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The future of farming has to look different from farming today. Tremendously different. Otherwise, we will risk losing even more biodiversity, continue with polluting water bodies, driving erosion and running down soil fertility. And we will never reach the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), many of which directly relate to agriculture.
How we should transition to sustainable food systems is subject to heated and polarized debates. Proponents of agroecological production systems such as organic agriculture highlight the environmental benefits of these systems and argue that only those can lead to the necessary changes. Proponents of intensive production systems emphasize the need for high yields to spare land and assure food security for an ever increasing population and argue that extensive systems cannot be sustainable due to their higher land use.
Debates - Policy - Interventions - SDGs - Systems
We need to overcome such polarized debates. Focusing on policy interventions to support the SDGs rather than on farming systems can help.
In a recent Comment in the journal Nature Sustainability, we discuss four groups of policy interventions for a transition to more sustainable food systems (Fig. 1). First, policy makers can support alternative production systems such as organic agriculture. This support can take the form of direct payments, providing training and knowledge transfer, and funding research. The aim is not to achieve full coverage with any one alternative system, but to best utilize their potential and to further develop them as showcases of sustainable agriculture.
Consumer - Awareness - Sustainability - Agriculture - Retailers
Second, enhancing consumer awareness of sustainability in agriculture together with retailers' commitment to offer such products could stimulate demand for more sustainable products.
Third, certain deterrents could trigger improvements in all types of agriculture, with key levers being reducing pesticide use and nitrogen inputs from outside regional ecosystem boundaries. Taxes on pesticides and taxes on mineral fertilizers, on nitrogen in imported feed and biomass...
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