Next Generation Delegation 2014 Commentary Series
By Patrick Bell, PhD candidate in Environmental Science at Ohio State University and 2014 Next Generation Delegate
At The Chicago Council’s Global Food Security Symposium 2014, discussions centered around the topic of Advancing Global Food Security in the Face of Weather Volatility and Climate Change. Within this framework, the idea of Climate-Smart Food Security, more commonly known as Climate-Smart Agriculture or CSA, was discussed as a way to make agricultural systems more productive, while at the same time helping to mitigate and adapt to climate change. At first glance this may seem like an easy research agenda, but the complexity involved with ensuring that all three aspects of the so-called “Climate-Smart Agriculture” idea are met is astounding. For an agricultural practice to be considered Climate-Smart, it must: ensure food security for those practicing it; mitigate climate change to some extent; and be proven to be resilient in the face of futureclimate change impacts.
To give an example of the complexity of climate-smart agriculture in the context of smallholder farming, take the simple practice of alternate wetting and drying (AWD) in rice production. With AWD, the rice field is flooded intermittingly throughout the entire growing season, rather the continuous flooding that is typically used in conventional rice production systems. Some studies indicate that AWD leads to water savings of 50 percent, with little or no loss in rice yield. But some studies of AWD also observed a greater release of greenhouse gasses compared to conventional systems.
As a result, in the context of Climate-Smart Agriculture, AWD could ensure food security and adapt to future climate scenarios in regions where water will be scarce, but would fail to mitigate climate change due to the release of greenhouse gases. In addition to this already difficult puzzle, add the complexity of the impacts of climate change and the high variability of future climates, and you can see how attempting to implement Climate-Smart Agriculture can become overwhelming.
Accordingly, as we move forward, we must establish a unified framework for policymakers, researchers, and development practitioners to use to rigorously evaluate various farming practices that will indeed meet these criteria for Climate-Smart Agriculture. Developing such a framework now would eliminate the faulty recommendation of agricultural practices that at first glance appear to be Climate-Smart but do not in fact meet the necessary criteria. This framework would provide a clearer picture on the gaps in the knowledge of these systems and where research efforts and policy initiatives on Climate-Smart Agriculture would be most useful.
Over the next few decades, we will have little room to miss the target on preparing our global food system for the impacts of climate change. If global food security is to be reached, a unified global framework on adapting these systems will be essential.
This post originally appeared on the Outrage and Inspire blog.
We’re excited to announce the launch of a new multi-part film series on Roger Thurow’s The Last Hunger Season. Now through October 16—coinciding with World Food Day 2014—we will be releasing two episodes from the series per week. Part 2 is now available below. See all episodes.
On her farm at the foot of the Lugulu Hills in western Kenya, Leonida Wanyama is up long before the sun. Her day begins by lighting a candle and a kerosene lamp, and then milking her one cow. She pours the milk in containers and balances them on the back of a rickety bicycle. Then her husband Peter peddles off into the pre-dawn darkness, in search of customers for the milk. Leonida picks up her hoe to prepare for a morning of tending her crops in the field.
The day is filled with anxiety. Scraping together enough money to buy food for at least one meal. Negotiating prices with the shop owner who bought her maize after the harvest and now demands a price six times higher when Leonida needs to buy during the hunger season. Worrying over how long her children will be able to remain in school before being sent home for more tuition money.
In episode two of The Last Hunger Season film series, we hear from Leonida, her husband, and their children as they make it through the day. We see that the romantic ideal of African farmers tending bucolic fields is in reality a horror scene of malnourished children, backbreaking manual work, and constant worry of how to get by on the equivalent of one or two dollars a day.
We see that every shilling counts and every kernel of maize is precious as the farmers persevere to conquer the hunger season.
This post originally appeared on the IFPRI blog.
By Laura Zseleczky, Research Analyst, Director General’s Office, IFPRI
“As the food system grows more fragile, climate change and increasingly volatile weather are reducing agricultural productivity globally…There is an urgent need for strategies to build resilience for the world’s farmers in order to adapt to these changing conditions to achieve both global food security and nutrition security.”
With this introduction, Dan Glickman, cochair of the Global Agricultural Development Initiative of The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, set the stage for the discussion on “Building Resilience in the Face of Climate Change and Weather Shocks.” In anticipation of the UN Climate Summit and preparation of the Sustainable Development Goals, panelists discussed the nature of the challenges posed by climate change to the global food system and highlighted key issues that need to be brought to policymakers’ attention ranging from investing in technological and policy innovations to communicating and funding science and research.
