Solution Cluster 3.2.1

Transformation through innovation for nature-positive production

This solution cluster promotes innovation as a key way to create nature-positive production systems and value chains, to catalyze food systems transformation. The food system is defined as “the entire range of actors and their interlinked value-adding activities involved in the production, aggregation, processing, distribution, consumption and disposal of food products that originate from agriculture, forestry or fisheries, and parts of the broader economic, societal and natural environments in which they are embedded” (FAO, 2018). While the focus of the solution cluster is on production, its broader objective is to foster nature-positive innovation spanning all parts of diverse food systems.

The solution aims to foster investment, deployment and scaling of innovation that will support nature-positive production and promotes the use of innovation in the following areas: (i) Technology and practices; (ii) Knowledge systems (incl. scientific, local and indigenous); (iii) Policy and governance; and (iv) Data and digital. Through this focus, the solution closely aligns with the innovation lever of change and its four areas (knowledge and technology, societal and institutional, regional and national, data and digital). More specifically, this solution aims at:

  • Scaling up innovation in technology and practices, by co-designing contextually relevant solutions with women and men producers, businesses and consumers, policy actors, donors as well as other relevant stakeholders;
  • Supporting scientific, local and indigenous knowledge systems in innovation as a way to tackle the complex challenges of biodiversity loss and climate change, while meeting food production needs;
  • Fostering policy and governance innovations (including regional, national and local governance structures that connect decision makers with end-users) to enable investment in nature-positive production, support primary producers1 in the adoption and provision of ecosystem services, ensure fairness and equity in access to critical resources, capacity building and technologies, irrespective of gender, age, and ethnicity;
  • Promoting data and digital innovations to improve traceability and transparency, to enhance fairness and gender equity in both value and risk sharing along the chain, as well as to value the ecosystem services that both women and men primary producers provide in the context of nature-positive value chains.

By catalyzing investment in such innovations, addressing fragmentation among institutions and fostering evidence-based dialogue, we seek to shift the dial on innovation to put it on a people-centered, climate resilient and nature-positive pathway. The solution thus proposes a focus on innovations that have demonstrated the ability to scale inclusive, human-centered, end-to-end solutions working across the entire food system, while providing tailored solutions to address local needs and mobilizing relevant partners to ensure societal outcomes at scale.

About this Solution Cluster

Food systems have been a major driver of climate change. They are responsible for 34% of total GHG emissions (Crippa et al., 2021) – with the largest contribution coming from agriculture and land use/land-use change activities (71%). Food systems are also a principal driver of biodiversity loss through conversion of natural ecosystems to agricultural lands, excessive use of inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, water, energy and land, hence accelerating species extinction (Benton et al., 2021). At the same time, women and men primary producers are at the frontline of catastrophic impacts of climate change and nature loss, suffer from deepening poverty levels and a widening inequality gap, and are bearing disproportionate costs compared to other food systems actors. It is therefore widely recognized that a major transformation of agri-food systems is urgently needed (Steiner et al., 2020, Pharo et al., 2019, Loboguerrero et al., 2020).

On the positive side, if sustainably managed, agriculture is capable of reducing emissions and sequestering carbon, as well as enhancing nature and biodiversity through integrated farming systems and input reductions, spurred by innovation. However, although the World Bank estimates that around USD 56 billion is spent every year on agricultural research and development (Fuglie et al., 2020), investment is not growing at the rate that is needed to address climate change, nature loss, hunger and other development objectives (Laborde et al., 2020). Reorientation towards innovation and an overall growth in investment in agricultural research and development that delivers for both nature and people are critical to meeting the SDG agenda and improving food system level outcomes, particularly in vulnerable countries (Alston et al., 2014). In addition to this, and to sustain nature-positive production on the long-term, research and innovation needs to support the livelihoods of primary producers and to address some of the most pressing challenges they face, such as the lack of basic infrastructure and access to services. Finally, while the changes needed vary across different scales and contexts, low- and middle-income countries with higher dependence on agriculture are a priority as innovations can enable them to leapfrog the agricultural development curve, delivering benefits for people, nature and climate.

