During the Davos 2023 Conference hosted by the World Economic Forum, speakers highlighted the need for investment in small-scale farmers, regenerative agriculture, and data technologies. The Conference brought together academics, governments, businesses, nonprofits, artists, advocacy organizations, and other parties to discuss pressing issues of the day, with food security and food systems discourse on the menu.
“Farmers around the world (especially smallholder farmers) bear the burden of climate impacts and food insecurity but can’t bear the burden of making the transition alone,” Tania Strauss, Head of Food Systems Initiative at the World Economic Forum, stresses.
Alvaro Lario, President of the U.N. International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) shares Strauss’ concern and underscores the importance of supporting rural agriculture. “Only long-term investments in rural economies can provide long-lasting solutions to hunger, under-nutrition and poverty,” Lario said in a statement ahead of the conference. “This is what will enable small-scale farmers to increase local production, better adapt to climate change, build short and local food chains, build and sustain local markets and commercial opportunities, and create small rural businesses.”
The speakers also call for urgent investment in rural food systems. According to IFAD, small-scale farmers feed two out of three people on the planet, yet they face the brunt of the climate crisis and a lack of financial support. Even taking into account worsening inflation, local and regional conflicts, and extreme weather events, farmers who make up the Global Majority produce 30 percent of food products on just 11 percent of total farmland, they report.
IFAD Goodwill Ambassador Idris Elba also sounded the alarm for rural investment, stating “[Farmers] are not just looking for aid and handouts, they’re looking for investment.”
The speakers also promoted regenerative agricultural practices as another means to strengthen global food security. The transition away from conventional agriculture was a key component of conversations around achieving food security moving forward. In alignment with The Global Biodiversity Framework, Food Sustainability Director at Unilever Dorothy Shaver and Director of One Planet Business Stefania Avanzini calls for transformation of agricultural subsidies toward regenerative farming practices.
“When properly implemented, regenerative agricultural practices can protect and enhance biodiversity at and around farms, improve or preserve carbon and water retention in the soil and enhance the resilience of crops and nature,” Shaver and Avanzini write in a memo. “Governments can support the transition to regenerative agriculture by reforming harmful agricultural subsidies and creating opportunities for an equitable, nature-positive and Net-Zero economy.”
In order to support both small-scale farmers and the regenerative agriculture transition, researchers encourage the integration of food and data systems. Agri-tech researchers at the World Economic Forum call for further attention to cleaner, more-streamlined data collection to support farmers as climate instability and market fluctuations continue to occur in the near future.
Julie Sweet, Chair and CEO of Accenture, points out the benefits of streamlining data across different cultural and climatic contexts: “In many cases people have been doubters about why you need to have really clean data connecting to external data, use these then foundational models on specific use cases—a lot is going to be in digital manufacturing, in agriculture, industrial use cases – and it reminds everyone you have to get the data right.”
The World Economic Forum sees three key solutions to world food insecurity: Financial investment in regenerative agriculture, robust policy to fire up market growth, and national leadership in transforming their food systems. “We must embrace complex and holistic solutions like climate change and food security together,” Strauss says.
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Photo courtesy of Vivek Kumar, Unsplash