Putting agricultural greenhouse gas emissions on the agenda, not just the menu

By Alice Marks

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Credit: Paul Keeris, 2015

The conference catering trolley: it’s usually piled high with unlabelled food, can be something of a taste Russian roulette, and is often left untouched. It can be a saving grace for the rushed conference attendee or keen networker, but can also seem like a terrible waste.

There will no-doubt be catering trollies at this week’s Climate Action 2016 meetings in Washington, DC, leading one to ponder if the menu and agenda will be in harmony. The summit comes just two weeks after the Paris Agreement was signed, and eight months since the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were agreed.

Happily, the agenda for this week’s meetings does include mention of agriculture, which is often strangely absent from high-level discussions about climate change. For example, the COP21 discussions were described as “‘Les Champs-Oubliés,’ or ‘the forgotten fields’” because they largely neglected to mention agriculture as a part of the problem or solution. Greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from agriculture have nearly doubled in the last 50 years and currently account for one-third of all GHGs, or more than 5.3 billion tonnes per year. At the same time, agriculture and smallholder farmers are also particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, especially in developing countries.

Meat consumption is on the rise

meat production

Meat production by region. FAO STAT, 2016

Of particular concern should be the rise in global meat consumption. GHG emissions from livestock production represent at least 14.5% of all anthropogenic GHG emissions. Enteric fermentation, when livestock produce methane as part of digestion then release it by belching, accounts for 39% of the agricultural sector’s GHG emissions, and rose by 11% in the decade between 2001 and 2011. Despite this damning evidence, meat consumption is on the rise. For example, the global demand for beef is projected to increase by 95% between 2006 and 2050 despite it being one of the most resource-intensive and environmentally damaging foods. Beef production uses seven times more resources, such as water, energy, and food or inputs than pork or poultry, and 20 times more than pulses. [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary of the news stories, reports, and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Urbanisation, value chains, food systems

Growing Food for Growing Cities: Transforming Food Systems in an Urbanizing World, Chicago Council

Are cities doing enough on climate change? Residents say no, Green Biz

Shifting our Approach: Four Priorities for a More Sustainable Food System, The Chicago Council

Done sensibly, agricultural development can reduce poverty in Africa, The Conversation

Small-scale producers in the development of tea value-chain partnerships, ifad

Shifting our Approach: Four Priorities for a More Sustainable Food System, Chicago Council

Climate change

Promising climate for investment, Thomson Reuters Foundation

How should we compensate poor countries for ‘loss and damage’ from climate change? The Conversation

Why the Paris climate change goals may already be slipping beyond reach, The Guardian [Read more…]

Supplying the demand: growing food for growing cities.

By Alice Marks

Haiti earthquake: one year later

Credit, FAO

On April 26th 2016 The Chicago Council on Global Affairs released their new report, Growing Food for Growing Cities: Transforming food systems in an urbanizing world, as part of their Global Food Security Symposium in Washington, DC. According to UN figures, two-thirds of the global population is expected to live in urban areas by 2050, and this report looks at how such rapid urbanisation is changing the structure and functionality of the entire global food system, from the source of inputs to the farm and on to the consumer.

With urbanisation and the accompanying expansion of urban middle classes comes a shift in dietary expectations and demands. Traditional staple diets such as cereals, roots and pulses are increasingly supplemented with a wide variety of higher-value foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables, or meat and dairy products. For example, in some African countries including Uganda and Tanzania up to 66% of urban household food expenditure is on foods other than staple grains.

Value chains have potential

valuechain, global panel

Chicago Council, 2016

According to the report, if agricultural and supply chains are to accommodate the growing demands of the cities, they will need to “lengthen geographically, increasing the potential to reach farmers in more and more distant areas.” No longer is ‘farm to fork’ a simple process that serves local populations; increasingly it is a complex and far-reaching chain, involving many actors that might cross borders and even continents. [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary of the news stories, reports, and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Feeding the cities

Growing Food for Growing Cities: Achieving Inclusive Growth, Chicago council

Future of food : shaping the global food system to deliver improved nutrition and health, World Bank

