A farmer harvests rice at Bontomanai village in South Sulawesi, Indonesia. Tri Saputro, CIFOR

The challenge of achieving land-use transformation at scale

Mobilizing public and private finance for sustainable agriculture

By George Scott, business analytics team, Land Use Finance Unit, UNEP

This subject will be the topic of a UNEP-hosted session at GLF Luxembourg on 30 November. Learn more on how to join here.

Stabilizing the global agricultural system to protect and enhance our forests will require a combined effort form both public and private actors. With large shifts predicted in the future suitability of key growing areas1, 2, 3, it is critical that production models are adopted that can increase resilience against climate change and economic certainty to producers, while at the same time delivering environmental and social benefits that, to date, have not received due levels of consideration.

Alternative, sustainable models for commodity production can generate positive risk return ratios compared to business-as-usual projects exist4. However, across the globe rates of adoption remain low5, 6, 7. To date, much of the focus has been on public commitments by private sector companies to remove deforestation from their supply chains. To this effect, we have seen a proliferation of pilot projects, yet scaling up these projects beyond single actors remains challenging and impacts on deforestation and forest degradation remain difficult to demonstrate at scale.

Incentivizing finance and investment is vital to increase the adoption levels of sustainable agricultural production, but the overall solution is more nuanced. For the transition to sustainable land use to occur at scale and pace, it may be necessary to revisit the distribution of value within value chains and to establish regulatory regimes that are aligned with the appropriate incentives that reward stewardship and therefore stimulate the spontaneous adoption of sustainable practices. It is unwise to view finance alone as a simple ‘silver bullet’, instead it should be seen a necessary component amongst a multifaceted approach that incorporates issues relating to political economy and regulation as well as social, economic and environmental issues of production.


1Leemans, R., & Solomon, A., (1993). Modeling the potential change in yield and distribution of the earth’s crops under a warmed climate. Climate Research, 3(1/2), 79-96. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/24863334

2Joshua Elliott, Delphine Deryng, Christoph Müller, Katja Frieler, Markus Konzmann, Dieter Gerten, Michael Glotter, Martina Flörke, Yoshihide Wada, Neil Best, Stephanie Eisner, Balázs M. Fekete, Christian Folberth, Ian Foster, Simon N. Gosling, Ingjerd Haddeland, Nikolay Khabarov, Fulco Ludwig, Yoshimitsu Masaki, Stefan Olin, Cynthia Rosenzweig, Alex C. Ruane, Yusuke Satoh, Erwin Schmid, Tobias Stacke, Qiuhong Tang, and Dominik Wisser, (2013), ‘Constraints and potentials of future irrigation water availability on agricultural production under climate change’. PNAS March 4, 2014 111 (9) 3239-3244

3Smith, P., & Gregory, P. (2013). Climate change and sustainable food production. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 72(1), 21-28. doi:10.1017/S0029665112002832

4UNEP analysis on economic and business case for sustainable coffee cultivation in Vietnam and sustainable beef production in Costa Rica. Unpublished

5Tey, Yeong Sheng & Li, Elton & Bruwer, Johan & Abdullah, Amin & Cummins, Jay & Radam, Alias & Ismail, Mohd & Darham, Suryani. (2012). Adoption Rate of Sustainable Agricultural Practices: A Focus on Malaysia’s Vegetable Sector for Research Implications. African journal of agricultural research. 7. 2901-2909. 10.5897/AJAR11.1876.

6Vine Mutyasira, Dana Hoag & Dustin Pendell | Fatih Yildiz (Reviewing editor) (2018) The adoption of sustainable agricultural practices by smallholder farmers in Ethiopian highlands: An integrative approach, Cogent Food & Agriculture, 4:1, DOI: 10.1080/23311932.2018.1552439

7Banana Farmers’ Adoption of Sustainable Agriculture Practices in the Vietnam Uplands: the Case of Quang Tri Province – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2210784315001436



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