Environmental sustainability and agriculture can go hand in hand

By Michael Mack

Published in World Economic Forum in October 2012

To feed 9 billion people by 2050, we will have to feed 80 million more people every single year until then. How can we deliver this level of food security to the world without exhausting the planet’s natural resources?

This tension between food production and nature has only recently started to bring business, governments and NGOs together in more productive ways than ever before.  What historically has been combative is now becoming collaborative. I saw this firsthand at one of the world’s most respected environmental conservation events, the IUCN Global Leaders Dialogue in Korea last month. I may have surprised some listeners when I shared my view that sustainable intensification of agriculture should be about shrinking the size of the farm, making it more productive, getting more out of the resources and inputs we use, and growing more from less.

This is nowhere more true than in Africa, where investment in agriculture knowledge and technology can play a transformational role in reducing poverty. As President Kikwete of Tanzania pointed out at the African Green Revolution Foundation Forum a few weeks ago, business can be a catalyst for productivity and sustainability.  I believe that whole-heartedly, but I also know that business can’t do it alone.  Business can be a partner in achieving Africa’s agricultural aspirations, but we will need to work closely with governments, farmers, civil society and others to succeed.

One new initiative, Grow Africa, is helping facilitate that approach. This African-led, globally-supported platform was established to help develop public-private partnerships to attract investment in support of national agriculture strategies. Convened by the African Union, NEPAD and the World Economic Forum’s New Vision for Agriculture initiative, Grow Africa is helping to match investors with Africa’s own priorities for agricultural growth through a transparent, multi-stakeholder platform.

Because of this fresh approach to collaboration, Africa has now become one ofSyngenta’s strategic growth regions.  Our aim is to develop a $1 billion business by 2022, with some 700 employees—many of whom will be field advisors trained in agronomy—to bring innovative and sustainable methods to more than five million African farmers, enabling them to increase their productivity by 50% or more. This will benefit farmers and the environment, while also providing a sustainable business model.

Business, governments and NGOs working together can become one of the most important factors in scaling up good farming practices in Africa to meet food securityplus  nature conservation goals.  The greater the productivity of the world’s farms, the greater our chance of sustainably feeding 9 billion people.

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