5 July 2022

Agriculture is crucial to mitigate climate, FAO says: here are five key actions


The agribusiness sector is both a victim and a cause of climate change, says FAO. The solution comes through the implementation of some key strategies focused on carbon neutrality and supported by governments

By Matteo Cavallito


The agribusiness sector both can and should do more to tackle climate change. Such efforts mean implementing best practices capable of making a difference for a sector that remains one of the major contributors to high levels of anthropogenic emissions. This is the message launched by the FAO in its latest report “Investing in carbon neutrality: utopia or the new green wave? Challenges and opportunities for agrifood systems.”

This survey highlights how many actors, from the private sector to governments, are involved in this process and are called upon to deploy various initiatives and provide effective incentives. “The latest United Nations climate report reminds us that the clock is ticking to reduce emissions, curb global warming and address the climate crisis before it is too late,” the organization said. “The world’s agrifood systems must do their part.”

Agriculture is both cause and victim of climate change

The food supply chain contributes between 21 percent and 37 percent of man-made emissions, the FAO notes. “At the same time, climate change adversely affects agrifood system actors in different ways, from smallholder farmers to large food manufacturers. Rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns and supply chain disruptions already impact food production, undermining global efforts to end hunger. As a result, the number of people facing hunger could reach one billion by 2050.”

In short, as FAO Investment Centre director Mohamed Manssouri reminds, “Agriculture is both a cause and a victim of climate change, and it must be part of the climate solution.”

Best practices have enormous potential

To tackle climate change, the sector must take action throughout the supply chain to reduce its impact but also to use its carbon sequestration capacity. Back in 2014, the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated that the implementation of best practices in the agricultural sector could result in emission savings of 4 billion tons of CO2 per year by 2030.

Also crucial is the potential of grazing lands. According to a study published in the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, proper management of these territories could facilitate the sequestration of 300 million tons of carbon dioxide on a global scale each year.

La distribuzione globale del potenziale di sequestro di carbonio nei terreni adibiti a pascolo, Henderson al. 2015. Immagine: FAO 2022 AttributionNonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 IGO licence (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO)

The global distribution of carbon sequestration potential in grassland, Henderson al. 2015. Image: FAO 2022 AttributionNonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 IGO license (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO)

Private sector should do more

Reducing the impact of the agribusiness sector, FAO argues, will bring important benefits to the private sector. The list includes reducing costs, mitigating risks, protecting brand value, ensuring long-term supply chain sustainability and gaining competitive advantages. Although some companies have committed to ambitious goals, the report continues, efforts have not been uniform.

One of the main issues is that CO2 reduction practices are still implemented on a voluntary basis. Moreover, costs are a problem for both smaller companies and consumers, who do not seem likely to pay more for a sustainable product. Moreover, the organization notes, given current prices in the carbon market, in emission-intensive sectors offsetting activities can cost much less than reduction activities that are therefore discouraged.

FAO suggests five climate actions

For these reasons, the FAO has identified five areas for action involving policymakers, businesses, farmers and international organizations that aim to accelerate the transition to more sustainable agrifood systems. In particular, according to the organization, there is a need to:

  • strategically target carbon neutrality;
  • improve and standardize tools and methods;
  • promote sound governance mechanisms;
  • directly support companies and farmers to decarbonize;
  • educate and communicate on carbon neutrality.
Governments play a key role

The role of governments becomes extremely important in this scenario. It is up to the executives, in fact, to regulate carbon emissions or provide incentives for the adoption of low-emission technologies. But it is also up to them to support the development of transparent and efficient carbon markets and to provide financing and incentives for companies and farmers. This latter issue is particularly relevant.

According to a recent World Economic Forum survey, for instance, if farmers in European Union are supported to take climate-smart actions, the region “could reduce its agricultural greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 6% and restore soil health of over 14% of its total agricultural land.” As well as “add between €1.9bn and €9.3 billion annually to farmers’ incomes.”