How agriculture must change

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Aerial view of a Transition Forest area in Bokito, Cameroon.

Some 'Principles for a Just Transition in Agriculture' have been developed by ActionAid.

The transition in agriculture must be undertaken with care. 

Agriculture is a major source of the world’s greenhouse gases - and is highly vulnerable to its impacts.

At the same time, agriculture is the source of food security for almost everyone on earth, the basis for the livelihoods for more than 1 billion people, and the foundation of many economies.

Dramatically cutting greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the agriculture sector could thus bring major disruptions to peoples’ lives and food security if done without prudence.

This series of articles has been published in partnership with Dalia Gebrial and Harpreet Kaur Paul and the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung in London. It first appeared in a collection titled Perspectives on a Global Green New Deal.


The transition in agriculture must therefore be undertaken with care, ensuring that considerations of justice and rights are central to the approach.

The following Principles for a Just Transition in Agriculture have been developed by ActionAid, to help guide this necessary shift:

1. Transform the food system to work for people, nature and the climate.

The IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land (August 2018) confirms that to become fit for purpose in an era of climate change, agriculture must move away from intensive and industrialised approaches, and towards food systems based on agroecology and less and better meat.

The term “agroecology” describes a set of agricultural practices that work with nature and largely avoid GHG emissions by improving soil health, crop diversity, resilience to pests and disease, and avoiding the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

With 70% of the world’s cropland currently used for producing livestock feed, shifting away from industrial and large-scale livestock production and consumption has also been identified as a necessary measure to reduce the industry’s outsize contribution to methane, deforestation and land use.

2. Address – don’t exacerbate – inequalities.

One of the major challenges to changing agricultural practices is that farmers using industrial agriculture techniques can feel demonised and defensive that they are being blamed for the climate crisis.

They may be wary that top-down and simplistic climate policies will leave large sections of rural communities stranded, with few options for secure livelihoods.

There is already deep injustice across the food system, with farmers and workers often squeezed and exploited by a system that concentrates wealth, land and power in fewer and fewer hands.

Women farmers face particular barriers and burdens.

Meanwhile, two billion people are still food insecure.

A just transition in agriculture must therefore be done in a way that addresses – and does not exacerbate – injustices in the food system.

3. Ensure inclusiveness and participation.

The term “just transition,” originally coined by unions, defines WHAT the new system will look like, and HOW that transformation is carried out.

A just transition must be genuinely inclusive and participatory, engaging with key actors, particularly those that are marginalised and ignored such as women farmers.

Farmers, workers and communities must be given a seat at the table and opportunities to shape their own future.

4. Develop a comprehensive framework.

Governments should develop comprehensive policy frameworks that provide positive opportunities for better food systems that work for farmers and the climate.

Regional and national level impact assessments and planning processes, gender-responsive and inclusive policies, social protection, training and reskilling, support for new routes to market, as well as joined-up thinking that links different sectors and 71 global connections will be key.

These elements can form the basis of increasingly ambitious national climate policies including Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and National Adaptation Plans (NAPs).

Through a just transition in agriculture, many communities that might otherwise resist climate action can become powerful advocates for change.

This Author

Teresa Anderson is a climate policy coordinator for Action Aid International, based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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