The Chicago Council’s campaign, “Healthy Food for a Healthy World,” builds awareness about the important role food can play in promoting health and alleviating malnutrition. We publish a blog post weekly exploring these issues and the series will culminate in the release of a new Chicago Council report at the Global Food Security Symposium 2015 on April 16. Look for a new post each Wednesday, join the discussion using #GlobalAg, and tune in to the Symposium live steam on April 16.
By Louise Iverson, Research Associate, Global Agriculture & Food, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs
With 2.5 billion smallholder farmers worldwide who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods and their nutritional intake, a changing climate will put the food security of people around the world at risk, particularly given that 805 million people worldwide—many of them smallholder farmers – remain chronically undernourished. As we seek to improve global nutrition, climate change adaptation and resilience, particularly among smallholder farmers in developing countries, will be crucial.
Climate change affects the global food supply. A changing climate will affect agricultural production- agricultural yields will become more variable, and optimal growing regions will change for many crops. Scientists predict that climate change could slow the growth in global food production by two percent per decade for the rest of the century, which, given that demand for food is projected to increase by 60 percent by 2050, will put significant strain on the global food supply. Consequences are likely to be the greatest for the agriculture-dependent populations in poor countries that are already struggling with high levels of food insecurity.
Climate change may also reduce the nutritional value of our food: Recent findings have shown that climate change could also reduce the nutrients in certain crops. In 2014, researchers found that higher CO2 levels led to decreased levels of iron, zinc, and protein in wheat, rice, and soy crops. Wheat in particular suffered the greatest effects, with nearly 10 percent less zinc and 5 percent less iron. With over 2.4 billion people in the world who depend on staple crops like wheat and rice for their zinc and iron supplies, these findings suggest that as global CO2 levels rise, increasing numbers of people globally will face greater risk of micronutrient deficiencies that result in poor health.
Climate change introduces pathogens, pests, and diseases to new areas that were previously unexposed: As temperatures increase, pests and plant diseases such as wheat rust are moving into new regions, and blighting crops in places that were previously too cold to be affected. And in 2012, European scientists reported that the viability of pathogens like listeria and salmonella increased with higher temperatures. Similarly, the World Health Organization has warned that “a warmer and more variable climate threatens to lead to […] increased transmission of disease through unclean water and through contaminated food.”
Smallholder farmers’ ability to adapt to climate change will be critical to ensuring food and nutrition security. Numerous efforts are already underway around the world to assist them. For example, Unilever is working with smallholder farmers to reduce their vulnerability to climate change, such as management of water resources and choosing the best crop varieties and production techniques. USAID’s Feed the Future initiative includes a Climate-Smart Development component to help governments and farmers assess their vulnerability and sustainably intensify their production. In September 2014, the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture launched at the UN Climate Summit, which will help governments, farmers, scientists, businesses, and civil society adjust their agricultural practices and social policies to better account for climate change and natural resource protection. Current members include the United States, the United Kingdom, Mexico, and other governments, as well as NGOs, universities, and other stakeholders.
New innovation and technology can be particularly effective in ensuring that smallholder farmers have relevant information, such as weather data and early warning systems. For example, Tigo Kilimo gives farmers free weather information, with corresponding agronomy tips, via text message in Tanzania.
Around the world, smallholder farmers are already beginning to embrace climate-resilient farming methods and technologies. When smallholder farmers have the information, technology, and training to adapt to climate change and adopt climate- resilient techniques, they will be better able to continue producing nutritious foods for themselves and their communities, helping to ensure that global nutrition continues to improve, even in the face of threats from climate change.
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- CGIAR Consortium. “Landmark Survey Finds Adaptation to Climate Change on Smallholder Farms Taking Root.” Press Release, September 7, 2012.
- Feed the Future. “Climate-Smart Development.” Accessed March 23, 2015.
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). “The Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture.” Last modified January 15, 2015.
- ———. Resilient Livelihoods – Disaster Risk Reduction for Food and Nutrition Security Framework Programme. Rome: FAO, 2008.
- ———. The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014: Strengthening the Enabling Environment for Food Security and Nutrition. Rome: FAO, 2014.
- Morelle, Rebecca. “Climate change 'driving spread of crop pests.'” BBC News, September 2, 2013.
- Myers, Samuel S., et al. "Increasing CO2 Threatens Human Nutrition." Nature 510, no. 7503 (2014): 139-42.
- Nelson, Gerald C. Advancing Global Food Security in the Face of a Changing Climate. Chicago: The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, 2014.
- Schneider, Suzannah. “Five Ways Cell Phones are Changing Agriculture in Africa.” Food Tank, July 25, 2015.
- Tirado, M.C., et al. “Climate change and nutrition: creating a climate for nutrition security.” Food and Nutrition Bulletin 34, no. 4 (2013): 533-47.
- Unilever. “Livelihoods for Smallholder Farmers.” Accessed March 23, 2015.
- World Health Organization (WHO). Protecting Health from Climate Change: World Health Day 2008. Geneva: WHO, 2008.
Read previous posts in the Healthy Food for a Healthy World blog series: