Feeding a climate-altered world

How will we feed the world amid drought, fire, floods and population shifts?  While I don’t yet envision a Malthusian catastrophe, per se, I think it critical to begin a conversation about this question as it relates to our work.  At last month’s ND-GAIN Annual Meeting at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., I derived several key takeaways from our panelists*:

  1. Climate change could undermine development advances of the 20th Century, such as the interrelated issues of food security, global health and poverty reduction, the World Bank contends.
  2. The largest demand for funds in the Pilot Program for Climate Resilience is for agricultural and landscape-management projects and, among fund recipients, water is the second largest.  Project examples include $5M to Mozambique (ND-GAIN Rank 137 http://index.gain.org/country/mozambique ) for drip irrigation and other agriculture enhancements, $15M to Zambia (ND-GAIN Index http://index.gain.org/country/zambia ) to insure farmers against extreme weather and $22M to Bangladesh, (ND-GAIN Rank 145 http://index.gain.org/country/bangladesh) for a seed selection and storage and cropping cycles project.
  1. As climate portfolios grow to include resiliency and adaptation, in addition to greenhouse gas mitigation, the World Bank notes a decreased participation from the private sector, says Patricia Bliss-Guest Program Manager of Climate Investment Funds there. Through its pilot program for climate resilience, the Bank works to incent additional private participation in addition to government assistance.
  1. Microinsurance is a major priority for the insurance sector in emerging markets and insurance can send important price-based signals to the market, notes Lindene Patton Chief Climate Product Officer at Zurich Insurance Group Ltd. She cautions against subsidizing insurance too much, adding that the question of climate risk is generally understood by the reinsurance industry to be a people, not a physical science, problem.
  2. The key to resiliency in the food supply (taking cocoa as a case) involves examining all the vectors impacting farmers, including demographic shifts, community engagements, diversity of crops and agrarian livelihoods, maintains Perry Yeatman Principal, Mission Measurement, based on her work at Kraft Foods. She says it matters to our ample supply of chocolate bars that cocoa farmers are aging, their children are migrating to cities, the farmers need to raise chickens to diversify their nutrition and their community structures are crucial to their farms’ viability.
  3. While climate change might favor the Eastern Europe and the Americas, a tremendous amount of investment for water infrastructure is necessary elsewhere in the world, believes David Gustafson Senior Fellow and Environmental and Ag Policy Modeling Lead at Monsanto. He favors partnerships with local and global institutions to address this concern, especially as the global agricultural community looks to intensify its production efforts sustainably to feed our  ever-growing world population.

In a future post, I plan to address the approaches for increasing this agricultural intensity. As I write this, my alumni magazine arrived with the cover story, “GMO vs. Fresh Food….”   I’ve had a study diet of this issue and look forward to continuing the dialogue.

*A video of the panel can be found here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V09U8W00Mk4&feature=c4-overview-vl&list=PLF545132229EF6E68