Rachel Kyte, Group Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change with the World Bank, warned, “We have a broken food system today… Climate change is simply a threat-intensifier; it is making what is already perilous even more difficult.” She emphasized that material leadership on climate change must be driven by a climate-smart approach through the economy, in a way that the economy produces lower carbon and becomes more resilient. For the global food system, climate-smart agriculture offers the potential for a triple win: increasing farmer incomes, improving nutrition, and reducing emissions.
Cynthia Rosenzweig, Senior Research Scientist with the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at Columbia University, further suggested that all agricultural investments and programs should explicitly link mitigation and adaptation components. She emphasized the need for funding to support scientists’ involvement throughout the life of programs to help policymakers understand the implications of projects not only in terms of the climate but also the biophysical and socioeconomic issues. She said, “There have been probably billions of dollars on the [development of] climate models… to clarify and understand those projections… Now we need that same effort for the impact sectors.”
The shocks caused by climate change and weather variability not only affect agricultural production but also the health and nutrition of populations. John McDermott, Director of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, observed that climate shocks are often closely correlated with food insecurity shocks, health crises, or conflicts. He called for responses that will build general resilience—such as health insurance, coping systems for communities, or social protection mechanisms—because “at the end of the day, [those] who are going to adapt are people and these populations really need some support, especially ones undergoing multiple shocks.”
Shenggen Fan, Director General of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), noted that policy innovations are as important as technology innovations. For example, converting inefficient subsidies into smart income support for farmers could be critical to build resilience to climate and weather shocks. Moreover, he noted that the upcoming UN Climate Summit and the discussion of the post-2015 development agenda should be the same agenda, and one that is people-focused. He argued that this will require a systems approach, identifying and strengthening the weakest nodes to create “a global food system that is resilient, can adapt to climate change, can help to mitigate climate change, can use less water and energy to feed everybody in the world nutritiously, healthily."
The panel built on resilience themes presented in the recent IFPRI 2020 Conference and The Chicago Council Symposium. The event was organized by IFPRI and the Chicago Council and took place on Thursday, September 11, 2014 at IFPRI Headquarters in Washington, DC. Click here to read more about the event and watch the full video above.
This post originally appeared on the Outrage and Inspire blog.
Zipporah Biketi was living in a shrinking world when I first met her back in 2011. Her imagination rarely stretched beyond the boundaries of her small family farm in western Kenya. She could barely think beyond the next hour and the next meal, if there was to be one. She and her family were in the midst of the hunger season – the food from the previous meager harvest had run out and the next harvest was still months away. How could anyone have grand thoughts of thriving when struggling so mightily to merely survive?
Now three years later, Zipporah is thinking big. Her imagination stretches around the world, out into the future, beyond her own farm, beyond the next meal.
She thinks so big, in fact, that she proclaims with confidence that Africa’s family farmers “can feed the world.”
What happened to change Zipporah’s perspective so vastly? In 2011, she finally realized the potential of her small family farm and discovered the possibilities for an entire continent. She had joined a social enterprise organization, One Acre Fund, that was reversing the long-entrenched negligence of Africa’s smallholder farmers; rather than ignoring the farmers as too poor, too remote and too insignificant, One Acre embraced them as worthy customers for the essential elements of farming. With access to better quality seeds, soil nutrients, extension advice and the financing to pay for it all, Zipporah and her husband Sanet multiplied their maize harvest by 10-fold. For the first time, there would be enough food for all for the entire year.
Freed from the confinement of the hunger season, Zipporah and Sanet began planning for the future rather than dreading it. At the end of 2011, with her harvest stored in their bedroom, the Biketis showed me a blueprint of a new house they wanted to build to replace their old house of mud walls and thatched roof that leaked in the rain. Another year and another good harvest later, that house was being built with solid bricks and a metal roof. The next year, Zipporah was mastering diversification, tending all manner of vegetables on her one acre plot and talking about plans to hatch a poultry business. Her four children, so weak when I first met them, were now healthy, robust and doing well in school. Zipporah and Sanet had opened a savings account to ensure there would be enough to send them to high school.
Zipporah is one of the central characters in my book, The Last Hunger Season, along with three fellow farmers in western Kenya: Leonida Wanyama, Rasoa Wasike, and Francis Mamati. They are also at the heart of the United Nations 2014 International Year of Family Farming. For on their farms you can see the potential of Africa’s smallholder farmers, and the 500 million-plus family farmers around the world. Family farmers already produce the majority of the world’s food – but they can do so much more.
