If coping with climate change is central to achieving a sustainable future for the global population, then food security lies at the heart of this effort, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said last week in a speech at the United Nations Climate Summit last week.
"We cannot call development sustainable while hunger still robs over 800 million people of the opportunity to lead a decent life," he said in a reference to the latest U.N. report on world hunger, The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014.
The report found that while the number of people who experience chronic hunger was reduced by 100 million over the past decade, there are still some 805 million people that go without enough to eat on a regular basis.
Despite overall progress, the 57-page report says, “marked differences” across regions persist. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest prevalence of undernourishment, with only modest progress in recent years: Around one in four people in the region remains undernourished. Asia, the most populous region in the world, still has the highest number of undernourished people. “Southern Asia has made slow progress in hunger reduction, while more rapid progress has been achieved in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia with the latter having already met the WFS hunger target," Graziano da Silva said.
In the past, efforts to feed the world focused on boosting agricultural output to produce more food, but today's challenges – including climate change – demand a new approach, Graziano da Silva said.
"We need to shift to more sustainable food systems – food systems that produce more, with less environmental damage – food systems that promote sustainable consumption, since nowadays we waste or lose one-third to half of what we produce,” he said.
It’s mainly a question of access, he continued. The planet produces enough food to feed everyone, he explained, but food security is another issue: "People are not hungry because food is not available, but because they do not have access to it," he added. Put another way, food security — or the lack of it — makes food unavailable for millions.
And climate change has a direct bearing on agricultural production and on people's ability to access food, Graziano da Silva continued. Unfortunately there is no one-size-fits-all solution to dealing with these challenges.
"There are many alternatives to address climate change and ensure sustainable food security," he said. "We need to keep all the doors open to face the adaptation needed to cope with the climate change and assure food for all in the near future."
One approach is what is called climate-smart agriculture, which adjusts farming practices to make them more adaptive and resilient to environmental pressures, while at the same time decreasing farming's own impacts on the environment. A new Global Alliance on Climate-Smart Agriculture was launched at the U.N. Climate Summit. It includes a coalition of stakeholders, including governments; farmers and food producers, processors and sellers; scientific and educational organizations; civil society actors; multilateral and international agencies and the private sector.
The alliance will work to promote sustainable and equitable increases in agricultural productivity and incomes; build greater resilience of food systems and farming livelihoods; and achieve reductions or removals of greenhouse gas emissions by agriculture.
“Farmers are on the frontline of the climate change agenda. Farmers are not only directly impacted by climate change, but are also vital in implementing solutions we need to in order to adapt and mitigate,” said Peter Kendall, president of the World Farmers’ Organization (WFO), “Farmers, especially women farmers, have daily interaction with the environment ... We must reposition farmers at the center of the agriculture sector to become more resilient to climate risks,” he said.
Kendall added that it is important to establish agricultural contracts that offer opportunities for stable revenue through secure market access. “This is why WFO recognizes the importance of programs such as the Purchase for Progress (P4P) carried out by the World Food Programs (WFP).”
Graziano da Silva also highlighted "agro-ecology" as a promising approach to moving food production onto a more sustainable path. FAO recently hosted a meeting on this approach; participants called for a U.N.-wide initiative on agro-ecology in order to help sustainably promote food security, address climate change, and build resilience.
"There are many paths to food security and sustainable development. Governments need to choose the solutions that best respond to their specific needs," Graziano da Silva concluded.
If that sounds like a complicated and patchwork approach to food security, it’s because there’s no magic wand to deal with climate change, food security and hunger. A good start — and one that appears to be in the works — is to make sure that farmers are no longer marginalized in global agricultural policy dialogs. This is where the U.N. can play a significant role.
Image: Cover picture extracted from FAO’s The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014.