Nature and Biodiversity

It's time for an innovative new approach to agri-food. We need entrepreneurs to step up

Green plants being grown on soil: Addressing the impact of climate change on agri-food systems is crucial for sustainable development.

Addressing the impact of climate change on agri-food systems is crucial for sustainable development. Image: Unsplash/Adrian Infernus

Bibi la Luz Gonzalez
Founder, Eat Better Wa’ik
Janina Peter
Head of Innovation, World Food Forum
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This article is part of: Annual Meeting of the New Champions

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  • Extreme climate change events impact the ability to grow food and encourage a safe and healthy diet while forcing communities and farmers into economic distress.
  • Agriculture contributes to a third of greenhouse gas emissions and 70% of freshwater withdrawals, leading to extensive deforestation.
  • Leaders speaking at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting of the New Champions expressed how we need to seek innovative solutions to today’s agri-food challenges, launching the Smarter Climate Farmers Challenge to seek solutions.

Communities and farmers are on the frontline of climate change’s most severe impacts, which are increasingly impacting food production and consumption. Drought, extended desertification, land degradation, unreliable rainfall, heavy flooding, stronger storms and extreme temperatures are frequently increasing.

These issues disrupt people’s ability to grow food and eat a safe and healthy diet. At the same time, it forces them into economic distress, as their primary income stream – mostly crops and harvests – is threatened by climate fluctuations.

“Food systems, understood holistically, represent over $10 trillion or over 12% of global [gross domestic product] today. Forty percent of all jobs are somehow connected to the food system. Take that in because it is tremendous,” said Tania Strauss, Head of Food and Water at the World Economic Forum during the Annual Meeting of the New Champions (AMNC23)

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Addressing climate-related agri-food challenges

The agri-food system encompasses the journey of food from farm to table and beyond. Food touches every aspect of our lives and reaches every corner of the planet. But instead of harnessing the immense potential for positive impact, current food production methods harm our climate environment.

Acknowledging agriculture’s role in escalating these extreme weather events is essential. It contributes to a third of greenhouse gas emissions and 70% of freshwater withdrawals, leading to extensive deforestation.

That is why we are calling for food entrepreneurs to tackle the issues through the Smarter Climate Farmers Challenge.

Addressing the impact of climate change on agri-food systems is crucial for sustainable development, especially if we aim to be on track to achieve the 2030 Agenda. To effectively tackle this challenge, we need comprehensive strategies that integrate climate adaptation and mitigation measures into agricultural practices: investment in resilient crop varieties, sustainable land management techniques and climate-smart agricultural technologies.

“Technology and innovation to solve these issues are often available, but not necessarily adapted and not at scale,” according to Strauss. “That is a big part of why we are here today. How do we focus, not just on the innovation, but the ecosystems and innovators that can really create bottom-up demand-driven solutions to address these challenges.”

Thinking outside the box

Innovation is vital to the solution since it can help leap-frog solutions. We can enhance agricultural productivity while minimising environmental impacts by harnessing cutting-edge technologies such as precision farming, vertical agriculture, and agroecology.

However, urgent action is required, as current trajectories indicate we are off track in achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs) related to hunger, poverty, and climate action.

“We are dedicated to achieving the SDGs and have collaborated with stakeholders, particularly in food entrepreneurship, to drive transformative shifts to food systems for long-term sustainability,” according to H.E. Faisal Alibrahim, Minister of Economy and Planning, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, speaking at AMNC23.

Through a concerted effort to address the climate-agrifood nexus and embrace innovative solutions centred around the farmer or driven by the farmer, we can pave the way towards sustainable and resilient agri-food systems and ensure a better and more secure future for all.

Smarter Climate Farmers Challenge

The Smarter Climate Farmers Challenge was launched at AMNC23 in Tianjin, China. It is the second food challenge in partnership between UpLink and the Ministry of Economy and Planning of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, after a successful Food Ecosystems in Arid Climates Challenge (the winners of this challenge were also announced at AMNC23.

“We are determined to drive a transformative shift in food production and that can effectively tackle climate change and ensure a sustainable future for agriculture. These challenges align with the SDGs, which we fully support and are dedicated to accomplish and offer economic opportunities.

"Together we can combat hunger, improve livelihoods and create a sustainable future for all,” stated H.E. Faisal Alibrahim, Minister of Economy and Planning of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (AMNC23).

The Smarter Climate Farmers Challenge is a call for solutions championing climate-smart agriculture approaches to improve food production, promote better living standards, respond to climate change and lead to the efficient care of the planet’s resources within food ecosystems.

Strong ideas for complex problems

The challenge calls for solutions from around the world that focus on one or multiple focus areas:

  • Knowledge, skills and education: on expanding farmers’ knowledge and skills in food production, climate adaptation techniques, resilience, technology, market, investment and community building, education and decision-making towards climate-smart and nutrient-rich food behaviour.
  • Resource efficiency and sustainability: during food production, sustainable and efficient land use solutions, water efficiency, regenerative agriculture, carbon sequestration and aiming towards zero to low emissions agriculture.
  • Inclusive technology: from production to consumption within the value chains, technology better prepares farmers to produce food in climate-adverse conditions and reverse greenhouse gas emissions. Solutions include mobile connectivity, drones, artificial intelligence, vertical farming, Indigenous technologies and sustainable gastronomy, which are affordable and create new employment opportunities in the field.
  • Innovative financing: farming in extreme conditions requires much capital to cope with climate shocks and prolonged damages.

The time is now

The solutions will be assessed according to the quality of submissions based on responses, impact indicators, business model, stage, management team, female leadership roles, socio-economic and environmental impact, a just rural transition, partnerships, innovation, replicability and investability and how relevant it is to the particular climate issue the challenge is addressing.

The climate crisis is exacerbating the global food crisis, as Christian Vousvouras, Global Public Affairs Manager at Nestlé, has expressed, adding it requires urgent action to transition towards a regenerative food system at scale.

“We need more ideas, more technology and more financing to grow our food efficiently and to find better ways of nourishing a growing population,” he said.

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Submit your climate-smart agriculture solution before the 10th of August here. The winning solutions will be presented during the week of World Food Day at the 2023 World Food Forum flagship event in Rome.

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