Climate Change, Nutrition and Food Security: How to keep the ship afloat – CFS 2015

By Alice Marks and Katrin Glatzel

Credit: FAO, G. Carotenuto

Credit: FAO, G. Carotenuto

Last week, delegates from over 100 countries, civil society organizations and the private sector convened in Rome for the 42nd meeting of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). In light of the 2015 development agenda dominated by the adoption of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the international climate negotiations taking place in early December, this year’s CFS focused on the cross-cutting theme of food and nutrition security. In her keynote address, Mary Robinson used the sinking of the Titanic as a metaphor for the oncoming food crisis; when the ship sinks it will not only be those in steerage who drown. What she meant was that we should all show interest in nutrition and food security, because it will affect rich countries as much as it will affect poorer, developing ones. Over- and under-nutrition currently affects 1 in 4 people in Africa, a worrying statistic that has repercussions far beyond the shores of the continent.

Credit: FAO G. Napolitano

Credit: FAO G. Napolitano

A side event that we hosted in cooperation with the Global Panel, The Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) and John Kufuor Foundation looked specifically at Climate Change, Food Security and Nutrition. Tom Arnold, a member of both the Global Panel and the Montpellier Panel, expanded upon Mary Robinson’s warning using the example of the food price crisis of 2007/8. The crisis demonstrated that as people are no longer able to afford to buy food for themselves and their families – be it due to rising prices or lower incomes – they not only go to bed hungry, but the food they do eat is of a lower quality with less nutritional value. This is a big challenge and particularly problematic for pregnant women and young children.

Although the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) did succeed in halving the number of malnourished children in many countries around the world, climate change now adds another layer of complexity. Climate change not only affects crop yields, but also food quality and safety, and the reliability of its delivery to consumers. By 2050, hunger and child malnutrition could increase by as much as 20% as a result, reversing the gains achieved through the MDGs and jeopardising the success of the SDGs.

As we all know, smallholder farmers will suffer the most from extreme weather events and their crops will be the most susceptible to droughts, pests and diseases. If we are to not only feed the world, but also feed it with nutritious foods, we must use land intelligently. A recent report published by the Global Panel briefing on Climate Smart Food-Systems for Enhanced Nutrition, highlights that by the end of this century, altered climates will mean that 40% of the land surface in the world will need to adapt. According to Tom Arnold, in every coming decade up to 2050 agricultural output is set to fall by 2%, while the demand for food will rise by 14%. Regions such as sub-Saharan Africa already bare the brunt of malnutrition, and rely most heavily on smallholder agriculture. Simply producing more staple crops may bring short-term relief from hunger, but it will not end malnutrition and it will not improve the resilience of agriculture systems in the face of climate change. It is time that we start talking about food and nutrition security, not just food security by itself, if we hope to address SDG goal #2.

Photo credit: Chris Reij, WRI

Photo credit: Chris Reij, WRI

Better land, water and energy management may serve to help to keep everyone afloat, if a doubly green revolution can be brought about in time. David Radcliffe, also a member of the Montpellier Panel, highlighted that healthy landscapes not only store more carbon in the soil, vegetation and fauna, but that with proper management they can integrate adaptation and mitigation interventions, making them increasingly resilient to climatic stresses.

One project that may help to further buoy the sinking ship, is FANRPAN’s ATONU programme.  ATONU According to Simbarashe Sibanda, the primary manager of ATONU, the programme seeks to answer the question of “what can agriculture do for nutrition?” With pilots in Ethiopia and Tanzania, ATONU seeks to generate better data to demonstrate the impact of nutritious food for smallholder families, particularly women and children.

Credit: S. Mayon, CIAT

Credit: S. Mayon, CIAT

Agricultural programmes in the past tended to take nutrition for granted as a side effect of better agricultural outputs. However, this is not necessarily the case, and requires particular caution with the additional challenge of climate change. By focussing on women of childbearing age and children in their critical first 1000 days, the ATONU project recognises that agriculture must become nutrition-sensitive and advocates for interventions that are not only multisectoral, but also location-specific. For example, in more remote areas smallholders may not engage in local markets very often, so all of the nutrients they need must be available from what they are able to grow. ATONU will encourage policy makers to view agriculture through a nutrition lens, as well as improved gender dynamics and behavioural change at the household level.

We need more initiatives such as ATONU if we want to guarantee food and nutrition security under climate change. This requires new and scaled-up investment from governments, donors and the private sector. The European Union (EU) currently spends one billion Euros per year on projects around the world that focus on improving the nutritional value of food. The EU has also pledged three billion Euros over the next 10 years with the aim of reducing stunting in seven million children.

Following in the wake of the EU, together we as donors, companies and NGOs can all start to put nutrition at the helm of agricultural investment to prevent future global catastrophes, and keep the ship afloat.

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