Climate change is leading to multi-billion dollar losses in crop yield and affecting the health of forest ecosystems. Technology can help farmers and forest managers monitor crop and forest health, adapt their practices, use resources more efficiently and manage climate risk.

This chapter presents solutions within agriculture and forestry that respond to climate change impact on food security. It explores proven, frontier and horizon technologies ranging from local and indigenous techniques to urban farming, hydroponics and high-tech digital solutions. Sections take a look at technologies for climate-resilient plants, healthy soils, irrigation, livestock and forest protection. Because the right information at the right time can be vital, the chapter also looks at early warning systems and solutions for monitoring and forecasting climate change impact.


Technological developments and trends

Agriculture and forestry are highly vulnerable to climate change impacts. They are subject to slow-onset stressors like drought, soil salinization and biodiversity loss and exposed to extreme weather events such as forest fires. … Read more

Technological developments and trends

Agriculture and forestry are highly vulnerable to climate change impacts. They are subject to slow-onset stressors like drought, soil salinization and biodiversity loss and exposed to extreme weather events such as forest fires.[1] Moreover, climate change is threatening the availability of resources such as fertile land and irrigation water, putting the agriculture sector under increasing pressure to deliver more with less. Meanwhile, hotter and drier weather is causing tree mortality and forest die-off.[2] Forest complexity and the major interdependencies and interactions between species and ecosystems at every level, is putting limits to the solutions that technology alone can provide. However, solutions can be simple yet effective. Afforestation, agroforestry systems, water harvesting, no-till farming or simply adapting the timing of growing seasons are some answers. But new trends in innovation investments point to a growing interest in technologies that can further accelerate adaptation in the agriculture and forestry sectors.

Precision agriculture and optimization of inputs

With the pressures of climate change on key resources, crop yields need to be optimized per unit area, but also per each food production input. Although cultivated land globally continues to be mainly rain fed, many farmers reliant on irrigation are switching from conventional to water-saving technologies like drip and sprinkler irrigation. Technologies such as sensors and GPS enable the precise water and fertilizer application based on a detailed knowledge of things like crop status, livestock health and soil conditions. Other advances include soil spectroscopy and infrared light to analyze soil nutrient and pH levels – data which could help protect the soil and target inputs. Precision agriculture is still mostly confined to relatively high income countries. However, resource efficiency can be achieved without advanced data. Small-scale farms in resource-poor countries are saving substantial amounts of fertilizer by adding fertilizer directly to seeds when sowing, known as microdosing. This saves resources and increases drought resistance.[3] [4]

An integrated approach to forest resilience

The concept of precision forestry and digital technology use is less established. Many forests are publicly owned or held by small private owners focusing on long-term goals and making conservative or small-scale investments.[5] Moreover, forest complexity, bound by major interdependencies and interactions between species and ecosystems at every level, limits the solutions that technologies can provide and demand. Often an integrated approach is needed rather than optimization of a few parameters. A cost-effective approach to resilient forest management has often proven to be strengthening the rights of indigenous peoples to protect and manage their land.[6] [7] The planting of climate- and fire-resilient species may also offer some relief, and there have been recent advances in breeding and genetic engineering climate-resilient trees. However, there may be major concerns and risks related to the introduction of new and potentially invasive species regarding any negative effects on ecosystem health. More adaptation efforts are instead placed on developing efficient firefighting technologies, fire forecasting tools and remote sensing of forest health.

A fourth agricultural revolution

A key enabler for technological development in the agriculture and forestry sectors has been the rapid progress in information and monitoring technologies. Many technologies on the market utilize aerial imagery from satellites and drones and data from connected sensors for real-time monitoring and yield predictions. Some farmers are also digitizing crop data. Mobile apps and software allow farmers to keep digital diaries of production cycles, and guide them on when to plant, rotate their crops and harvest. Although adoption has been slow and incremental, there is now talk of a fourth agricultural revolution. One in which the application of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), big data analytics, gene editing, internet of things (IoT), robotics and sensors is expected to enable more resource efficiency overall. But some countries lack the underlying technologies and infrastructure – e.g., reliable and fast connectivity – needed to support modern farming technologies. This means that the benefits of this revolution are likely to be spread unevenly across societies and geographies. However, enabling policies are making some technologies more accessible. Examples include patented new gene-editing technologies such as CRISPR becoming available through licensing agreements or disaster forecasting tools becoming subject to “open data” policies making them accessible to global communities.

