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Climate change, agriculture and food security

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Context - Climate change poses a threat to food security;

what are the strategies and policies that could help address this problem?

This is a faithful summary of the leading report produced in 2016 by the Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO): " 2016 - The State Of Food And Agriculture " 

  • Source document:FAO (2016)
  • Summary & Details: GreenFacts
Latest update: 28 June 2017


Global food demand is projected to increase by at least 60 % in 2050 above 2006 levels. Without adaptation to climate change, it will not be possible to achieve food security for all and to eradicate hunger, malnutrition and poverty, because population increases will be concentrated in regions with the highest prevalence of undernourishment and high vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.

What are the main impacts and consequences of climate change on agriculture?

The impacts of climate change translate into more extreme and frequent weather events, heat waves, droughts, and sea-level rise. These impacts already have an alarming effect on agriculture and the implications for food security. In tropical developing regions, the livelihoods and food security of vulnerable households and communities are already affected.

A further increase in these impacts would make almost impossible adequate adaptation by the agriculture sectors in many locations and would cause drastic declines in productivity. Climate change will also put pressure on fisheries and aquaculture - which provide at least 50 % of animal protein to millions of people in low-income countries.

Among the most vulnerable will be the regions that are already highly food-insecure and expose both urban and rural poor to higher and more volatile food prices, particularly smallholder producers. This would be the most serious in sub-Saharan Africa, partly because its population is more reliant on agriculture.

How far does agriculture contribute to greenhouse gases emissions?

Agriculture accounts for at least 20% of total greenhouse gases emissions. Changes in land use, such as conversion of forests to pasture or cropland, and land degradation such as caused by over-grazing, induce losses of organic matter above and below ground, and increase the emissions of CO2.

Livestock and crop production also lead to emissions of methane and nitrous oxide, two other potent greenhouse gases.

Further emissions from the food system as a whole are generated by the manufacture of agrochemicals (a.o. fertilizers), and by fossil energy use in farm operations, post-production transportation, processing and retailing.

What are the challenges and key priorities identified by FAO for a more sustainable agriculture in a climate change context?

The FAO identified four main challenges to a “climate-smart agriculture” (CSA) approach, which would be more sustainable and resilient:

  1. Diversification and better integration of food production systems into complex ecological processes.
  2. To overcome insecurity of tenure, high transaction costs and lower resource endowments, especially among rural women which should lead to improve access to adequate extension advice; 
  3. To develop social protection programmes; 
  4. To reduce greenhouse gases emissions (GHGs). 

What are the actions and policies that are needed in priority?

What is needed in priority is a reorientation of agricultural and rural development policies that resets incentives and lowers the barriers to the transformation of food and agricultural systems.

  1. Combined adaptation through sustainable intensification and agricultural diversification with the creation of off-farm opportunities, both locally and through strengthened rural-urban linkages. Such diversification would further enhance the resilience of the which could reduce the impact of climate shocks on their income;  
  2. Far greater access to technologies, to credit and to intelligent investments and information for smallholder farm families in developing countries – some 475 million –to adjust their production systems and practices to climate change making the livelihoods of rural populations more resilient.
  3. Reducing food losses and waste, increasing resource-use efficiency and rebalancing diets towards less animal-sourced foods would also make an important contribution in this direction, with probable co-benefits for human health.
  4. Well-designed social protection instruments by ensuring predictability and regularity, and aligned with other forms of climate risk management to enable households to better manage risks and engage in more profitable livelihood and agricultural activities which guarantee minimum incomes or access to food.
  5. Reduction of disaster risk should also be embedded in broader strategies rather than simply responding to extreme events. Particular attention needs to be paid to developing heat- and drought-tolerant vegetal varieties, not only for tropical countries, but also for temperate countries with already higher temperatures during their growing seasons.

To this end, international cooperation and multi-stakeholder partnerships and alliances are essential as, for example, climate change will lead to new pests and disease problems and increase the risks of their trans-boundary movement.

What is the specific role of FAO towards an agriculture facing climate changes?

To assist its members, FAO is helping to reorient food and agricultural systems in countries most exposed to climate risks, with a clear focus on supporting smallholder farmers. It works in all its areas of expertise, pursuing new models of sustainable, inclusive agriculture.

What are the main obstacles and barriers to action and how to overcome them?

The lack of coordination and alignment of agricultural development plans and actions that address climate change and other environmental problems is one of the main obstacles. This leads to the inefficient use of resources and prevents the integrated management required to address climate change threats especially for smallholders who face a broad range of barriers on the path to sustainable agriculture. These include limited access to markets, credit, extension advice, weather information, risk management tools, and social protection.

Gender issues need also to be addressed. Women, who make up around 43 % of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, are especially disadvantaged, with fewer endowments and entitlements than men. They face also increasingly heavy agricultural workloads owing to male out-migration.

Policy frameworks need to be drastically modified, and this should start from an understanding of the drivers influencing productivity and the degree of conservation or depletion of natural resources and thus their impacts on farmers’ livelihoods and the environment in general.

Systemic capacity constraints currently hamper developing country access to and effective use of climate finance for agriculture. Closing this “capacity gap” in policy-making and institutional development should thus be made a priority by funders and countries, so that climate finance – if countries ramp up funding as planned – can serve its transformative role for food and agriculture.

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