What you need to know about food security and climate change

How does climate change affect global food security today and what can we expect in the future? We asked William R. Sutton, Global Director of Climate-Smart Agriculture at the World Bank, to explain the potential impacts of global warming on the food system.

What is the world food security situation today and what role does climate change play?

The number of people affected by acute food insecurity increased in 82 countries from 135 million in 2019 to 345 million in June 2022, as the war in Ukraine, disruptions to supply chains and the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. 19 pushed food prices to all-time highs.

Global food insecurity had already increased, due in large part to climatic events. For its part, global warming influences weather patterns, causing heat waves, heavy rains and droughts. In 2021, rising prices of food staples was one of the main factors driving an estimated 30 million more people in low-income countries to become food insecure.

At the same time, a major part of the problem is the way food is produced today. It was recently estimated that the global food system is responsible for around a third of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, second only to the energy sector. And, furthermore, it is the main source of methane and loss of biodiversity.

It was recently estimated that the global food system is responsible for around a third of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, second only to the energy sector. And, furthermore, it is the main source of methane and loss of biodiversity.

Who is most affected by climate impacts on food security?

About 80 percent of the world’s population most at risk of crop failure and hunger from climate change are in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia, where farming families are disproportionately poor and vulnerable. A severe drought caused by El Niño or climate change (i) can push millions more people into poverty. This is true even in places like the Philippines and Vietnam, countries where incomes are relatively high, but where farmers often live on the brink of poverty, and increases in food prices have a much larger impact on poor consumers. from urban areas.

How might climate change affect agriculture and food security in the future?

To some extent, higher temperatures and CO2 can be beneficial for crops. But rising temperatures also speed up evapotranspiration (i) from plants and soils, and there must also be enough water for crops to thrive.

In areas where water resources are already limited, climate change will increasingly have adverse impacts on agricultural production due to declining water supplies, increased extreme weather events such as floods and severe storms, heat stress and increased prevalence of pests and diseases.

Beyond a certain point of warming—and especially above a 2°C increase in global average temperatures—adaptation becomes more difficult and increasingly expensive. In countries where temperatures are already extremely high, such as the Sahel belt in Africa or South Asia, rising temperatures could have a more immediate effect on crops that are less heat resistant, such as wheat.

If solutions are not implemented, declining crop yields, especially in the most food insecure regions, will push more people into poverty. It is estimated that, by 2030, some 43 million people could fall below the poverty line in Africa alone.

If solutions are not implemented, declining crop yields, especially in the most food insecure regions, will push more people into poverty. It is estimated that, by 2030, some 43 million people could fall below the poverty line in Africa alone.

How can agriculture adapt to climate change?

It is possible to reduce emissions and increase resilience, but doing so requires major social, economic and technological changes. There are some key strategies:

Using water in a more efficient and effective way, in combination with policies to manage demand . Building more irrigation infrastructure may not be a solution if future water supplies prove insufficient to supply irrigation systems, which our research suggests may be the case in some countries. Other options include better management of water demand, as well as the use of advanced accounting systems and technologies to assess the amount of water available, including soil moisture sensors and satellite measurements of evapotranspiration (i). These measures can facilitate techniques such as alternate wetting/drying of paddy fields, which save water and reduce methane emissions at the same time.

Switch to crops that need less water . For example, rice farmers could start growing crops like maize or pulses, which require less water. By doing so, they would also help reduce methane emissions, because rice is one of the main sources of agri-food emissions. However, a culture that has cultivated and consumed rice for thousands of years cannot so easily stop doing so and start growing other products that consume less water and generate fewer emissions.

Improve soil health . This is extremely important. Increasing organic carbon in the soil helps to better retain water and allows plants to access water more easily, increasing resilience to drought. This measure also provides more nutrients without the need for so many chemical fertilizers, which are a major source of emissions. Farmers can recapture lost carbon by not tilling the soil and using cover crops, especially big root crops, in the rotation cycle instead of leaving land fallow. These types of nature-based solutions to environmental challenges could produce 37% of the climate change mitigation needed(i) to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement. But getting farmers to adopt these practices will take time and will require awareness and training. In places where agricultural parcels are small and farmers cannot afford to leave land unproductive or even rotate with leguminous crops, improving soil health could pose a challenge.

What is the World Bank doing to help countries build food security in the face of climate change?

The World Bank Group Climate Change Action Plan (2021-25) enables increased support for climate-smart agriculture across all agricultural and food value chains and through technology and policy interventions to increase productivity, improve resilience and reduce GHG emissions. The Bank also helps countries address food loss and waste and manage the risks of floods and droughts. For example, in Niger, a Bank-supported project(i) aims to benefit 500,000 farmers and herders in 44 communes with the distribution of improved and drought-resistant seeds, more efficient irrigation systems, and increased use of agroforestry and conservation agriculture techniques. To date, the project has helped 336,518 producers to manage their land more sustainably and has enabled more sustainable agricultural practices to be implemented on 79,938 hectares.

Source: world bank

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