In the lead-up to last week’s G20 Agriculture Ministers Meeting, held in Berlin from January 20-22, the T20 Task Force released a policy brief calling for improved policymaking for sustainable land and water use. The authors highlighted that integrated resource-use policies are essential to achieving sustainable agricultural and ending hunger worldwide.

According to the report, almost 800 million people around the world struggle with hunger, and one-quarter of the world’s children are stunted due to malnutrition. The majority of hungry people live in Africa south of the Sahara and South Asia. To lower these numbers, the world needs an efficient, sustainable agricultural sector, but poorly managed use of resources like land, water, and energy often stand in the way of increasing agricultural production. In addition, as the world’s population continues to expand and the demand for both food and water increases, pressure on natural resources will also grow. The T20’s report highlights that an integrated, cross-sectoral approach from G20 countries is needed, “since land, water and energy are no longer just local or national issues.”

The T20’s proposal focuses on four policy areas in which coordinated public and private sector action are needed:

  1. Making sure land, water, and energy policies focus on human health and wellbeing. According to the report, as much as 80 percent of illnesses in developing countries can be linked to poor water and sanitation conditions; around 1.5 million children around the world die every year from water-borne diseases. While policies like wastewater irrigation can increase agricultural production, they clearly need to be properly managed and separated from potable water sources to prevent negative impacts on human health.

    Smallholder producers are also disproportionately impacted by mismanaged land, water, and food systems. Making sure that policies are improved to help the world’s smallholder population is essential to ending hunger, as smallholders are vulnerable to food insecurity and at the same time produce a large share of the world’s food. Policies should especially focus on increasing youth and women’s inclusion in agricultural systems.

  2. Investing in and sharing innovative policies and ideas for agricultural, water, and food systems. Increasing efficient, cost-effective water use in agriculture will require policy reforms to address issues like property rights for water; in addition, investing in new farming technologies and practices can help ensure sustainable land and water use. G20 countries must increase their investment in renewable energy technologies like solar power and assist other countries by providing technology and planning support.

    Investments in the rehabilitation and restoration of degraded lands are also needed and will require countries to address issues such as land titling and community participation in natural resource management.

  3. Increasing use of digital technologies in agriculture. Information and communication technologies (ICTs) can play a big role in increasing agricultural production sustainably, but these technologies remain underutilized in developing countries. The report recommends that G20 countries should establish national ICT platforms dedicated to their agriculture and food sectors, and that these platforms should be made available for transnational sharing. Successfully scaling up the use of ICTs in agriculture will also require stronger public-private partnerships, both nationally and globally.

    Countries should also focus on improving their early warning systems to help mitigate climate-related risks. Data collected through these systems, as well as data regarding water use and land degradation, needs to be made openly accessible across countries and stakeholders (including the private sector and NGOs) to facilitate improved knowledge-sharing.

  4. Reforming global governance of food and agriculture. The report emphasizes that the challenges of land and water use cannot be adequately addressed in isolation; rather, integrated efforts across countries and sectors are needed. The G20 should establish transparent, evidence-based standards for the sustainable use of resources and technologies across all industries and economic sectors, including agriculture. In addition, trade agreements should take into account any potential negative impacts on land and water use. To help integrate recent efforts to establish international standards and agreements on sustainable water use, the T20 recommends the creation of an International Panel on Food, Nutrition and Agriculture. This panel would draw on existing committees and organizations to determine what aspects of global governance of food and agriculture need to be reformed or re-designed.

Taken together, these recommendations can help countries achieve the goal of lifting 500 million people out of hunger and malnutrition by 2030, as well as the Sustainable Development Goals’ targets of sustainable agriculture, zero hunger, and healthy ecosystems.

Read the full Berlin G20 Agriculture Ministers Declaration.

By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI

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