Agriculture is the single biggest driver of biodiversity loss, deforestation, water scarcity, water pollution, pesticide toxicity, and is also a major contributor to climate change. However today, very few farms measure their environmental impacts or know how to reduce them.
Scaling up measurement of environmental impacts and environmental advice is a fundamental first step towards more sustainable food production: without this, neither farmers nor policymakers can make informed decisions about what to change.
The project is carried out by the Department of Zoology and the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford and is supported by the Login5 Foundation.
Can digital tools help?
In 2019, 93% of the world’s population could access mobile internet signal and the number of people using smartphones has been increasing rapidly (for example, from 36% to 47% of adults in South Asia and from 26% to 38% in Sub-Saharan Africa between 2017 and 2019). In Africa for example, 33 million farmers are already using mobile applications to manage their farms.
Unlike the current in-person model of farm advice – which is costly and hard to scale – digital tools can scale rapidly. Embedding environmental impact calculations into the digital tool’s that farmers are already using could enable sustainability monitoring to reach farms worldwide. Advice could also be delivered through digital tools.
Enabling sustainability monitoring
For this project, the Oxford University team will extend the HESTIA data platform. HESTIA is an open-access data platform, freely providing environmental impact calculations and consolidating data from farms and research studies, using harmonised methods.
This project will add more environmental data to HESTIA and improve the calculation engine by adding further environmental impact indicators to it. The project will also work on methods to deliver sustainability advice to farmers.
The team will connect HESTIA to one or more existing farm tools to an enhanced version of our API. Using large-scale experimental interventions with real farmers in different countries, they will evaluate the effects of these tools on farmer behaviour.
Embedding environmental impact calculations into the digital tool’s that farmers are already using could enable sustainability monitoring to reach farms worldwide.
Now is the time to provide a scalable and methodologically harmonised approach to farm-level measurement and improvement of environmental outcomes. This project will provide the foundation for monitoring, reporting, and reducing environmental impacts throughout the whole food system.
Project Leaders: E.J. Milner-Gulland, Tasso Leventis Professor of Biodiversity, University of Oxford; Joseph Poore, Researcher, Department of Zoology and Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford.