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Dr. Jason Clay: Take a Moment on Earth Day to think About Agriculture
When I visit places like the Amazon and Sumatra, I am reminded of their sheer beauty. I’m also struck by how much they’re changing with each visit. Growing demand for food and fiber around the world is fueling destruction of these biologically diverse regions.
As the world’s largest conservation organization dedicated to protecting species and their habitats, if we don’t get food and fiber right, we can turn off the lights and go home. Without action soon, there won’t be any biodiversity left to protect.
This is why World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is working with some of the largest global organizations to reduce the impact of agriculture on the planet. For example, WWF has teamed with the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the food company Mars and the Beijing Genomics Institute to ensure the genomes of 25-30 “neglected” crops in Africa are sequenced and then put in the public domain.
We will train up to 90 Africans each year to use 21st century technology for plant breeding and hope that in 5-10 years time, scientists will use this information to double or even triple the productivity of these underutilized crops, improve drought tolerance, disease resistance and overall nutrient content.
WWF has also joined forces with the Dutch government and Unilever, Nutreco and Rabobank to explore how carbon could be incorporated into agricultural commodity prices. One vision is for those companies that purchase popular commodities like coffee, milk and sugar to also buy the carbon that the farmer sequestered or avoided releasing during production. If developed in a responsible way, this approach could offer a host of benefits by making food production more sustainable, marginal lands more viable, and producers more financially secure.
In the next 40 years, we have to produce as much as food as we have in the past 8,000. To get there, we need to freeze the footprint of food. The two projects I’ve outlined fall within a construct I call the eight “food wedges” that, if implemented globally, will enable us to scale up food production and protect biodiversity.
More progress is being made across these wedges, including a new fund to rehabilitate underproductive and degraded lands, as well as projects to reduce food waste on the farm and throughout global supply chains. I detailed each of these strategies in the journal Nature last summer, and in a TEDxWWF talk last fall.
On Earth Day 2012, take a moment to consider how tightly bound our lives are to our precious, yet finite planet, from the food you eat to the shirt on your back. To maintain life as we know it, we must pursue global solutions to eliminate waste and preserve resources. It’s a daunting challenge for any one individual or organization, but working together, we can get there.
About Jason Clay
Jason gets things done on a global scale. His ideas are changing the way governments, foundations, researchers, and NGOs identify and address risks and opportunities for their work. He brings people together to improve environmentally sensitive practices in agriculture and aquaculture. Jason’s goal is to create global standards for producing and using raw materials, particularly in terms of carbon and water.
He has convened industry roundtables of retailers, buyers, producers and environmentalists to reduce the key impacts of producing soy, cotton, sugarcane, salmon, shrimp, mollusks, catfish and tilapia. Jason ran a family farm, taught at Harvard and Yale, worked at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and spent more than 25 years working with human rights and environmental organizations before joining WWF in 1999.