Climate change, food production and food security

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Photo by 9comeback

Last week we introduced a study looking at how climate change will potentially affect crop growing in sub-Saharan Africa and how extreme the changes to farming methods will need to be in order to adapt. Now several recent articles researchers explain how food and nutrition insecurity is likely to worsen in the face of climate change and how we can prevent our food production systems from undermining efforts to mitigate the long-term climate effects.

A recent study in The Lancet, building on previous research, indicates that global food supply as impacted by climate change could cause over half a million deaths by 2050, largely due to a rise in undernutrition. While it is understood, at least to some degree, that crop yields will be affected, largely adversely, by climate change, the findings that it will also affect the composition of many people’s diets is relatively novel. The study also predicts the impacts of climate on diets will surpass undernutrition as a major cause of death.

The availability of healthy foods is expected to decline under climate change with consumption of fruits and vegetables predicted to decrease by some 4% by 2050, in comparison with a scenario free of global warming. And while this decline is likely to be most severe in low and medium-income countries in the Western Pacific region, the impacts will be felt everywhere including high-income countries.

And we are already seeing the effects of climate change in Southeast Asia and Africa where droughts have increased undernutrition in children, food prices have dramatically increased and crop production declined. Obviously since the poorest households spend the highest proportion of their income on food, low food availability and increased food prices will have a substantially greater impact on them. While meeting commitments made in the Paris Agreement will go some way to minimising the effects of climate change on diets and nutrition, governments will also need policies in place to address shortfalls in both production and in consumption. [Read more…]

Earth Hour 2016

Earth-Hour-2016“As the world stands at a climate crossroads, it is powerful yet humbling to think that our actions today will decide what tomorrow will look like for generations to come.” Saturday 19th March at 08:30 pm local time is Earth Hour, a worldwide grassroots movement organised by WWF, which originally began as a lights-off event in Sydney, Australia in 2007. Since then this annual global celebration where people switch off their lights for one hour has become a symbolic display of how much we care for and want to protect the planet. Last year a record number of people from across 172 countries celebrated Earth Hour.

A recent article from WWF outlining climate events of 2015, makes it clear that Earth Hour this year is crucial to continued progress on climate change. Firstly changes in our climate continue to be worrying: 2015 became the official hottest year on record, winter sea ice in the Arctic reached a record low and the haze crisis brought about by illegal slash-and-burn methods to clear land for palm oil and paper production hit Southeast Asia. But there is also significant progress being made in policy that needs to be celebrated but also built upon: the “Well-being of Future Generations” bill passed by Wales, the 114 companies who committed to reduce emissions on the sidelines of COP21, the 1000 mayors who committed to 100% renewable energy and of course the Paris Climate Agreement. [Read more…]

2016 Needs a Game-changer

By Emily Alpert

The climate deal reached in Paris last month was controversial, to say the least. You can read about 8 perspectives that claim the agreement is everything from ‘our best chance to save the planet,’ to a complete fraud.

Some of the positive aspects include a commitment to keep global temperature rise ‘well below’ 2°C above pre-industrial levels with an aim to limit rises to 1.5°C, a promise to spend $100 billion per year by 2020 on adaptation in developing countries, a signal to phasing-out fossil fuels and a renewed sense of faith in multilateralism. Yet, by many accounts, the text is just rhetoric. There is so much grey matter, so few terms or concepts adequately defined, and too little that is legally binding that the success of the agreement can only be proved by voluntary action. George Monbiot from The Guardian wrote “By comparison to what it could have been, it’s a miracle. By comparison to what it should have been, it’s a disaster.”

