World Food Day 2016: Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too

This year’s observance of the World Food Day (WFD) in Rwanda is being celebrated today 20 October in Huye District, Gishamvu Sector in the Southern Province.

By Attaher Maiga, FAO Representative to Rwanda

This year’s observance of the World Food Day (WFD) in Rwanda is being celebrated today 20 October in Huye District, Gishamvu Sector in the Southern Province.

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Attaher Maiga

The theme for WFD 2016 is "Climate is changing. Food and Agriculture must too." It underscores the pressing need to take stock on how food and agriculture should evolve in order to face the impacts of climate change. World Food Day 2016 is intended for action.

WFD observance is always special to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) as it also commemorates the Anniversary of the founding of our Organization, 71 years ago. As our Director General put it, “we are not at all preparing to retire as we have a lot to do in the coming years”.

FAO supports countries to develop successful agriculture, livestock, fisheries, and forestry sectors, in their efforts to eradicate hunger, malnutrition and poverty. In Rwanda FAO operates within the ONE UN family, under the “Delivering Results Together” arrangements.

The resounding message from this year's World Food Day celebrations across the globe is that climate change, hunger and poverty must be addressed together in order to achieve the sustainable development goals set by the international community.

There is no doubt climate change affects food security. The health of soils, forests and oceans, on which food security and agricultural sectors depend, is being seriously undermined by higher temperatures and erratic weather patterns. Floods and droughts are more frequent and intense as are climate-related outbreaks of diseases and pests. Rwanda is not spared by such climatic shocks. The recent drought experienced in the Eastern Province is an example of such climate induced shocks.

Unfortunately, the poorest and the hungry are the ones that are most affected by the consequences of natural disasters and the vast majority of them are small family farmers that live in rural areas in developing countries. Adaptation and mitigation to climate change is therefore fundamental, and this requires much better access to appropriate technologies, knowledge, markets, information and investments.

Recent international commitments for action, including the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, recognize the fundamental role of sustainable agriculture in addressing climate change, hunger and poverty.

Agricultural activities that are resilient and result in the sustainable management of natural resources can deliver the transformative change so urgently needed. While we cannot avoid a drought from happening, we can avoid a drought resulting in famine. We can build cisterns, reduce the use of water, prevent waste and plant drought-resistant crops. Water management is today one of the main challenges for sustainable agriculture, and will be even more so in the future. Farmers, especially poor small holders and family farmers, need to adjust their production systems and practices to meet the new challenging conditions. This requires much better access to appropriate technologies, knowledge, markets, information and investments.

We need to promote innovation and explore all approaches and techniques available, such as agroecology and agricultural biotechnologies. Social protection programmes are also essential. They boost local food demand and reduce the vulnerability of poor rural people to shocks and price volatility.

On Monday this very week, FAO published its annual State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) report, which focuses on climate change. The report warns that a "business as usual" approach could put millions more people at risk of hunger compared to a future without climate change. Future food security in many countries will worsen if no action is taken today. SOFA 2016 underscores that success in transforming food and agriculture systems will largely depend on urgently supporting smallholders in adapting to climate change. 

The report provides evidence that adoption of ‘climate-smart' practices, such as the use of nitrogen-efficient and heat-tolerant crop varieties, zero-tillage and integrated soil fertility management would boost productivity and farmers' incomes. Widespread adoption of nitrogen-efficient practices alone would reduce the number of people at risk of undernourishment by more than 100 million, the report estimates.

SOFA 2016 also identifies avenues to lower emission intensity from agriculture. Water-conserving alternatives to the flooding of rice paddies for example, can slash methane emissions by 45 percent, while emissions from the livestock sector can be reduced by up to 41 percent through the adoption of more efficient practices. Policies and financing opportunities for the sustainable intensification of agriculture are also identified in the report, which advocates for more climate finance to fund developing countries' actions on climate change. 

We applaud the Rwanda Government’s resolute commitment to addressing climate change as reflected in Vision 2020, EDPRS2, the Green Growth and climate resilient strategy and other National policy strategies. The Government of Rwanda is a Party to most international environmental and climate change agreements. The present on-going national discussions at High level to extend the country’s Vision to the horizon 2050 underscore the need to develop and implement appropriate strategies to build climate resilience into all sectors. They recognize the need for cross-sectoral and multi-stakeholder engagement and coordination in promotion of climate change resilient and low carbon development pathways. Rwanda is also amongst the countries who submitted at earlier stage its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) at the December 2015 Paris Climate Conference, outlining concrete climate actions the country intends to take under the new international agreement. FAO is pleased to note that Climate Smart Agriculture interventions are high in Government’s agenda and we extend our availability to support.

On this World Food Day we commend the Government and the People of Rwanda for the remarkable achievements recorded in the country’s agriculture transformation agenda and natural resources management. The efforts underway must be accelerated and upscaled. Let us build stronger solidarity, stronger actions and better partnerships in refocusing our collective efforts towards mounting an immediate and comprehensive response to climate change.

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