Editor’s Note: Agri-Pulse and The Chicago Council on Global Affairs are teaming up to host a monthly column to explore how the U.S. agriculture and food sector can maintain its competitive edge and advance food security in an increasingly integrated and dynamic world.

Approaching the two-year mark since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s little novelty in stating the pandemic has allowed us some space for self-reflection – but it’s true. On a personal level, we’ve been able to look inward on our relationships, how we choose to invest our time, many people had to deal with dramatic losses and reconsider patterns and levels of consumption.

An objective and truthful element in our introspection, should be the major role we as humans play in causing, and potentially mitigating the climate crisis. The basic things we depend on and value – water, food, human health, energy, wildlife and community – needs collaborative action to enable positive outcomes. Rising global temperatures and the increasing incidence of extreme weather such as floods and droughts are projected to increasingly disrupt our economies and communities, and the biosphere and ecosystems necessary for the sustainable production of food.

This introspection is also occurring at a societal level and on a global scale. Events such as the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) and the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) create strategic platforms for global stakeholders to evaluate progress toward Sustainable Development Goals and a global climate target of net zero emissions by 2050. An important component of these platforms is the creation of opportunities for private sector, government and civil society to work together to accelerate adoption of climate-smart and nature-based solutions at the scale necessary to transform our agri-food systems globally.

Mitigation of climate impacts and efforts to build back better through nature-based, climate-smart solutions will only succeed through unified, collaborative efforts. Research shows that those solutions could contribute a third of the emissions reductions needed between now and 2030[1]

During COP26, let’s remember that our ambitions are meaningful, but when it comes to climate emergency, we’re a part of an overarching whole. Collaborating across public and private sector can have a wide range of results: increasing funding for sustainable development projects, de-risking the transition to best practices, and even creating entirely new market mechanisms. If we can assign a proper value to sustainable food production, soil health and emissions reduction, we can achieve transformation at scale.

Climate Action in Agriculture

For a solution to be sustainable, it must benefit everyone involved: farmers, consumers and the planet. Traditionally, farmers have been rewarded for the amount of food and fiber they produce. It’s time to introduce rewards for multiple benefit outcome – embedding sustainability in farmers’ business models to ensure lasting change that really works for them. We need to harness the power of financial mechanisms to enable a low-cost, low-touch system to put the farmers at the front of a sustainable food system by returning most of the economic benefits of sustainable farming to them. This can be realized through carbon credit opportunities, but also through the additional benefits of climate resilience and increased productivity. We must use climate finance to advance innovations on food production that drive a carbon-zero future for agriculture, such as short-stature corn or microbial seed treatments that allow for GHG emissions cuts as well as carbon removals. 

In 2020, we launched the Bayer Carbon Program, an initiative that encourages farmers to adopt climate-smart practices while unlocking new revenue streams. These beneficial practices not only reduce carbon emissions but are also ideally suited for restoring the health and productivity of soils while financially incentivizing farmers to embrace no-till, precision nitrogen use, and cover crops. 

Nature Positive Innovations Enhance Farmers’ Ability to Reduce Impacts

Much of the focus on the mitigation of agriculture’s environmental impact currently revolves around carbon removals and market opportunities. While this effort is a welcomed important part of the solution, land use change is a major contributor to agriculture’s impact on nature. We should drive sustainable intensification of food production to fulfill the primary goal of farming to feed 8B people while at the same time minimizing the land use footprint required to do so. Investments in innovation and technology that enable the production of an adequate food supply using less land resources can directly reduce GHG emissions from agriculture while at the same time create the opportunities to restore and maintain critical ecosystems.

Integrated crop management tools and services, enabled by tailored agronomic advice and partnerships such as BayGAP, Mas Canas, Better Life Farming Alliance or Living Soils of the Americas, contribute to a more efficient use of inputs and land which ultimately conserves biodiversity, minimizes pre-harvest challenges, and protects the health of our soils. Collaboration across sectors and proximity to farmers allow us at Bayer to tailor innovation in seeds and traits, crop protection and digital agriculture into farmer’s needs, aiming to support sustainable systems that help feed the growing population while restoring and maintaining the planetary boundaries critical for all of life on Earth.

My lesson

I am extremely proud to work in the agricultural sector. I believe we can achieve fast and effective transformation through incentive-based structures that promote innovation and future-proofing. The recipe is known: (a) develop and promote the business case (b) empower the farmer led and driven movement which is linked to the business case and incentives (c) create financial mechanisms and market structures that support generative outcomes (d) address policy that undermines the adoption of sustainable practices. 

In doing so we can improve farmers’ economic position – they will have more to re-invest into further sustainable solutions in the following season, supporting soil health and reducing pressure of land use change due to agriculture. As seen in other sectors, investments that drive down the costs and risks of innovation and adoption can rapidly increase scalability which is particularly critical for the agricultural sector to become part of the solution to the climate crisis.

Natasha Santos is the Bayer AG, Crop Science Division Vice President and Head of Global Stakeholder Strategy & Affairs.

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