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World Food Day the climate-smart way

October 14, 2016

Every 16 October since 1979, World Food Day has been an occasion to focus on what is most important in the never-ending task of feeding the world. In 2016, a year that is shaping up to be far and away the hottest on record, that focus is especially sharp. The day’s theme leaves no room for doubt: “The climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too.”

Why such an air of certainty? Because the rise in temperatures, and in the frequency of weather-related disasters such as droughts and floods, is already hitting food producers hard. At the same time, agricultural production needs to be entering a boom, not a bust, to have hopes of feeding a global population that is projected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050. And the poorest – whether they grow food or buy it – will be the most vulnerable to climate shocks. They can’t take food and nutritional security for granted.

More with less

If food and agriculture have to change, CTA has some good ideas of what that change might look like. It has been involved from an early stage in supporting the adoption of climate-smart agriculture (CSA), and has placed the approach centrally in its Strategic Plan 2016–20.  

CSA is not a single approach, but a wide-ranging commitment to solutions that offer a triple benefit to farmers and everyone else:

  • helping farmers adapt and build resilience to climate change
  • reducing greenhouse gas emissions
  • sustainably raising productivity and incomes.

This means adopting practices that produce more food, under less favourable conditions, without using more land or scarce resources.

States of emergency

World food day inlineAn elderly lady receives food supplies from the Red Cross in the drought-affected district Mabalane, Mozambique (Photo: Aurélie Marrier d'Unienville / IFRC).In 2016, the meaning behind these words is all too clear in Southern Africa, where a lengthy drought has left tens of millions of people with no source of food other than emergency aid. With five different countries declaring national emergencies, providing that aid will cost billions of dollars. The drought-related loss of more than 630,000 cattle has cost producers themselves some US $220 million (€ 200 million).  

“Variability in weather and rainfall patterns has a major impact on food production and food security in the region because most smallholder farming operations are dependent on natural rainfall, most of which occurs in a single rainy season,” says Oluyede Ajayi, CTA’s Senior Programme Coordinator overseeing the Centre’s work in Southern Africa. If the rains fail more and more often, as is predicted, what is currently considered a severe drought may well become something commonplace.

From mobile phones to goats

When that happens, what options do farmers and pastoralists have? CTA and its partners have found quite a few. Over the course of recent years, four of these have stood out as the most thoroughly proven climate-smart solutions for producers of cereal crops and livestock, and these solutions are propelling a new regional push for food and nutritional security in Southern Africa.  

The first of these is increasing the access of smallholder farmers to stress-tolerant crops, which will be better adapted to produce a harvest in difficult conditions and without heavy inputs. The second is diversification of livelihood options to include breeds of smaller livestock like goats and chickens. The third is mobile phone-based dissemination of climate information services to provide prior information about weather to farmers, helping them make quick and smart decisions: when to plant, what varieties to plant and when to prepare for trouble on the way. Lastly, weather-based or index-based insurance would aid farmers in recovering from the loss of crops or livestock because of weather extremes.  

The adoption leap

world food day inline 2At the regional planning meeting ‘Scaling-Up Climate-Smart Agricultural Solutions for Cereals and Livestock Farmers in Southern Africa’, held on 13–15 September 2016 in Johannesburg, South Africa.“CTA’s Southern Africa regional flagship project focuses on scaling up these four solutions, targeting cereal and livestock value chains,” says Ajayi. “These were identified through several phases of evaluation and in consultation with farmers’ organisations, development specialists and extension agents, among different stakeholders.”  

None of these ideas are brand new. Smallholder farmers – climate-change experts by necessity – may be familiar with some or all of them. They are also responding with innovations of their own, finding and sharing new ideas for climate adaptation every day.  

But it’s a big undertaking for a farmer to switch to a new crop or animal, never mind taking out an insurance policy for the first time. To be put into action, good strategies require resources and support, and that is what is most often lacking. For starters, governments’ agricultural extension agents are perfectly positioned to train and advise farmers, but in regions like Southern Africa there are far too few of them, with too little funding. Private-sector alternatives have been long awaited, but have not arrived.

A day for action

Recognising how much work is needed to turn climate smarts into climate action, CTA is approaching this task in its new Strategic Plan through four points of entry. It starts with robust information brokerage to synthesise information into news that smallholders can use. It continues with demonstrations of climate-smart solutions, and action through partnership to scale these up. CTA is meanwhile facilitating policies to trigger the uptake of CSA, with the private sector included in the effort. At the same time, it is supporting key partners that are out promoting CSA in the field.

"While we know a lot about the challenges of climate change, we need answers to pertinent questions: are there specific solutions that benefit smallholder farmers? How can these be scaled up to benefit more farmers who critically need them?" asks Ajayi.

On this year's World Food Day, it is important to remember what the final result of all of this action should be: food, nutritious food, and lots of it. Achieving the goal of zero hunger requires a shift from drought relief in the form of food aid to production relief that will support farmers in adopting climate-smart changes. This is why World Food Day is not just a time to celebrate food, but a time to commit to the people who produce it, through good years and bad.

Find out more

- See what's happening on World Food Day 2016
- Read success stories from the field in Climate Solutions That Work For Farmers
- Find out about the partners who are making Southern African cereal and livestock farming climate-smart
- Explore a book of CSA case studies, Evidence of Impact: Climate-Smart Agriculture in Africa
- Read the special edition of Spore magazine, Global Warming: Doing Business in a Time of Climate Change

Stay connected

- Follow @CTAflash on Twitter
- Track the #WFD2016 hashtag for more news on the day