Commission on Sustainable Agriculture Stresses Need to Take Action to Assure Food Security
November 25, 2011 | Andrew Burger
An increase in droughts, floods and severe storms as well as land degradation, rising populations, increasing demand for biofuels and the changing dietary habits of the world population have all come together to tax and strain food and agricultural resources worldwide.
The Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change, an independent group of prominent scientists last week urged “immediate, coordinated action toward transforming the food system to meet current and future threats to food security and environmental sustainability.” They also released a summary report that includes “a set of concrete recommendations” on how to achieve food security in the face of climate change.”
The report’s release comes as climate change negotiators from around the world make final preparations to meet in Durban, South Africa to try and negotiate a global climate change treaty that would extend or succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which has been in effect since February 2005. Representatives from 194 nations are to convene in Durban for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) 17th Conference of Parties (COP 17) November 28 – December 9.
The Commission’s “Summary for Policy Makers” sets out seven crucial action points that policy makers can leverage and implement to “kick-start a transformation of the whole food system,” and help assure sustainable food and agricultural production meets the needs of a growing world population:
- 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.
“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.”
Need for Monitoring, Finance and Technical Assistance
Improved monitoring and modeling are essential to integrated decision-making that brings together issues related to economic growth, agricultural productivity, poverty reduction and long-term environmental sustainability, the Commissioners pointed out.
“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.”
Government policy makers and food and agricultural sector stakeholders worldwide have to intensify the focus on sustainable agriculture, according to the Commission. That means making multi-year commitments of financial and technical assistance to help agricultural producers enhance resilience to climate variability and improve their livelihoods while at the same time taking actions that mitigate intensifying climate change.
“Policies and finance streams must engage and empower poor rural farmers to improve yields and incomes on existing land bases without new environmental impacts,” Commissioner Dr. Nguyen Van Bo, president of the Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Science stated.
Increasingly, major segments of the world population are highly vulnerable to extreme weather events and food price volatility, as well as severe food insecurity that can lead to large-scale humanitarian crises, such as is occurring in the Horn of Africa, the Commissioners note.
They are urging policy makers and other stakeholders to assist vulnerable populations through actions including providing insurance against climate shocks and implementing strategies to moderate food price fluctuations and safety net programs. In addition, the commission said that education, health and nutrition programs can 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 Rita Sharma, Secretary of India’s National Advisory Council, an example of which is an Indian program to guarantee rural employment that is being used to boost income and reduce vulnerability.