The agreement falls short on agriculture…

Akanyaru Watershed Protection Project Rwanda, photo credit: Green Fund Rwanda

Take for example the treatment of agriculture and food security in the text. The preamble directly refers to “safeguarding food security and ending hunger, and the particular vulnerabilities of food production systems to the adverse impacts of climate change.”  Food is also mentioned a second time in Article 2.1 of the agreement where parties agree to “strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty, including by: increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production.” But, this is where it stops. [Read more…]

8 perspectives on the Paris climate deal

logo-cop21-hpLauded as both an unmitigated success and no more than worthless words, the world’s first comprehensive climate change agreement has divided opinion. Between 30th November and 11th December, 196 countries came together in Paris to agree the global action needed to curb rising temperatures. But thoughts on the agreement are not as black and white as they seem. Even when applauded there is acknowledgement that it is not perfect and even when criticised there is some hope that this is the start of something bigger, a united global front in addressing climate change. In this sense the Paris Climate Accord is thought of as: [Read more…]

How climate-smart soil management increases resilience and helps mitigate climate change

Originally posted on: 4th December 2015, Grantham Institute 

As we mark World Soil Day, and with COP21 well into its first week, Dr Katrin Glatzel of Agriculture for Impact takes a look at how good soil and land management practices can help us achieve important climate and development goals.  

Soil matters. The decision made at the Rio+20 conference to develop a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the agreement ‘to strive to achieve a land degradation neutral world in the context of sustainable development’ gave momentum to discussions on the role of soils in the global sustainable development agenda. This is now, at least partially, reflected and anchored in SDG goal #15, ‘Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss.’

In addition to this, earlier this year the French Government launched its “4 per 1000” initiative, aimed at making agriculture a solution in addressing climate change while also advancing food and nutrition security. Agronomic techniques, including for example Sustainable Intensification practices, can sequester carbon from the atmosphere – at an average rate of four-thousandths of the existing carbon stock in the soil.

soil humusThe quality and amount of soils’ humus (decayed organic matter) and its soil organic carbon (SOC) are a key determinant of soil quality and crop productivity. When the concentration of SOC falls below a certain threshold, key soil properties are adversely affected inhibiting plant growth. Increasing the amount of humus and SOC in the soil requires adding nitrogen (N) and other plant nutrients, such as phosphate (P) and sulphur (S) in order for the transformation of biomass carbon into SOC to occur.

Conventional means of soil management often cause more harm than good, while organic approaches are sometimes too demanding of labour, reliant on scarce or unavailable inputs and insufficient to produce the yields required to move people out of poverty and achieve food security. Part of the solution is to combine the best of organic and conventional approaches in a way that is environmentally appropriate and sustainable. This includes bringing nutrients to the soil in from the outside to improve the SOC, either through livestock manure, the prudent use of inputs, such as the microdosing of fertilisers, or cultivation of legumes. [Read more…]

Climate change and agriculture: solutions from the past or the future?

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Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Agriculture, being a significant contributor to climate change, will no doubt be on the agenda at COP21 discussions being held in Paris at the moment. Despite being a noted omission from UNFCCC negotiations to date, it is a sector which can’t be ignored if we are to halt climate change. Recent research found that while emissions from Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Uses (AFOLU) were dropping in terms of their contribution to overall emissions (29% of man-made emissions in the 1990s to 21% in 2010), emissions from agriculture are growing at around 1% per year. Yet there is a lack of public awareness of the magnitude of greenhouse gas emissions from farming. In a global survey by Chatham House less than a third of people surveyed thought that meat and dairy production significantly contributed to climate change, despite it having a larger carbon footprint than the transport sector.

In France the food chain is responsible for approximately 30% of greenhouse gases. Over half originate from agricultural production (the majority of this from methane from livestock and nitrous oxide from soil fertilisation) the remainder from processing, distribution and going to purchase food. In a bid to reduce agriculture-related emissions, supporters of climate-smart agriculture are in Paris to promote the systemic change needed if agriculture is to significantly reduce its role in bringing about climate change. The way in which agriculture should change is the topic of much debate, however.

