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Report lays out 11 -part plan to make food systems resilient to shocks
Saturday, 27 June, 2020, 12 : 00 PM [IST]
Our Bureau, Mumbai
With Covid-19 intensifying hunger even in wealthy countries ,influential food, agriculture and environment experts from six continents responded to this bracing wake-up call with an ambitious roadmap for resetting food systems that were already being hit hard by climate change. It offers the most comprehensive global plan to date to rebuild all types of food production around the world—from smallholder farming to large-scale production—that have been rocked by the pandemic but will face even greater challenges from climate change.

The report, “Actions to Transform Food Systems Under Climate Change,” was developed under the guidance of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). It comes close on the heels of a new assessment from the United Nations warning the pandemic could precipitate a “global food emergency.” The UN is especially concerned about food systems in places like sub-Saharan Africa that prior to the pandemic were reeling from a surge in droughts and floods—and where global heating is likely involved in East Africa’s ongoing battle against locust swarms.

“It’s time for all of us to get talking about food and most importantly about food systems,” said David Nabarro, a World Health Organization Special Envoy for Covid-19 and Curator of the Food Systems Dialogue who is kicking off a round-the-world “relay” briefing on the action plan. “That’s all the different elements—from food production to processing to marketing and consumption, and all the steps along the way.”

The report lays out a clear, 11-part plan—and points to a wide number of readily available innovations—that can make food systems far more resilient to both climate and non-climate shocks.

The 11 actions include efforts to sustainably increase food production in developing countries in ways that increase incomes and food security in poor, agriculture-dependent rural communities. Doing so, the report states, could dramatically reduce the need for humanitarian assistance in the coming years, freeing up billions of dollars for investing insocial safety nets. The report also offers strategies to avoid expanding food production into carbon-rich tropical forests and explores options that can support healthy, climate-friendly diets.

In addition, the report lays out a policy framework for directing US$320 billion in public and private finance to food systems transformation. And it seeks more support for “youth-centered social movements” committed to building sustainable food systems, noting they can be especially effective agents of change.

“Our work over the last 10 years to address the impacts of climate change on food production, and vice versa,has produced a series of transformative interventions that can energize efforts to ‘build back better’ in the aftermath of Covid-19,” said CCAFS director Bruce Campbell. “This endeavour is especially important forseveral hundred million smallholder farmers in the developing world. They were already struggling against climate change before this pandemic hit and will face even greater climate threats long after it has ended.”

Climate Change: The Slow-Moving Counterpart to Covid-19

While there are concerns the pandemic could significantly increase hunger and malnutrition in the short-term, the report points to even greater dangers looming in the coming decade as temperatures rise, weather extremes become more common and rainfall less predictable.It cites recent research findings noting that:

•    By 2050, climate change could displace 200 million people, the equivalent of roughly two-thirds of the population of the United States.
•    Rain-fed crop production that currently sustains Southern Africa may not be possible in most of the region.
•    Fish catches will decline by up to 10% in tropical regions.
•    Droughts, floods and heat waves will become more frequent and intense.Just a small increase in drought severity alone could raise the risk of violent conflict in places like Somalia.
•    By 2050, the impact of elevated carbon dioxide emissions on crop nutrients could cause an additional 175 million people to suffer zinc deficiencyand 133 million to become protein-deficient.

Food Solutions from Around the World Present Opportunities in Time of Crisis

At the same time,the report offers an abundance of evidence that farmers and food systems around the world are not destined for disaster—especially if the lessons from Covid-19 awaken action to confront climate impacts. The launch today features more than a dozen farmers and influential food and agriculture voices speaking live in a global “relay” from Ethiopia, Australia, Vietnam, India, Mali, Italy, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Colombia and the United States. They will present a wide array of solutions for creating a new era of climate-smart food production. For example:

•    Imelda Bacudo, advisor on food security and climate change for the ten-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN),will discuss how the pact’s efforts to deal with the food challenges caused by the pandemic—including activating established emergency food reserve measures, specifically, rice interventions—is revealing the need for a more comprehensive plan for contending with other food system shocks.

“We felt the effects of this pandemic far earlier than many other regions and quickly moved to mobilise resources and policy changes,” Bacudo said. “It’s clear that dealing with the food impacts of these external shocks requires action far beyond the food and agriculture sector. And that kind of cross-sector collaboration remains a challenge, at the regional and national level.”

•    Rikin Gandhi, CEO of Digital Green,will show how his groundbreaking company uses videos and digital content delivered via mobile phones to share content and train more than one million farmers in India and 500,000 farmers in Ethiopia every two weeks in practices like Zero-Budget Natural Farming or ZBNF.ZBNF combines the latest in agriculture science with traditional farming practices to help farmers use locally available inputs to sustainably increase crop productivity and adapt to changing growing conditions.

“In Ethiopia and India, with Covid-19 and a desert locust outbreak spreading just as the cropping season is getting underway, digital technologies are enabling extension agents and farmers to stay connected,” Gandhi said. “It means they can share data and insights from the field that can be critical to overcoming these twin challenges.”
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