Of all the challenges of the climate crisis, none may be more daunting than this: How can we feed a global population projected to reach 10 billion by 2050 with the dramatic impact of climate on agriculture?
Erik Fyrwald, Syngenta Group CEO - Credit: Britta Gut
Globally, farming itself is responsible for about 12% of all greenhouse gas emissions and is the leading cause of deforestation and habitat loss.
And yet, while many current farming methods contribute to climate change, the work of farmers is made ever harder by the effects of climate change.
In a recent essay in Fortune, Syngenta Group CEO Erik Fyrwald and the CEO of The Nature Conservancy environmental group, Jennifer Morris, discussed their organizations’ joint efforts to discourage the clearing of natural forests to make way for additional farmland.
Here is an abridged version of that essay:
One of the most impactful transformations we can make in global agriculture is restoring degraded farmland. The world has rendered more than a third of its arable land unusable in the last 40 years.
With unproductive or unusable farmland, growers often convert native habitats for more food production, which further compounds our environmental problems. But if we deploy techniques and technologies to restore degraded farmland, we can go a long way toward solving our planetary crises.
Environmental groups, the agricultural industry and its investors, and inter-governmental organizations like the United Nations are beginning to collaborate on farmland reclamation efforts.
The know-how and technology exist. However, it is often cheaper for farmers to clear new fields rather than restore soils to productivity. The challenge before us is not the solutions themselves but providing the financial incentives to support farmers in making the transition.
Soybean farming in the Cerrado, a savanna that extends across 204 million hectares, has helped make Brazil a world leader in soy production.
Credit: Ludus Video for The Nature Conservancy
In Brazil, our two organizations–The Nature Conservancy and Syngenta Group–are working together with ranchers, farmers and other stakeholders on a project called Reverte to restore one million hectares of degraded pastureland in the Cerrado, an expansive savanna that is rich in plant diversity and wildlife.
We must replicate and expand upon these promising efforts. One approach is to create more international coalitions devoted to restoring farmland, ending deforestation and conversion, and enhancing agricultural productivity in ways that make sense environmentally and economically.
In fact, one such new coalition has already been formed: The Innovative Finance for the Amazon, Cerrado, and Chaco, or IFACC.
IFACC is aimed at radically accelerating investment in sustainable cattle and soy production in the Amazon basin, Brazil’s Cerrado savanna, and the Gran Chaco–a lowland area that covers parts of Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia. These biomes are also home to some of the world’s most important stores of carbon, fresh water and biodiversity.
By making better use of farmland, we can preserve natural landscapes—in the critical ecosystems of Latin America, the savannas of sub-Saharan Africa, the steppes of Central Asia, and the remaining untilled expanses of North America. Native vegetation holds vast stores of carbon and protects the biodiversity that helps support the necessary balance between nature and humans.
Curbing climate change while still meeting the evolving food demands of a growing global population is a challenge of epic proportions. By embracing new, bold approaches to restore the world’s degraded farmland for agricultural use, we can help address this shared existential threat.