Center for Research on Environment, Human Security & Governance

ICCAFFE2011 Key Themes

  • Climate Change, Food Security and Agriculture
  • Climate Change Adaptation in Food and Agriculture Perspective
  • Innovation to Address Climate Change Challenges
  • Sustainable Agriculture and Capacity Building
  • Biofuel Linkages with Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security
  • Marine Biodiversity and Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management
  • Contesting the Agro-Food System in the Context of Climate Change
  • Farm Animal Welfare and Sustainable Production and Consumption
  • Food’s Climate Impact and the Need for a Green- and Climate-Friendly Consumerism
  • Climate Change, Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity Conservation
  • Proactive and Coordinated Policy and Management Action Responses and Communication to Relevant Stakeholders


1. Climate Change, Food Security and Agriculture

Agriculture will be one of the key human activities affected by climate change impacts. Projections show that while overall global food production in the coming decades may keep pace with the food requirements of a growing world population, climate change might worsen existing regional disparities because it will reduce crop yields mostly in lands located at lower latitudes where many developing countries are situated. Strategies to enhance local adaptation capacity are therefore needed to minimize climatic impacts and to maintain regional stability of food production. At the same time, agriculture as a sector offers several opportunities to mitigate the portion of global greenhouse gas emissions that are directly linked to agricultural production systems.

According to IPCC, billions of people in the next decades, particularly those in developing countries, will face changes in rainfall patterns that will contribute to severe water shortages or flooding, and rising temperatures that will cause shifts in crop growing seasons. This will increase food shortages and distribution of disease vectors, putting populations at greater health and life risks. The impact of a single climate-, water- or weather-related disaster can wipe out years of gains in economic development. Moreover, Climate change will result in additional food insecurities, particularly for the resource poor in developing countries who cannot meet their food requirements through market access. Therefore, communities are required to protect themselves against the possibility of food-shortage emergencies through appropriate use of resources in order to preserve livelihoods as well as lives and property. It is imperative to identify and institutionalize mechanisms that enable the most vulnerable to cope with climate change impacts. This requires collaborative thinking and responses to the issues generated by the interaction of food security, climate change and sustainable agricultural development.

2. Climate Change Adaptation in Food and Agriculture Perspective

All climate-sensitive systems of society and the natural environment, including agriculture, water resources (water is commonly becoming the new oil and agriculture is one of the key ways in which this crucial  resource becomes unevenly allocated), forestry, human health, coastal settlements, and natural ecosystems, will need to adapt to a changing climate or possibly face diminished productivity and health.  However, some degree of future climate change will occur regardless of how stringent future mitigation policies will be.

Adapting to or coping with climate change will therefore become necessary in certain regions and for certain socioeconomic and environmental systems. Adaptation options can involve a range of actions, such as investment in flood protection, planting different crops, early warning systems, etc. They need to include actions by producers, industry and policy makers.  However, adaptation alone is not expected to cope with all the projected effects of climate change, and especially not over the long term as most impacts increase in magnitude.  Therefore, both mitigation and adaptation will need to be considered.  Adaptation to climate change, which is particularly important in some developing countries, is now recognized as a complementary response to mitigation strategies. 

Climate change will also present crop producers with both opportunities and risks. It is likely to lead to a decrease in agricultural activities, to a greater risk of crop yields and losses in quality of crops in many regions leading to an unstable economic and social situation. In many countries, farmers are already responding to climate change, but the magnitude and complexity of climate change-related extreme events (such as violent storms, changing rainfall patterns and the arrival of new pests and diseases), will challenge their adaptive capacity. Adaptation activities on cropland management can also simultaneously deliver mitigation effects, such as more diversified crop rotations and farm activities. Cropland management and grassland management represent today the highest global biophysical mitigation potential of agriculture.

