May 23, 2014

Live Blog Post - Climate-Smart Food Security

By Sarah Small, Food Tank Research Associate

This post is recap of the "Climate-Smart Food Security" panel at our fifth Global Food Security Symposium 2014 in Washington, DC.

At the Chicago Council’s Global Food Security Symposium today in Washington, DC, a panel on “Climate-Smart Food Security” addressed the role of family farmers in mitigating the effects of climate change including: climate-smart approaches already being used by smallholder farmers, opportunities to preserve natural resources, and the need for a “brown revolution.”

Panelists included: Howard W. Buffett, president of Buffet Farms Nebraska LLC; Jason Clay, senior vice president of Markets and Food at World Wildlife Fund; Strive Masiyiwa, chairman and founder of Econet Wireless; Gerald C. Nelson, a principal author of Advancing Global Food Security in the Face of a Changing Climate; Danielle Nierenberg, president of Food Tank; and Judith D. Schwartz, author at Chelsea Green Publishing.

Barbara A. Schaal, Dean of the Faculty of Art and Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, moderated the panel and focused the discussion on what the U.S can do to mitigate climate change.


Nelson emphasized the need to “get prices right,” by remarking, “people need to understand the scarcity of the resources they are using and use that information to make better decisions.” He urged listeners to realize the scarcity of water as a resource and to more properly value it. Understanding the true value of resources and providing incentives are a big piece in finding a solution and also creating a model for the future.

Clay commented that, “wealthy farmers will get the necessary resources to combat climate change, but small farmers aren’t going to get the tools they need.” As agricultural productivity declines with climate change, small holder farmers will be hit the hardest and be the least prepared. “We must optimize productivity, efficiency, consumption, and waste for climate smart food security,” said Clay.

The U.S. should also consider what nutrients and calories can be produced most efficiently. According to Clay, “bananas in Costa Rica produce 20 times more calories than corn in Iowa and sugar in Brazil produce 60 times more calories than corn in Iowa.” He concluded that, “we need to change the way we think about these issues.”

Nierenberg began with a bold statement, “we can’t talk about climate change without talking about family farmers.” There are 500 million family farmers around the world- both big and small- that produce 57 percent of the world’s food. “These farmers must be of the front line of climate change,” said Nierenberg. And she said, the good news is, that family farmers are already fighting climate change through planting legume (fertilizer) trees which reduce the need to purchase artificial fertilizer and by planting indigenous crops that are resilient to drought and flooding. These family farmers are building resilience through planting diverse crops, building up nutrients in soil, using solar drip irrigation to reduce water use, and more. And these solutions not only benefit farmers and their families, but also have side benefits by protecting biodiversity and preserving soil nutrients.

Schwartz also spoke about the importance of healthy soil. “Mismanagement of livestock has had detrimental effects on the environment,” she said. But, holistic planned grazing is one solution that can have tremendous effects on land function and productivity. Schwartz recommended looking further into and scaling up livestock management as a solution to land productivity.

Buffett told a personal story about his family farm in Nebraska and the importance of conservation practices. His family farm has used practices such as; anti-tillage, conservative water management, and cover crops to mitigate the effects of climate change. And despite extreme weather volatility the Buffet farm had a 20 percent increase in yields over the past three years, which he attributes to conservation practices. And Masiyiwa explained how similar practices can also be used in Africa on small scale farms to rebuild soil and conserve water.

The significant role of women on small holder farms was also emphasized by Nierenberg. “Women are key players in mitigating climate change.” Which also brought up the importance of youth in agriculture. Buffett and Nierenberg agreed that farmer mentoring and extension programs are key to getting young people involved in agriculture.

Panelists agreed that, as a whole, systems of information and resources need to be shared more effectively and faster so no farmer is left behind in the face of climate change.


The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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