At COP21 for side event ‘Climate-Smart Food Systems for Enhanced Nutrition’

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The panel:

  • Rachel Kyte, Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change, World Bank, and Global Panel member.
  • John Kufuor, former President of Ghana and Global Panel Co- Chair.
  • Rt Hon Justine Greening MP, Secretary of State for International Development, UK government.
  • Dr. James Kinyangi, Regional Programme Leader in East Africa for CCAFS, The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.

The event was chaired by Global Panel Director Professor Sandy Thomas, and was attended by Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, African Union Commission, and Global Panel member.

The link between agriculture, nutrition and climate change

Setting the scene, Rachel Kyte explained that volatile weather can lead to lower yields for farmers in low and middle income countries. This could make it challenging for communities to produce sufficient and nutritious food to meet local needs. It can also result in the nutritional quality of crops being diminished. She emphasised that understanding these connections is critical to building agriculture systems that focus on nutritional outcomes rather than yield production. Given the pace of climate change, it is essential for the nutrition community to prioritise this linkage and further the conversation.

Climate change and community resilience

There is a critical need to increase resilience to climate change among the most vulnerable in society. Rachel Kyte argued that one of the indicators of resilience has to be nutritional value. “We cannot consider ourselves resilient unless we provide nutritious food for all”, said Kyte. When building resilient strategies in agriculture, she went on to say that we have to specifically aim at achieving nutrition security for the poorest of the poor, and help countries to think of effective strategies to increase resilience among the most vulnerable. She stressed that conversations on climate change must also include nutrition. H.E. John A. Kufuor added that nutritious diets not only give people physical power, but also the mental power necessary to overcome obstacles and thrive. Dr James Kinyangi observed that staple food costs rose, vulnerable people reduced the quantity as well as the quality of food consumed. “Global mapping shows that several regions of sub-Saharan Africa have significantly lower calorific intake. In these regions children suffer from severe stunting due to malnutrition, a problem that we still need to address.”

Investing in nutrition-smart agriculture

The panel stressed the importance of investing in agriculture. Rachel Kyte made clear that Africa is on the frontline of both solutions and challenges regarding food security, and investing in agriculture is crucial to increase nutrition security. She added that by focusing research on strengthening yield resilience to volatile weather, for instance, by investing in bio-fortification, in drought-resistant and rain-resistant seeds, and in improving transportation and storage, more public-private partnerships could develop.

Investing in nutrition would not just be the right thing to do, commented the Secretary of State Rt. Hon. Justine Greening, but the smart thing to do in the context of development. She pointed out that it has the potential for very substantial returns on investment, as for every pound invested, 16 pounds are generated from better nutrition. The Secretary of State said that hunger remains a hidden emergency that it is easy to lose sight of: “Nutrition is such a fundamental aspect of development, and whether you are the government or a business, we all have to up our game.”

Political leadership and the ‘African Leaders for Nutrition’ initiative

Acknowledging the urgency of the need to attract nutrition-smart investments, H.E. John A. Kufuor announced that the African Development Bank and the Global Panel had agreed to cooperate in deepening the commitments of African political leaders to prioritise nutrition in their national policies. African Leaders for Nutrition is a call for leaders on the continent to cooperate to increase nutrition security. The initiative was welcomed by Rt. Hon. Justine Greening.

Dr James Kinyangi also commented on the potential impact of political leadership on nutrition, observing that there are several means for leaders to promote climate-smart agriculture, for example by encouraging the breeding of climate-adapted crops and livestock. The International Rice Research Institute, for instance, is breeding drought and flood resistant rice varieties. Cross breeding native goats able to withstand the heat and provide milk for local communities also offers great promise, but it is essential that such initiatives are mainstreamed into government plans, and then combined with efforts from the private sector.

Food security and conflict

Dr. James Kinyangi commented on the link between food Security and conflict, noting that it is not just a health concern. Taking Somalia as an example, he said that the disconnection between food security and nutrition all too often leads to political instability, and that climate change would add to the risks of such outcomes.

Food waste

Between one third and one fifth of the food produced in Africa is wasted, and a real challenge in the policy and science community is containing food waste – priority must be given to investing in systems that ensure better storage. As yields decline in the face of climate change in some parts of Africa, conserving harvested crops would become even more important.

Women’s leadership

The Rt. Hon. Justine Greening said that agriculture is a strong sector where women have been able to show leadership, and that her administration is increasingly focusing on women’s economic empowerment.

The foresight project

Justine Greening also commented on the Global Panel Foresight Project, which will be published next year. A team of experts is looking at the changes that we are likely to see in people’s diets and over the next two decades. The Foresight Project will provide a strong evidence-base to help reform policies and to promote nutrition-smart agriculture.