Urban, indoor and soilless farming on the rise

With urbanization a major trend, interest in urban farming as an adaptation measure is growing. It is estimated that around 15 percent of global food is grown in urban areas.[8] In addition to offering benefits like adding pockets of green to relieve the heat island effect in cities, urban farming enables more local food production systems and reduces transport and complex supply chains. Increasingly irregular and extreme weather patterns are also moving more farming indoors, sometimes as vertical farming when space is scarce. Contrary to earlier expectations, vertical farms may become increasingly relevant beyond cities, with farmers in all areas using it to optimize available land and grow challenging crops.[9] This trend is coupled with the increasing popularity of soilless agriculture in the form of hydroponics, aquaponics and aeroponics. These controlled-environment systems protect against unpredictable weather, and to some degree pests, and can be highly water efficient. However, they can have relatively high-energy demands for lighting and pumping systems. Read less

Patents and finance

Biological solutions and off-patent products

Biotechnology patents have surged since the early 1990s, with sales of genetically-modified seeds reaching similar levels to herbicides.[10] [11] For crop … Read more

Patents and finance

Biological solutions and off-patent products

Biotechnology patents have surged since the early 1990s, with sales of genetically-modified seeds reaching similar levels to herbicides.[10] [11] For crop protection, herbicides, insecticides and fungicides have long been a cost-effective way to protect plants and ensure yield stability. However, the negative impact of agrochemicals on soil fertility and the environment has triggered an interest in biological crop protection. Although the market for biological crop protection is still relatively small, sales of new products such as biological control agents (BCAs) and bio-stimulants have been growing faster than conventional crop protection.[12] However, many crop protection products do not have patent protection and many existing patents are due to expire within the next few years. This may present an opportunity for producers to develop products in response to climate change impacts.

Patents point to key trends

Patenting activity in a technology area may be subject to many factors. But it can be a proxy for innovation levels. For instance, patenting activity points to those countries and sectors where innovation ecosystems are thriving. Take composting technologies for an example. More than 60 percent of patents since 2000 were filed in China.[13] However, a majority of biotechnology patents were filed in the United States (figure 3.1). In general, adaptation-related biotechnology patents are mainly filed in industrialized countries with little cross-border patenting in Asia and South America.[14]

Patents can also reveal local variations in adaptation technologies and their suitability for various technical, social and economic contexts. Again for composting, the waste type used differs between countries. About 58 percent of patented innovations use general organic waste in electric composters because this suits large, industrial-scale systems. Others rely on food waste (27 percent) followed by animal manure, garden waste or agricultural waste.[15] Patents in this same sector also reflect wider technological trends, such as increased automation. Partly enabled by lower cost electronics and microprocessors, there has been a move away from labor- and time-intensive manual composting technologies to more automated systems, especially within the last four years (figure 3.2).[16] 

Investment flows growing, but difficult to assess

For developing countries, agriculture is a key sector in need of adaptation finance.[17] High material or labor costs can impede uptake and access to climate solutions such as drip irrigation, rainwater storage systems, fertilizers and forecasting technologies. Leasing or direct credit may be available from certain financial institutions. However, the mechanisms behind new technology diffusion on a large-scale are more complex. Global climate finance for adaptation in the agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU) sector was estimated at USD 4 billion in 2020. That same year, an additional USD 2 billion was invested in sector initiatives with adaptation and mitigation objectives. [18] Multilateral development banks also play a pivotal role, especially in terms of committing funds to low-income and middle-income economies. When it comes to forestry, long-term planning and funding can present a challenge, as reforestation or afforestation initiatives may take 20–30 years to evaluate. However, funding in REDD+[19] projects received a large boost in 2020, when USD 309 million was approved by multilateral funds.[20] These investments often aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But investments in forest conservation and sustainable forest management also have clear synergies with adaptation.

Diversification of funding sources needed

An important source of funding for adaptation are the three multilateral funds serving the Paris Agreement – the Adaptation Fund (AF), Green Climate Fund (GCF) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF). Around 20 percent of funded projects primarily address the agriculture sector and 20 percent focus on ecosystems, with increased funding for agriculture in the last decade.[21] Funding often focuses on de-risking adaptation technologies to make them bankable and accessible to local farmers. In Tanzania for example a recent GCF program worth USD 200 million is focused on establishing a lending and de-risking facility for agricultural climate adaptation technologies.[22]

The private sector has significant potential as an engine of growth and technology development. Recently there has been a significant increase in venture capitalist investments in agricultural technologies, mainly for start-up and early-stage enterprises. A record year was 2021, with nearly USD 5 billion invested in agtech startups, compared to USD 3.3 billion in 2020. Investments were very diverse and ranged from nitrogen-fixating microbes to vertical farming.[23]

Alternative funding options have existed for some time. They include green bonds and index-based insurance schemes for farmers. One example is the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development “Climate Resilience Bond” dedicated to climate-resilient agriculture and ecological systems. Issued in 2020, to date it represents approximately USD 1.1 billion of funding.[24] Read less

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