and threaten the achievement of the 2 °C target by the end of the century” They also highlighted that, carbon budgets and net-zero emissions targets are often only discussed in terms of CO2 emissions, not for non-CO2 emissions, such as CH4 and N2O, which are material in agricultural production.
- There is much that can be done, as illustrated by the chart below. Some of the big wins will come from changing livestock farming and rice production, but outside of this “just” producing the same or more food using less inputs also has an important role to play. They highlighted a recent study by Roe et al (Land-based measures to mitigate climate change) which combined technical and financial criteria. This suggested that "just" implementing the cost-effective solutions identified would put the industry in line with achieving a 1.5°C pathway by 2050.