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Americas: Food systems need to change to cope with climate change, says FAO

Overcoming climate change is central to achieving a sustainable future for the planet’s growing population, and food security must lie at the heart of that effort, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Director-General José Graziano da Silva said at the United Nations (UN) Climate Summit this month in New York, US.

“We cannot call development sustainable while hunger still robs over 800 million people of the opportunity to lead a decent life,” he said, referencing the latest UN report on world hunger, released last week, The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014.

The report found that while the number of people who experience chronic hunger was reduced by 100 million over the past decade, today 805 million people still go without enough to eat on a regular basis.

While in the past, efforts to feed the world focused on boosting agricultural output to produce more food, today’s challenges – including climate change – demand a new approach, da Silva said.

“We need to shift to more sustainable food systems – food systems that produce more, with less environmental damage – food systems that promote sustainable consumption, since nowadays we waste or lose one third to half of what we produce.”

Noting that hunger persists despite the fact that the planet produces enough food to feed all of humanity, he said: “Producing enough food for all is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for food security.”

“People are not hungry because food is not available, but because they do not have access to it.”
Climate change has a direct bearing both on agricultural production and on people’s ability to access food, the FAO chief said – and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to dealing with these challenges.

“FAO welcomes the commitments being made to address climate change. FAO can support them as part of our capacity-building projects at country level.”
“We are ready to work with you to successfully address the impacts of climate change on food security. This is a necessary step to the hunger free world and sustainable future we want.”

Options for adapting

“There are many alternatives to address climate change and ensure sustainable food security,” said da Silva.

One valuable approach, he noted, is what is known as “climate-smart agriculture” –  adjusting farming practices to make them more adaptive and resilient to environmental pressures, while at the same time decreasing farming’s own impacts on the environment.

At the summit, he welcomed the launch of a new Global Alliance on Climate-Smart Agriculture, a broad coalition of stakeholders, including governments; farmers and food producers, processors and sellers; scientific and educational organizations; civil society actors; multilateral and international agencies and the private sector.

The Alliance will work together to promote sustainable and equitable increases in agricultural productivity and incomes; build greater resilience of food systems and farming livelihoods; and achieve reductions or removals of greenhouse gas emissions by agriculture.

Da Silva also highlighted “agro-ecology” as a promising approach to moving food production onto a more sustainable path.
The approach uses ecological theory to study and manage agricultural systems in order to make them both more productive and better at conserving natural resources.