Our food systems are failing us—the wealth of literature that's now available tells us this fact unequivocally. 

The recent Actions to Transform Food Systems Under Climate Change report pinpoints the stark deficiencies and colossal challenge we face. We must reach half a billion small-scale agricultural producers around the world to change how they work—so often in difficult conditions worsened by a changing climate—to make them "climate-smart." 

The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) has worked to address the twin challenges of global warming and declining food security for over a decade now. Our research and partnerships with hundreds of organizations all over the world have taught me two big lessons. 

Firstly, we can only transform food systems if we change the very way we manage and reward research for development. 

Without engagement, science too often fails to reach its transformative potential." 

Secondly, researchers must work hand-in-glove with partners on the ground to ensure research has impact. Without engagement, science too often fails to reach its transformative potential.

CCAFS research 

More than this, these talented researchers are doing things differently, with some really compelling examples which can be found in our 2019 Annual Report.

CCAFS is a USD$50 million a year program through which I've had the pleasure of employing some of the world's best researchers who identify and address some of the most important interactions, synergies and trade-offs between climate change and agriculture. 

In Vietnam, we not only earned the trust of senior policymakers; we also built up our credibility in delivering successful farm-based projects. As a result, CCAFS helped inform a multitude of Vietnamese national strategies, resolutions and actions.

These government initiatives mobilized more than a billion dollars of investment. They include an early warning system for salinity intrusion, which saved 200,000 acres of rice land in 2019.

As a result of the CCAFS work, our South East Asia regional lead Dr Leo Sebastian was awarded the Medal for the contribution to the Cause of Agriculture and Rural Development by the Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture.

We infuse these partnerships with science and knowledge. We generated 139 papers in 2019, many of which were published by top journals such as Nature, PLoSONE and The Lancet. Our commitment to open access remains unwavering, with 78 percent of our papers published in this format last year.

We know from our partnerships that opening up our knowledge in this way is often the best way to diffuse what we have learned through our networks to reach all the intended beneficiaries and more. 

What's more interesting to me is that more than half of these papers were produced in collaboration with our partners, drawing on local knowledge and enhancing local capacity to produce such rigorous research in the future.

Impact on the ground

What ultimately excites me is seeing CCAFS impact on the ground. We worked with farmers in 25 countries, testing workable climate-smart practices and assessing how these solutions enhance their livelihoods.

In Senegal, seven million farmers received climate-informed agricultural advisories through a partnership with the country's meteorological and agricultural departments, as well as the support of a local farmers' network.

Its impact was clear—68% of farmers used these advisory services, resulting in a 10–25% increase in their crop income. CCAFS program leader Robert Zougmore, who did so much to spearhead this work, received the prestigious 2019 Crawford Award.

Meanwhile in Rwanda, we reached around 110,000 farmers with climate information services, with 81 percent subsequently using the information to improve crop management to increase crop income by up to 30%. This is a compelling testament to how such services can help farmers better plan irrigation and boost their productivity and ultimately their livelihoods. The project was awarded the Climate Smart Agriculture Project of the Year 2018.

Changing research for development

Of all CCAFS achievements over the years, its role in changing the nature of research for development is probably it's most significant, moving on the fulcrums of partnerships, outcomes, impact and performance-based budgeting.

Achieving a climate-smart future for global food systems is possible if only we commit ourselves to that ambition."

I agree with Agnes Kalibata, former Rwandan Minister for Agriculture and now UN envoy for its first-ever food systems summit—set to take place in 2021—that "hunger is a solvable problem."

Achieving a climate-smart future for global food systems is possible if only we commit ourselves to that ambition, effectively sharing knowledge and acting on that knowledge, taking innovations from research labs to the field.

If we continue to transform research systems now, then just imagine what a difference we could make to the climate for future generations. 

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Bruce Campbell is Program Director of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).