How Does Climate Change Figure Into the Feed the Future Initiative?January 7, 2013 By Kathleen Mogelgaard
1.8 million food producers using improved technologies or management practices. Nearly 9 million children reached through nutrition programs. 2.4 million hectares under improved technologies or management practices. New mechanisms for donor coordination. A forward-looking agricultural research agenda. Innovative private-sector partnerships to support smallholder farmers. These are among the successes reported for the first three years of Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s new global hunger and food security initiative.
Released in October, the initiative’s first progress report documents goals, achievements, and lessons learned, with an eye toward an “aspirational” five-year target: reducing by 20 percent both the prevalence of poverty and the prevalence of stunted children in areas they work (currently 19 target countries across Asia, Africa, and Latin America).
Recognizing that food security is a multi-faceted concept that includes not only availability of food but also access, utilization, and stability of supply, Feed the Future activities are incredibly diverse, ranging from direct food aid in times of crises, to interventions to boost agricultural yields for smallholder farmers, to strengthening efforts to secure land rights for women. While led by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the initiative strives for a “whole-of-government” approach, integrating resources and expertise from the Department of Agriculture, the Department of State, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the Peace Corps, and others.
The complexity of food security necessitates responses that are cross-sectoral, multi-stakeholder, and span from the household level to national policies and frameworks. One issue that is increasingly playing a role in food security is climate change. As rainfall patterns shift, temperatures rise, and weather events become more erratic and extreme, agricultural yields are changing in many places – often for the worse.
Climate Obstacles Ahead
The Feed the Future progress report comes at a time when two new reports are drawing attention to the significant risks that ongoing climate change poses to agricultural production.
In Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4 Degree Centigrade Warmer World Must Be Avoided, the World Bank highlights the rapidly rising risk of crop yield reductions as high temperature thresholds are crossed and important coastal agricultural areas are threatened by increased flooding, sea level rise, and storm surge. With increased warming, the report warns, food insecurity will increase, reversing recent gains in reducing childhood stunting.
And in Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds, the National Intelligence Council writes that when coupled with demographic pressures and other “megatrends,” assuring global food security will require approaches that carefully assess potential trade-offs and synergies. According to NIC authors:
We are not necessarily headed into a world of scarcities, but policymakers and their private sector partners will need to be proactive to avoid such a future. Many countries probably won’t have the wherewithal to avoid food and water shortages without massive help from outside. Tackling problems pertaining to one commodity won’t be possible without affecting supply and demand for the others. Agriculture is highly dependent on accessibility to adequate sources of water as well as on energy-rich fertilizers. Hydropower is a significant source of energy for some regions while new sources of energy – such as biofuels – threaten to exacerbate the potential for food shortages. There is as much scope for negative tradeoffs as there is the potential for positive synergies. Agricultural productivity in Africa, particularly, will require a sea change to avoid shortages.
Shaping Food Security Initiatives With Climate in Mind
Given these critical linkages between food supply and climate change, in what ways is the U.S. government’s premier food security initiative incorporating climate change into their efforts?
Kathleen Mogelgaard on considering population, food security, and climate together
Climate change figures prominently in Feed the Future’s research agenda, with a focus on improving the resilience of crops and animals to climate stresses. The Department of Agriculture has launched a plant gene bank information management system to source crop breeding material more efficiently, for example, and USAID has pursued partnerships with agricultural technology companies to produce climate-resilient, higher-yield crops.
But some are pushing for more immediate action and stronger integration of climate change considerations that move beyond technological solutions.
“Assisting small-scale food producers to adapt to climate change and better manage natural resources is essential for the long-term success of the Feed the Future Initiative and efforts to promote sustainable development,” said Paul O’Brien of Oxfam America in a recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. “For food producers, climate adaptation requires developing the tools and knowledge and building the capacity to address current hazards and manage risk and uncertainty associated with weather…there is also a need to implement programs that address power dynamics that shape access to natural resources essential for smallholder agriculture.”
USAID is already moving in this direction. Last June, the agency hosted a Global Learning and Evidence Exchange, which brought together experts and staff from mission offices in Cambodia, Tanzania, and Haiti to share their experiences in integrating climate change and natural resource management into their food security initiatives. Presenters highlighted the ways in which climate change and food security interventions can be mutually reinforcing – activities such as watershed restoration, crop diversification, and women’s empowerment in agricultural practice and decision-making. They also highlighted some of the many challenges – logistical, political, cultural – inherent in integration.
Delving more deeply into the socio-economic factors that affect smallholder farmer vulnerability to climate change, and supporting practical tools and training to enhance climate resilience may be in Feed the Future’s future. The progress report acknowledges the need for greater integration of climate change as it moves into its next phase:
We will continually strive to improve how we work. Looking forward, we are committed to deepening whole-of-government implementation, improving multi-stakeholder involvement, further integrating agriculture, humanitarian aid, nutrition, natural resources, and climate change efforts and improving other ways we operate based upon evaluating the results of our efforts.
Ensuring that climate change is integrated throughout Feed the Future’s work will be an ongoing effort. The recent analyses from the World Bank and National Intelligence Council provide troublesome glimpses at scenarios in which the world’s ability to feed itself will be significantly impeded, and avoiding that future requires thoughtful planning and preparation. But it’s also important to recognize that climate change is already affecting many around the world, and efforts to strengthen the resilience the poorest and most vulnerable are needed now.
An important step in this direction would be the mandatory inclusion of indicators in Feed the Future’s monitoring and evaluation framework that encourage and support important climate change activities, such as undertaking climate change vulnerability assessments and strengthening adaptive capacity among vulnerable, smallholder farmer households, and communities. While Feed the Future has a very crowded agenda, the growing evidence of the importance of climate change for food security points toward the need for near-term, practical, integrated interventions.
Kathleen Mogelgaard is a writer and analyst on population and the environment, and a consultant for the Environmental Change and Security Program.
Sources: Feed the Future, National Intelligence Council, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, World Bank.
Photo Credit: Drought research in the Philippines, courtesy of the International Rice Research Institute.