The urgent need to improve agricultural productivity to promote food security has gained the top spot at the 14th Conference of Parties (CoP) to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), now taking place in India.
The issue was highlighted by the release of a report by the Global Commission on Adaptation, which said that climate change is already making food insecurity worse. Smallholder farmers face many challenges even without the increasing impacts of climate change, the report noted. It urged governments to promote climate-smart interventions to boost agricultural productivity.
“People everywhere are experiencing the devasting impacts of climate change,” Bill Gates, co-chair of the Commission and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said in a press release. “Those most impacted are the millions of smallholder farmers and their families in developing countries, who are struggling with poverty and hunger due to low crop yields caused by extreme changes in temperature and rainfall. With greater support for innovation, we can unlock new opportunities and spur change across the global ecosystem. Adaptation is an urgent issue that needs support from governments and businesses to ensure those most at risk have the opportunity to thrive.”
The report puts forward a bold vision for transforming key systems to be more resilient and productive. The Commission found that adaptation can produce significant economic returns, citing an analysis that shows investing $1.8 trillion globally in five areas from 2020 to 2030 could generate $7.1 trillion in total net benefits.
The report said revolutionary changes are required in a number of areas, including resilience, disaster risk management, finance and food security, if the world is to avoid pushing people further into poverty, leading to increased conflict and instability.
Without adaptation, climate change may depress growth in global agriculture yields up to 30 percent by 2050, which would affect 500 million small farms around the world, the report posited. Meanwhile, the global population is projected to reach 9 billion by that time, with resultant increases in food demands.
The Commission, which seeks to accelerate climate adaptation by elevating its political visibility and focusing on concrete solutions, urged governments to redirect public support to facilitate climate-smart decision-making by enacting policies to support all the multiple goals of the food system. Climate-smart intervention means an increased focus on yield and income stability, rather than on yield alone, the commission noted.
The report recommended support for farmers by investing in research and development (R&D), which is crucial to address climate stresses on crops due to increasing heat, drought and plant diseases.
“A more resilient food future will rely on sharp increases in agricultural R&D, which has demonstrated benefit-cost ratios between 2:1 and 17:1; better alignment of government finance and incentives for farmers with long-term, sustainable, climate-smart production; and a step change in access to information, innovative technologies, and finance to enhance the resilience of 500 million small-scale farming households whose livelihoods are most critically impacted by climate change,” the report stated.
“For example, extreme heat has highly adverse effects on the yields of staples such as maize, wheat, and rice, as well as on important cash crops such as arabica coffee and cocoa. Research is needed not just to test more heat-tolerant varieties but also to find physiological and genetic drivers. In Zimbabwe, farmers using drought-tolerant maize were able to harvest up to 600 kilograms more maize per hectare than farmers using conventional maize.”
The report added that consistent funding streams for long-term projects, particularly on less-researched orphan crops, such as sorghum, cassava, and pulses, are important for food security in low-income regions. Those crops can benefit from modern molecular techniques, the reported noted. Farmer-driven research, including participatory plant-breeding and last-mile adoption of technologies from researchers to the farm level, also have produced many successes.
In presenting the report, Anand Patwardhan, the Commission’s research director, said it focuses on making the case for climate adaptation, providing specific insights and recommendations in key sectors: food security, the natural environment, water, cities and urban areas, infrastructure, disaster risk management, and finance. It was designed to inspire action among decision-makers.
The report also presented the commission’s 15-month initiative plan, which will drive a set of “action tracks” meant to mobilize scaled-up action that will continue beyond its lifetime to realize its goals over the next five to 10 years.
Ban Ki-moon, 8th Secretary-General of the United Nations, co-chairs the Commission, which includes the CEO of the World Bank and members representing the political, business, multilateral and scientific sectors in 20 countries.