Sustainable Agriculture Critical to Addressing Climate Change, Hunger

Sustainable Agriculture Critical to Addressing Climate Change, Hunger

Without urgent action to transform food and agricultural systems in response to the effects of climate change, tens of millions of additional people could face hunger by 2050, a report from the Food and Agriculture Organization warns.

According to The State of Food and Agriculture 2016 (194 pages, PDF), agriculture, including forestry, fisheries, and livestock production, generates about a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, given that agricultural sectors not only contribute but are vulnerable to the effects of climate change, sustainable agricultural practices are critical to slowing climate change and meeting the Sustainable Development Goals of eradicating hunger and poverty. Because those likely to be most severely affected by a warming climate will be low-income populations in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia — especially those who rely on agriculture for their livelihoods — transforming food and agriculture systems will require focusing on about half a billion farm families.

Among other things, the report suggests that helping smallholder farmers adopt more efficient, climate-smart practices could slash methane emissions from rice paddies and livestock by up to 45 percent and 41 percent, while the use of nitrogen-efficient and heat-tolerant crop varieties, zero-tillage, and integrated soil fertility management would boost productivity and farmers' incomes. The report also urges policy makers to remove barriers to sustainable agriculture — including subsidies that promote unsustainable practices and inadequate access to markets, credit, extension services, and programs for women, who make up 43 percent of the agricultural labor force — and to direct a larger share of climate finance to sustainable agriculture, fisheries, and forestry for the large-scale transformation and development of climate-smart food production systems.

"There is no doubt climate change affects food security," said FAO director-general José Graziano da Silva. "What climate change does is to bring back uncertainties from the time we were all hunter gatherers. We cannot assure any more that we will have the harvest we have planted....The benefits of adaptation outweigh the costs of inaction by very wide margins."

"Agriculture Has Big Role to Play in Curbing Greenhouse Gas Emissions." Food and Agriculture Organization Press Release 10/17/2016. "The State of Food and Agriculture 2016." Food and Agriculture Organization Report 10/17/2016.