The new Green Revolution: This time sustainable agriculture is the tip of the ploughshare
- May 1, 2023: Vol. 10, Number 5

The new Green Revolution: This time sustainable agriculture is the tip of the ploughshare

by Kobad Bhavnagri

The global agriculture system is on the verge of a new revolution. Sixty years after the Green Revolution brought abundant food supplies to the world, the way food and fiber are produced on the farm is about to undergo another era of sweeping change.

The global agriculture system employs nearly a quarter of the world’s population, generates more than $8 trillion in annual revenue, and occupies and alters more than 50 percent of habitable land on Earth.

That last point reveals the enormous impact that agriculture has on the planet. In fact, of all human industries and activities, agriculture is the single largest driver of threats to the stability of the Earth system due to the number of planetary boundaries it breaks. It even trumps our fossil-fuel-dependent energy system as the greatest risk to our children inheriting a livable planet.

There are four chief culprits behind the outsized impact of the agricultural system: the overuse of land, water, fertilizers and pesticides.

The grand challenge for agriculture is to transform to meet three key goals. It must halt and reverse its contribution to the biodiversity crisis by 2030, as laid out in the Global Biodiversity Framework adopted at the COP15 Summit in Montreal, and become carbon neutral by 2050, as required by the Paris Agreement. And all of this needs to be achieved while still scaling up production to feed an estimated 10 billion people who will populate the planet by mid-century.

How can this possibly be done?

There are five broad solutions to agriculture’s conundrum, ranging from developing sustainable proteins and fats with a smaller environmental footprint, to using greener agrochemicals:

  • Sustainable proteins and fats. Producing protein and fat in a more sustainable way is the most substantial challenge for the food system. The core obstacle to overcome is how to produce protein using much less land and with near-zero greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Green agrochemicals. The future food system will undoubtedly continue to need agrochemicals like fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides to enable high-yield farming. But these chemicals will need to be made and used with fewer side effects.
  • Sustainable intensification. A variety of technologies and innovations are also under development to increase farm productivity and yields, while using less resources. These will be essential to scaling up production to feed billions of increasingly affluent people.
  • Carbon-smart farming. There are a variety of land management practices, such as regenerative agriculture and agroforestry, that can help sequester carbon in the soil, improve soil health, boost on-farm biodiversity and increase crop resilience.
  • Biodiversity markets and finance. Protecting 30 percent of land and sea by 2030 will require an end to agriculture and fishery expansion, the incorporation of more biodiversity on farms, and a reduction in the current footprint of conventional agriculture to create space for the restoration of nature.

Confronted with a need to address emissions, biodiversity loss, changing consumer preferences and potentially disruptive new technology, agricultural supply chains will undergo vast transformations over the coming decades. With those changes come significant threats to the products and business models of sluggish incumbents, but also opportunities for more nimble and innovative players to create trillions of dollars of new value.


This article was excerpted from a report written by Kobad Bhavnagri, global head of strategy at BloombergNEF. Read the full article here.

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