COP20 Day Nine – Meeting the food security challenge

At the COP20 UN climate summit. ©IFAD
Written by Chris Neglia

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in Article 2, clearly identifies the importance of achieving food security under a changing climate. At a Davos-style discussion at COP20 in Lima, a panel of experts presented their views on how this goal could be met.

Julie Lennox of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) reminded the audience that when referring to food security, we are not just talking about agriculture, but the entire mosaic of rural land use that humans rely on for the provision of sufficient, safe and nutritious food. When working to achieve global food security, she urged the UNFCCC process to look beyond agricultural sectors and take a system-wide view – likening the scope of change needed in food production to the industrial revolution that transformed Europe in the late 19th century.

IFAD’s Gernot Laganda warned of potential tipping points that could seriously challenge food systems in developing countries without a strong commitment to climate adaptation by the international community. Similarly, Alexandre Meybeck of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) stated that while no more than a 2 degree Celsius rise in the global average temperature is the goal set by the Convention, this also translates to a 4 degree rise on continents and upwards of a 6 degree rise in arid environments. Under these conditions, it is hard to imagine how small farms can be self-sufficient in many of the most vulnerable areas, he said.

Despite the dire forecasts, the panellists advocated for strong collaboration and partnerships involving the public and private sector actors, centred around smallholder farmers who must be the agents of change in the shift toward a more sustainable food paradigm.

Jethro Greene, Chief Coordinator of the Caribbean Farmers Network and also affiliated with the World Farmers Organization, said that although smallholders practice some of the most efficient farming methods, they are often stigmatized as unproductive or merely recipients of handouts.

“Smallholders are entrepreneurs,” said Greene, “and they need support in order to cluster into more powerful economic groups.”

This model is already working in the Caribbean, where the private sector prefers to source food products from small, local producers. But smallholders need to be seen as small businesses to be attractive to large buyers.

Greene challenged the Rome-based UN food and agriculture agencies to come out of their silos and bring smallholder solutions to large financiers (eliciting great applause from the audience).

Richard Choularton of the World Food Programme (WFP) acknowledged the tendency for project planning and financial rules to be inflexible once set. However, he said, WFP addresses this challenge by setting project design at the local level.

Meybeck of FAO also referred to fora that bring together multiple stakeholders such as the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture, where the Rome-based agencies strive to respond to climate and environment problems as one entity.

The face-off between panellists made for a lively discussion, with quality interventions from the floor. When Thomson Reuters’ Alexander Doyle, who moderated the event, asked whether Greene was satisfied with the responses given by the Rome-based agencies, he simply smiled and said, “It’s a start.”