Implications of SDGs on Agriculture

Smallholder farmers are key in development
Small-holder farmers are key in development

Food and agriculture lies at the core of the 2030 agenda. Not only is it responsible for meeting humanity’s needs for food, feed, fiber and other products but agriculture provides employment and livelihood for rural communities especially in developing countries. Agriculture impacts the way land, water, biodiversity and genetic resources are managed, thus its cross-cutting nature is central to achieving many of the SDGs.

Agriculture directly affects the success of SDG 1 (end extreme poverty); SDG 2 (zero hunger, improved nutrition and sustainable agriculture); SDG 3 (health); SDG 6 (water); SDG 13 (climate action); SDG 14 (marine ecosystems) and SDG 15 (terrestrial ecosystems, forests and land). Additionally, agriculture influences the outcome of several other goals and target related to employment, gender equality, and access to resources, responsible consumption and production. It also detects the achievement of SDG 16 and SDG 17 on peace and inclusive societies and partnering for sustainable development respectively. It is apparent that improving agricultural production is paramount to the achievement of most SDGs. Agriculture impacts the way land, water, biodiversity and genetic resources are managed, and thus its cross-cutting nature is central to achieving many of the SDGs.
Agriculture impacts the way land, water, biodiversity and genetic resources are managed, thus its cross-cutting nature is central to achieving many of the SDGs.

Despite the potential agriculture has in inducing global development, it still faces shortfall that have hindered it in unleashing its potential. Dwindling agricultural land, environmental degradation, use of old and outdated farming technologies, climate change, and dwindling resources such as water have contributed to global decline of production especially in vulnerable areas such as sub-Saharan Africa. Increased urbanization and population growth have put exceeding pressure to agricultural land, for example, small-holder farmers in Malawi have an average land holding of 0.4 Ha which is not sustainable. This has not only brought problems to food security but it has put pressure on water, terrestrial ecosystems and health, making the achievement of SDGs 1,2,3,6,13,14 and 15 difficult. To re-mediate this, among others, intensification of improved management and technologies needs to be adopted if indeed we are to achieve agenda 2030.

Environmental degradation and climate change have also been responsible for general yield decline in the Malawian context. Excessive destruction of forests and general ecosystems has depleted water resources and has led to pollution and contamination of water, soil and air. All these have had a spillover effect to agriculture which heavily relies on a functioning ecosystem. For example, rainfall patterns have changed leading to climatic extremes such as droughts and floods. However, with sustainable agricultural practices, the world can abate these effects. Achieving SDGs through agricultural development requires new modalities for developing coherent and effective policies, programs and investments. Achieving the SDGs will require looking at sustainable development within and across agriculture in an integrated manner, taking into account synergies and trade-offs across sectors and across sustainability dimensions.

Future improvements in agriculture remains in enhanced productivity. Small-holder farmers need to efficiently use their marginalized land to produce more. This means adoption of sustainable and productive agriculture. For farmers to increase yield, there is need of intensified research and innovation which can provide technical ingredients for change. Research and technology development in areas of seed systems, pest management, irrigation, ICT, efficient use of water and energy, efficient food supply chain and conservation of biodiversity has the potential to unleash the agriculture potentials in Malawi. Innovations in production and marketing need to be intensified and such novelties need to be particularly be sensitive to the roles of women, youth, smallholders and family farmers, and indigenous peoples in building sustainable agriculture. Against this background, innovations that can contribute to a more sustainable economy have considerable potential for employment creation in rural areas, in particular for young women and men. This directly contributes to Goal 8 of the SDGs on productive employment and decent work for all.

Tractor at work

Improving agricultural production is not the only driving force behind achieving agenda 2030. Alongside it, the country needs to promote conservation, protection and enhancement of natural ecosystems. This entails restoration and conservation of soils, protection against water pollution and reduced carbon emission intensity. This can be ensured through the promotion of conservation agriculture which involves minimum or no tillage and restoration of nutrients back into the soil. Of critical importance is the extent to which rural people, in particular small-scale family farmers, youth and women, have secure and equitable accesses to knowledge, services, markets and resources, including land and water, control over their livelihood through decent work opportunities, and access to diverse and nutritious food. Local communities’ resilience to changes in ecosystems and climate needs to be enhanced. This includes contingency planning for droughts, floods or pest outbreaks and the adoption of more diversified and resilient production systems, associated with effective safety nets.

The SDGs present a unique opportunity for a stronger role in agriculture in shaping sustainable development. For this to happen, leaders at national level are expected to look at the role of agriculture in a new way. A key challenge is to strengthen the effective engagement of these sectors at the highest-level of decision-making on national development strategies to demonstrate that agriculture, forestry and fisheries are major contributors to achieving national and global goals and targets. The need for investment in these sectors should also be recognized as a priority for national development and partnerships will be the key means for mobilizing the needed “means of implementation”.

Having realized the significance of partnerships, AICC uses the Public Private Partnership Approach, to reduce poverty of 105,000 small-holder farmers in Malawi, through the Malawi Agricultural Partnership program. Among its interventions, AICC promotes the use of sustainable agricultural practices, adoption of sustainable technologies and practices, income generation and roll out of relevant innovations for agricultural value chains. The program has managed to utilize partnership to enhance these services thus, managed to reduce poverty levels among small holder farmers in different value chain. This gives a road map for stakeholders and development partners within the agriculture sector to utilize partnerships as a development tool.

By Isaac Tembo

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