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DOWN2EARTH Conference to Address Food Security, Climate Change

  • Joe DeCapua

Experts from around the world are gathering at The Hague for the Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change (10/31-11/5) – also known as Down2Earth. VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua has details.

Experts from around the world are gathering at The Hague for the Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change – also known as Down2Earth.

One of the big challenges facing scientists, researchers and policymakers is how to feed an expected 9 billion people by 2050 – amid economic troubles, competition for natural resources and rising temperatures.

Looking for solutions

Conference organizers say the aim is to “develop a roadmap with concrete actions linking agriculture-related investments, policies and measures with the transition to climate-smart growth.” Climate-smart benefits both development and the environment.

Parched soil by the White Nile. Khartoum, Sudan. Photo: Arne Hoel / World Bank

Parched soil by the White Nile. Khartoum, Sudan. Photo: Arne Hoel / World Bank

Jerry Nelson is a research fellow at IFPRI, the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington. He says while agriculture will be affected by climate change, it also has a major role to play in dealing with it. But it’s taken years for that idea to take hold.

“People are gradually realizing that, but it’s taken some time, and we need to keep making the points that you can’t keep agriculture out of the negotiations,” he says.

For example, at last year’s climate summit in Copenhagen, African representatives wore buttons that read “No agriculture, no deal.”

However, Nelson says there’s still somewhat of a divide between those wanting to concentrate on climate change and those stressing food security. IFPRI will address that issue in a new report due out in December.

“We make the strong case that you can’t divorce the two. Food security challenges are large and they’re made even larger by climate change. And so this event will begin the process, I think, of coming up with a new message, which says: Don’t forget food security, but also recognize the challenges coming out of climate change,” he says.

Don’t wait

He warns if action does not start now, the problems will only be harder to solve after 2050.

“One of the messages coming out of this new report that we’ll be releasing is that there will be some serious challenges facing us between now and 2050. But we are at the point where we can -- with sufficient investment in agricultural productivity -- address the food security challenges reasonably well between now and 2050,” he says.

But Nelson adds,”The big question is whether at the same time we can reduce the greenhouse gas emissions enough to slow the temperature increases.”

Sufficient investment in agriculture includes biological research, better roads and infrastructure and economic incentives for farmers, including small-scale farmers.

Agriculture contributes to climate change through the destruction of forests, methane gas from livestock and the release of nitrous oxide from some fertilizers. On the other hand, plants pull carbon dioxide – a major fuel for climate change - out of the atmosphere.

He says scientists can’t say for sure just how each region will be affected by climate change in the coming years. So it’s important for those regions to build up economic resilience.

“Good economic development policy that’s sustainable, that’s broad-based so everybody benefits, is a very important first step for dealing with climate change. But then the other thing is that we need to invest more in agricultural productivity, human capital and the physical capital that goes with that, he says.

Developing countries need to retool

They need to hire more people and educate more people to deal with these productivity issues and they need to give them the physical equipment to work with,” he says.

Nelson says one of the best ways for Africa to prepare for climate change is to greatly improve its roads to allow the fast and easy shipment of food and other goods.

The Down2Earth conference runs from October 31st through November 5th.

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