Nature-Positive Solutions for Shifting Agrifood Systems to More Resilient and Sustainable Pathways


In prioritizing the mass production of cheap and plentiful food, industrial agriculture has taken a toll on both the environment and humans. It drives 80% of deforestation, threatens 86% of species currently at risk of extinction, is responsible for significant loss of crop and genetic diversity and up to 37% of global greenhouse gas emissions, accelerates land degradation and land-use change, and uses 70% of global water resources withdrawn. The homogenization of our food sources and diets has contributed to reduced nutrition outcomes for families, farming incomes, and crop resistance to pests and diseases, collectively diminishing the resilience of smallholder farming systems. The circularity of these problems is exacerbated by misaligned public policies and economic incentives.

Recently, there has been a seismic shift in thinking on how to (re)organize our agricultural production systems, with the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit formally recognizing nature-positive production as one of five critical pathways to sustainable food systems. While much of the business case for nature-positive solutions is in place, however, the actionable science required to support planning by the agricultural research for development community lags behind.


This Initiative aims to re-imagine, co-create, and implement nature-positive solutions-based agrifood systems that equitably support food and livelihoods on the ground, while simultaneously ensuring that agriculture is a net positive contributor to nature.


This objective will be achieved through:

  1. Nature-positive solutions for more effective conservation of interlinked agrobiodiversity, water and soils systems, focusing on the nexus where agrobiodiversity conservation intersects with the water and soil resource management critical to halting and reversing biodiversity loss.
  2. Sustainable, nature-positive management of biodiversity and other natural resources, working with smallholder communities to improve production systems by introducing nature-positive solutions innovations, learning, and technologies around biodiversity, water, and soil management.
  3. Nature-positive solutions as cost efficiency models for community land restoration: providing the scientific evidence base, and capacity to monitor and quantify ecosystem service delivery and maximize efficiency of interventions, to help local restoration stakeholders establish innovative nature-positive solutions that attract investment and break the degradation cycle.
  4. Nature-positive solutions for a circular economy approach to rural waste management: working with a wide range of stakeholders to ensure that nature-positive recycling solutions are used more effectively by small- and medium-sized enterprises to generate increased resources that benefit poor farming households in rural areas and contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  5. Engaging key actors in creating an enabling environment for nature-positive solutions, by a) researching the true cost of food, including the hidden costs of women’s labor, b) valuing and shaping different types of incentives, and c) building mainstreaming implementation and scaling capacity.


Proposed 3-year outcomes include:

  1. Women and men smallholder farmers, local communities, and national agricultural research systems (NARS) use nature-positive solutions stress-tested and validated by the Initiative to improve landscape-scale management of biodiversity for food and agriculture via the farm-scale entry points of water, soil, waste and land restoration.
  2. Women and men (including smallholder farmers) use Initiative innovations and pathways to engage more directly in, and benefit more equitably from, value chains based on the outputs of biodiversity conservation, innovative rural waste management technologies and circular economy principles.
  3. NARS and other development actors systematically adopt participatory, multi-disciplinary approaches that make research more impactful, relevant to local agrifood system contexts and smallholder needs, and sustainable through local actor take-up.
  4. National and subnational policymakers acknowledge that true cost accounting should and will be applied to agrifood system-related policy formation.
  5. Public and private investment actors use Initiative evidence, tools and methodologies to gain a better understanding of the business case for nature-positive solutions.


Projected impacts and benefits include:


The Initiative aims to achieve a 30% increase in food, land, and water productivity, a reversal of soil degradation, and a 50% increase in systems biodiversity. It will see more than 916,000 hectares of forest protected from deforestation and restored, and more than 1.8 million hectares of land under improved management.


Through the Initiative, more than 69 million people, including farmers and consumers, will have access to a broader food basket, as more crops, particularly nuts and fruits, will be produced and consumed. Women and children will particularly benefit from nutrient-dense crops and varieties.


The Initiative aims to achieve at least 20% increased income from nature-positive solutions-focused value chains, benefiting more than 69 million people. It will create jobs and enhance income opportunities, particularly for women and youth, through a number of value chains related to seeds, crops, fruit trees, waste, in addition to payment for ecosystem services schemes and public procurement.


The Initiative will incorporate and reflect the needs of women and indigenous people. In addition, value chain development, training, and value chain access/participation will target women and youth in particular. Third, women will be actively involved in the community steering committees to oversee implementation. Women and youth will also be targeted to manage farmers’ led seed systems, benefiting more than 33.3 million women and 11.5 million youth.


Communities will improve their adaptation through the characterization of diversity for climate-related traits and adoption of NPS practices by farmers, reducing their vulnerability to climate shocks. Improvements to restoration and soil management, as well as improved recycling and value chains, will create carbon sinks and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, averting more than 83 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions. Finally, payment for ecosystem services and other schemes will provide correctly aligned incentives to maintain forests and trees, contributing both to adaptation and mitigation.


Just launched: CGIAR Initiative on Nature-Positive Solutions

For more details, view the Initiative proposal


Header photo: Photo by R. Ziade/ICARDA.