The group US Farmers & Ranchers in Action (USFRA) this month issued a new report spotlighting the key role US agriculture plays in reaching the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). They acknowledged that unmatched collaboration across the food value chain is required so the agriculture sector can recover from recent catastrophic events, build resiliency to manage future shocks, and ensure climate-smart agriculture solutions are accessible and affordable for farmers and ranchers.
A Vision For The Future Of The Agriculture Sector
USFRA released the report, titled, “US Agriculture’s Opportunities to Contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals,” at its annual Honor the Harvest Forum, co-hosted by The Aspen Institute. This virtually-convened event included more than 200 farmer, rancher, food, agriculture, finance, science, and technology leaders. Together, they finalized a first-of-its-kind food and agriculture sector-wide vision: a future where a resilient, restorative, economically viable, and climate-smart agricultural system produces abundant and nutritious food, natural fiber, and clean energy for a sustainable, vibrant, and prosperous US.
“There has never been a more important time in our history to co-create the sustainable food systems of the future,” said USFRA Board Chairman and seventh-generation farmer, Chip Bowling. “At this year’s Honor the Harvest Forum, we deepened focus on coordinating efforts to ensure our food system remains resilient and adaptive to meet challenges on the farm and throughout the supply chain to continue to feed people and support communities.”
While US agriculture already has accumulated a number of positive environmental, social, and economic outcomes, USFRA recognizes that helping to achieve these goals by unlocking the potential opportunities and avoiding risks is beyond the reach of any single business. It requires innovative and new forms of collaboration at scale. By using the SDGs as essential benchmark for observing and measuring sustainable production, the group was able to look ahead toward ensuring the future growth and inputs needed by US agriculture.
The report is an assessment of how the sector is already showing leadership and what opportunities there are from now to 2030 for US agriculture to continue to drive a resilient and sustainable agricultural system while resiliently confronting new crises along the way. According to the report, US agriculture contributes to all 17 SDGs to sustain people, the planet, and prosperity.
Commitments – which include actions already in progress – will be solidified over the next year to advance outcomes through:
- focused investments
- optimized data, metrics and technology
- authentic storytelling
- workforce development
“We must accelerate investment in science and data to enable farmers to rapidly respond to climate change,” said the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research Executive Director and USFRA Board Member, Dr. Sally Rockey. “Doing so will help restore our environment, regenerate natural resources, and advance the next generation of agricultural systems.”
US Farmers & Ranchers in Action Identifies 4 Outcome Areas
The 2020 event featured working sessions with farmers, ranchers, and food industry stakeholders to advance their sector-wide vision through individual and collective commitments supporting 4 outcome areas:
- Restore the environment through agriculture that regenerates natural resources
- Revitalize a collective appreciation for agriculture
- Invest in the next generation of agricultural systems
- Strengthen the social and economic fabric of the US through agriculture
“Farmers are the original conservationists. We know how important it is to protect the soil. But farmers alone can’t be responsible for this monumental task. The next generation of agricultural leaders is already at work with partners across the sector to bring real change,” said 4-H member and USFRA Honor the Harvest Advisory Council member, Addy Battel.
The sector has an outsized positive impact on a core group of 7 SDGs, reflecting both progress to-date and new avenues to address national and global challenges:
- Clean water and sanitation
- Climate action
- Decent work and economic growth
- Life below water
- Life on land
- Responsible consumption and production
- Zero hunger
“Farmers and ranchers are uniquely positioned to reduce greenhouse gas emissions using on-farm practices that increase carbon storage and improve soil, but they can’t do it alone,” said USFRA CEO, Erin Fitzgerald. “The agriculture industry is currently on a trajectory to halve its carbon footprint in the next 10 years. Continued innovation and collaboration at scale is required from every corner of the food and agriculture value chain to reduce greenhouse gases and provide for our communities.”
US Farmers & Ranchers in Action Report: Key Findings
The report describes how today’s world is confronting historic crises. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to drive both a health disaster and economic disruption. Societies are confronting their own roles in the lack of social and racial equity among their citizens. While the current challenges have us all focused on the very near-term, US Farmers & Ranchers in Action is also looking to the future and how US agriculture can continue to build greater resiliency and sustainability into the US agricultural system.
This report began by briefly examining the current state of affairs of US agriculture by highlighting the capacity of the US food system, defining the food value chain and then articulating sector trends in relation to the current COVID 19 pandemic, the impacts as a result of climate change, the economic challenges being faced and the prevailing consumer demands.
With this information in mind, industry thought leaders and a literature review were conducted in order to compile a mapping assessment of the SDGs with the greatest potential for impact from US agricultural support. Current industry interactions with each of these defined core SDGs were then explored in detail.
Next came challenges and areas for impact and improvement related to further embodiment of these core SDGs from within the agriculture sector. Lastly the report concluded with a summary of its major points and a call to action to begin planning to actualize the priority SDGs toward making US agriculture more beneficial for all.
The report serves a basis for members of the food and agriculture value chain to recognize the importance of their own positive contributions, align on challenges that remain, and advance specific opportunities to reduce environmental impacts – in the US and in the developing world.