Why urban agriculture isn’t a panacea for Africa’s food crisis, The Conversation

Guest Commentary – How Access to Long-Established Technology Can Help Feed Growing Cities, Chicago Council

Growth opportunities and growing pains in a changing global food system, AgriPulse

Growing Food for Growing Cities: Engaging the Private Sector, Chicago Council

Climate change 

A new start for European foreign policy, E3G

Could global warming’s top culprit help crops? Eurekalert [Read more…]

Sustainable water management in African agriculture

By Katrin Glatzel

Ngomene Farm Senegal June 2015 (15)

Credit: Katrin Glatzel, 2015 (Senegal)

In sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) where agriculture is predominantly rainfed, farmers’ access to water is often limited based on seasonal variation. Yet water scarcity in the region is not necessarily caused by a physical lack of water, but rather by an ‘economic water scarcity’. This implies that the necessary public investments in water resources and infrastructure are not substantial enough to meet water demands in an area where people do not have the means to make use of water sources on their own. In fact, in many parts of SSA there is plenty of water available. However, groundwater resources, such as aquifers, remain a relatively abundant yet underused resource, with less than 5% of the water used for irrigation coming from groundwater.

The challenge is therefore to increase the amount of available water that is ‘harvested’ for crop growth. Such water harvesting can be done at the field, farm or watershed level. In some places, there is a potential for groundwater extraction using boreholes. And research by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has shown that motor pumps have the potential to expand the amount of agricultural land irrigated during the dry season to 30 million hectares — four times the current area. There is urgent need to sustainably increase the amount of irrigation from the current 6% of arable land. Until then an estimated 200 million people in SSA – that is 18% of the continent’s population – face serious water shortages.

Furthermore, climate change and a growing population continue to pose additional challenges to water management in agriculture. Prolonged periods of drought in many parts of SSA are becoming increasingly frequent. This increases pressures on valuable water resources and agricultural irrigation. In response, water conservation policies, strategies, and activities such as water harvesting, are ever more important to manage and protect fresh water as a sustainable resource to meet current and future human demands. [Read more…]

Leaving no one behind: financial inclusion for rural people

By Alice Marks 

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Women in agriculture: A female farmer (left) and agrodealer (right).

As delegates return from last week’s Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD3) event in South Africa, the notion that we must “leave no one behind” will be at the forefront of the minds of all of those who attended. This commitment was not only the theme of GCARD3, but it is also a key message in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Paris agreement. It hopes that everyone, all over the world, can be included on the development agenda, so that each individual can achieve the rights described by the SDGs.

For the agri-food research discussed at GCARD3, an important ingredient for this will be ensuring that farmers, many of whom are women, are able to participate in the processes from which they will benefit, such as research and innovation. For example, participatory research asks farmers what their needs are, and helps to make their ideas a reality – you can find case studies here. Another important ingredient will be using interventions that turn research into impact that is scalable, as well as ensuring there is efficient evaluation to help learn from good and bad experiences and improve interventions in the future.

Young people: risk and opportunity

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Young people from the Aven cooperative who received support Technoserve

Young people in rural areas are a group that is at particular risk of being left out and left behind. Indeed, 60% of unemployed people in Africa are between the ages of 15 and 24. However, because agriculture and agricultural value chains are such important drivers of the economy in developing countries, the sector has the potential to provide many opportunities for employment, better more stable incomes, and potentially more sustainable livelihoods. [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary of the news stories, reports, and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Food Systems & Value Chains

2016 Global Food Policy Report, IFPRI

Supporting Global Food Security in a Changing Climate Through Transatlantic Cooperation, American Progress

Food prices have stabilized, but analysts see another crisis on the horizon, quartz

Pulses celebrated internationally as a ‘super crop’ for sustainability, Landscapes for People, Food and Nature

Can Agribusiness Reinvent Itself to Capture the Future? Bain & Compay

African Leaders Meet in Sharm El-Sheikh to Promote Investment and Trade At Africa 2016 Forum, AllAfrica

Tackling waste

Tackling Food Waste along the Supply Chain, The Chicago Council

Reducing food waste would mitigate climate change, study shows, The Guardian [Read more…]

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