J Potocnik.png


Co-Chair of the International Resource Panel

What is the International Resource Panel (IRP) and how has it interacted with agribusinesses?


The International Resource Panel is a UNEP based initiative and a sister organization of two other UN based science-policy interface bodies, the IPCC and IPBES. While the IPCC deals with climate change and IPBES with biodiversity loss, the IRP focusses on natural resources and resource management. Resources include biomass, fossil fuels, metals, non-metallic minerals, land and water. We try to build a bridge between the economy, where resources constitute core ingredients of economic activity, and the consequences of (unsustainable and irresponsible) resource use visible in climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.


There is no direct relation to agribusiness yet, but in the recent years interaction with business players from the IRP’s side has substantially increased and there is no reason why ties to core players in the agricultural sector should not also be established. It is very likely that researchers working for the IRP have already been collaborating with the sector, since we have already published interesting reports related to food and land questions, but institutional relations on the IRP level have not yet taken place.


How can agribusinesses become more resource efficient?


This is in the first place a question that has to be addressed to agribusinesses themselves as they are best placed to know the challenges, opportunities and solutions in their sector. There is no single bullet and we need to look more holistically to the entire food system rather than to agribusiness alone.


Many questions are important and deserve attention, such as: the environmental externalities; the distribution of income in the food chain; how to optimize the use of nutrients; how to introduce new business models which would be based on selling services instead products, for example pesticides; and how to best exploit all the opportunities offered by digitalization, from precision farming to empowering consumers with traceability and transparency of the products, to supporting productive and regenerative agriculture etc. All these have certain implications for resource efficiency. The Food and Land Coalition (FOLU) recently published an interesting report suggesting ten critical transitions in the sector, which is worth reading.


What are the most pressing plant nutrition topics from your perspective?


As I’m not an expert in plant nutrition the only thing I can do is relay studies done on this topic. One that I was closely involved in was released a few years ago by the RISE Foundation that I chair. The topic was nutrient recovery and reuse in European agriculture. The study identified that nutrient use has relatively low efficiency and high leakage in four sectors: fertilizing crops with manure and mineral fertilisers, feeding livestock and managing their waste, processing food, and feeding humans and managing human waste; and four clear signs of an over-extended system: eutrophication of waters (from N and P), pollution of air with nitrogen oxides, particulates and ammonia, problems related to greenhouse gases like nitrous oxide and methane, and damage done to terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity.


How can a multi-stakeholder forum such as this one help to facilitate greater progress on addressing resource constraints in the plant nutrition space?


One of the lessons I have learned in my political and policy-related life is that change can only be achieved by strong leadership and by establishing broad ownership. I’m therefore convinced that a multi-stakeholder forum is the right way ahead. What is needed is more collaboration and the efficient and effective use of synergies emerging from combining both top down and bottom up approaches.