Smallholders need urgent support for adaptation and mitigation
The State of Food and Agriculture report, the flagship annual publication by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), urges transformation in agriculture worldwide to fight climate change and ensure food security for all by 2030.
The report warns that a warmer world will significantly reduce agricultural productivity. Shortage in food supply will lead to increased food prices and impact millions of poor people.
It points out that a “business as usual” scenario can increase the number of poor by between 35 and 122 million by 2030 relative to a future without climate change. The poor in sub-Saharan Africa will be greatly affected.
“…climate change threatens all dimensions of food security. It will expose both urban and rural poor to higher and more volatile food prices. It will also affect food availability by reducing the productivity of crops, livestock and fisheries, and hinder access to food by disrupting the livelihoods of millions of rural people who depend on agriculture for their incomes,” FAO Director General José Graziano da Silva says.
Credit: SOFA report
Supporting smallholder farmers
A major finding of the report talks about an “urgent need to support smallholders in adapting to climate change”. Farmers, pastoralists and fishermen depend on activities that are linked to climate and they are the most vulnerable to climate change. There are around 475 million low-income, small-holder farmers whose access to technologies, markets and credit is limited. They will need timely access to technologies, markets, information and credit for investment to adjust production systems and practices to climate change, the report adds.
“Smallholders face a broad range of barriers, such as limited access to markets, credit, extension advice, weather information, risk management tools and social protection. Targeting resources to reduce barriers for adoption by farmers is one important area for effective adaptation and mitigation. This means putting in place the institutions that can provide the needed climate information, facilitate access to credit and provide extension services,” Jakob Skoet, economist, FAO, says.
Reducing agriculture’s environmental impacts
The agriculture sector has a major role to play in mitigating climate change. Agriculture, forestry and land-use changes generate one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The report identifies ways to lower emissions from agriculture. For instance water-conservation alternatives to the flooding of paddy fields can reduce methane emissions by 45 per cent. Emissions from the livestock sector can be reduced by up to 41 per cent through the adoption of more efficient practices.
“Production and consumption of meat and dairy is increasingly driven by global population and income growth. This has an impact on global emissions as production and conservation of animal products generally entails bigger emissions per calorie than plant food, particularly when compared to cereals and other staple foods. It is, however, important to bear in mind that many people are malnourished and animal products are important for nutrition. In fact, consumption of animal products is unequally distributed globally. A more balanced diet, also at the global level, between products and between people, can have both health and environmental benefits,” Skoet adds.
The FAO expert says reducing consumption of livestock products when it is excessive can play a role in slashing emissions. But it is also important to consider by what they would be replaced. There are examples where replacing livestock products by plant products would increase emissions.
“In high-income countries perishable products like fruits and vegetables require significant energy use and corresponding levels of greenhouse gas emissions in the storage, distribution and consumption stages. Careful lifecycle analysis is required to accurately assess emissions associated with different products in different contexts.”
The way ahead
The report points out negative global effects of climate change are already being felt in some cereal crop yields. Climate change will likely to lead to a loss of nutritional quality in staple cereals and trigger new health issues.
Helping smallholders adapt to climate change risks is critical for global poverty reduction and food security. Helping farmers become more resilient to the effects of climate change can contribute to making agriculture more attractive.
“Significant improvement in food security as well as resilience to climate change can be achieved with the introduction of sustainable agricultural practices such as nitrogen-efficient and heat-tolerant crop varieties,” Skoet says
Social protection programmes may help farmers manage risks under climate change. Evidence from Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa shows the clear benefits of social protection in terms of food security, human capital development and economic and productive capacity, even among the poorest and most marginalised.
The report also stresses that more climate finance is needed to fund developing countries’ actions on climate change. More climate finance needs to flow to sustainable agriculture, fisheries and forestry to fund large-scale transformation and development of climate-smart food production systems.
According to experts, reduction in crop yields and productivity of livestock, fisheries and forestry are more likely to occur in tropical, developing regions than in temperate, developed regions.
Credit: SOFA report
Developing countries have a higher dependence on agriculture for income, livelihood and food security. Thus, productivity decline will seriously jeopardise food security.