The need for sustainable agriculture is becoming ever more significant. The world’s population is still increasing, requiring more from our agricultural systems. Malnutrition and diet-related illnesses are present in nearly all societies. At the ame time, agriculture plays a significant role in some of the biggest environmental challenges that humanity is facing, including the climate crisis, biodiversity loss, deforestation, and the pollution of our soil, water, and air. The need to balance the growing demand for nutritious food with these environmental threats is a complex issue, and ensuring sustainable food systems will require a collaborative effort from many different communities.
These issues were addressed during the US-UK Scientific Forum on Sustainable Agriculture that was held in Washington, DC, on March 5–6, 2020. Organized by the National Academy of Sciences and the United Kingdom’s Royal Society, the forum brought together leading scientists, researchers, policy makers, and practitioners in agricultural sciences, food policy, biodiversity, and environmental science (among other specialties). The forum provided an opportunity for members of these research communities to build multidisciplinary and international collaborations that can inform solutions to a broad set of problems.
The forum highlighted current approaches to sustainable agriculture such as precision farming, crop resilience, biodiversity retention, waste reduction, and dietary diversity. Over the course of the forum, there were moments of both optimism and pessimism, with overarching recognition that business as usual cannot continue. For some participants, the solutions are evident, and effective implementation is the barrier to change. For others, the challenge of balancing measures to ensure positive outcomes for all is yet to be overcome. Overall, the forum attendees recognized that sustainable solutions to the challenges of our food systems will be context-specific, depending on, for example, resource availability, location, and community priorities. Further global collaboration and communication will be needed to meet current and future needs.
It was demonstrated at the forum that, while there is a need for further research on sustainable agricultural methods, action can be taken now. The forum highlighted the scientific and technological developments that have been made, not only in identifying problems but also in finding solutions. Moreover, the insightful and productive conversations that took place over the course of the forum emphasized the willingness of participants to promote and discuss their work with the aim of informing political and societal decisions.
The world changed dramatically in the weeks and months following the forum. The COVID-19 pandemic has focused attention on the fragility and strength of humanity and has emphasized the need for international collaboration in overcoming interconnected, global issues. Although creating and maintaining sustainable agricultural systems is a different kind of problem, it also transcends borders and requires wide-ranging global action. As we seek to create a more resilient post-pandemic world and consider fundamental changes in our approaches to health, safety, and security of life on Earth, sustainable agriculture cannot be overlooked.
|MARCIA MCNUTT||VENKI RAM AKRISHNAN|
|President, National Academy of Sciences||Past President, The Royal Society|