Commission Aims to Produce Clear Course of Action on Sustainable Food System

By Matt Styslinger

The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR)—a consortium of international research centers focused on sustainable agricultural development—has launched a new initiative focused on agriculture’s contribution to food security in the context of climate change: the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change. “The food system is really not sustainable,” says Professor Sir John Beddington, U.K. Government Chief Scientific Adviser and Chair of the Commission. “What is happening is it’s getting big subsidies of fossil fuels, it is over-exploiting water, [and] it is using land in unacceptable ways.”

The Chair for CGIAR’s Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change says that the interaction between climate change, food, water, and energy security is absolutely critical. (Photo credit: CCAFS)

The Commission was established by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security (CCAFS). The Commission aims to identify and promote specific national, regional, and global policies that are needed to usher in a global food system that is based on sustainable agriculture and contributes to food security, poverty reduction, and climate change adaptation and mitigation. “The interaction between climate change, food, water, and energy security is absolutely critical. And we would make an enormous error if we actually tried to deal with one and ignore the others,” Beddington says.

The launch of the Commission comes in the wake of several high-level reports that have endorsed a shift to more sustainable approaches in agricultural development—including the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), the National Research Council’s Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century, and Agroecology and the Right to Food by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. “There is a rich body of scientific evidence for sustainable agriculture approaches that can increase production of food, fiber and fuel, help decrease poverty, and benefit the environment,” says Commission Coordinator Christine Negra. “But agreement is needed on how best to put these approaches into action at scale.”

Existing research, according to Negra, shows that global food security and biodiversity will suffer significantly from the effects of unprecedented climate change, population growth, and natural resource depletion. The commission hopes to outline explicit options for policymakers and donors to address these threats, making the trade-offs, barriers, and opportunities of each option clear. “There is currently a ‘mixed bag’ of messages on what is needed on agriculture and climate change,” says Negra. “This confusion, at best, risks inaction. And, at worst, [it risks] inappropriate actions.”

In a report to be released in December of this year, the Commission will address the following broad categories:

1. What are the major components and drivers of the current food system and what will this system look like in the future?

2. What does a future alternative, climate smart food system look like and how can this system be brought into being?

3. What technical, political, financial, and social investments are essential to an alternative future food system and who can make them?

The report will be appropriate to all countries, according to Negra, and findings will be backed by sound science and other authoritative evidence. The recommendations in the report will target the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Group of Twenty (G20), the Rio+20 Earth Summit, and other important policy processes.

The Commissioners for this initiative include scientists with international reputations—representing all major regions of the world—with backgrounds in agriculture, climate, ecology, economics, trade, and nutrition/health. The commissioners have extensive experience and a good understanding of policy processes. The messages in their report will be their own, and will not include messages from other stakeholders—such as agribusiness, governments, farmers, or CGIAR. “The Commission is not intended to put forward a CGIAR or even CCAFS product or worldview,” says Dr Sonja Vermeulen, Head of Research for the CCAFS Program. “The governance of the Commission and selection of Commissioners is designed to give as much independence as possible.”

Recent international attempts to address climate change and food security, such as the UNFCCC, have failed to provide a consensus. The Commission hopes that a clear, concise, and independent set of policy options will allow the international community to act. “There are so many perspectives on the best way for farmers to adapt to climate change,” says Dr Bruce Campbell, Director of CCAFS. “We have ended up sort of paralyzed by a lack of clear choices.”

Do you have any thoughts about conflicting reports and initiatives related to climate change and food security? What are some points of confusion on these topics? Let us know in the comments!

Matt Styslinger is a research intern with Nourishing the Planet. 

To read more about reports on sustainable agriculture see: New UN Report Illustrates the Potential of Agroecology to Feed the Hungry, Instead of One Size Fits All, Many Innovations for Improving Small-Scale Agriculture, Restoring Biodiversity to Improve Food Security, State of the World 2011 Launches in NYC Today.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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