Yes, they can contribute greatly to feeding the world and its increasing population when they have the access to the essential elements of farming and access to storage and markets. And, as I found in western Kenya, they are also diligent stewards of the earth. Their land and their harvests are all they have. The last thing they want to do is to harm that which provides their sustenance, their livelihood, their health, the education for their children.
Investments in these family farmers will unleash the possibilities, as we see with the farmers of The Last Hunger Season.
“You should never neglect the small beginnings of somebody, “ Zipporah says, “because with that little knowledge and small start, that somebody can go very far and accomplish things that you cannot believe.”
This was the message of the book, published in 2012. Now, we see it come to life in a series of short films about The Last Hunger Season farmers from filmmakers Josh Courter and Giulia Longo Courter. We hear the farmers’ voices, see their shambas, witness their exodus, as Leonida Wanyama says, from the misery of the hunger season to Canaan, the Promised Land, of improved harvests and better lives.
Beginning with today’s episode – an introduction to the farmers and their role in the global food chain – please watch, enjoy, and spread the message.
A worker collects palm oil fruit inside a palm oil factory in Salak Tinggi, outside Kuala Lumpur, August 4, 2014. REUTERS/Samsul Said
AWhere Raises $7 Million to Help Farmers Cope with Climate Change
Big-data analytics firm aWhere Inc. has raised $7 million in funding to help farmers cope with erratic weather and climate change. The company combines public and proprietary data about weather, rainfall, soil quality, the pricing of a given crop or commodity, and more. It then analyzes that data to give users forecasts and reports to guide their business decisions.
Fungus Could Be the Key to Avoiding a Global Food Crisis
The startup Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies has developed an organic seed treatment it calls BioEnsure that allows crops like rice and corn to withstand severe droughts and extreme temperatures. It’s based on fungi that enable plants to grow in extreme heat. Adaptive recently was chosen as one of 17 nominees for USAID’s Securing Water for Food Grand Challenge.
Saving Seeds Can Strengthen Food Security
Native Seeds/SEARCH, a local group in the American Southwest dedicated to strengthening food security, uses the indigenous technique of seed saving to prevent biocultural diversity loss. They say that strengthening food security through seed conservation techniques prevents against food crises.
Can These GMO Foods Save the World?
Not all GM foods are apples modified to be a brighter shade of red. Some really have the potential to feed millions of people in developing nations, and offer everything from resistance to disease and insects to a higher nutritive value. Read on to learn about 11 genetically modified foods that just might save the world.
Next Generation Delegation 2014 Commentary Series
By Lauren Pincus, PhD candidate in horticulture & agronomy at the University of California, Davis and 2014 Next Generation Delegate
As an agricultural scientist attending The Chicago Council’s Global Food Security Symposium 2014, I was pleased to be surrounded by a diverse group of professionals made up of fellow scientists as well as leaders from a variety of other fields and sectors. It was fascinating to hear from development practitioners, policymakers, and industry leaders about their concerns and potential solutions for a food secure future, including the role they thought scientists and scientific innovation need to play to address climate change.
In the discussions of how to advance global food security in the face of climate change, there were numerous calls for greater resource use efficiency and less food waste. I noted, however, that many speakers were focused on plant-oriented solutions, rather than an agro-ecological approach. Panelists appealed to scientists to re-engineer agriculture into something new, beginning with redesigned plants that might grow faster, using fewer resources, and in more diverse environments. I wondered if they were envisioning a “Green Revolution: Part 2,” in which plant breeders once again save the day with miracle plants.
Norman Borlaug’s redesigned wheat and corn were landmark events in the evolution of agricultural development, but we should avoid letting this momentous achievement narrow our vision of what future progress might look like. Like the Green Revolution, breeders of today are also tasked with averting massive famines among swelling populations, while the challenges of climate change make their success even more complex.
In many ways, the Green Revolution homogenized agriculture throughout the world. But today, plant breeding efforts need to increase yields while also accounting for a multitude of adverse environmental conditions, as opposed to previous assumptions about the availability of copious fertilizer and water resources. Many of the traits required of climate change resilient plants—such as salinity and drought tolerance—require highly intensive breeding efforts and will take years to produce results.
New crop varieties and traits have a substantial role to play in unlocking agriculture from its current constraints, but agro-ecological and systems-oriented work must be the other half of the equation. There should be an equally clear mandate for those field agronomists, soil scientists, entomologists, and irrigation experts who are also striving to maintain or increase agricultural productivity even as the climate changes around them. The lack of such clear mandates at the Symposium is likely due to the fact that it is difficult to be specific about system-wide modifications. It is hard to measure all the efficiency gains that come from an improved agro-ecology and hard to balance social, economic, and environmental outcomes, but it's much simpler to discuss and envision targeted solutions for a particular crop.
