Climate Week NYC: More Sustainable Ways to Farm

Climate Week NYC - Companies discuss sustainable farming

With drought continuing in the West, and the summer's historic floods throughout Europe, the world is wondering how climate change will also affect the way we eat. This controversial question was addressed by agriculture experts, NGOs, government officials, and corporate leaders at Peas, Trees, and 1.5 Degrees, a Climate Week NYC event.

All members of the panel emphasized the need to work with farming communities in order to make agriculture more sustainable, from kitchen gardens in rural India to industrial-scale oat cultivators in Sweden.

Why this Matters

The food sector is responsible for one-third of global emissions, and requires about half of the habitable land on the planet and much of its fresh water. In 2018, agriculture and forestry together were estimated to account for 10.5% of US greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, including carbon dioxide emissions associated with agricultural electricity consumption. That same year, US agriculture emitted an estimated 698 million metric tons of GHGs. To reduce the food sector's impact on climate change, it needs to rethink how it farms and produces food at all steps in the supply chain.

Sentient Media: Food System Emissions - How Can We Reduce Our Carbon Footprint?, June 18, 2021.

Hungry for Solutions

The panelists detailed many avenues to make agriculture more sustainable on both an industrial and local level. Executive Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer Jim Andrew of PepsiCo discussed "PepsiCo Positive," a program that works with water and food security and changing their business model to reflect more sustainable practices. He highlighted the effectiveness of planting cover crops which store carbon, prevent weeds and pests, increase water availability, and improve biodiversity in fields.

Panelists also pointed to the need to work with communities and farmers directly. Former Head of Forest Force in the Indian State of Chhattisgarh, Mudit Kumar Singh, discussed the Narwa Garwa Ghurwa Badi program, which helps those living in rural areas -- 70% of the population -- to change their agricultural practices by creating kitchen gardens and building community cow sheds, for example. Also, Climate Director of WRI Brazil Carolina Genin and Governor-Prefect of Pastaza, Ecuador Jaime Guevara spoke on the need to reframe farming practices to save the Amazon rainforest.

The notion of reframing practices was echoed by Precious Phiri, African Coordinator for Regeneration International, but in regard to smallholder farmers, who produce 80% of Africa's food. Phiri stated the need to view agriculture from a place of abundance rather than scarcity, and as being beneficial to the environment rather than extractive. "Everyone has something to offer," she said.

Ashley Allen, chief sustainability officer of Oatly, summed up the way companies and farmers should think about agriculture: "It's not ok for companies to try to do less bad… all companies need to sort of rethink how they fit into the food system and really accelerate our transition toward a sustainable future."

Cornell University: Climate change reduced farming productivity by 21% since 1961, Apr 1, 2021.

IFAD: Ethiopia | Poor people don't just need food - they need nutritious food, September 21, 2021.