Climate change, food production and food security

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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…]

Four ways to reduce water use in agriculture

wwd imageToday is World Water Day 2013, celebrating the International Year of water cooperation. A paradigm of the world’s water challenges is that although agriculture accounts for approximately 70% of global water resources, around one billion people are chronically hungry.

As water for irrigation and food production constitutes one of the greatest threats to the sustainability of the world’s freshwater resources, we discuss four methods of reducing water use in agriculture, methods that can reduce water use without limiting, and sometimes increasing, food production.

Grow crops that use less water. This can mean either crops that due to their physiology require less water. For example growing grapes and olives requires significantly less water than tomatoes or bananas. Or it can mean crops bred to require less water such as the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project.  Of course the choice of crops grown is also dependent on environmental and socio-economic conditions.

Precision use of irrigation either by scheduling irrigation for times when the crops needs it or using irrigation only in areas needed. Methods can include direct measurement of soil water content to inform on timing and placement, sprinkler or drip irrigation. But issues of access to and management of water supplies can limit the feasibility of some of these techniques in some areas.

Use methods alternative to irrigation such as rainwater harvesting and treated wastewater.

Enhance water retention in the soil through farming methods and systems such as residue management, conservation tillage, zai, bunds, contouring and field levelling. This will reduce the amount of water that needs to be applied to the field.

For the future new technologies such as micro-scale solar desalination units or nanotechnology hold some potential. But whether at the frontiers of technology or tried and tested, many of the solutions to agriculture’s dependence on water require knowledge, research and access to forms of innovation. Investing in participatory research that meets the water and production needs of local farmers is therefore critical to reducing water use in agriculture and building the sector’s sustainability.

For a wider analysis of global water security click here.

What we’ve been reading this week

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

Talk point: is water a commodity or a human right?, The Guardian

Demystifying modern biotechnology, Modern Ghana

FAO leader calls for shift towards more sustainable food production and diet, Wageningen University and Research Centre (WUR) 95th Anniversary Symposium

Yes, I get furious when foreign aid is wasted. But Britons are saving lives… and are leading the world, says Bill Gates, Daily Mail

George Osborne declares ‘historic moment’ on UK aid target, The Guardian

Stop GM crops in Europe – new campaign launched, GM Watch

Food, fuel and plant nutrient use in the future, Council for Agricultural Science and Technology

GMO poll finds huge majority say foods should be labeled, Huffington Post

New metric to be launched on hunger and food insecurity, FAO

New EU policy to improve nutrition across the world and save millions of lives, EU

Connecting the dots between vaccines and hunger, The Guardian

Africa is on the rise – come see for yourselves, Financial Times

Aid for Trade: Reviewing EC and DFID Monitoring and Evaluation Practices, Traidcraft and CAFOD

Dr Akinwumi Adesina: Building resilience in Nigeria

imagesOn 4th of March 2013, the 30th edition of the Brussels Development Briefing took place, the topic being “Agricultural resilience in the face of crisis and shocks”. Organized by CTA in collaboration with the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) Secretariat, the EC/DEVCO, Concord, and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and hosted by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), in Brussels, international experts and agriculturalists, including Gordon Conway discussed the concept of resilience and proven approaches to achieving it.

The keynote speaker, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, Honourable Minister of Agriculture of Nigeria, outlined his plans for increasing resilience and boosting agricultural productivity. He began by reminding us how susceptible we all are to the forces of nature be they climate, health, market or environment related. Food security is a key component of ensuring humans, households and systems are resilient to the impact of stresses and shocks.

Nigeria, in order to build resilience and tackle food insecurity through raising agricultural productivity and food production, launched the Agricultural Transformation Agenda in 2012. The overall goals are to add 20 Million tons (Mt) of food to the domestic food supply by 2015; to create 3.5 million jobs and to become a net exporter of food.

Dr Adesina outlined six policy areas for improving resilience.

1)    Access to affordable inputs.

Nigeria launched a database of farmers for the country, registering 4.2 million farmers in 2012 and hoping to expand to 10 million this year. The aim is to know the country’s farmers better in order to target policies to support them.

Also launched in 2012 was the Growth Enhancement Support (GES) through which farmers receive subsidised seeds and fertiliser via vouchers on their mobile phones. The government was taken out of the procurement and distribution of these inputs, ending corruption in the sector. In the first three months, 1.2 million farmers received subsidised inputs through their mobile phones and the target is to reach 5 million in 2013. The GES has incentivised seed and fertiliser companies to develop value chains to supply directly to the farmer and in 2012 fertiliser and seed companies sold $100 million worth of fertiliser and $10 million worth of seeds directly to farmers, as opposed to the government. Increasing accessibility to farm inputs, in the words of Dr Adesina, unleashed an agricultural revolution, and food production rose by 8.1 Mt in 2012. [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

Every week we summarise the news stories and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Bill gates reviews One Billion Hungry: Can We Feed the World, The Gates Notes

How to manage post-harvest loss, The Guardian Farming and Food Security Hub

A vaccine to boost global food production, Israel 21c

Africa: underestimating GDP, Financial Times, beyondbrics

EU Parliament agrees CAP reform ‘compromises’, Farmers Guardian

Food and petrol prices keep inflation unchanged at 2.7%, The Guardian

Soil determines fate of phosphorous, Brown University

Recent patterns of crop yield growth and stagnation, Nature communications

Betting on Hunger: Is Financial Speculation to Blame for High Food Prices?, Time

Joyce Banda: ‘I want Malawians to say our country became a better place’, The Guardian

“Peak farmland” is here, crop area to diminish: study, Reuters

A global agricultural boom for Brazil, The Washington Post

 

Closing yield gaps through nutrient and water management

Could ‘sustainable intensification’ be the solution to meeting future food needs and reducing agriculture’s negative impact on the natural environment? Gordon Conway has defined this approach simply as ‘producing more while using fewer resources’, and the practical implementation of the term has been increasingly scrutinised and the subject of controversy. Indeed it is the topic of an upcoming Chatham House Food Security 2012 conference in London entitled, Sustainable intensification: miracle or mirage?

A recent paper in Nature discussed the possibility of agricultural intensification and specifically of closing yield gaps – the gap between yields which are attainable and yields which are observed – for 17 major crops. The variability in yields achieved for different crops was found to be largely due to differences in fertiliser use, irrigation and climate.

Authors of the paper found that closing the yield gaps by 100% would result in an increase of crop production for most major crops of 45% to 70%. Significant opportunities for intensification of major cereals exist in Eastern Europe and sub-Saharan Africa. Reaching this level of yield gap closure would, however, require increases in irrigation and nutrient application, actions that are not necessarily in line with the paradigm of sustainable intensification. Sub-Saharan Africa does, however, have large untapped water sources that, if used responsibly and, yes sustainably, could improve food production. [Read more…]

Farmer Innovation in Malawi

A new study conducted in 2011 by Find Your Feet aimed to document and promote farmer innovations in the district of Rumphi in northern Malawi. It did so through focus group discussions with farmers in four of the Extension Planning Areas of the district; through individual interviews with farmers (14 in total); and through visits to renowned innovative farmers (14 in total).

Due to the nature of agriculture farmers must adapt and innovate to ensure a stable and high level of food production. The outcomes of smallholder farmer innovation have not always been recognised, however, and it is only in the past thirty years that there has been a move away the traditional and linear ‘top-down’ approach to technology transfer to a recognition of the value of farmer knowledge and the importance, as end-users of technologies, of their inclusion in broader innovation systems. [Read more…]