At current rates, climate change is expected to have large-scale negative effects on agricultural production and food security, according to the latest edition of FAO’s flagship annual report, “The State of Food and Agriculture” (SOFA). This year’s report focuses on the relationship between climate change, agriculture, and food security and calls for a transformation of the global food and agriculture system in the face of a changing climate.

The report stresses that the world will face a double challenge in the coming decades: to eradicate hunger and poverty and to stabilize the climate. The FAO estimates that global food demand will increase by at least 60 percent by 2050 due to population and income growth. These increases will be concentrated in the regions that have the highest rates of undernourishment and that are also the most vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change.

These negative impacts – particularly on the productivity of crops, livestock, fisheries and forestry - will become increasingly severe in all regions and will intensify after 2030 if little or no action is taken according to the report. Productivity declines are especially worrying for food security, as they could lead to major increases in food prices and price volatility. The report highlights that in the absence of climate change, and with continuing economic progress, most regions are projected to see a decline in the number of people at risk of hunger by 2050. With climate change, however, the global population living in poverty could increase by between 35 and 122 million by 2030 compared to a scenario without climate change, largely due to climate change’s negative impacts on incomes in the agricultural sector.

There is hope, though. Significant improvements in food security, as well as resilience to climate change, can be achieved with the introduction of sustainable agricultural practices. Wide adoption of practices such as the use of nitrogen-efficient and heat-tolerant crop varieties, zero-tillage farming, and integrated soil fertility management would boost productivity and farmers’ incomes and help lower food prices, according to the report.

The report also emphasizes that transforming agriculture is crucial to climate change mitigation. Agriculture, deforestation, and land-use change (the latter two are driven mainly by agricultural expansion) account for about one-fifth of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The report stresses that the widespread adoption of sustainable agricultural techniques, more efficient use of resources (such as minimizing food loss and waste), and preservation of natural ecosystems (especially forests) can help mitigate climate change. However, the report also stresses that not all solutions are ‘win-win’, and that some solutions require trade-offs. For instance, reducing deforestation could come at a cost to farmers, as they will have less land available for traditional crop cultivation.

Available estimates suggest that the aggregate cost of adapting to climate change and making farm systems more resilient makes up only a fraction of the costs of inaction. However, despite the high cost of doing nothing, the adoption of improved practices is still very limited. The report argues that adoption is often hampered by policies, such as input subsidies, that perpetuate unsustainable production practices. Smallholders, especially, face a broad range of barriers on the path to sustainable agriculture, such as limited access to markets, credit, extension advice, weather information, risk management tools, and social protection programs.

The report calls for policies that put food and agriculture at the center of efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Global agricultural and rural development policies that increase incentives for and lower barriers to the transformation of food and agricultural systems are needed. Such policies should focus on building the capacity of low-income smallholder farmers to manage risks and adopt effective climate change adaptation strategies. The report also calls for countries to ensure that their smallholder populations are central to the implementation of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) that were submitted for COP 21.

The report also discusses the importance of funding, emphasizing that current levels of climate financing and agricultural investments fall short of facilitating a successful global transition to sustainable agricultural practices. International public financing for climate change mitigation in the agriculture and fishery sectors has grown rapidly but is still only US $4 billion per year. The report argues that international public climate financing needs to expand if it is to act as a catalyst to leverage larger flows of public and private funding for sustainable agriculture. The report also recommends the implementation of innovative financial mechanisms, such as weather index insurance products, to help farmers manage risks related to climate change and to leverage investments for climate-smart agriculture. Moreover, the report argues that there is significant domestic financing available for agriculture (for example, in 2015, governments around the world spent US $560 billion on support for agricultural production), but much of this is spent on measures that instead contribute to climate change, such as various input subsidies that may support the inefficient use of agrochemicals. Making government support conditional upon the adoption of practices that lower emissions and conserve natural resources would contribute to aligning agricultural development and climate goals.

The SOFA report is released annually and measures both food security indicators (such as prevalence of undernourishment and poverty rates) and agricultural indicators (such as crop yields), as well as factors impacting both agriculture and food security. The report differs from annual FAO’s “State of Food Insecurity” (SOFI) report, which measures food insecurity based on the prevalence of undernourishment at the global and country levels, and the Global Hunger Index (GHI), which is a weighted index that combines a number of food security indicators (prevalence of undernourishment, wasting in children under five years of age, stunting in children under five years of age, and mortality rates among children under five years of age).

The full SOFA report and press release can be accessed here.

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