Ameliorating food insecurity by attenuating climate change
By Kati Garrison, Dominican Volunteer
According to the report “The State of Food Insecurity in the World,” a collaboration published by the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization, the number of undernourished human beings on this planet continues to escalate. Today, the figure approaches 1 billion individuals. This unacceptably high degree of food insecurity serves as the culmination of a multitude of factors, ranging from conflict to poor infrastructure and governance to the negative ramifications of climate change. Currently, the fight to achieve food security on an international level focuses on addressing the implications of global warming.
For the purposes of this discussion, the term food security will refer to the definition established at the World Food Summit:
“Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient sage and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”
Thereby, food insecurity equates to the inability to fulfill the aforementioned stipulations.
One of the principal reasons why the contemporary discourse regarding food security emphasizes the consequences of climate change is because the transformation of global weather conditions will affect all four fundamental elements of food security. This multidimensionality of food security encompasses
- the availability of food
- the economic and physical access to food
- the utilization of food, and
- the stability of these three components over time.
Naturally, this conversation leads to the question of how climate change impacts food security. Climate change manifests in a variety of ways including an increased variability in weather patterns, alterations in temperature and precipitation levels, and an increased frequency of extreme weather events (e.g., heat waves, floods, cyclones, droughts). These occurrences then induce substantial changes in the agricultural sector such as obstructing the traditional timing and length of the crop-growing season and decreasing the amount of rainfall and thereby the ability to cultivate crops in regions, rendering massive amounts of farmland infertile.
How do these changes manifest as ramifications to food systems and serve as threats to food security? The consequences of climate change will affect food production, processing, distribution, and consumption. For example, the Sahel region of Africa increasingly experiences conditions of prolonged drought, hampering the production of maize. Thus, the inhabitants of this locale opt to alternatively cultivate cassava. This crop proves more robust in adverse weather conditions, but it also functions as a relatively poor source of protein and micronutrients in comparison to the maize. As a result, nutrient consumption and nutritional status decline within the population. In addition, fluctuations in the global climate patterns can lead to flooding in differing geographical settings. Under these circumstances, communities may experience damages to food storage warehouses, the electricity grid, and roads, consequently impeding the ability to store and process comestibles as well as to transport the food to consumers. For numerous reasons analogous to those illustrated in these examples, climate change detrimentally influences food security.
The first Millennium Development Goal of the United Nations aims to halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger (i.e., decrease the number individuals coping with food insecurity). In order to achieve this objective, the international community should carry out two main actions: adaptation and mitigation. On one hand, adaptation operations will address the repercussions of climate change, striving to reduce vulnerability. On the other hand, mitigation programs will concentrate on combating the causes of global warming and climate change with the target of attenuating its effects.
Adaptation actions may incorporate:
- Polyculture farming (crop rotation and diversifying the variety of crops raised and thereby the sources of household income)
- Improved soil management to reduce soil erosion and land degradation (utilizing more organic growing techniques and minimizing the use of chemical fertilizers to conserve soil moisture, organic matter, and nutrients)
- Conservation of genetic variations in crop species (this increases resilience)
- The adoption of traditional livestock grazing practices (as opposed to training animals to consume only corn) to promote natural soil forming methods.
Each of these endeavors will increase the flexibility of the agricultural sector in managing the effects of climate change and consequently facilitate the process of alleviating food insecurity.
Mitigation activities consist of three principal options:
- Reducing emissions. Agriculture and the rearing of livestock release substantial amounts of harmful gases (e.g., carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane) into the Earth’s ecosystems that greatly contribute to global warming. The high level of these emissions can be reduced by electing to employ improved cropland management practices (such as decreasing the use of artificial fertilizers), refining livestock feeding methods (native grass feeding as opposed to corn feedlots), and decreasing deforestation and forest degradation.
- Avoiding or displacing emissions. These types of actions center around the enhancement of energy efficiency within the agricultural sector. For instance, improving post-harvest techniques and capacities for local storage means that food can remain within a community, which reduces the need to transport long-distance to larger facilities thereby reducing emissions and the consumption of fossil fuels.
- Removing emissions. This recourse focuses on using sinks to retain carbon and absorb harmful greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. For example, planting cover crops in the off-season results in increased carbon storage within the soil. Agricultural practices may also diminish carbon dioxide emissions by the strategic construction of crop barriers composed of trees as opposed to man-made fences. The trees could then absorb some of the emissions produced by industrial farming practices.
By implementing mitigation programs, the international community possesses the potential to significantly reduce its contribution to climate change, and hence lessen the impact of this phenomenon on the generation of food and reduce food insecurity.
In summation, the ramifications of climate change substantially influence food security. Therefore, it remains in the best interest of the United Nations to address climate change if it desires to achieve the first millennium development goal of decreasing hunger and increasing food security around the globe.
Due to the limited nature of this space, it is impossible to expound upon all the intricacies of the subject of food security and its relationship to climate change. For additional information, please refer to the following links:
The Human Face of Climate Change (Video)
Climate Change and Food Security: An E-Learning Course
Climate Change and Food Security: A Framework Document
Fantastic references on what actions we can employ as individuals include the book Fair Food by Oran Hesterman and Food Justice by Robert Gottlieb and Anupama Joshi
Kati Garrison recently earned her Masters of Philosophy of International Peace Studies with a specialization in development and humanitarian aid from Trinity College, Dublin. She possesses a particular passion for the study of international nutrition, and this year she will be working under the direction of Margaret Mayce with the Dominican Leadership Conference.
Margaret Mayce, OP (DLC/Amityville)
NGO in Special Consultative Status at the United Nations
Dominican Leadership Conference
211 East 43 St. Rm 704
New York, NY 10017