The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates 842 million people suffer from chronic hunger. By 2050, global agricultural production will need to rise by at least 60% to meet the demands of a growing population with changing dietary requirements, all in the face of climate change and drastically increasing pressure on water and other natural resources.
We understand that climate change and environmental degradation can affect the sustainability of investments in agricultural development and food security, impede long-term economic growth, and adversely affect livelihoods and well-being. About 2.5 billion people's livelihoods depend directly on climate-sensitive economic activities such as agriculture and fisheries.
And that’s why Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative, is taking a comprehensive approach to ending poverty and undernutrition . This includes addressing the root causes of poverty and hunger; building bilateral, multilateral, and strategic partnerships with private sector and civil society to leverage investments; and building resilience by incorporating climate-smart agriculture as a cross-cutting theme in its approach and by developing strategies and undertaking research to help small holder farmers reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change.
As numerous studies have outlined, including those by the World Bank and the FAO, climate-smart agriculture requires an integrated approach that is responsive to local conditions; and Feed the Future does just that. By bringing together many different U.S. government agencies to design programs that address the entire food value chain in sustainable ways that align with our partner countries’ own food security plans, we are already making a difference.
Through our Global Climate Change Initiative and Feed the Future, our integrative thinking on agricultural adaptation, fits well with the holistic climate smart agriculture approach. Adaptation isn’t a stand-alone concept. Through our support of national adaptation planning, for example, we seek to help developing countries to plan for food security in the medium- and long-term in the face of a changing climate and to develop and revise agriculture sector development plans that reflect the fact that agricultural development can’t be separated from adaptation. And under Feed the Future, agricultural programs seek not just to sustainably increase productivity but also to enhance ecosystem services.
For example, Zambia has approximately 50 million hectares of forest and a deforestation rate – officially estimated at 250,000 to 300,000 hectares per year – among the highest in the world. Feed the Future and the Global Climate Change Initiative are taking an integrated approach with partners in Zambia to improve rural livelihoods and food security, while offering smallholder farmers and other community members the tools to conserve the land they need to sustain their livelihoods over the long term. Feed the Future is training rural farmers in conservation agriculture techniques like composting, mulching, crop rotation and inter-cropping with agroforestry to increase yields while protecting the soil and trees on farms; while the Climate Change Initiative trains traditional charcoal producers -frequently the poorest members of rural communities- to teach them better harvesting techniques that won't wipe out their communities' forests.
The intersection of climate change and vulnerability, natural resource management, and water also figures centrally in the U.S. Government’s efforts to build the resilience of economic, social, and ecological systems to recurrent crises.
While we cannot prevent drought in Niger and northern Kenya or earthquakes in Nepal, we can work more effectively across agencies and across humanitarian and development funding streams to build the resilience of households and communities and empower them to better mitigate, adapt to, and recover from recurrent shocks and stresses - such as climate change.
For example, Feed the Future is helping pastoralists and small holder farmers in Africa and Asia adapt to climate change and build the capacity of partners in these countries to support local pastoral communities through the Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Adapting Livestock Systems to Climate Change. This research lab is led in collaboration with a broad array of research and non-governmental organizations in Africa and Asia. Together, these partners are tracking the impact of changing climatic conditions on pastoralists and farmers, and are working to develop tools that can help them address climate-related challenges, such as the availability of water and food that animals need to be healthy so they can be sold in markets.
In Nepal, shifts in the monsoon season and more frequent severe weather events are affecting the livelihoods of small-scale livestock holders. To help them prepare for hazards such as floods and landslides and manage water resources, researchers are using state-of-the-art satellite technology to project rainfall. This information helps farmers decide which animal feed crops to plant and when; mitigating the risk that a severe weather event will wipe out their animals’ source of food.
These examples underscore the importance of harnessing scientific innovation and technology to achieve food and nutrition security and address the challenge of global climate change. Some of the greatest leaps in human progress have come not just from new technologies, but from the power of applying those technologies locally.
In our work, we partner with the private sector to leverage resources, promote innovation and entrepreneurship to catalyze climate-smart agriculture sector development. For example, through collaboration with the Gates Foundation and public and private partners in India, Bangladesh and Nepal, Feed the Future is working to develop and disseminate resource-saving technologies and management practices that will also help to diversify systems and increase farmer incomes for over 1 billion people in the Indo-gangetic plains of South Asia. These include new stress-tolerant cereal varieties, zero till agriculture, improved legume rotations, and more efficient water pumps, all of which contribute to making the systems more resilient to variations in precipitation which could increase due to climate change. Local service providers and small agri-business dealers are key partners in this effort – through them we can extend our reach to hundreds of thousands of farm households and ensure that the effort is sustainable beyond donor support.
Studies by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) confirm another aspect of our strategy under Feed the Future: an emphasis on broad-based economic growth, increased productivity, and improved trade is critical. IFPRI’s studies suggest that investments in infrastructure such as roads and irrigation can lead to improvement in agriculture and in the economies of the lowest-income developing countries, even under climate change. Under Feed the Future, we approach sustainable intensification by emphasizing a whole-of-government approach that allows us to consider this bigger picture. Research and science provide essential physical and intellectual infrastructure that inform investments in other infrastructure such as roads, irrigation and energy.
In June 2012 we launched “Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development” to overcome critical access barriers to electrical energy for agriculture through innovative clean energy technologies and financing mechanisms. This effort will bring global attention to the persistent energy access issues that confront farmers throughout the developing world in agricultural production, processing, and storage. This Grand Challenge for Development encourages innovators to find new ways to bring clean energy to farmers through sustainable and scalable solutions that will create allow farmers to produce more and better quality food for their families and their communities. These innovations will also create new economic opportunities in agricultural communities in the developing world.
Bringing together science, finance and policy to face key challenges and address climate change requires us to integrate our own programs and investments. Research helps drive innovation that can achieve this. In 2012, the U.S. Government launched the Feed the Future Food Security Innovation Center to address the greatest challenges to food security and nutrition: developing climate-resilient cereals, increasing legume productivity, tackling pests and diseases, producing nutritious and safe foods, developing markets and implementing sound policy, promoting sustainable intensification, and increasing human and institutional capacity. Each of these program areas will be pursued through investments that span U.S. universities, private sector research partners, federal research institutes, and international and national research partners such as the CGIAR and national agricultural research systems. In FY2012, USAID expanded research and capacity development programs led by U.S. universities, now collectively known as the Feed the Future Innovation Laboratories.
Enhancing food security and nutrition in the face of climate change is an immense challenge. But if we use the tools that are at our disposal wisely, we have the chance to contribute to climate change mitigation, and to improve the resilience of our ecosystems, agricultural systems, communities, and economies. Science can help us boost productivity, develop new technologies, and identify many of the benefits and challenges associated with them. Finance and policy are important drivers for determining which approaches will be most readily and successfully taken up. These linkages will be critical for us all to consider as we continue the fight against global hunger and food security through solutions that foster natural resource conservation, climate change adaptation, and the integration of productive agriculture in larger landscapes.