Funding agencies like USAID, USDA, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation also seem focused on individuals crops, rather than the system as a whole: designing projects around priority crops appears to be the preferred approach. But if we scale down to the plant and forget about the agro-ecosystem that plant is growing in, then we miss an opportunity to create a streamlined, efficient agricultural system that can serve us well into the future. The crops that would comprise a “Climate-Smart Agricultural Revolution” will need to yield more while conserving natural resources. But we cannot forget that there are many ways to improve efficiencies and conserve natural resources.
I hope we find a way soon to highlight the role agro-ecological research and solutions can play in climate-smart agriculture, so they can garner equal attention. The Symposium brought to the forefront of my mind the urgency with which we must adapt our agricultural systems to climate change. It highlighted how climate change will touch every aspect of how we eat in every part of the world; agricultural scientists everywhere must focus on the implications of climate change for their work if we are to succeed.
By Brent Heard, BS candidate in Economics and Environmental Policy at Carnegie Mellon University and a consultant for the National Academy of Sciences
This post originally appeared on Sense & Sustainability.
As the world population continues to grow, a potential crises is brewing. Food provision has become what more and more people consider an impending crises. The Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security documents that we must feed 230,000 additional people every day in the midst of a changing climate that threatens agricultural productivity. In an article in Time Magazine, Tara Kelly quoted Julian Cribb’s book on the subject, The Coming Famine: The Global Food Crisis and What We Can Do to Avoid It (2011), where Cribb noted, “the world has ignored the ominous constellation of factors that now make feeding humanity sustainably our most pressing task – even in times of economic and climatic crisis.” The need to adapt and improve our agricultural system is evident, and the use of new technologies such as vertical farming may be one part of an effective solution.
As Columbia University professor Dickson D. Despommier identified in a New York Times editorial, climate-change induced floods and droughts are creating disruptions in agricultural practices, resulting in millions of dollars in lost crops. This phenomenon coupled with population increases, the limited nature of land, the water-intensity of farming, and environmental factors such as agricultural runoff creates the need for vertical farms. Despommier’s book, The Vertical Farm (2011), dates the idea of vertical farming back to the hanging gardens of Babylon. Despommier believes that updating this ancient technique with the use of soil-free hydroponic and aeroponic technologies could generate the food crops we need with significantly lower resource consumption.
It has been claimed that vertical farming can be used to grow crops including maize, wheat, and rice in skyscraper-like buildings which can use hydroponic or aeroponic systems to provide a nutrient-containing solution for growth which can be automated for agricultural production. With 80% of the population anticipated to be living in urban areas by 2050, vertical farms provide the advantage of being closer to consumers, as they are likely to be constructed in urban areas, significantly decreasing the transportation required to deliver food from farms to supermarkets. Additionally, these vertical agricultural skyscrapers would operate as a closed system, with crops sheltered from outside diseases or parasites.
(A man walks before a rainstorm in Kogelo village, Kenya. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya)
Another Milestone Toward Making Cell Phones the Future of Weather Observations
Scientists have found that it is possible to monitor global rainfall using the telephone antenna network. With the lack of weather data in many technology-poor locations, this could prove be a game-changer in the future of global weather observations and forecasting. A new study details how simple measurement of the loss in signal between telephone antennae can predict whether it’s raining.
5 Futuristic Food Wrappers That You Don’t Have to Throw Away
Swedish design group Tomorrow Machine has a novel approach to sustainable packaging: food wrappers that are meant to be composted or washed down the drain. It hints of a Jetsonian pantry-of-the-future, but the inspirations behind Tomorrow Machine’s designs are very, very, old: fruit and eggs.
Cool Planet: Can Biochar Fertilize Soil and Help Fight Climate Change?
Napa Valley grower Eckhard Kaesekamp believes his grapevines have achieved a 5% higher yield than expected thanks to a soil treatment called CoolTerra—a product made from a carbon-rich substance called “biochar.” Biochar results from the carbonization from plant matter, which is supposed to improve soil fertility and increase water and nutrient retention.
Exploring a Tree One Cell at a Time
Michael Knoblauch, a plant cell biologist, is seeking to prove the longstanding hypothesis that what drives the flow of nutrients in the phloem of plants is pressure differential. Proving the hypothesis is more than an academic exercise. Fully understanding how plants function could lead to improvements in crop yields or resistance to pests and disease.