NEW YORK — The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ (FAO) 2016 report, “The State of Food and Agriculture,” minces no words in laying out the challenge ahead of producing enough food for a burgeoning world population at the same time climate change puts growing stress on global agriculture.
“The world faces an unprecedented double challenge: to eradicate hunger and poverty and to stabilize the global climate before it is too late,” the executive summary of the report said.
In order to meet the goals of eradicating hunger and poverty by 2030, “profound transformation of food and agricultural systems worldwide” will be necessary, with a required transformation to sustainable agriculture that “does not jeopardize the capacity of the agriculture sectors — crops, livestock, fisheries and forestry — to meet the world’s food needs. Global food demand in 2050 is projected to increase by at least 60 percent above 2006 levels, driven by population and income growth, as well as rapid urbanization,” the report said.
Adaptation to climate change is an essential ingredient in the world’s ability to provide enough food for all people in coming decades, the report said, noting that beyond 2030, “the negative impacts of climate change on the productivity of crops, livestock, fisheries and forestry will become increasingly severe in all regions.”
The report said, in the short term, adaptation to climate changes at the level of individual production unit or farm may be sufficient, but “longer-term adaptation is necessary in order to cope with the changes already ‘locked in’ by past and ongoing increases in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”
Additional efforts to preserve the environment — labeled “mitigation” in the report — likely will need to be made to keep effects of climate change within acceptable limits and ensure long-term food security of the world’s population.
“Adaptation is something everyone will want to do in their own interest,” the report said. “Mitigation is something that has to be done together, in the interests of everyone. It is a global public good and a social responsibility to which the agriculture sectors must also contribute.”
The key goal in mitigating negative results of climate change is a worldwide effort to limit temperature increases to less than 2 degrees Centigrade in coming decades, which experts said will be difficult to achieve. The report emphasizes that, in a scenario where average temperatures rise 2 degrees Centigrade, “the risks posed by extreme heat to crop yields in tropical regions of Africa and South and Southeast Asia become particularly critical … Other important benefits of omitting temperature increases to 1.5 degree C include a significant reduction in areas of coral reefs at risk of severe degradation, and a 30 percent reduction in sea level rise,” the report said. Among necessary changes that could keep temperatures lower include substantial declines in greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century made through large-scale changes in energy systems and, potentially, land use, the report added.
Agriculture must play a vital role in the effort to constrain environmental warming, the report stated.
”The agriculture sectors can contribute to mitigation, first, by reducing their emission intensity … and avoiding the further loss of carbon stored principally in forests and soil. This effort can be complemented by actions aimed at reducing food losses and waste, and changing food consumption patterns,” the report said.
The FAO has developed an approach it calls a “climate-smart agriculture (CSA)” to help with responses to differing effects of climate change around the world.
“Since local conditions vary, an essential feature of CSA is to identify the impacts of agricultural intensification strategies on food security, adaptation and mitigation in specific locations,” the report said. “This is particularly important in developing countries, where agricultural growth is generally a top priority. Often, but not always, practices with strong adaptation and food security benefit can also lead to reduced greenhouse gas emissions or increased carbon sequestration.”
Some adjustments in farming practices to help deal with effects of climate change include modifying planting times and adopting varieties that are resistant to heat and drought, developing new cultivars, changing crops and livestock, improving soil and water management, integrating climate forecasts into crop decisions, expanding irrigation, increasing regional farm diversity, and shifting to non-farm livelihood sources, the report said.