Action must move ahead of knowledge to buffer agriculture from climate change

Photo: Climate change, Agriculture and Food Security Programme of the CGIAR

The CGIAR’s Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security program has published a valuable summary of current knowledge on options to support farmers, particularly smallholder farmers, in achieving food security through agriculture under climate change.

Published in the latest issue of the journal, Environmental Science and Policy, the paper says broad-based action – integrated research, policy and action – is the best strategy to adopt in the face of the uncertainty which exists regarding the direction and magnitude of climate change and its impact on food production, food systems and food security across the globe.

While agricultural production will be dramatically affected by climate change and the expected 2 degrees (or more) rise in temperature by 2100, it also presents untapped opportunities for mitigation, given the large land area under crops and rangeland, and the additional mitigation potential of aquaculture.

“Maximization of agriculture’s mitigation potential will require investments in technological innovation and agricultural intensification linked to increased efficiency of inputs, and creation of incentives and monitoring systems that are inclusive of smallholder farmers,” the authors says.

The paper cites work undertaken by the World Agroforestry Centre on the climate mitigation and adaptation potential of agroforestry.

In relation to adaptation, the paper investigates the two main areas under which action is being taken: progressive climate change over decadal time scales, and better management of agricultural risks associated with increasing climate variability and extreme events.

While no one can predict the full effect climate change will have on agriculture, one thing is clear, and that is, urgent action must be taken.

“Action will need to move ahead of knowledge, with decisions made and reviewed on the basis of emerging research and consensus,” say the authors.

“There is a pressing need to invest in databases and tools to inform policy and practice in the spheres of agricultural risk-management, adaptation and mitigation. Likewise, initiatives to develop capacity to tackle climate- change impacts on farming and food must address not only scientific capacity but also the capacity of users to demand, interpret and apply scientific outputs effectively.”

The paper calls on decision-makers to take a strategic approach that focuses on key dependencies and processes rather than just a holistic view of the system. Applying such approaches across the whole food system and across multi-purpose landscapes, the authors say, is key to assuring future food security.

“Successful mitigation and adaptation will entail changes in individual behavior, technology, institutions, agricultural systems and socio-economic systems. These changes cannot be achieved without improving interactions between scientists and decision-makers at all levels of society.”

The paper is available online (for subscribers to Environmental Science and Policy): Options for support to agriculture and food security under climate change. Environ. Sci. Policy

An earlier version is available as CCAFS Report 3: Outlook for Knowledge,Tools and Action'

Kate Langford

Kate Langford is a consultant writer with close to 20 years’ experience in communicating natural resource, environmental and land management issues for various government and non-government organizations. She previously worked as Communications Specialist for the World Agroforestry Centre in Kenya and has worked in Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam and Australia. She holds a Bachelor of Science and a Graduate Diploma in Scientific Communication.

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