Climate-smart, nature-positive innovation can have transformational impact and help achieve the aspirational outcome of sustainably managing existing food production systems to the benefit of nature and people (SDG12), helping develop an innovation system (SDG 9) that provides context specific solutions to increase input efficiencies, minimize externalities, improve soil health and increase yields, reduce food loss and food waste, maximize biodiversity and ecosystem functions (SDG 15), improve livelihoods (SDGs 1 and 10) and enhance resilience to climate change (SDG 13).

Indeed, evidence shows that innovation is essential to initiate the needed transformation of food systems: 1) agricultural research and innovation is an essential element of climate change adaptation (Global Commission on Adaptation, 2019); 2) investment in agricultural innovation has consistently demonstrated high economic returns (Alston et al., 2014) while lifting millions out of poverty; 3) increasing investment in climate-smart, nature-positive innovation is key to end hunger sustainably, with estimates suggesting an additional $33bn a year is required until 2030 (Laborde et al., 2020) for technology, innovation and related areas to help poor countries to prioritize, properly target and scale up cost effective interventions. Building on this, the development and deployment at scale of next-generation, demand-driven agriculture technology, knowledge and evidence together with societal and institutional changes will provide concrete solutions to the fundamental issues that food system stakeholders – including primary producers – face.

The initial theoretical background comes from the ‘Action to Transform Food Systems Under Climate Change’ report (Steiner et al., 2020), which has seen input from over 100 organizations. Going beyond 2030, this solution aims at initiating a new era of nature-positive innovation, tailored to the needs of primary producers and focusing on ‘end-to-end’ approaches to innovation.

Our theory of change envisages four key inputs to make this solution successful:

  • Increase long-term investment in R&D, innovation, technology and knowledge sharing, while securing basic socio-economic infrastructure and services. While in some instances this requires the development of new technologies and practices, in others it requires researched adjustments to how natural resources and other public goods are valued, managed and equitably shared among diverse stakeholders. Fostering investment also means for food system stakeholders – including primary producers, who actively invest in innovations – to take existing technologies and practices to scale and to deploy them in such a manner as to realize multiple objectives. Potential ideas include principles and metrics on agricultural innovation – serving as a reference but open to context-specific adjustments – as well as knowledge and data sharing platforms for resource mapping, progress monitoring, training, best practice sharing and collaboration/co-creation. In addition, increased investments to enable innovation entities, such as accelerators, incubators, funds and start-ups focusing on food systems innovations, will further progress the impact of nature-positive innovation. As well as looking at successful examples, focusing on practices that haven’t proven to work can shed light on present bottlenecks and how to solve them.
  • Realign innovation systems to address climate change, protect nature and support livelihoods. National and international institutions responsible for innovation need to become fit for purpose to achieve multiple outcomes. This solution will focus on realigning institutions to address fragmentation and streamlining efforts for greater impact, while putting primary producers at the center. This will involve changing incentive structures, management and governance for researchers and the public sector in agricultural and fisheries research, while ensuring innovation systems focus on impact and societal outcomes (climate, biodiversity and nature, resilience, livelihoods, inclusivity), and to ensure greater uptake of research results by food systems stakeholders. Innovations in this space should include actively promoting and enabling fishing and farming practices that minimize their impacts upon broader ecosystems, and keeping a focus on delivery, addressing issues faced by small-scale primary producers.
  • Identify and scale best practices of taking innovation to scale. These best practices connect capital providers, researchers, and end-users to co-create and provide a research-for-development “ecosystem for innovation” or “innovation value chain”, capable of catalyzing food systems transformation. Other ways to bring innovation to scale include harnessing the power of digital technologies, re-engineering policies, and investing in backbone socio-economic infrastructure. Primary producers are innovators by nature and they are already implementing a number of solutions to cope with climate change and other challenges affecting their daily businesses. It is key to identify producer-centered solutions which are already proven to work and are ready to be scaled up if provided with the right investments and enabling policies.
  • Identify and prioritize evidence-based approaches that address the critical needs of primary producers (including the new generation) through inclusive dialogue. Investment in innovation must strive to protect human rights and improve economic welfare and livelihoods, as well as promote equity, justice, and social well-being particularly for women and vulnerable communities, including smallholders. This solution aims at ensuring primary producers have improved and equal access to policy, technical, digital and financial support systems for accessing and adopting agricultural innovations.