3. Innovation to Address Climate Change

In this complex and dynamic scenario, where growing population levels and correspondingly growing demand for food and nutrition must be considered as a crucial aspect, a policy framework that fosters and adequately protects and rewards investment in research, innovation and technology is vital to successfully address the challenges posed by climate change. Innovation will play an essential role in both mitigation of emissions and adaptation to climate change as related to agriculture. Yield-increasing technologies, management practices and approaches can provide a significant contribution to environmental preservation by reducing demand for uncultivated land. Innovation and the spread of innovative technologies require, among others, open markets, an enabling regulatory framework, and the effective protection of intellectual property rights.

4. Sustainable Agriculture and Capacity Building

Sustainable farming meets environmental, economic, and social objectives simultaneously. Economic sustainability requires selecting profitable enterprises and undertaking comprehensive financial planning. Social sustainability involves keeping money circulating in the local economy, and maintaining or enhancing the quality of life of the farm family. Environmental sustainability involves keeping the four ecosystem processes (effective energy flow, water and mineral cycles, and viable ecosystem dynamics) in good condition.  Every small decision can make a difference and contribute to advancing the entire system further on the "sustainable agriculture continuum."

In this respect, capacity building is an essential overarching requirement, and generic capacity building at all levels is crucial. However, particularly in countries where agriculture is a predominant sector, generic capacity building has to go hand in hand with more targeted capacity building for science and technology in the agriculture sector to achieve tangible outcomes, especially in high-priority areas.

The process of capacity building must be complemented by improved access to essential information, such as agronomic information, price and weather updates to allow farmers to apply their knowledge and support their capacity.  As losses to the environment can be triggered by unbalanced, irresponsible use of growth inputs, irrigation water, fertilizers, and excessive nutrient application, it is extremely important that farmers be taught how to implement sound agro-ecosystem management measures by means of targeted capacity building programs. Educating farmers about technologies and practices for sustainable agriculture will therefore be essential.

5. Biofuel Linkages with Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security

Agriculture is part of the problem and part of the solution of the climate change. Land use change and agriculture add to nearly one third of greenhouse gas emissions, but they also offer opportunities for carbon mitigation through carbon sequestration and biofuel production. The expansion of agricultural production as an energy source has broad and complex implications. Biofuel production increases the linkages between the energy and agriculture sectors, influences and is influenced by political, social, economic, and environmental change, and impacts households, businesses, and the private sector. Therefore, the optimization of biofuel production in marginal lands to secure the arable lands for food production can be explored as one of relevant solutions.

6. Marine Biodiversity and Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management

Marine resources are diminishing dangerously due to many factors, such as overfishing, pollution and global warming. This depletion is of particular concern in southern countries, where fish, a source of revenue for millions of people, is of major importance in terms of food security (approximately one billion people on a world-wide scale are dependent on fish as the principal source of animal protein in their diet). Although the oceans were considered inexhaustible in the last Century, many fisheries today show signs of decline. Locally as well as globally, the same conclusion has been drawn: the world’s fisheries seem to have reached their maximum potential.

In this context, scientific research has an essential role to play, especially that there are still many gaps in knowledge in this area, as it is only recently that research efforts have focused on the functioning of marine ecosystems as a whole. Fisheries clearly have a strong impact on targeted species. However, their direct and indirect effects on other components of the marine ecosystem should not be ignored, as the health of the entire ecosystem is potentially affected by fishing activities. There is an urgent need to implement management techniques that take into account the impact of fisheries on the whole ecosystem. Current fisheries practices, too often based on short-term policies with a view to economic profitability are threatening the long term sustainability of marine resources and ecosystems, but also the middle term future of the fisheries sector.

7. Contesting the Agro-Food System in the Context of Climate Change

Most of us live in a single dwelling and buy major items of metal, wood or plastic infrequently, but we all eat everyday and the global ebb and flow of food largely determines our appropriation of the planet’s resources. The multiple interactions between agriculture, food, and ecosystems are becoming more evident and there is a rising global concern, for instance, about the meatification of the human diet, which has seen the population of farm animals grow faster than the human population – with massive implications in term of global warming.  Livestock farming today is calculated to contribute to up to 18% of global warming, which is probably more than that attributed to transport. Moreover, livestock is considered as the primary driver of land clearing and biodiversity loss.

