The future of food and farming depends on climate action today

Wednesday, 8 October 2014 13:01 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Agriculture, in particular, is at risk from climate change

New research by the world’s most authoritative body on climate change science directly links rising global temperatures and hunger.The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has unequivocally warned that climate change is already threatening the food security of the world’s growing population. Unsurprisingly the most vulnerable people who are already affected will suffer the most.

If we do not limit global emissions of greenhouse gases these trends will continue over the coming decades, bringing higher temperatures, more dangerous weather, more frequent heat waves and more frequent drought as well as heavier rain and flooding.

A stark reality is that while the effects of climate change will be felt around the globe they will not be evenly distributed across sectors and people.

Agriculture, in particular, is at risk. Climate change will negatively impact crop and livestock production, as well as the underlying natural resources base, especially in fragile ecosystems and in areas already at the margins—driving further degradation of farmlands and the ecosystem they rely on.

And the world’s poorest people, most of whom directly depend upon agriculture for employment, food and income, stand to bear the greatest burden. This includes millions of smallholder farmers and herders, people living in lowland and coastal areas. The urban poor are also vulnerable. Women and children are especially so.

We must therefore accelerate our efforts to make our food systems both more resilient and more sustainable. We must take immediate, farm-focused action to prepare for and respond to more severe food crises. We must build the resilience of vulnerable people, livelihoods and ecosystems in the face of increasingclimate variability and extreme events.

Fundamental change requires action on the ground, yes, but also political commitment. Governments, civil society and the private sector all need to play their parts.

The next two years are crucial to the development and adoption of a new global climate agreement. Efforts to establish a new global sustainable development agenda have been given fresh momentum by the United Nations Secretary General’s Climate Summit this month

Two crucial global meetings of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change lie ahead: the first in Peru in December 2014 and the second in Paris in December 2015. The opportunity these meetings provide for all countries to foster political commitment and spark urgently needed actions must not be squandered.

Our three agencies – the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Food Programme – stand together in urging world leaders to take definitive action to minimize the threat of climate change to food security.

This includes achieving a meaningful global agreement on climate change at the Paris UNFCCC conference in 2015, one that recognizes that food security must be integrated into our responses to climate challenges. Sustainable rural development is a key tool for achieving this

Additionally, significant investment must be channeled towards agriculture and rural development, developing more resilient infrastructure and production systems that will help smallholder farmers in developing countries better respond to increased climate risks and adapt to climate change. We also need to invest in better warning systems, improved disaster preparedness and in “safety nets” for the poor.

Finally, climate change must be integrated into all policymaking related to agriculture, rural development, social protection and food security.

Our agencies are working urgently to expand our support for such efforts. We are investing more to assist countries to prepare for climate change challenges. We are updating our policy guidance and are improving our data collection and analyses to better support governments in their policy and planning decisions.

Together we can strengthen agriculture’s capacity to sustainably and nutritiously feed current and future generations on our shared planet, while helping vulnerable people weather the growing impacts of climate change.

But to build that future, we must act – now.

José Graziano da Silva is Director-General of the Food And Agriculture Organization,  Kanayo F. Nwanze is President of International Fund for Agricultural Development and Ertharin Cousin is Executive Director of the World Food Programme. The three UN agencies, headquartered in Rome, Italy, have different and complementary mandates dealing with agriculture, food security, rural development and poverty alleviation. They work together to improve food security and alleviate hunger worldwide.

As the 2014 Borlaug Dialogue takes place October 15-17 in Des Moines, Iowa, the World Food Prize Foundation and CGIAR Fund are co-hosting an online, high-level op-ed series titled The Greatest Challenge in Human History: Sustainably Feeding 9 Billion People By 2050. This will highlight how agricultural research and development are not only tied to food security and nutrition, but that they are also central to achieving many of the forthcoming UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Read more: 

Read more: 

How can we sustainably feed 9 billion people by 2050? - Kenneth Quinn, World Food Prize Foundation and Jonathan Wadsworth, CGIAR

Progressing crop research to impact at scale -  Marco Ferroni, Syngenta For Sustainable Agriculture

The face of hunger is not partisan - Rajiv Shah, USAID

Delivering on Norman Borlaug’s call to action - Andrew Youn, One Acre Fund and Tony Kalm, CGIAR Fund

Elevating civil society from advisers to partners for a food secure world  - Tony Hall,  Alliance to End Hunger

New wheat breeds can help avert food security disaster - Sanjaya Rajaram, 2014 World Food Prize Laureate

Rising to "the greatest challenge in human history" - Jose Graziano da Silva, FAO 

Achieving zero hunger with help from smallholder farmers - Ertharin Cousin, WFP 

Tending the future - Pamela Anderson, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Sustained investment in global agricultural research key to feeding 9 bln people sustainably - Gebisa Ejeta, Purdue University

Africa will feed 9 billion by 2050 - Pedro A. Sanchez, Earth Institute, Columbia University