Around 122 million more people could be in poverty as a result of climate change and its impacts on small-scale farmers’ incomes according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in a report to mark World Food Day on 16th October.
Climate is expected to hit crop yields and livestock production and make the price of food more volatile, putting poor families at greater risk of hunger, the Rome-based U.N. agency’s ‘The 2016 State of Food and Agriculture’ report said whilst calling for “deep transformations in agriculture and food systems” and for the world’s half-billion small-scale farms to receive particular support.
Preventing climate change is particularly applicable small farmers who produce the bulk of food in developing countries who are some of the most vulnerable these changes and thus need help adapting to a warming planet, FAO said in a report, probably through the likes of better access to technologies, markets, information and credit to adapt.
The report cites diversifying crop production, better integration of farming with the natural habitat, agroecology and “sustainable intensification” as strategies to help small-scale farmers. It says some current policies, including subsidies for inputs, such as synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, could hinder the adoption of more sustainable techniques.
These farmers urgently need help to adapt their methods of growing food if the world is to curb greenhouse gas emissions since agriculture, – the raising of livestock alone produces nearly two thirds of agriculture emissions – deforestation and forest degradation which accounts for about 11% of all greenhouse gas emissions, more than the world’s entire transport sector – and changes in land use together produce 21% of global greenhouse gas emissions, making them the second largest emitter after the energy sector. Although these figures do not include emissions produced from farm machinery, or in the transport, processing and storage of food.
In a best-case scenario, slow-moving climate change would allow farming to adapt through relatively simple techniques, at least in the near future. But it warns that more abrupt changes would make adequate adaptation almost impossible.
Possible consequences include major declines in crop yields and increasingly high and volatile food prices, it says. “In the longer run, unless measures are put in place to halt and reverse climate change, food production could become impossible in large areas of the world.”
Until 2030, says the 194-page FAO report, climate change impacts will produce both gains and losses, with crop yields increasing in colder places, for example. After 2030, negative impacts could threaten farming and food systems in every region of the world but mostly in South Asia and Africa, where small farmers will see their output plummet.
The report looks at the future of farming and food security under different climate change scenarios. It also looks at possible responses to what it calls “an unprecedented double challenge” to eradicate hunger and poverty and stabilise the global climate.
It warns that without “widespread adoption of sustainable land, water, fisheries and forestry practices, global poverty cannot be eradicated. There is no doubt that climate change will affect the agriculture sectors and food security and that its negative impact will become more severe as it accelerates. In some particularly vulnerable places, such as small islands or in areas affected by large-scale extreme weather and climate events, the impact could be catastrophic.”
“Unless action is taken now to make agriculture more sustainable, productive and resilient, climate change impacts will seriously compromise food production in countries and regions that are already highly food-insecure,” FAO Director General Jose Graziano da Silva said in the report.
“Hunger, poverty and climate change need to be tackled together. This is, not least, a moral imperative as those who are now suffering most have contributed least to the changing climate,” he added.
These climate shifts are reinforced by the recurring El Nino weather pattern, which happens when water in the Pacific Ocean becomes abnormally warm, altering global weather patterns.
More than 60 million people – two thirds of them in east and southern Africa – faced food shortages this year because of droughts linked to El Nino.
A global agreement to tackle climate change, reached in Paris last year, will take effect in the beginning of November which sets a framework for national action and international cooperation on climate change. Examples include growing crops which use less nitrogen and are more tolerant to drought, restoring forests, changing livestock feed, and ploughing the land less.
Pope Francis recently said the world should draw on “the wisdom of rural communities” and “a style of life that can help defend us from the logic of consumerism and production at any cost, a logic that … [is] aimed solely at the increase in profit”.
Technologies including genetic modification “may give excellent results in the laboratory, may be advantageous for some, but have ruinous effects for others”, he added.
If climate change continues unchecked, it will make an additional 42 million people vulnerable to hunger in 2050, according to FAO calculations. However, that figure does not include people affected by extreme weather events such as drought or floods.
Ertharin Cousin, executive director of the World Food Programme, said: “Climate change is already stretching the international humanitarian system … more than 80% of the world’s hungry live in areas prone to natural disasters and environmental degradation. Climate change is not waiting – neither can we.”
To feed a growing world, food companies, the agricultural sector and the development sector need to work together to produce enough nutritious food for more people, all while using less. This means producing a unit of food identical to what we have today, but using 60% fewer resources to do it. And, all while coping with climate change, volatile global markets and unpredictable political challenges.
It is estimated that the world’s population will increase to 9.6 billion people by 2050. Most of this increase will come from developing countries, and it is projected the number of hungry may rise to two billion people. Meanwhile, there are 1.4 billion people living on less than US $1.90 a day, who don’t have enough food to feed their families. More than half of these people live in rural areas in developing nations, and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.
Around 1.3 billion tons of food were wasted last year—four times the amount needed to feed the 795 million people who suffer food insecurity. Globally, about one-third of all food produced is also lost or wasted. Reducing this figure could limit farming’s impact on natural resources and emissions, it says.
An effective way to divert healthy food from landfills, and avoid post-harvest losses, is through donations of surplus food to food banks. Last year alone, food banks reduced food waste by 3.8 billion pounds of food and turned that into more than 3 billion meals for families in need.
Every year 16th of October is celebrated as a day to take action against hunger, malnutrition and food wastage. World Food Day began with the creation of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations on October 16, 1945 in Quebec, Canada. The actual day was first observed in 1979, and has since become a regular observance worldwide.
It may be noted that the three main goals of the FAO are: “The eradication of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition; the elimination of poverty and the driving forward of economic; and social progress for all.” World Food Day happens to address each of these three goals in some capacity or the other.
The theme for this year was: “Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too.” In an official statement on the celebration of World Food Day this year, the FAO said: “The resounding message from this year’s World Food Day celebrations in Rome and in many countries is that climate change, hunger and poverty must be addressed together in order to achieve the sustainable development goals set by the international community.”
The global goal for achieving a hunger free-world by 2030 is unlikely to be achieved without these changes taking place.