Reaping the dragon’s teeth. How business will support the transition of global food and agriculture

Publication by the Earth Security Institute, with support of United Nations Global Compact

Agriculture produces more than just food. It grows fibres for textiles, fuel for energy and transport, and feed to supply our growing global appetite for meat. The social and environmental impacts of the agriculture sector exemplify the global challenge of resource scarcity and food security. These are major risks for business and investors as well as for governments and all of us who depend on the agriculture system to consistently deliver for our needs.

Whether big, medium or small, farmers and agriculture enterprises are at the core of our society. Today traditional relationships between communities and farming are challenged by land availability, quality and legitimacy; and changing economic priorities, demographics and values. Staggering inequalities persist between those systems servicing developed consumer markets and the half-billion small farmers simply struggling for survival.

Some of these challenges can be addressed by new business thinking: innovative market strategies; investments in high-efficiency irrigation; management models driving a more sustainable agricultural intensification, investments in biodiversity and carbon stocks as forward-looking corporate assets; and inclusive value chains that support and plug local farmers into larger production and distribution networks.

However, realizing these opportunities, and breaking from the established economic path dependencies, will require more than just business leadership and acumen. Inertia and apathy are significant barriers to innovating viable alternatives, and applying them at scale. Any realistic solution will need to be driven by improved coordination between key actors – and proactivity by governments – acting in concert to create public enabling environments that will attract private investment and support. The alignment of interests between businesses, investors and governments have so far provided isolated flashes of what this transition could look like.

The Earth Security Initiative and the United Nations Global Compact have collaborated in the production of this brief, which explores how food and agriculture companies will be able to address the systemic risks they face and develop new market opportunities by supporting the broader governance of resources. In order to catalyze the transition towards sustainable agriculture companies must go beyond convention by:

  • working with governments to design and execute market strategies for sustainable intensification in agriculture;
  • championing the evolution of national regulation to measure, value and enforce sustainability performance; and
  • setting corporate targets that build resource-resilient supply chains and support government efforts to better manage resource scarcity and food security.

The full report can be downloaded here.