By Jennifer Lentfer, Senior Writer, Oxfam America’s Aid Effectiveness team; Editor, Politics of Poverty blog
This post is recap of the "Managing Risks Associated with Volatile Weather, Changing Climates, and Resource Scarcity" panel at our fifth Global Food Security Symposium 2014 in Washington, DC.
Two of Patrick F. O’Toole’s children and six of his grandchildren still live on the “family farm” near the Colorado River headwaters. This, he told The Chicago Council Global Food Security Symposium today, is what farmers want—to enable next generations to be connected to the land.
O’Toole told the audience of policymakers in Washington, DC, that another important part of farmers’ identity is to be problem solvers in the long- and short-term. Even though farmers look at resources with an intergenerational lens, they have immediate concerns that require attention.
There is no greater concern for farmers these days than climate change and the resulting effects on their land and livelihoods. O’Toole described how his farm has already seen its wettest and driest seasons in its history in this decade. As a result of this volatility, he and most other farmers in the West of the US are already managing for increased risk.
Edward Luce, moderator of today’s “Managing Risks Associated with Volatile Weather, Changing Climates, and Resource Scarcity” panel, led O’Toole and four other experts to discuss the necessary changes to ensure an affordable global food supply and farmers’ incomes in the midst of weather extremes.
Shenggen Fan told the audience that price volatility was a more concerning trend than rising prices globally. Shocks are becoming more intense and often, and so linking these issues—from the household to global levels—is vital. He saw access to insurance for smallholder farmers as an increasingly important tool to cope.
James Cameron, however, talked about the need to have better calculations to help those in the global financial and agricultural markets to assign value to water supplies, carbon outputs, and thriving ecosystems, as well as tools to revalue other productive assets in the context of climate change.
Juerg Trueb has experience doing this and told the audience that these valuations are a key part of inspiring and demanding the political will for change. When prices get higher and higher, this will get the attention of lawmakers.
Darci L. Vetter described the rules that are part of any trade negotiations related to global agriculture. One quarter of global agriculture production crosses international borders, and she argued that international standards can help farmers and consumers have better access to information, less post-harvest loss, and improved nutrition.
By the end of the panel, which touched on technology use and the digital divide for small farmers, Cameron urged the audience to consider the tools of finance, technology, and public policy—all needed to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. In the framework of food, energy, and water security (read, national security), we should be taking as many small steps as possible, recognizing the link between constraint and creativity.
No matter the politicization of climate change in the US, O’Toole explained that everyone sees the need to adapt. Dualistic political language covers up the cognizance that loss from weather extremes are permanent and safety nets are needed.
Fan reminded the audience that “American farmers have a very good heart.” They want poor and hungry people around the world—most of whom are farmers themselves—to have what they need to thrive during this volatile time in our history.