Scientific experts outline concrete steps toward a sustainable global food system
COPENHAGEN (16 November 2011) — In the lead up to UN global climate talks in Durban, South Africa later this month, an independent global commission of eminent scientists today released a set of concrete recommendations to policy makers on how to achieve food security in the face of climate change. Based on a thorough review of existing research, the commissioners urged immediate, coordinated action toward transforming the food system to meet current and future threats to food security and environmental sustainability.
The Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change’s “Summary for Policy Makers” outlines crucial policy responses to the global challenge of feeding a world confronted by climate change, population growth, poverty, food price spikes and degraded ecosystems. The seven high-level recommendations include significantly raising the level of global investment in sustainable agriculture and food systems in the next decade; sustainably intensifying agricultural production on the existing land base while reducing greenhouse gas emissions; and reducing losses and waste in the food system.
Prof. Sir John Beddington, Chair of the Commission, summed up the challenge: “It’s about reorienting the whole global food system – not just agricultural production, and not just in developing countries. We need a socially equitable, global approach to produce the funding, policy, management and regional initiatives that will deliver nutrition, income and climate benefits for all.”
In making their recommendations, the Commissioners cited the interconnected relationship between agriculture and the environment. As populations grow to upwards of 9 billion people, so will demand for food, fuel and feed crops. This could put many agricultural systems under immense stress and result in further depletion of soil fertility, biodiversity and water resources and increase greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere, according to the Commission.
The release of the Commission’s “Summary for Policy Makers” was timed to inform pivotal, upcoming meetings on climate change, including the UN climate conference in Durban, South Africa from November 28 to December 9 and the Rio+20 Earth Summit next year. “Efforts to alleviate the worst effects of climate change cannot succeed without simultaneously addressing the crises in global agriculture and the food system,” said Dr Bruce Campbell, director of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, which convened the independent commission in February 2011. “The commission’s invaluable contribution is to provide scientists and policy makers with the most authoritative, evidence-based action steps to date to achieve global food security.” The Commission’s detailed final report will be issued in 2012.
The Commission brings together senior natural and social scientists working in agriculture, climate, food and nutrition, economics and natural resources from Australia, Brazil, Bangladesh, China, Ethiopia, France, Kenya, India, Mexico, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States and Vietnam.
Creating a safe operating space for people on this planet
“There is a strong risk we will live on a food-insecure planet in the future,” said Commissioner Dr Marion Guillou, President of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), “and we need to reshape food access and consumption patterns to ensure basic nutritional needs will be met.” Today, a billion people are malnourished while millions suffer from chronic disease due to over-consumption. World population will grow to an estimated 9 billion by 2050 and diets are shifting towards higher consumption of calories, fats and animal products. Global demand is growing for food, fodder and bioenergy crops, and food prices are rising.
“Climate change is already causing more extreme weather events, such as high temperatures, droughts and floods, and will particularly harm those people who already live on the brink of hunger and malnutrition,” said Commissioner Professor Tekalign Mamo, Advisor to the Ethiopian Minister of Agriculture. “Food insecurity produces widespread human suffering, even in the world’s wealthiest countries, as well as political and economic instability, so it is clear the status quo is not an option.”
Investment, innovation and empowerment
The Commission reviewed the scientific evidence base to develop a package of solutions that address how food is produced, distributed and consumed. Their recommendations support climate-resilient agricultural production, efficient resource use, low-waste supply chains, adequate nutrition and healthy eating choices that, together, will constitute a sustainable food system.
The “Summary for Policy Makers” presents concrete, urgent actions to be implemented simultaneously by a constellation of governments, international institutions, investors, agricultural producers, consumers, food companies and researchers. Recommended tactics range from shifting economic incentives and making ‘fast start’ funds available for agriculture to strengthening land rights and building transparency in food markets.
“There is no one-size-fits-all solution,” said Commission Vice-Chair Dr Mohammed Asaduzzaman, Research Director at the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, “but we know that success depends on a combination of investment, innovation and deliberate effort to empower the world's most vulnerable populations.” The Commissioners called for significantly raising the level of global investment in sustainable agriculture and food systems in the next decade.
Efficiency throughout food supply chains
“Our global system wastes food, reducing efficiency in agricultural productivity,” according to the Australian Commissioner Dr Megan Clark, Chief Executive Officer of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). For example, roughly one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted across the global food system. In addition, land clearing and inefficient use of fertilizers and organic residues make agriculture a significant contributor to greenhouse gas pollution on the planet. “Investments to increase efficiencies in agriculture and supply chains while also mitigating greenhouse gas emissions are critical for economic and environmental health and will realise important benefits to the global food system,” she said.
