Achieving Food Security in the Face of Climate Change

By Jeffrey Lamoureux

The Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change (CSACC), a roundtable of senior natural and social scientists from across the globe, recently released its Summary for Policymakers. The commission is working to promote concrete policy recommendations toward achieving food security in the face of climate change, and its summary is a synthesis of its final report, due in early 2012. Aimed at global policymakers at the recently concluded United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban and the upcoming Rio+20 Earth Summit, CSACC hopes to bring agriculture into discussions of climate change mitigation.

At the local level, sustainable intensification of production must be achieved (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

“Efforts to alleviate the worst effects of climate change cannot succeed without simultaneously addressing the crises in global agriculture and the food system,” said Dr. Bruce Campbell, director of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, which convened the independent commission in February 2011.

The global food system is plagued with structural issues: a billion are hungry while another billion over-consume, and inefficient practices cause tremendous amounts of waste and make agriculture the single biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. As the world’s population grows, the tastes of an ever-expanding middle class lean towards consumption of resource-intensive protein-heavy diets, and climate change threatens to disrupt much of the world’s arable land, the food system could reach critical thresholds. “Food insecurity produces widespread human suffering, even in the world’s wealthiest countries, as well as political and economic instability, so it is clear the status quo is not an option,” said Commissioner Professor Tekalign Mamo, Advisor to the Ethiopian Minister of Agriculture.

The Commission is determined to convey to policymakers the interdependence of the global food system. All levels of society, from local to global, must be engaged if the world is to mount an adequate response to the looming threats. There are three limits within which the food system must operate: the quantity of food that can be produced on available land under a given climate; the quantity of food needed by a growing population; and the contribution of food production to climate change. Using evidence gathered from programs and initiatives already in place around the world, the Commission seeks to illuminate the policies that will nudge the world into a “safe zone,” where needs are sustainably met.

Their summary declares seven key areas for action that focus on integrating, investing, and intensifying sustainable agriculture policies, such as making “fast start” funds available and building transparency in food markets. They also highlight the need to focus on the most vulnerable communities, promote balanced diets, reduce waste and food loss, and develop comprehensive information systems. None are quick fixes, and will require multi-year commitments of financial and technical assistance. Agriculture, in other words, must become a new and lasting global priority.

Projects from a number of countries are showcased in the summary, all examples of avenues to promote the necessary adjustments at all levels. In Ethiopia, the Productive Safety Net Program provides transfers of cash and food to chronically food-insecure families in exchange for labor on public works projects. In France, public health legislation mandated in the inclusion of more nutritional information on food packages, and seeks to nudge consumers away from deleterious and wasteful habits. In Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda, the East Africa Dairy Development Project is helping small dairy farmers gain greater access to markets and reduce postharvest losses.

The Committee’s final report will feature extended, detailed discussions of their policy recommendations, and will be a tremendously useful guide to the way forward. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution,” said Commission Vice-Chair Dr. Mohammed Asaduzzaman, Research Director at the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, “but we know that success depends on a combination of investment, innovation and deliberate effort to empower the world’s most vulnerable populations.” To obtain real changes that will achieve a secure food system and a stable environment, all must share commitment.

Jeffrey Lamoureux is a research intern with Nourishing the Planet. 

For more information on climate change and food security, see: Community Livelihood Strengthens Food Security at Grass Root Level, Four Billions New Reasons Why Food Will Become a Local Government Issue, Bridging the Gap in Climate Change Strategies, Agricultural Development Key to Ending Hunger in Africa.

 

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