Climate change and worsening global hunger

A Maasai trader gazing at emaciated livestock at a livestock market in Kajiado County, Kenya. [Xinhua/Li Yahui]

African countries attending the UN Climate Conference (COP28) have been jolted by a stark and urgent warning about the effects of the worsening climate crisis in a recent United Nations report.

The report addresses two of humanity’s most urgent challenges – climate change and food security. Climate change has significantly disrupted global agricultural production and food systems. Without rapid measures, the situation will only get worse.

According to ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition’ report, in 2022, between 691 and 783 million people suffered from hunger and an estimated 2.4 billion people were moderately or severely food insecure – they did not have access to adequate food.

Climate change is fueling a global crisis, pushing levels of hunger and malnutrition to record highs, while at the same time, agriculture and food systems remain major contributors to climate change.

The conference recognises the urgent need to make nutritious food more accessible, affordable, and sustainable, with COP28 President Sultan bin Ahmed al-Jaber saying the transformation of food systems was a top priority at the climate talks.

“National adaptation plans and strategies should promote sustainable land use, leverage technologies to increase crop resilience, enhance nutrition, and reduce the climate impacts of farming,” he told the delegates.

“To make progress on adaptation, defining success involves addressing biodiversity loss, agricultural land restoration, forest preservation, coastline protection, hunger eradication, and safeguarding lives and livelihoods globally,” he added.

For the first time, more than 130 countries have signed the Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems and Climate Action, a move welcomed by experts and charities who say it is long overdue. 

A man on top of a lorry transporting the maize stocks in Mathira Nyeri. Farmers are counting for losses after their crops failed due to a severe drought. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

The countries represent 5.7 billion people and 75 per cent of all emissions from global food production and consumption. Nations will now include food emissions in their plans to tackle climate change known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

However, agriculture negotiations remained deadlocked as the first part of the World Climate Summit wraps up, with new proposals to bridge the gaps as more leaders recognise the linkages between climate and biodiversity.

A case for urgent action

COP28 recognises that addressing food security and climate change cannot be tackled in isolation from one another. Climate change is threatening regions of the world that cultivate essential crops such as rice, maize and wheat.

Climate patterns including El Nino ravaging many countries including Kenya are expected to further disrupt agricultural production due to abnormal floods in some regions coupled with unpredicted droughts in others.

Adapting Africa’s food systems to climate change is a case for urgent action African countries have taken to COP28, according to AGRA, the Kenya-headquartered Africa-led organization.

AGRA’s vision is to contribute to a food system-inspired inclusive agricultural transformation across Africa, to reduce hunger, improve nutrition, and adapt to climate change.

With soaring temperatures, devastating floods, and other extreme weather events, national and global attention is turning toward innovative solutions to address the climate crisis.

Scientists say effective solutions to mitigate and adapt to climate change lie in climate-resilient development and holistic measures, including in the food and agriculture sectors.

Resilient agri-food systems

As the climate crisis intensifies, unsuitable water management and land-use practices persist, posing severe food and nutritional security threats. Consequently, the development of resilient and sustainable agri-food systems has emerged as a crucial research area.

In a world where close to 800 million people are currently going hungry every day, reversing environmental degradation and its impact is a paramount national and global imperative.

While agrifood systems contribute to about one-third of greenhouse gas emissions, they also hold a huge potential for positive climate action. The key challenge remains finding ways to feed a growing population while reducing the carbon footprint and environmental impact.

That is why a coalition of leading development partners and research institutions have united to place food security as a critical issue for serious discussion at COP28. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is leading this effort.

Solutions for agrifood systems bring multiple benefits, including climate action. Sustainable agrifood systems practices can help countries and communities to adapt, build resilience, and mitigate emissions – ensuring food security and nutrition.

Solutions to tackle climate change in agroforestry, restoration of soils, sustainable livestock, or fisheries management, have multiple effects. They support sustainable use of biodiversity and food security – multiple benefits from the same solutions that only agriculture and food systems offer.

Food and agriculture pavilion

The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), FAO, The Rockefeller Foundation and the International Fund for Agriculture (IFAD) are hosting the Food and Agriculture Pavilion at COP28. CGIAR is a global research partnership for a food-secure future dedicated to transforming food, land and water systems in the climate crisis.

The Pavilion brings together community leaders, government, philanthropic, youth and academic partners to show how agrifood systems are part of the solution to the climate crisis. CGIAR seeks to respond to the interconnected challenges of food insecurity, environmental degradation, unequal prosperity, a changing climate, and the nutrition-related disease burden.

The aim is to advance a shared understanding of the most pressing food and agricultural issues facing people and the planet and share knowledge and innovative solutions to help countries take effective climate action.   

Just before COP28, President William Ruto and other East African Community (EAC) leaders met in Arusha, Tanzania for a high-level panel on climate change and food security that discussed the nexus between climate finance, food and nutrition security and water scarcity in the region.

Kilimo Trust, which works closely with the EAC Secretariat on agricultural development matters, has launched a new strategic plan that aims to support countries in the region to create sustainable livelihoods and better communities.

The organisation is helping the EAC structure national and regional trade in agricultural products for enhanced wealth, food and nutrition security for smallholder farmers and other value chain actors.

EAC partner states have developed the new EAC Rice Development Strategy (ERDS) to address low and poor production of rice in the region, the food insecurity challenge, growing import dependence, and intra-regional trade to boost food and nutrition security in the region.

Rice development strategy

Kilimo Trust in September launched its new strategic plan during Africa’s premier agricultural event, the Africa Food Systems Forum in Dar es Salaam. The plan includes agricultural transformation and resilience. It builds on lessons learned in sustainable agricultural practices, equipping actors in the sector with timely information and innovations in mitigating the effects of climate change.

In supporting the EAC’s new rice development strategy, Kilimo Trust is highlighting its latest research project – the Reuse Reduce Recycle Rice Initiative for Climate Smart Agriculture (R4iCSA) II – to complement the ERDS objectives.

The five-year R4iCSA II project worth over $5 million funded by IKEA Foundation that started in October 2022 is a sequel to a two-year pilot that ended last July, benefitting 5,000 smallholder farmers in Kenya and Uganda, and now targets 10,000 households in the two countries.

“The project aims to promote sustainable, science-based, market-led agricultural development in the region at the core of the new regional rice sub-sector strategy,” says Project Leader Anthony Mugambi.

Kenya’s bid to curb food insecurity via sustainable climate-smart agriculture has been boosted by the R4iCSA project’s successful field trials of upland rice in Tharaka Nithi, Embu and Meru counties.

Farmers in the three counties have expressed a keen interest in adopting the new rice varieties jointly developed with the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (Kalro). This is the first time that upland rice has been grown in the semi-arid higher grounds of Kenya.

The pilot phase of the project achieved its goal of increasing the adoption of sustainable rice production practices for 5,000 smallholder rice farmers and other value chain actors in Kenya and Uganda.

Regenerative agriculture was introduced in rice-based farming systems through sustainable rice cultivation, intercropping with leguminous species and management of crop waste streams.

The project has been successful in the use of innovative technologies and management practices for sustainable rice farming systems and continues to generate empirical evidence of the developed and tested business models in the utilisation of products and by-products of rice farming systems.

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