The Knowledge to Act

Our Food. Our Farmers. The Planet.


Agriculture matters: it provides a livelihood for more people in the world than any other sector and represents almost 50 percent of total employment in poor countries. It is also on the front lines of nearly all urgent global challenges, from hunger & malnutrition to climate change, biodiversity loss and freshwater scarcity.

Farming has the power to end extreme poverty and feed billions of people. The goal of ending hunger is within reach, but it will not happen unless we increase public spending—by an extra USD 11 billion per year from now to 2030. IISD is working with IFPRI to measure the costs and provide the solutions to ensure the world achieves the critical SDG goal of ending hunger. Our recent study looked at the agricultural conditions and policies of 117 states in Asia and Africa over 45 years to determine why some countries have made the leap beyond subsistence agriculture and others have not. 

The cost of ending hunger

Solutions to global environmental problems will also not be realized without tackling the problems in agriculture. Agriculture is responsible for a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions, 70 per cent of freshwater withdrawals, 70 per cent of biodiversity loss on land and 73 per cent of deforestation in the tropics. At the same time, the increased frequency of droughts and floods is a major obstacle to ending hunger and malnutrition.

Hydro Plant in Rwanda

Therefore, we must invest in environmental sustainability to achieve food and nutrition security. IISD is at the forefront of this endeavour.

IISD is making agricultural value chains more resilient to the effects of climate change, by working with the domestic private sector in poor countries to integrate climate risk management.

Agriculture also contributes to water pollution: nutrients and phosphorous runoff creates algal blooms that kill productive fisheries and ecosystems. Innovative solutions to eliminate the pollution choking our lakes and rivers are coming from agriculture: IISD scientists contribute to understanding the challenges and proposing solutions.

Land rights for smallholder farmers and rural communities are a precondition for ending hunger and poverty. IISD is working with countries to make laws and policies fairer, for example by strengthening land tenure systems in ways that recognize customary rights while at the same time ensuring gender equality and women's empowerment.

Mobilizing the private sector is key—but the private sector needs a sound regulatory environment. IISD lawyers and economists work with countries and regions to improve legal and policy frameworks to attract responsible and sustainable investment in agriculture. We develop model contracts and provide specialized legal support.

IISD also strengthens the contribution of the private sector through the ongoing improvement and reform of sustainability standards. Sustainability standards and their associated indicators can help to guide the agriculture industry toward more sustainable practices, innovations and technologies. This in turn can have positive implications for the environment, food safety and farmers’ returns on investment. IISD continues to track the biggest trends in agricultural sustainability.

IISD researchers look at the links between hunger and global migration—another of the world’s most pressing challenges. Economic growth is the strongest driver influencing migration. Governments seeking to help people access economic opportunities in their own country should focus on investing in agriculture and food systems beyond the farm level.

Alternative Energy Sources in Africa

With agriculture’s large environmental footprint, it is also important to focus on sustainable rural infrastructure and technological innovations. This includes solutions for low-cost renewable energy and helping farmers reduce the use of pesticides, chemicals and fertilizers.