October 16th is World Food Day and this year’s theme is “Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too,” and highlights the impact of a changing environment on agriculture and food security. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), poor people in the developing world are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, due to “impacts on livelihoods, reductions in crop yields, or destruction of homes and indirectly through, for example, increased food prices and food insecurity.”And farmers around the world are dealing with climate change-related challenges, including higher temperatures, increased frequency of extreme weather events, and changing rainfall patterns. Climate change is expected to lead to declining crop productivity and threats to food security. Maize and wheat productivity is projected to decrease by 3.8 percent and 5.5 percent, respectively, based on global climate model predictions. Adapting to these changes by investing in and adopting innovative farming methods will be critical to farmers’ livelihoods and their ability to meet the needs of growing communities, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Nearly 1 billion people are undernourished globally and more than 2 billion adults were overweight or obese, according to the World Health Organization. At the same time, we waste one third of the food produced annually.
“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” says Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC. “The world has to adapt and the world has to mitigate.”
While agriculture is the human endeavor most impacted by climate change, it is also a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. According to the FAO, livestock contributes to two-thirds of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and 78 percent of agricultural methane emissions. In addition, agriculture is the biggest driver of deforestation, which accounts for an estimated 10-11 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
But agriculture can also play a major role in reducing and even reversing the impacts of climate change. Carbon sequestering techniques like no-till farming and use of cover crops can help sequester carbon in soils and maintain soil health, playing a critical role in climate change mitigation and ensuring future food security. The Rodale Institute’s Farming Systems Trial, a 35-year farm study comparing organic and conventional farming found that “soil health in the organic system has continued to increase over time while soil health in the conventional system has remained essentially unchanged.”
Regenerative agricultural practices mitigate the impact of climate change by “removing carbon from the atmosphere and safely storing it in soils and perennial vegetation,” according to Eric Toensmeier, author of The Carbon Farming Solution.
“Sustainable agriculture is paramount to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, to sustain natural resources, to adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change, to achieve healthier food systems and to build resilience against crises and natural disasters,” says FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva. The Director-General also notes that while past agricultural developments have led to major productivity gains, “greater emphasis must be placed on the social and environmental dimensions of sustainability.”
FAO is calling on countries to address food and agriculture in their climate action plans and increase investment in rural development. As representatives from around the world gear up for the UN Climate Change Conference, COP22, in November in Marrakech, Morocco, there is no better time than now to focus on the close relationship between climate change and food security.
Food Tank has identified 16 organizations combating climate change and food insecurity through agriculture:
Ag Innovations Network – This organization addresses the crucial agricultural and climate-related issues in California’s farming communities. Relying on the power of democracy for collective change, the Ag Innovations Network encourages stakeholders to connect through shared interests with an eye to managing collective resources, like soil and water, more effectively.
Center for a Livable Future – A research program at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, this group focuses on the interconnectivity of public health, the environment, food production, and diet. Concentrating on environmental sustainability in food production and the importance of systems-level change, the Center for a Livable Future is on the cutting edge of climate change and food systems research.
Center for Food Safety – The Center for Food Safety (CFS) developed the Cool Foods Campaign to show food can be part of climate solutions. The campaign emphasizes eating fresh, unprocessed foods; buying local and seasonal products; choosing organic fare; eliminating industrial meat and dairy consumption; and reducing food waste. The Center also supports rebuilding soil to help producers mitigate and adapt to climate change.
EcoAgriculture Partners – EcoAgriculture Partners supports integrated landscape management and the many benefits of climate-smart agricultural landscapes, including food access, improved livelihoods and biodiversity, and the production of energy, fiber, and medicine. Through their programs, EcoAgriculture Partners trains local stakeholders to maintain integrated landscapes and create frameworks to mitigate climate change.
Fairtrade International – Fairtrade producers in Latin America and Africa have been severely affected by crop diseases and heavy frost as a result of climate change, according to Fairtrade International. In response, Fairtrade International has developed a global work plan for climate change that focuses on supporting producers in adapting to climate change and helping them mitigate the impacts, including carbon reduction plans.
Farming First – Farming First is a coalition of multi-stakeholder organizations that endorses and promotes practical programs and activities to further sustainable agricultural development globally. The coalition is composed of groups of farmers, scientists, engineers, and industry from around the world, totaling over 180 organizations. Farming First highlights “the importance of improving farmers’ livelihoods and agriculture’s potential contribution to global issues such as food security, climate change, and biodiversity.”
Food & Water Watch – Governed by the core values of independence, democracy, human rights, and sustainability, this group relies on a grassroots approach to increase individual access to good food, clean water, and sustainable energy. Food & Water Watch has led successful campaigns on country-of-origin labeling, public water supply ownership, and fracking. The organization also encourages more accountability for wastewater and methane emissions from factory farms and supports smarter energy solutions for small-scale sustainable farmers.
Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) – This organization boasts a vision for “a food secure Africa free from hunger and poverty,” through the encouragement of strategic partnerships and ongoing policy dialogue. Through such programs as Women Assessing Realigned Markets (WARM)—aimed at strengthening the voice of female farmers in policy development—FANRPAN publicizes sustainable agricultural practices that will contribute to food security in the face of climate change in Africa.
Friends of the Earth – This global network—2 million members strong—encourages progressive approaches to environmental issues, with a focus on building a just and healthy world. Friends of the Earth advocates for environmentally friendly approaches to climate change and food security through such initiatives as the Bee Action campaign, which endorses beekeeping as part of balanced farming, and the Good Food, Healthy Planet program, which supports plant-based diets for a healthier planet.
Groundswell International – Groundswell International is a global partnership between NGOs, local civil society organizations, and communities that aim to strengthen rural communities and promote healthy food systems in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Groundswell International develops methods to spread agroecological farming practices, as well as promote farm innovation and community health.
International Food Policy Research Institute – As a member of the CGIAR consortium, this research institute identifies sustainable ways to tackle hunger and poverty. IFPRI’s initiatives range from research on how climate change affects the quality of health and diet among marginalized populations to policy and advocacy initiatives for more climate-sensitive approaches to agriculture.
La Via Campesina – This grassroots group is a network of more than 200 million farmers on the forefront of the food sovereignty movement. La Via Campesina promotes the role of small-scale sustainable agriculture in using climate-friendly farming practices, such as companion planting and integrated pest management, as a way to reduce agriculture-related climate change and strengthen the health and wellness of communities all over the world.
Rodale Institute – Rodale Institute conducts independent research focused on building healthy soil through organic practices. The Institute supports farmers and provides them the data and experience to increase soil health and crop quality, improve yields, and sequester carbon through regenerative organic agriculture.
Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice (MRFCJ) – Founded by Ireland’s first female president, this organization builds strategic partnerships in security and climate justice by promoting low-emissions agricultural practices and the empowerment of marginalized farmers for nutritional sovereignty. The organization has a strong focus on the role of women as changemakers and has long supported a people-centered vision of change throughout the world.
The Savory Institute – The Savory Institute was founded in 2009, to combat climate change and environmental degradation by teaching sustainable, holistic grazing practices to farmers and ranchers worldwide. Led by Allan Savory, the “father of holistic management,” the Savory Institute uses livestock in sustainable ways to restore grasslands. The Savory Institute teams up with private investors to purchase ranch real estate for restoration.
The Union of Concerned Scientists – The Union of Concerned Scientists is an advocacy alliance of more than 400,000 citizens and scientists. This organization works towards scientific solutions to climate, energy, and agricultural concerns by providing independent research and linking the scientific community to information about policy change, among other methods of fair dissemination and publication.
(Danielle Nierenberg is President, Food Tank, foodtank.com)