Science Forum 2018 (SF18), Win more, lose less: Capturing synergies between SDGs through agricultural research, was held from October 10-12, 2018 in Stellenbosch, South Africa. SF18 was organized by the CGIAR’S Independent Science and Partnership Council (ISPC)—now Independent Science for Development Council (ISDC)—and co-hosted by the South African Agricultural Research Council.
The objective of SF18 was to identify substantial interactions between the Sustainable Development Goals (both positive and negative), the role of agricultural research in augmenting synergies and managing trade-offs, and the ensuing implications for the science-policy interface. Results will contribute to the discussion of developing research themes and frameworks in CGIAR.
The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides an aspirational and practical roadmap for action by all countries for achieving long-lasting sustainable development outcomes, while ensuring that no one is left behind. Agriculture lies at the heart of this agenda with an essential, multifunctional and catalytic role to play. While at a global level agriculture has delivered substantial benefits in terms of increased food supplies, it has been less successful in generating the full range of social, economic and environmental benefits needed to realize Agenda 2030. To achieve these multiple benefits, it is necessary to reposition agriculture and this must be undertaken in the context of the complex and rising set of challenges facing the sector. These include pressures from a growing and urbanizing population, changing dietary patterns, natural resource depletion and climate change, as well as novel opportunities offered by technological and institutional innovations.
Agricultural research has a fundamental role in the effort to transform agriculture in food systems, specifically in considering how synergies can be achieved and how unintended consequences, that may arise in making progress in one dimension at the expense of another, can be avoided. Research, through its capacity to adopt a comprehensive view of how impact pathways from research can unfold across multiple dimensions (spatial scales, time scales, institutions), is a powerful tool that can empower policy makers and civil society to undertake transformative changes. CGIAR research, with its focus on producing global public goods, is particularly important in this context, since these types of goods play a key role in capturing synergies between multiple objectives in agriculture.
SF18’s point of departure for looking at interactions was focusing on the SDGs that are directly relevant to CGIAR’s research mandate of reducing poverty, improving food and nutrition security for health, and improving natural resource systems and ecosystem services. The intent was to identify systematic interactions amongst the impact pathways of research aimed at any single one of these objectives.
Since these are relatively big and complex issues to cover, there is a need to break them down to be more concrete and relevant to the agricultural research agenda in general, and CGIAR in particular. To do that, we look to the emerging scientific literature and global policy discourse to identify key issues that agricultural research needs to tackle to contribute to the achievement of the SDGs.
SF18 thus explored three key topics, in addition to a cross-cutting topic on strengthening the science-policy interface, and background papers were commissioned to set the scene and guide Forum discussions:
- Interactions between increasing staple crop productivity, resilience to climate change, improving nutrition, and sustaining agrobiodiversity
- Interactions between intensifying livestock and aquaculture production for food and nutrition security, and: a) increased vulnerability to antimicrobial resistance and zoonoses; b) land use change
- Grappling with complex systems: the water-energy-food (WEF) nexus interactions
Strengthening the science-policy interface
Understanding key interactions amongst multiple goals is crucial to effectively implement the multi-objective 2030 agenda. It is also an essential aid to policy makers tasked with achieving these interlinked challenges. To realize the potential power of research on interactions to influence policy, it is necessary to develop explicit mechanisms to build an effective impact pathway.
How to position research and build research systems to provide evidence on interactions that policy makers can utilize is no trivial matter and needs to be carefully considered. How do policy makers use evidence from agricultural research to effectively influence or inform cross-sectoral policy (with a particular focus on how to leverage synergies and address trade-offs)? How can the policy relevance of research be improved, i.e. what are the most effective means for research to position itself and connect more effectively with policy processes to operationalize sustainable food and agriculture systems? How is the “best scientific evidence” interpreted by policy makers from different sectors? How is the global political economy of food and agriculture systems transforming? Above all, how can CGIAR enhance its credibility as a trusted advisor in policy discourses? The ISPC—now ISDC— therefore proposed building a dialogue with policy makers into the analytical process for setting priorities and making the best use of limited resources.
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ISDC supported SF18 background papers to be published in the public domain, which resulted in the following peer-reviewed articles:
- Transitioning towards a safer environmental operating space for the livestock sector, Global Food Security (forthcoming)
- Review: Mitigating the risks posed by intensification in livestock production: The examples of antimicrobial resistance and zoonoses, Animal (February 2021)
- One swallow does not make a summer: Siloes, trade-offs and synergies in the water-energy-food nexus, Frontiers in Environmental Science (March 2019)