Reverse food insecurity Build an agricultural sector resilient to climate change

Africa, Climate change, Food and agriculture, Featured, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

A small farmer works in a community vegetable garden in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Credit: Ignatius Banda/IPS

URBANA, Ill., Jun 16, 2021 (IPS) – The number of people facing acute food insecurity has reached its highest level in five years, according to a recently published report Annual Report through the Global Network Against Food Crises (GNAFC) – an international alliance of the United Nations, the European Union, governmental and non-governmental agencies working to deal with food crises. In addition, the report notes that 28 million people are one step away from starvation. This has been attributed to conflict, economic shocks from COVID-19, and weather events associated with climate change.

The continued trajectory of increasing food insecurity clearly shows that our current food systems are not resilient. Moreover, with climate change expected to continue bringing extreme events – from droughts and floods to invasive insects and deadly cyclones – the situation is likely to worsen. We must act urgently to reverse these current trends.

The questions then become: how can we reverse these worrying trends? How can we ensure that people, in Africa and around the world, have the tools, technologies and resources to be resilient to climate change?

Many farmers continue to depend on an agricultural system that remains rainfed and underdeveloped. With limited access to infrastructure, current agricultural knowledge and reliable access to financial services, their ability to build a resilient agricultural system remains an unattainable dream.

To answer these questions, we must re-examine the deep roots of food insecurity.

First, most hungry people live off the land, many of whom are small farmers. They depend on agriculture, a sector highly vulnerable to climate change.

In addition, many farmers continue to depend on an agricultural system that remains rainfed and underdeveloped. With limited access to infrastructure, current agricultural knowledge and reliable access to financial services, their ability to build a resilient agricultural system remains an unattainable dream.

Based on the above challenges, tackling rising food insecurity would greatly benefit from the modernization of agriculture and the resilience of the agricultural sector to climate change.

The good news is that building a resilient agricultural sector and managing climate-related weather events such as droughts, floods, tropical cyclones and insect infestations can benefit from science. Science can help develop efficient and climate-smart water management technologies such as drip irrigation, improved drought and flood tolerant crops and insect resistant crops and plant diseases. Advances in improving and restoring soil health are also important, which is fundamental and essential.

In addition to science, countries that continue to face food insecurity need to invest in climate-smart agricultural practices. According to the definition of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), climate-smart agricultural practices are approaches that contribute to transforming and reorienting agricultural and food systems to effectively support the development and ensuring food security in a changing climate.

These approaches aim to sustainably increase agricultural productivity, adapt and build resilience to climate change, and reduce or eliminate greenhouse gas emissions. Many of the science-based solutions above are considered climate-smart strategies.

Along with developing climate-smart strategies, there is a need to invest in early warning systems, to ensure that farmers and citizens who continue to face hunger are not caught off guard. To do this, it is important that countries have access to reliable data.

Building resilient agricultural sectors must also go hand in hand with rebuilding the infrastructure of rural communities. Local roads, rural water, energy and other infrastructure that are essential to ensure an efficient and functional agricultural supply chain. Investing in the modernization of rural communities should also translate into job creation for the rural poor. It could also reduce urban migration, which continues to be a problem affecting many African countries.

Finally, all of the above cannot happen and be sustainable without the strong presence of people affected by climate change. They need to be at the conversation tables where decisions are made, or there should be appropriate channels to solicit their thoughts. If these initiatives are not locally driven and involve a broad coalition of stakeholders, we risk offering unsustainable solutions that are highly disconnected from needs.

The task of ensuring food security for all remains a huge challenge. As we continue to invest in climate-smart strategies, modernize rural infrastructure, and use science to improve agriculture and mitigate weather events associated with climate change, we will make progress. We must do everything to fight against food insecurity.

Dr Esther Ngumbi is Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and Senior Food Security Fellow at the Aspen Institute, New Voices.

Lana T. Arthur