Food Security and Climate Change: Averting the Perfect Storm

Helena Wright, PhD Student at Imperial College London writes about the new report from the CGIAR

Women farmers in Bangladesh discuss the impact of recent weather events

We live in a world where 1 billion people suffer from hunger, while another 1 billion people over-consume and risk chronic disease.  On top of this, in coming decades the world faces the threat of climate change and unsustainable resource consumption, with the global population due to reach 9 Billion by 2050.  If urgent action is not taken, UK Chief Scientist Professor Beddington has warned we face a ‘perfect storm’ of problems as water, energy and land all become increasingly scarce in coming decades.

Last year, I had the opportunity to work on writing up some of the case studies for the report ‘Achieving food security in the face of Climate Change’ commissioned by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). The report highlights some ways we can tackle the triple challenge of adapting to and mitigating climate change, while producing more food. 

Empowering marginalised producers

In Southern Africa, the role of women farmers must be recognised. For example, the ‘Women Land Rights’ project implemented by Action Aid helped women in Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe to establish their land rights.  Women play a crucial role in agriculture in many countries and make up half of all farmers but are 5 times less likely than men to own land.  Land rights are often essential to access credit and support. The role of women farmers in the food system has often gone unrecognised where women are disadvantaged. Landless rural households are overall much more likely to suffer from food insecurity.  By accessing information and rights, people can be empowered to enhance their food security. Enabling people to establish their land rights can also prevent ‘land grabs’ where people are forced off their land.

Reduce food waste

Globally, one third of the world’s food is wasted each year or 1.3 billion tonnes of food. Whilst in rich countries this is often at the consumer level, in many countries in Africa this is down to lack of storage, transportation or infrastructure at the producer level.  In many poorer countries food is wasted due to spoilage before it even reaches the marketplace. For example, post-harvest grain losses alone cost Sub-Saharan Africa $4 Billion per year.  Reducing food waste and improving market access is a key way to improve resource efficiency and food security at the same time.  For example, in Kenya, the ‘East Africa Dairy Development Project,’ funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has helped smallholder farmers to improve their access to markets, as well as reducing the waste in the supply chain.

Sustainably intensify production

Innovation of new techniques and technologies, as well as investing in scaling-up these technologies to other areas, will be crucial to intensify production sustainably.  In Vietnam, the ‘system of rice intensification’ method has led to increased yields, efficiency and income, whilst lowering greenhouse gas emissions. This system also reduces the need for fertiliser, pesticides and expense on irrigation, while increasing productivity and income. Spreading awareness about techniques like these can help farmers adapt to climate change at the same time as reducing emissions and increasing their income.

Raise the level of investment

In my recent visit to Bangladesh, I saw how farmers are trying to adapt to recent climate changes, on top of pre-existing climate variability.  Farmers are already facing the daily struggle of growing food whilst withstanding water scarcity, pest attacks, natural disasters and salt-water intrusion. Increased temperatures will raise the intensity of extreme weather events like devastating Cyclone Sidr, which afffected 8.9 million people in 2007. Efforts are being made to innovate and develop climate-resilient crop varieties, plant floating gardens, build cyclone shelters for people and animals, and protect the mangrove forest which acts as an ecological buffer. Additional and strategic finance is needed to prevent future crises.

The Commission report has the following 7 main recommendations:

1. Integrate food security and sustainable agriculture into global and national policies
2. Raise the level of global investment in sustainable agriculture and food systems
3. Sustainable intensify agricultural production
4. Develop significant programmes and policies to assist the most vulnerable
5. Reshape food access and consumption patterns to ensure basic nutritional needs are met and foster sustainable eating patterns
6. Reduce loss and waste in food systems
7. Create comprehensive, shared, integrated information systems that encompass human and ecological dimensions

The full report from the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture & Climate Change can be found online.

This entry was posted in africa, climate change, food security, Sustainable agriculture, women in agriculture. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Food Security and Climate Change: Averting the Perfect Storm

  1. Ray Hicks says:

    Your report is is right on, the amount of post harvest lost to rot and pest is enormous! It’s a sad situation when very simply CO2 gas storage to fumigate is available without the use of toxic chemicals.

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