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Ecological agriculture urgently needed to face climate and hunger crisis

The world is facing a climate and hunger crisis. A new report by Action Aid highlights how climate change, pressure on ecosystem resources and rising food prices pose tremendous challenges. In particular, ActionAid’s research shows that 1.6 billion people – nearly a quarter of the world’s population – live in countries that are highly vulnerable to climate-related food crises. Every rural community surveyed reported that erratic and extreme weather is reducing their ability to feed themselves.

A big part of the problem is getting rich countries to take responsibility for their past and current emissions – the major cause of global warming. They must agree binding cuts to emissions and pay their climate debt by funding the costs of adaptation in poor countries.

In the meantime, developing countries need to act now to protect their citizens from the possibility of future famine. What is needed is greater investment in sustainable small-scale farming – which is climate resilient, renews ecosystems and reduces hunger and poverty. Putting women smallholder farmers at the heart of these efforts will be essential to success, given that about half of the world’s food is produced by smallholder farmers, the vast majority of whom are women.

The executive summary of the Action Aid report is reproduced below, and the full report is available at: http://www.actionaid.org/publications/brink-whos-best-prepared-climate-and-hunger-crisis

With best wishes,

Lim Li Ching
Third World Network
131 Jalan Macalister,
10400 Penang,
Malaysia
Email: twnet@po.jaring.my
Websites: www.twnside.org.sg, www.biosafety-info.net


On the brink: Who’s prepared for a climate and hunger crisis

By Action Aid

Executive Summary

A triple crisis

Accelerating climate change, growing population and rising food prices pose a triple crisis that could lead to a collapse in global food systems. A predicted 30 per cent increase in world population by 2050, together with the severe impact of severe climate change on harvests, is widely forecast to set the scene for food scarcity in decades to come. This year’s famine in East Africa provided a terrible preview of how such crises could play out in years to come, with severe drought, conflict over access to water and land, and high food prices interacting to push 13 million people into starvation.

“Earth to run out of food by 2050?”, Time magazine’s December 2010 headline,1 may have been an overstatement, but UN agencies, scientists and food policy experts concur that we are in serious trouble. There has been a flurry of conferences and reports calling for governments to act now. However, ActionAid’s new report is the first to show which of 28 developing countries are taking action against the climate/hunger crunch, and which are burying their heads in the sand. We examine the record of these 28 countries in two core areas: overall vulnerability to the climate/ hunger crunch, and key policy measures that can reduce vulnerability. These are measured by our ‘Vulnerability’ and ‘Capacity /Preparedness’ indices (see Tables 1 and 2, for more information).

Crisis One: the climate crunch

The impact that climate change is predicted to have on farming is the first of three major threats to world food security. Over half a billion additional people in the tropics – 526 million people – could be at risk of hunger because of climate change by 2050, according to recent estimates by the Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) used by ActionAid.

Scientists estimate that already global production of key staples, such as wheat and corn, has fallen by 3.8 per cent and 5.5 per cent respectively over the last three decades, as a result of climate change. Crop yields from rain-fed agriculture in some southern African countries could fall by up to 50 per cent by 2020 because of climate change, and yields in central and south Asia could fall by 30 per cent by 2050.

Rich countries bear the overwhelming responsibility for the devastating impact that climate change is having on food production in poor countries. And their current actions are making things worse. A binding deal to limit global warming is nowhere in sight. Promised ‘fast start’ funding to cope with climate change is still only a trickle and aid funds for agriculture are still woefully inadequate, badly undermining poor countries’ chances of taking adequate steps to increase food production in time.

Crisis Two: the resource crunch

Pressure on ecosystem resources is the second part of the triple crisis. Land and water are being diverted away from the small-scale farmers who produce most of the food consumed in poor communities, and the natural resources needed to grow food are increasingly degraded. Since 1960, a third of the world’s farmland has been abandoned because it has been exhausted beyond use; about 10 million hectares are destroyed every year. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organi- sation (FAO) says that in Africa alone 6.3 million hectares of degraded farmland has lost its fertility and water-holding capacity and needs to be regenerated to meet the demand for food from a population set to double there by 2050. The concurrent loss of locally-adapted and locally-available crops and plant varieties is of mounting concern, because it leaves rural communities less resilient and adaptive to changing weather patterns and conditions. Furthermore, it can take around 20 years to reverse land degradation, meaning that only long-term vision and action can halt these worrying trends.

Crisis Three: the food price crunch

Rising food prices – as a result of rapid population growth, stagnating yields and the conversion of cropland into biofuels production – is the third part of the crisis. High and volatile prices are already causing misery (with the real price of a typical food basket up nearly 50 per cent over last year), and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and FAO say there will be no let up. In real terms, commodity prices are projected to be 20 per cent higher for cereals and 30 per cent higher for meats from now until 2020 compared to 2000–2010. With poor people in developing countries spending anything between 50 to 80 per cent of their weekly household income on food, it is no surprise that the World Bank estimates that 44 million people fell into extreme poverty from June 2010-Feburary 2011 because of high food prices.

