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How does climate change alter the way we manage agriculture for food security?

Posted by Marjolein van Gelder Friday, October 11, 2013

One year after the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) published a report on Food Security and Climate Change, the two spheres of climate change and food security have come closer together. Previously, Climate Change was a topic mainly discussed by the countries with high carbon emissions and the focus was solely on mitigation. On the other hand, food security always focused on the world's poor - often living in countries with low emissions. The panel, which conducts research and advises the Committee on Food Security (CFS), seeks to bridge these two issues. A side event, which was held at the CFS, discussed the importance of bringing together both worlds and showed how far this has progressed.     

The importance of mixing both worlds comes from the fact that the people who are most food insecure, are also the ones who are most vulnerable to extreme weather events, caused by climate change.

Prof. Swaminathan pointed to the example of the Punjab, India, explaining  that a warmer climate means that the growing seasons for staple crops will become shorter. Only one week less of the growing season can have tremendous effect on yields in the region. In certain situations, rising temperature requires famers to be proactive in cultivating new crops, as the traditional crops are not viable. This can, however, be a great problem, according to Alexandre Maybeck (FAO). He asked  "How to teach a farmer what is important  to secure his food supply 20 years from now when he does not even know how to feed his family today?”

The publications by HLPE and the discussions at CFS had an impact at the climate negotiations at the last climate COP. Maybeck believes that one year after the climate change discussion at CFS this has influenced the way we talk about it. "The two different sectors started to speak to  each other. The HLPE report helped as a good common starting point". In addition, the other two Rome-based agencies have set up programmes in which climate change and small holder agriculture are combined.

"Many people ask me: why is the World Food Programme (WFP) involved in these topics? For us it is quite simple: climate change will create more shocks and disasters:" Richard Choularton explains. "The Rural Resilience Initiative aims to build community resilience on food security and increases the safety nets that are required to deal with food shortages. Actually 98% of what we do is risk reduction."

The WFP, for example, invests in livelihood diversification so farmers are not depended on one source of income. They have, additionally, taken up the advice of an Ethiopian farmer who asked to work for his insurance as he could not afford to pay for it. Chourlaton says that these initiatives are promising. Choularton was asked whether working more hours for insurance did not represent a burden for farmers. He explained that great attention was paid to the labour demand on farmers, and that community labour was never requested during their own farming season, but rather in low-demand labour times, a system that worked well for the farmers.
Another cross-cutting programme is the Adaptation for Smallholder Programme (ASAP) by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Elwyn Grainger-Jones explained that the main goal of ASAP is to make climate change finance available for smallholders. "Climate change alters the way we do projects as it forces us to take into account much more risks. We have, for example, projects that introduce more saline resistant crops to adapt to sea level rise, or early warning systems which can help farmers prepare when bad weather is coming".

This CFS session has shown the importance of combining  climate concerns and food security. Many agencies have started to bridge the institutional gap and combine the two topics. However, it will take time before integration of the two separated worlds will be complete.