A variety of stakeholders have invested in and promoted the use of innovation to boost nature-positive production. Since September 2020, around 30 member states have thus expressed their willingness to support a global campaign on ‘Transforming Agricultural Innovation for People, Nature and Climate’. Launched by the Rt Hon Lord Goldsmith, UK Minister for Pacific and the Environment at FCDO at the 2021 Climate Adaptation Summit, this campaign benefits from strong support under the UK’s COP26 Presidency.

While member states are key funders and beneficiaries of innovation, this solution will also mobilize private companies that invest in innovation, and regional and international innovation organizations to agree on a concrete set of research and development programs and initiatives to catalyze and scale innovation. Examples of successful existing initiatives include the Local Technical Agroclimatic Committees in Latin America, the use of big data to scale Climate-Smart Agriculture, the Climate-Smart Villages, the Global Lighthouse Farm, the World Food Programme Innovation Accelerator and the “100 Million Farmers” platform, to support the transition towards net-zero, nature-positive food systems. This solution also includes initiatives looking at particular aspects, such as CoSAI’s new Taskforce focused on principles and metrics for innovation, as well of the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate, spearheaded by the United Arab Emirates, United States, Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Israel, Singapore, the UK’s COP Presidency and Uruguay, which focuses on increasing public spending on agricultural research and innovation in the next five years.

ALSTON, J.M., PARDEY, P.G. 2014. Agriculture in the Global Economy. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 28 (1): 121-46.

BENTON, T. G., BIEG, C., HARWATT, H., PUDASAINI, R., & WELLESLEY, L.. 2021. Food system impacts on biodiversity loss. Three levers for food system transformation in support of nature. Chatham House, London.

CRIPPA, M., SOLAZZO, E., GUIZZARDI, D. ET AL., 2021. Food systems are responsible for a third of global anthropogenic GHG emissions. Nature Food, 2, 198–209.

FAO, 1999. Recommended International Code of Practice General Principles of Food Hygiene.

FAO, 2018. Sustainable food systems: Concept and framework.

FUGLIE, K., GAUTAM, M., GOYAL, A. & MALONEY, W. F. 2020. Harvesting Prosperity: Technology and Productivity Growth in Agriculture. Washington DC, World Bank.

GLOBAL COMMISSION ON ADAPTATION, 2019. Adapt Now: A Global Call for Leadership on Climate Resilience.

LABORDE, D., PARENT, M., & SMALLER, C. 2020. Ending Hunger, Increasing Incomes, and Protecting the Climate: What would it cost donors? Ceres2030. International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

LOBOGUERRERO, A. M., THORNTON, P., WADSWORTH, J., CAMPBELL, B. M., HERRERO, M., MASON-D’CROZ, D., DINESH, D., HUYER, S., JARVIS, A., MILLAN, A., WOLLENBERG, E. & ZEBIAK, S. 2020. Perspective article: Actions to reconfigure food systems. Global Food Security, 26, 100432.

PHARO, P., OPPENHEIM, J., LADERCHI, C. R. & BENSON, S. 2019. Growing Better: Ten Critical Transitions to Transform Food and Land Use. Food and Land Use Coalition.

STEINER, A., AGUILAR, G., BOMBA, K., BONILLA, J. P., CAMPBELL, A., ECHEVERRIA, R., GANDHI, R., HEDEGAARD, C., HOLDORF, D., ISHII, N., QUINN, K. M., RUTER, B., SUNGA, I., SUKHDEV, P., VERGHESE, S., VOEGELE, J., WINTERS, P., CAMPBELL, B., DINESH, D., HUYER, S., JARVIS, A., LOBOGUERRERO, A. M., MILLAN, A., THORNTON, P., WOLLENBERG, L. & ZEBIAK, S. 2020. Actions to Transform Food Systems Under Climate Change. Wageningen, The Netherlands: CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

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