We are all in this together: Agriculture growth, jobs, food security and climate

The latest IPCC report underlines the fact that impacts of climate change are already felt today and will become a huge challenge for small-scale farming towards the end of the 21st century. Photo: Neil Palmer (CIAT)

The latest IPCC report says climate change is already impacting food and farming. Private sector, governments, research, and civil society share insights on how to take action, together.

There is now an overwhelming body of evidence indicating that the impacts of climate change are being felt today, and will exacerbate towards the end of the 21st century, according to the latest IPCC report (read our brief analysis here). 

If climate change impacts are no longer a problem of the future, and are being felt now, then tackling climate change is even more urgent. Moreover, negative impacts of climate change are being felt more distinctly by the poorer regions of the world, where existing pressures relating to agricultural production, water scarcity, and food security, are exacerbated by climate change. In this context, poverty alleviation measures can no longer afford to be decoupled from efforts to tackle climate change, and both issues need to be addressed together.

Source: Porter et al. 2014 

Identifying actions

These were some of the messages pervading last week’s event Agriculture growth, jobs, food security and climate: Taking action in response to IPCC which was jointly organized by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), the UK Department of International Development (DFID), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), The Prince’s Charities International Sustainability Unit, Willis, and the World Bank. The event brought together diverse representatives from the international community, including researchers, policy makers, civil society organizations, and the private sector to identify the key actions for building resilience for small-scale producers and food security, and set out a pathway to address concerns.

Some of the statistics on the changes to agricultural production patterns were particularly compelling, as presented by Pramod Aggarwal, CCAFS Regional Program Leader for South Asia, and a reviewer of the latest IPCC report. For instance, the global yield for wheat has already seen a 5% decline. This decline is likely to continue in the coming decades, which would in turn exert pressure on the natural resource base and can deter global efforts to feed a growing population, expected to reach 9 billion in 2050. In addition to affecting global crop yields, climate change is also affecting fish harvests, the nutritional quality and safety of food, and is leading to rise in food prices. These trends which are already evident are expected to continue in the coming decades.

Inequality and climate justice in focus

Discussions also focussed on the issue of climate justice, i.e. those least responsible for climate change experience its greatest impacts. Christian Aid’s Christine Allen pointed out that while developed countries had greater capacities to adapt to climate change, this was not the case of developing countries, and particularly small-scale producers, who are most vulnerable.

Allen also noted that while small-scale producers in developing countries are faced with issues of food insecurity, over a third of all food in developed countries are being wasted, which showcases the inequity within the current food system. There is a need to take cognizance of the role that small-scale producers play in the global food system, with over half of the world’s food being produced by small-scale producers, and to reorient the system so as to address their crucial needs.

The growing evidence of climate change impacts which are being faced, together with projected impacts by the turn of the century, call for urgent action at various levels. Thankfully, there are excellent examples of efforts to adapt at the local level, including through the provision of technology and weather related information to producers

In need of a coordinated effort

However, to really make a large-scale difference, institutions need to adjust their priorities and create supporting frameworks. All speakers agreed that for this to happen, the international community needs to work towards developing a suitable enabling environment, including with the appropriate policies, investments, and research. In doing so, Michel Mordasini, Vice-President of IFAD called for greater coordination among various actors, noting that the greatest risk is that of fragmentation of efforts, particularly in fragile and vulnerable areas. Mordasini also noted that the voices of those impacted by climate change needs to be heard in policy discussions.

Presenters called for system-wide efforts to tackle the magnitude of the issue, but at the same time noted that there is no silver bullet and efforts have to be adapted to suit local needs and priorities, and tap into indigenous knowledge pools. Xiangjun Yao, Director of the Climate, Energy and Tenure Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN called for system-wide approaches which were farmer focussed, and with due political support.

Significant funding, knowledge and capacity is needed to achieve anything, and many speakers pointed to the need for innovative financing mechanisms which are transparent, equitable, and beneficial for small-scale producers. Experts also pointed out that in addition to supply-side interventions, demand side interventions, including changes to the consumer behaviour, have great potential in optimizing the global food systems.


Bringing private investments together with public action

Rowan Douglas, Chairman of the Willis Research Network, pointed out that all actors are part of a system, and there is an urgent need to change the rules of the game for finance. He pointed out that in the context of a changing climate, governments, cities, companies, and others should build resilience into all operations and private sector needs to push risk as a political priority. Douglas noted that currently 50% capital charge of the global insurance sector is driven by mother nature, which makes a compelling case for private sector action. While acknowledging the importance of financing, Greenpeace’s Ruth Davis pointed out that financing should be demand led, and steer clear of overwhelming power to the private sector. CARE International’s Gerry Boyle called for greater investment in financial literacy among small-scale producers, to enable them to make right financial decisions.

Climate change threatens all sectors of society, especially when it comes to food insecurity. And while we are all at risk, some are much more vulnerable than others. As Camilla Toulmin (IIED) mentioned in her wrap-up, the event was evidence that “strong and powerful voices” from business, cities, governments and civil society need to come together and develop solutions. This is already in the works as the global Alliance on Climate-Smart Agriculture gears up in preparation for the UN Secretary General’s Climate Conference in September. Only joint efforts can bring about global food security.  

In her closing remarks of the conference, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for International Development, Lynne Featherstone, noted that the IPCC report has underlined the importance of taking more action and that the private sector and civil society both have a key role to play in scaling up the international response to climate change.

Read the full Closing statement by Lynne Featherstone

Read our analysis on the IPCC findings and the actions needed for agriculture and food security: Climate change, food security and small-scale producers. CCAFS Info Brief.

Press release (3 April 2014): Taking action to deliver agriculture growth, jobs and food security in the face of climate change

Dhanush Dinesh coordinates the implementation of the CCAFS global policy engagement strategy.