09.22.2021

Research into Agricultural Productivity Unlocks Climate Resilient Food Systems

By Margaret M. Zeigler, Ph.D., Interim President

According to the latest UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) State of Food and Agriculture Report, the world is off-track to meet global commitments to end world hunger and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030.

Global food insecurity has been on the rise since 2014 due to climate change and conflict. With Covid, the estimated increase in food insecurity in 2020 was equal to that of the previous five years combined, backsliding years of progress and making the fight against hunger significantly more challenging.

Adding to this difficult situation, continued climate change is projected to increase temperatures and reduce agricultural productivity by as much as 30%. With few tools to adapt, farmers worldwide and particularly those small-scale farmers in developing countries are vulnerable. Shifting weather patterns and extreme weather events lower agricultural productivity, increase food prices, and plunge more people into hunger—all impacts that disproportionally afflict the world’s poorest farmers.

An immediate and sustained response is needed to reverse course and strengthen local food systems for the likely increase in temperatures and shifting climate and weather patterns farmers face.

Significant investment in targeted agricultural innovation to improve nutrition, safeguard biodiversity, and develop more productive and climate-resistant crop varieties is ultimately required to help farmers adapt to climate change. According to a 2021 report by IFPRI, if the international community could increase the annual investment in international agricultural research from US$1.62 billion to US$2.77 billion per year, many of these negative impacts could be avoided. However, according to the United Nations, it is estimated that, at present, only 9% of climate change funding is spent on adaptation.

Agriculture represents a large proportion of GDP and employment in low- and lower-middle income countries and thus must be a focus for new investment for economic recovery.  Agricultural research, development, and delivery capacity must be seen as a necessary foundation for sustainable productivity growth, a prerequisite for a ‘green agricultural revolution,’ and source of high-skill job creation.

A coalition of action focused on sustainable productivity growth will help break silos and deliver on agricultural productivity growth’s potential to accelerate progress across multiple objectives.

The Coalition for Sustainable Productivity Growth for Food Security and Resource Conservation (the SPG Coalition), announced September 23 at the United Nations Food Systems Summit, will help accelerate the transition to more sustainable food systems through agricultural productivity growth that optimizes sustainability across social, economic, and environmental dimensions.  The SPG Coalition will advance a holistic approach including investing in climate adaptation research for low-income and lower-middle income countries, developing the innovation needed for farmers to be productive and economically successful.

The SoAR Foundation, along with other U.S. and international partners, will participate in the SPG Coalition by giving a clear, unified voice to agricultural science and research.  By articulating solutions, we can drive funding commitments for scientific research to help smallholder farmers in LICs and LMICs get the tools they need to adapt and thrive in a changing climate. These robust investments are needed, particularly in Africa, where farmers have the most to lose and the most to gain. 

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