New research findings

ActionAid’s research shows that 1.6 billion people – nearly a quarter of the world’s population – live in countries that are highly vulnerable to climate-related food crises. They have very high underlying levels of chronic hunger and child malnutrition, coupled with rapid rates of land degradation that will make food production increasingly difficult as global warming intensifies. Only a few of these countries are putting adequate measures in place to assure future food security.

Our Hunger Scorecard, backed with in-depth surveys of the communities ActionAid works with, shows that these scenarios are no longer a distant nightmare. Across Asia, Africa and Latin America communities are recording higher food prices, incidences of land-grabbing for biofuels production or other purposes, and increased vulnerability to drought and floods. Every rural community surveyed reported that erratic and extreme weather is reducing their ability to feed themselves.

What needs to happen?

There is no time to waste. Leaders must invest in making agriculture robust and resilient right now, enabling more food to be grown in a climate-stressed environment without further exhausting finite natural resources. It takes years to boost food production and make farming systems resilient. It cannot be done overnight.

A big part of the problem is getting rich countries to step up and take responsibility for their past and current emissions – the major cause of global warming. They must agree binding cuts to emissions and pay their climate debt by funding the costs of coping with the devastating impacts of global warming in poor countries, including collapsing food security.

Poor countries, however, do not have the luxury of waiting any longer to start doing what they can themselves to protect their citizens from the possibility of future famine. It is inspiring that second and third places in this year’s scorecard index measuring policy preparedness go to Malawi and Rwanda – two of the poorest countries in the world but nevertheless investing strongly in agriculture, planning well for climate change, and beginning to expand social welfare systems to cushion poor people from hunger shocks.

Greater investment in sustainable small-scale farming – which is climate resilient, renews ecosystems and reduces hunger and poverty – will be a central tool in tackling the triple crisis. Putting women smallholder farmers at the heart of these efforts will be essential to success, given that about half of the world’s food is produced by smallholder farmers, the vast majority of whom are women.

Recommendations

There are many things that leaders can do now to confront the food/climate/ resource crisis. Recognising the scale, speed and urgency of these challenges is the first step. Learning lessons from what is already working in some countries is the next vital stepping stone.

1. Support sustainable small-scale farming techniques that are climate resilient

* Improve women’s access and control over land and other productive resources.

* Devote at least 10 per cent of the budget to agriculture and ensure the majority of this support is going towards staple crops on which poor communities rely, and towards the small farmers, especially women, who grow them.

* More widely, those G8 and G20 countries that pledged to support smallholder based agriculture and rural development in Asia, Africa and Latin America with US$22 billion by 2012 should deliver on their promises.

2. Climate-proof farming and protect fragile natural resource base on which it depends

* Expand support for sustainable, agro-ecological techniques that integrate water and soil conservation into farming systems. Such practices (including increased crop rotation, reduced use of chemical inputs, use of local seed varieties, water harvesting and smarter irrigation techniques) have been proven to increase climate resilience and combat land degradation.

* Enact national legislation to protect women and other groups with insecure or customary tenure from land grabbing, and give them secure land ownership and access.

* The European Union and the US must eliminate biofuel targets and subsidies, which contribute to increasing food prices, resource crunches and land grabbing.

* All UN member states should enact binding regulations on cross-border land deals that threaten food security.

* National legislation must be enacted that protects women from land grabbing and gives them secure land ownership and access.

3. Build buffers against food price shocks, such as social protection programmes and national and regional food reserves

* Social protection is vital to ensuring that the poorest people can access food; governments must expand social protection schemes to ensure households do not fall into hunger.

* Governments must build better shock absorbers and greater resiliency into national and regional food systems by strengthening food reserves, in order to tackle food price spikes and emergencies.

* Many countries in Africa and beyond are currently bolstering their food reserves, and the G20 has committed to supporting a new pilot project for an emergency regional reserve in West Africa. They must expand this vision and support national buffer reserves.

4. Stop climate chaos

* Rich nations must agree to deeper cuts to their greenhouse gas emissions to keep temperatures from rising over 1.5oC. If they fail, the world could warm up by up to 5oC, with catastrophic consequences for food systems worldwide.

* Rich countries must set out plans for delivering the US$100 billion a year they have promised by 2020 to enable developing countries to adapt their agricultural systems and climate-proof their economies.

* Poor countries must start ensuring that their adaptation plans effectively address agriculture, especially smallholder farmers.

On the Brink: Who’s best prepared for a climate and hunger crisis? (PDF)

 


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