Africa: Two Major Challenges – One Real Opportunity on Climate Change

John Kufuor

New York — Much has been said about the challenges that humankind faces as the climate shifts. It is time to talk about the opportunities.

National and global leaders are meeting in New York this week to announce actions and ambitions. One area of focus that has real promise is the concept of climate-smart agriculture. Climate has a profound impact on agriculture and as the climate changes, so must our practices in order to mitigate and adapt.

As we work together to take on the new challenges that climate change brings, we also have an opportunity to address a problem that has plagued developing countries for too long—malnutrition.
Poor nutrition, especially for women and children, has lasting consequences. Without adequate vitamins and minerals, people cannot achieve their full potential. Their growth and cognitive development is limited, which in turn limits school achievement and productivity later in life. Nutrition is about more than feeding people, it is about fueling growth—the growth of individuals, communities and nations.

Just last week, the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) State of Food Insecurity report noted that Africa continues to bear the burden of the highest prevalence of undernourishment. When our children do not get proper nourishment from food, their growth becomes stunted. As a result, their futures suffer, as do our own, because we look to the younger generation to continue advancing progress in society.

Great strides have been made to alleviate malnutrition. In Africa, 35 countries have committed to prioritizing nutrition in national development as part of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement. FAO’s recent report also cited progress over the past decade, including in Ghana where the prevalence of undernutrition has been halved.

Yet under-nourishment continues, as for example, one in five Africans is reported to be affected.

The challenges of malnutrition and climate change come together as an opportunity in agriculture. So, as we consider adopting climate-smart agricultural practices, let us also integrate nutrition. It is time for agriculture to be both climate-smart and nutrition-smart. With this approach, we have an opportunity to drive progress more sustainably and more beneficially.

To capitalize on the opportunities of agriculture, we must first effectively communicate with those that are most affected, together with leaders of nations, global institutions and businesses. The challenges we face are ones that no one person or group can take on—and no one has to. We can bring the work to the level of action, engaging farmers, ranchers, researchers, nutrition experts, policymakers and others to develop smart, integrated strategies. We must look at opportunities from the soil up and beyond agriculture to bring in innovators from across sectors.

We must also invest in research. Science, technology and innovation can unlock opportunities and inform our practices. To break down the silos in our approach to climate, nutrition and agriculture, we need to start with collaborative research. This requires an investment in our research institutions and in individuals themselves to ensure that we have the capacity to act.

One innovative approach is the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), a multilateral fund that supports country -led agricultural development. Since 2009, the GAFSP has supported countries with more than $900 million for agriculture development, including nutrition-sensitive activities. Thus far, 20 countries are benefiting from GAFSP projects focused on climate-smart agriculture.

The third element we need is commitment. In discussing progress in Ghana, the State of Food Insecurity report notes that many factors contributed to the success, but that the foundation for change was the continued commitment of national leaders to invest in rural development and poverty reduction. We must make the commitment and we must do the work, not just during the United Nations Climate Summit, but each day as we move forward.

The complex challenges of climate change and malnutrition that persist today make it clear that what we have been doing in agriculture has not been as effective as it could be. We can make changes and we should. Challenges can be overcome and they should. This is about the health of our world and the health of our children—both of which are central to our future.

Expanding our thinking on climate-smart agriculture to include nutrition-smart agriculture is an opportunity to nourish a sustainable future, strengthen the course of agriculture and food systems and change the world.

John Kufuor is the former president of Ghana (2001-2009), Chairperson of the African Union (2007-2008) and founder of theJohn A. Kufuor Foundation. He currently serves as the co-Chair of the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition as well as the UN Special Envoy on Climate Change.

This article was originally posted on AllAfrica by John Kufuor