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Climate Change and Food Security

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Food security is already a huge problem. According to the United Nations, 805 million people were undernourished during 2012-2014, lacking sufficient food intake to lead an active and healthy life. The causes of food insecurity are complex, but production problems are a key factor, especially among the small-scale farmers who constitute the majority of undernourished people.

Climate change poses a grave new threat to food security, since the small-scale farmers who produce most of the food in developing countries are particularly vulnerable to climate change. Over the past few years, climatic shocks such as increased rainfall variability and more frequent droughts and floods have begun seriously disrupting food production in many countries. Consequences for farming communities have included reduced crop and livestock productivity, and sometimes crop failures and livestock mortality.

A related challenge is that demand for food is set to rise dramatically over the coming decades due to both population growth and changing dietary preferences, just as climate change impacts are anticipated to worsen.
Taken together, these three factors – food insecurity, climate change, growing demand – constitute a ‘perfect storm’ of large and growing food needs coupled with constrained supply. Agriculture must find ways to meet current and future food needs despite climate change, in order to avoid the risk of still wider hunger. CSA technologies offer hope of doing this, if applied alongside complementary investments. Potentially, they could also help eliminate the scourge of hunger.

Such observations notwithstanding, critics raise important questions about these technologies. Notably, ‘food sovereignty’ advocates emphasise political aspects of the food production system such as land ownership, trade rules, and the role of agribusiness. They highlight ways that CSA could be appropriated by powerful interests to advance their objectives, for instance by serving as a ‘trojan horse’ for carbon projects that could under certain circumstances differentially benefit large-scale commercial farmers. They caution against simply assuming these ‘triple win’ technologies will benefit everyone. If the promise of CSA is to be realised, such criticisms will need to be addressed.

Image credit: C.Schubert, CCAFS / Flickr

Climate change: impact on agriculture and costs of adaptation
G. C. Nelson; M. W. Rosegrant; J. Koo / International Food Policy Research Institute 2009
Climate change, together with global population and income growth, is a major threat to food security in the world. This food policy report presents research results which quantify climate change impact, assess the consequences for fo...
Technologies for climate change adaptation: agriculture sector
X. Zhu (ed); R. Clements; J. Haggar / United Nations [UN] Environment Programme 2011
The agriculture sector faces the challenge of providing adequate food to a growing world population. There is limited scope to expand arable land, and unpredictable weather, floods, and other disastrous events make food production eve...
Environmental change and maize innovation in Kenya: exploring pathways in and out of maize
S. Brooks; J. Thompson; H. Odame / STEPS Centre, Institute of Development Studies 2009
Maize is a socially, politically and economically staple crop in Kenya. This paper summarises the findings of the STEPS Environmental Change and Maize Innovation in Kenya project, which utilised maize as a window through which to expl...
Climate change and adaptation in African agriculture
G. Ziervogel; A. Cartwright; A. Tas / Stockholm Environment Institute 2008
The development of climate projections for Africa is evolving rapidly, yet little is known about how effectively this data is being utilised. This study, commissioned by the Rockefeller Foundation, aims to identify and ...
Climate-smart agriculture for food security in Africa
Arid Lands Information Network 2011
Agriculture in developing countries must change significantly to meet the related challenges of food security and climate change. This edition of Joto Afrika shows that in Africa, there are numerous proven, low-cost, climate-smart agr...
Adaptation to climate change in agriculture, forestry and fisheries: perspective, framework and priorities
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 2007
Climate change poses severe threats on agriculture. Even though some countries may experience beneficial change to agricultural gross domestic product (GDP), the majority, particularly developing countries, will experience significant...
Clever Name, Losing Game? How Climate Smart Agriculture is sowing confusion in the food movement
T. Anderson / ActionAid International 2014
This report highlights questions being raised about the concept of ‘climate smart’ agriculture (CSA). It highlights that a number of industrialised countries, along with a number of agribusiness corporations, have p...
Achieving food security in the face of climate change: final report from the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change
J. Beddington (ed); M. Asaduzzaman (ed); M. Clark (ed) / Climate Change Agriculture Food Security 2012
This report, released by the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change, identifies a set of clear actions to be undertaken by key stakeholders to achieve food security in the context of climate change. It reasons that w...
Food security and food production systems
J.R. Porter; L. Xie; A.J. Challinor; K. Cochrane / Cambridge University 2014
This chapter highlights that the effects of climate change on crop and terrestrial food production are evident in several regions of the world and are affecting the abundance and distribution of harvested aquatic species, both freshwa...
Making climate-smart agriculture work for the poor
H. Neufeldt; P. Kristjanson; T. Thorlakson / World Agroforestry Centre 2011
This policy brief focuses on the challenges in making climate-smart agricultural (CSA) production work for the poor, who will be the most vulnerable to climate impacts. The brief highlights three main constraints: ...
Trade and Environment Review 2013: Wake up before it is too late: Make agriculture truly sustainable now for food security in a changing climate
United Nations 2013
This report argues that the world needs a paradigm shift in agricultural development: from a ‘green revolution’ to a ‘truly ecological intensification’ approach. This will require a rapid and significant...