A recent report, Outsmarting Nature? by the ETC Group and Heinrich Böll Foundation lays out some of the more extreme interventions in biotechnology, which fall under the climate-smart farming agenda. Such synthetic biology approaches include altering plant photosynthesis and releasing “gene drives” to alter natural populations of weeds. In part the report is taking a stand against the world’s largest agro-industrial corporations, many of whom are attending the climate summit as well as against hi-tech, intensive, industrial agriculture, which most would agree we need to move away from. The report claims such technologies, that design and engineer crops for industrial production from scratch, are not only risky for food production but may also fail to tackle climate change as well. Many civil society groups would argue instead for greater support of agroecological, small-scale and peasant farming systems, systems which support millions of smallholder farmers around the world. Although the report is extreme in its views against Big Agribusiness corporations, which they say are responsible for climate change in the first place, it does raise legitimate concerns over our reliance on technology and profit-making solutions instead of tackling the underlying issues, such as exponential economic growth and increasing consumption. It does seem absurd to be chasing technologies that alter the fundamental way in which plants function over transforming agriculture to be more sustainable and environmentally-friendly. Particularly if we assume that techno-fixes will eventually come to the limits of what they can fix.

When considering technological solutions to agricultural climate change mitigation, an important consideration of many civil society groups is “who will benefit?”. In Outsmarting Nature? the benefactor is assumed to be the corporations and their profit margins. Whether this is true is debatable and being a large corporation does not necessarily mean you are not eager to bring about genuine change and benefits for the broader population. What does seem to be the case is that technologies are often only accessible to the relatively well-off. For many smallholder farmers in developing countries even commonly used or small-scale technologies such as fertiliser, drip-irrigation, storage sacks or improved seeds are unaffordable or unavailable. [Read more…]

6 indirect approaches to improving nutrition – part two

ID-100164411Malnutrition is pervasive, far-reaching and complex. Because of this both the immediate impacts as well as the underlying causes must be addressed simultaneously if malnutrition rates are to be reduced, warranting the need for both nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive approaches. In part one of this article we discussed the roles agriculture, livestock production and resilience building can have in improving people’s nutrition. More productive and diverse farming and reduced vulnerability to environmental and other risks can boost household nutrition. In part two we look at how gender inequality, marginalisation from society, poverty and climate change pose both threats to nutrition and how, as a result, we can fight malnutrition through building gender equality, providing social protection and mitigating climate change.

  1. Gender

The theme for this year’s Africa Day for Food and Nutrition Security was “Empowering Our Women, Securing Our Food, Improving Our Nutrition,” and without question, women are central to producing food in the fields and putting food on the table for their families. In some African countries, 90% of women are engaged in agricultural and related activities. Yet these women often lack secure land rights and access to machinery, markets, inputs and technologies that could increase their harvest and their and their family’s nutrition. Additionally, proper nourishment “empowers people to live and take on new opportunities”, giving people the energy and vitality to innovate and be even more productive.

An article in the Guardian further explains why gender is critical for nutrition. Women play important roles within a family, in agriculture and in their community. Their links between work, home and society mean investing in women has knock-on effects, in particular for nutrition, given that they are often the providers of food. Gender inequality reduces a woman’s power in making decisions and in bringing about change, and should be tackled in society and governance. And there is evidence that investing in women can bring about advances in development. A study by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) found that half of the reduction in hunger between 1970 and 1995 could be attributed to improvements in women’s societal status. Additionally improvements in women’s access to education (which accounted for 45% of gains in food security) was nearly as significant as increased food availability (26%) and health advances (19%) put together.

But gender is not just about women. It is also important to educate men on, for example, “the right kind of food, doing home gardening, rearing cows, poultry farming, using safe water, building sanitary latrines and hygiene”. Men and boys have a central role in improving nutrition and in bringing about gender equality. The Food and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) have developed a way of creating dialogue about the importance of valuing women and girls in agriculture and communities through theatre, and through a travelling company are engaging with elders and men.

  1. Social protection

Social protection aims to reduce people’s vulnerability and is delivered through a variety of mechanisms: weather-indexed insurance, public works programmes, emergency food aid, buffer stock management, agricultural input subsidies, conditional cash transfers and employment guarantee schemes. Devereux (2015), in a study of the links between social protection programmes and enhanced entitlements to food, comes to the conclusions that principles of social justice need to be introduced to the design and delivery of social protection programmes and that a comprehensive approach is needed that combines interventions around stabilising as well as increasing income and/or food production. [Read more…]