“An estimated 12 million hectares of agricultural land – and their potential for producing 20 million tonnes of grain – are lost each year to land degradation,” explained Commissioner Professor Lin Erda, Director of the Research Centre of Agriculture and Climate Change at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences. “At the same time, many regions have large gaps between potential and actual crop yields.”
The Commission notes the importance of sustainably intensifying agricultural production on existing land – including improving supporting infrastructure and restoring degraded ecosystems – while reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. “Sustainable intensification is essential,” said South African Commissioner Professor Bob Scholes of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), “and will be most successful at reducing greenhouse gas emissions if we improve land tenure and have strong land-use planning in place to protect forests, wetlands and other critical remaining natural ecosystems.”
Supporting the most vulnerable
A large section of the human population is highly vulnerable to extreme weather events and food price volatility. Severe food insecurity can lead to humanitarian crises such as the current situation in the Horn of Africa. Specific recommendations to assist vulnerable populations include insurance against climate shocks, strategies to moderate food price fluctuations and safety net programs. Education, health and nutrition programs provide much needed pathways out of food insecurity.
“Building resilience to climate change must be deeply rooted in social systems beyond agriculture,” said the Commissioner Dr Rita Sharma, Secretary of India’s National Advisory Council. In India, for example, a program to guarantee rural employment is being used as a strategy to boost income and therefore reduce vulnerability.
“Global donors can help promote better climate change risk management through a more coordinated, multi-benefit approach,” said Mexican Commissioner Dr Adrian Fernández Bremauntz, Senior Consultant at the ClimateWorks Foundation. The Commission calls for national and international agricultural development policies to prioritise boosting productive assets and infrastructure.
Better information for integrated decision-making
“We are already in the business of managing significant risk and navigating trade-offs,” said U.S. Commissioner Professor Molly Jahn of the University of Madison-Wisconsin. “Agricultural greenhouse emissions are undeniably a significant issue. We need to innovate approaches to deal with this, but not at the expense of food production by poor farmers today.” The Commission highlights the importance of improved monitoring and modelling to support integrated decision-making for economic growth, agricultural productivity, poverty reduction and long-term environmental sustainability.
“If we are armed with real-time, spatially explicit information about land uses, markets and human populations, we can do a much better job of meeting our needs and taking care of the planet,” said Commissioner Dr Carlos Nobre of the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation. “This means better capacity to forecast crises as well as testing specific interventions and scaling up the ones that work.”
At the same time, global and national policies need to increase the focus on sustainable agriculture and continue the momentum that has built on food security in order to kick-start a transformation of the whole food system. “Agriculture and food security tend to fall between the cracks of global policy making,” explained the Kenyan Commissioner Professor Judi Wakhungu, Executive Director of the African Center for Technology Studies (ACTS). The Commission points out the need for higher importance of agriculture in discussions concerning the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and at the Rio+20 Earth Summit to be held in Brazil in June 2012.
Commissioners stress the need for multiyear commitments of financial and technical assistance to help agricultural producers build resilience to climate variability and improve their livelihoods, while contributing to climate change mitigation. Commissioner Dr Nguyen Van Bo, President of the Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Science said, “Policies and finance streams must engage and empower poor rural farmers to improve yields and incomes on existing land bases without new environmental impacts.”
The Commission’s final report, upon which the recommendations are based, will be released early in 2012. The Commission will share its recommendations at the upcoming Agriculture and Rural Development Day in Durban, South Africa and other policy forums throughout 2012.
The Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change is identifying what policy changes and actions are needed now to help the world achieve sustainable agriculture that contributes to food security and poverty reduction, and helps respond to climate change adaptation and mitigation goals. The Commission is an initiative of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (www.ccafs.cgiar.org), with additional support from the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development.
The Commission’s Action points
(Full details elaborated in “Summary for Policy Makers” document at http://www.ccafs.cgiar.org/commission)
- Integrate food security and sustainable agriculture into global and national policies
- Significantly raise the level of global investment in sustainable agriculture and food systems in the next decade
- Sustainably intensify agricultural production while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other negative environmental impacts of agriculture
- Target populations and sectors that are most vulnerable to climate change and food insecurity
- Reshape food access and consumption patterns to ensure basic nutritional needs are met and to foster healthy and sustainable eating habits worldwide
- Reduce loss and waste in food systems, particularly from infrastructure, farming practices, processing, distribution and household habits
- Create comprehensive, shared, integrated information systems that encompass human and ecological dimensions