Agricultural Development, Food Security and Climate Change: Intersecting at a Global Crossroads

Inger Andersen, CGIAR Fund Council Chair

In the opening session of Agriculture and Rural Development Day, Inger Andersen, CGIAR Fund Council Chair and Vice President of Sustainable Development, World Bank talked about the intersection of agricultural development, food security and climate. Agriculture is part of the problem of climate change and so must be part of solution. The sector produces 17% of greenhouse gases and it will be severely affected by any climate change.At the same time, 70% of the rural poor depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.

Ms Andersen proposed a solution that was a triple win of increased food security, resilience and emissions reductions.

First was a win for the environment because agriculture is the most important sector that can effectively capture carbon. Good land and agriculture management practices, such as agroforestry systems, zero tillage and improved water and fertilizer management will all have significant potential for carbon sequestration.  Such climate-smart agricultural techniques can reduce emissions by at least 13%.

The use of agroforestry in Sub-Saharan Africa in what is being termed Evergreen Agriculture is a good example of this approach. Evergreen Agriculture integrates fertilizer trees into annual food crop and livestock systems and maintains a green cover on the land throughout the year. This approach has already provided benefits to several million farmers in Zambia, Malawi, Niger and Burkina Faso.  For example, in Niger, there are now more than 4.8 million ha of millet and sorghum being grown in agro-forests with up to 160 African legume trees per ha.  Farmers in Malawi have increased their maize yields by up to 280 %w hen their crops grow under a canopy of these trees.

Second there is a win for the farmers because increased climate-smart agriculture increases production and productivity. Many of the techniques that sequester carbon also allow for increased production and incomes. Kenya faces increasingly severe and frequent floods and droughts, exacerbated by land degradation.  Agriculture accounts for nearly 60% of greenhouse gas emissions.   The country has introduced an integrated program to improve productivity, value added, food security, and resilience.  This will be achieved through many efforts: early warning systems, flood and drought management, subsidies targeted at those most in need, social protection programs, and most importantly for climate change, soil carbon sequestration targeted at smallholder maize producers who are benefiting from carbon revenues.  This is the first biocarbon project on the African continent.

Third there is a win for global food security because climate-smart agriculture increases resilience of production systems. Agricultural production must increase by 70% to feed 9 billion people by 2050.  The agricultural sector will also need to become much more resilient.  This will require integrated approaches to land, water, and woodland management.  New silvo-pastoral practices in Central and South America have sequestered 1.5 tonnes of carbon per hectare per year, reduced methane emissions by 21% and nitrogen dioxide by 35%, while at the same time, they have almost doubled meat production and increased the carrying capacity of the land in animals per hectare by 50%.  Farmer income tripled in Colombia, and doubled in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Enhanced knowledge and improved technologies will play a key role in making climate smart agriculture a reality.  “Today, together, we are doing the hard work of building consensus on what has to be done to move toward climate smart agriculture and the triple win,” said Ms Andersen.

Written by Paul Stapleton, World Agroforestry Centre