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World Food Day 2020

Putting nature first is good for business

iStock / Getty Images Plus / Benoit Cattie

Akanksha Khatri

Head of Nature Action Agenda, World Economic Forum

COVID-19 is a stark reminder of how ignoring biophysical risks can have catastrophic health and economic impacts at the global scale.

How we use the land and ocean currently endangers 7% of threatened or near-threatened species, but, there are wins for business and nature if we start to change our ways. By implementing nature-positive solutions across this system, we could create 191 million jobs and $3.6 trillion in business opportunities by 2030. There are four ways we can secure this transition.

Sustainable farming and fishing could generate billions

Firstly, the ever-expanding footprint of farming, fishing and ranching is unsustainable. Some 75% of the world’s food comes from 12 plant and five animal species. Animal products provide 18% of calories but take up 80% of farmland.

A more diversified diet of vegetables and fruits can create $310 billion in business opportunities. To secure this transition, the first and immediate step is to stabilise and reduce the footprint of agriculture and fishing on ecosystems while restoring degraded ecosystems to return them to nature.

Agriculture needs to become sustainable and regenerative

Second, the food and land use system could significantly benefit from a fundamental shift towards productive and regenerative agriculture. Transforming agricultural landscapes and farming practices for both food and non-food agriculture through a combination of traditional farming techniques, advanced precision technologies, and bio-based inputs can increase biodiversity, enrichen soils, improve water management and enhance ecosystem services while improving yields.

Some 75% of the world’s food comes from 12 plant and five animal species. Animal products provide 18% of calories but take up 80% of farmland.

Over 4.3 million jobs and $195 billion in business opportunities can come from precision-agriculture technologies by 2030. With 40% improvements in yields expected, investments could yield returns of over 10%.

Current fishing practices are depleting wild fish stocks

Thirdly, it takes five times the effort to catch the same amount of fish now as it did in 1950. If the ‘business as usual’ approach continues, wild fish stocks will decline by 15%. This will cost the industry $83 billion.

Sustainable ecosystem management is one way to tap into a $40 billion opportunity for the maritime industry worldwide. To fulfil this potential will require managing wild fisheries sustainably by respecting and upholding biologically viable quotas and limiting fishing to specific zones.

Sustainable forest management is “critical”

Fourth, given the outsized impact of logging on biodiversity, a transition to sustainable management of forests is critical. Techniques such as reduced-impact logging, improved harvest planning and precision forestry can allow forests to flourish while meeting the world’s resource needs.

However, a successful transition will rely on finding just and equitable solutions that address the land rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.

Changes are vital to support a growing global population

These first four transitions need to happen in the context of a rapidly expanding global population. Based on current consumption trends, global food production would need to increase by between 50% and 98% by 2050 from 2005 levels. This increase would jeopardize the ambition for the food, land and ocean use system to both share with and spare nature.

By integrating transparency, traceability and increased collaboration into supply chains, stakeholders can improve sustainable sourcing; eliminate illegality; reduce food and material loss; improve safety and quality; and ensure that consumers, regulators and investors are able to make informed decisions that, in turn, reinforce responsible production.

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