By Christine Negra
The scientific community can, and must, solidify the knowledge base on food security in a changing climate. There are key areas where scientific knowledge is needed to help pave the way for strategic, sustainable investments in climate-resilient agricultural production systems and low-waste supply chains that also deliver adequate nutrition. The priorities for researchers and research funding organizations are highlighted in a new journal article on “The role for scientists in tackling food insecurity and climate change” authored by members of the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change.
Published in Agriculture and Food Security, the article distils specific messages from the Commission’s major report released earlier this year, Achieving Food Security in the Face of Climate Change. The Commission, which was set up by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development, recognized the essential roles to be played by scientists and global donors in achieving a food-secure future. As such, it called upon a constellation of governments, international institutions, investors, agricultural producers, consumers, food companies and researchers to implement transformative changes in policy, finance, agriculture, development aid, diet choices and food waste, as well as revitalised investment in the knowledge systems to support these changes.
The authors point to a range of opportunities for scientists to support innovation that can aggregate up to meaningful global change.
Sustainable agricultural intensification
One approach highlighted in the article is sustainably intensifying agricultural production while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other negative environmental impacts of agriculture. The authors recommend that scientists help by “defin[ing] the practical meaning of sustainable intensification and elucidating forms of low-emissions agriculture that support long-term productivity and resilience (that is, decoupling increase in yield from emissions).” CGIAR research is already investigating this question, and producing scientific knowledge about the relationship between carbon emissions and livelihoods and analysing agricultural carbon projects in Africa that are generating benefits for poor famers.
Focus on the most vulnerable communities
Another recommendation from the Commission is for countries to develop specific programs and policies to assist populations and sectors that are most vulnerable to climate changes and food insecurity. The Commission proposes that researchers should clarify how index-linked insurance programs can best reduce climate impacts on vulnerable populations. CCAFS has been working with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Index Insurance Innovation Initiative (I4) to identify how to make index-based insurance work for the rural poor. At the same time, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) has been part of an innovative pilot insurance program that recently made its first payments to Northern Kenyan pastoralists who had lost cattle due to drought.
Reshape food access and consumption to meet nutritional needs
Food security is not just about food provision but also about nutrition. The Commission recommends reshaping food access and consumption patterns to ensure basic nutritional needs are met. The article suggests that researchers should work on “understand[ing] the impact and cost-effectiveness of a range of interventions on dietary behaviour among different socioeconomic groups”. CGIAR’s HarvestPlus program has been working in Uganda and Mozambique to promote a vitamin A-rich, “orange” sweet potato (OSP). The promotion and marketing activities under HarvestPlus were targeted to different points in the value chain, including working directly with women at the household level; promoting the varieties at community level via radio programs; through hands-on activities with farmers; and at market level through retailers and distributors. Researchers will continue to study the adoption and nutrition impact of the large-scale distribution of OSP, in order to understand the best ways to encourage uptake, particularly farmer-to-farmer distribution.
Message to research leaders
The Commissioners intend to bring these messages to the leaders of the global agricultural research world, who will soon be gathering in Uruguay for the second Global Conference for Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD). The conference aims to transform research innovation processes towards achieving large-scale development impacts, particularly on enhancing the livelihoods of resource poor smallholder farmers. With smallholders and rural communities facing increased vulnerability, what large-scale development goal is more crucial than global food security in a changing climate?
Download the article: Beddington JR, Asaduzzaman M, Clark ME, Fernández Bremauntz A, Guillou MD, Jahn MM, Lin E, Mamo T, Negra C, Nobre CA, Scholes RJ, Sharma R, Van Bo N, Wakhungu J. 2012. The role for scientists in tackling food insecurity and climate change. Agriculture and Food Security, 1:10. DOI:10.1186/2048-7010-1-10 (open access)
Christine Negra is coordinator of the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change. Read more stories from the Commission on our blog and sign up to receive Commission updates by email. Get more CCAFS research on Facebook, and on Twitter @Cgiarclimate.
CCAFS Coordinating Unit - University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Science, Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, Rolighedsvej 21, DK-1958 Frederiksberg C, Denmark, phone +45 35331046; Email ccafs [at] cgiar [dot] org, EAN 5790000279012
Lead Center - International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)