8. Farm Animal Welfare and Sustainable Production and Consumption

Livestock production is of vital importance to rural development. Improved animal health and welfare can help farmers achieve a better return on their investment. However, livestock farming is also estimated to be responsible for 18% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). Keeping too many animals in too small a space, be it on range or indoors, can lead to overgrazing, desertification and environmental pollution. It will also have an adverse impact on the health and welfare of the animals themselves. With animals now gaining global recognition of their intrinsic sentience, we need to develop livestock systems that are gentle both on the animals and the environment. Industrial livestock farming – where the animals are kept indoors and fed primarily on cereals and soy (often imported) – does not present an equitable way of sharing the earth’s scarce resources of food and water. The whole question of excessive consumption of livestock products, particularly in the developed world needs to be addressed at a national and global level, as recommended in the 2010 UNEP report (2010) which says “Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth, increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.”


9. Food’s Climate Impact and the Need for a Green- and Climate-Friendly Consumerism

Whatever we currently consume (food, clothes, housing, agriculture, transportation, technology, holidays, etc.) is almost dependent on the continuous use of fossil fuels. Meantime, higher living standards, higher economic growth and higher consumption have been and still continue to be the unchallenged aspiration of all nations, all governments and all industrial societies. In this context, the challenge of global warming is slowly bringing about a certain shift in the consciousness of politicians, policy-makers and leaders of industry. However this shift in consciousness is still superficial. It is generally limited to finding alternatives to carbon emissions, which are merely the symptom of the problem rather than the root cause. To treat the symptom, policymakers are looking at bio-fuels instead of fossil fuels. They are looking at technological solutions to find new sources of energy. Their deep desire is to go on consuming as much as we have been, but only through so-called sustainable sources.

Global institutions and national governments must take radical policy decisions regarding the dietary advice they give. Lowering the level of consumption of animal products is one of the key strategies which can benefit the climate, the environment and resource use, as well as the health of the population and the health and welfare of the animals we farm.

10. Climate Change, Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity Conservation

Biodiversity in general, and agro-biodiversity in particular, is the basis for human survival. We are strongly dependent on ecosystem services provided freely by nature and its biodiversity, especially in terms of food and revenue. Many of these services are public goods, and as such they do not have a market price. As a result, their loss is often not detected by our current market system. A variety of pressures resulting from population growth, changing diets, urbanization, and climate change is causing additional strain on ecosystem conservation (e.g. farm land from cleared forests), and this contributes to accelerating ecosystem degradation and biodiversity decline. The awareness on loss of biodiversity and the conflicting uses of environmental services underline the need for a well thought-out management of natural resource utilization in sensitive areas, accounting for both, environmental and basic human needs. Therefore, it is increasingly important to draw attention to the global social and economic benefits of biodiversity, to highlight the growing costs of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation, and to draw together expertise from the fields of science, economics and policy to enable practical actions moving forward. 

11. Proactive and Coordinated Policy and Management Action Responses and Communication to Relevant Stakeholders

A rapid, coordinated, and multidisciplinary response is needed to deal with climate change, biodiversity loss, food insecurity, and other emerging risks. It should be adapted to location-specific circumstances and incorporate the effects on food security of non-climatic factors such as high energy prices, high food prices, and biofuel production. The approach should combine adaptation strategies, which reduce the vulnerability of poor people to climate change and other shocks, and mitigation strategies, which moderate the impact of climate change after it has occurred. As the global food equation is changing as a result of energy shortage and climate change, the world is not only confronted with agriculture and energy policy issues, but also with broader social, environmental, and security issues. The needed response involves a combination of science, institutional, and policy innovations, which should be taken into account in global, regional, and national strategies.