A smallholder farmer works on a community vegetable garden in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Photo credit: Ignatius Banda / IPSURBANA, Ill., June 16 (IPS) – The number of people with acute food insecurity has hit a five-year high according to a recent annual report by the Global Network Against Food Crises (GNAFC), the United Nations International Alliance, the European Union , Governmental and non-governmental organizations working to combat food crises. In addition, the report found that 28 million people were just one step away from starvation. This has been attributed to conflict, economic shocks from COVID-19, and climate change-related weather events.
The continuing rise in food insecurity shows that our current food systems are not resilient. In addition, things are likely to get worse as climate change is expected to continue bringing extreme events – from droughts to floods to invasive insects and deadly cyclones. We urgently need to act to reverse these current trends.
The questions then are: How can we reverse these worrying trends? How can we ensure that people across Africa and around the world have the tools, technology, and resources to be resilient to climate change?
To answer these questions, we need to re-examine the underlying roots of food insecurity.
First of all, most of the people affected by hunger live on the land, many as small farmers. They depend on agriculture, a sector that has been severely affected by climate change.
In addition, many farmers continue to rely on an agricultural system that is still rain-fed and underdeveloped. With limited access to infrastructure, up-to-date agricultural knowledge, and reliable access to financial services, their ability to build a resilient agricultural system remains an unattainable dream.
Based on the challenges outlined above, tackling growing food insecurity would benefit significantly from modernizing agriculture and making the agricultural sector resilient to climate change.
The good news is that building a resilient agricultural sector and dealing with climate-related weather events like drought, floods, tropical cyclones, and insect invasions can benefit from science. Science can help develop climate-friendly, efficient water management technologies such as drip irrigation, improved drought and flood-tolerant plants, and plants that are resistant to insects and plant diseases. Also important is progress in improving and restoring soil health, which is fundamental and vital.
In addition to science, countries that continue to face food insecurity need to invest in climate-friendly agricultural practices. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), climate-smart agricultural practices are approaches that help transform and realign agricultural and food systems in order to effectively support development and ensure food security in a changing climate.
These approaches are aimed at sustainably increasing agricultural productivity, adapting to climate change and strengthening its resilience, and reducing or eliminating greenhouse gas emissions. Many of the science-based solutions mentioned above are viewed as climate-smart strategies.
In conjunction with building climate smart strategies, investments must be made in early warning systems to ensure farmers and citizens who continue to face hunger are not caught off guard. To do this, it is important that countries have access to reliable data.
Building resilient agricultural sectors must also go hand in hand with rebuilding the infrastructures of rural communities. Local roads, rural water, energy and other infrastructures that are critical to ensuring an efficient and functioning agricultural supply chain. Investing in modernizing rural communities should also create jobs for the rural poor. It could also curb urban migration, which remains a problem affecting many African countries.
After all, all of this cannot happen and be sustainable without the strong presence of people affected by climate change. They need to be at the meeting tables where decisions are made, or there should be appropriate channels to bring their thoughts forward. If these initiatives are not driven locally and involve a broad coalition of stakeholders, we risk delivering unsustainable solutions that are severely segregated from needs.
The task of achieving food security for all remains an enormous challenge. As we continue to invest in climate-smart strategies, improve rural infrastructure, and use science-based data to improve agriculture and curb climate change-related weather events, we will make progress. We must do everything we can to combat food insecurity.
Dr. Esther Ngumbi is an Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and a Senior Food Security Fellow of the Aspen Institute, New Voices.
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