Planning for climate adaptation critical for future food security in developing countries

This week the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) issued new guidelines to help support decision-making and technical capacities for developing countries to integrate agriculture in their National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) for climate change.

National Adaptation Plans aim to address risks and capacity gaps in medium- to long-term climate change adaptation planning and implementation. Examples of climate change risks to agriculture in developing countries include reduced crop yields, increased threats from pests and diseases, to extreme weather events. Individual countries set out their plans to address climate change commitments through their NAPs.

The new FAO guidelines, while offering technical guidance, are a useful reminder of the fundamental role agriculture – which includes crops and livestock, forestry and fisheries – will play in climate change mitigation and as well as adaptation.

Not least is the fact that agriculture is the main source of livelihood in many developing countries with up to 40% of the global economically active population – some 1.3 billion people – engaged in crop and livestock production. For some countries this rises to more than 90% of the population.

The new guidelines say agriculture should be in NAPs because:

  1. Agricultural sectors are among the most sensitive to changing climate conditions and most highly exposed to the impacts of climate change.
  2. Agriculture is essential to food security and nutrition not only to produce food but for its economic role to secure livelihoods in developing countries.
  3. Agricultural sectors involve managing natural resources – such as land, water, biodiversity and genetic resources – and therefore have a key role to play in the adaptation of ecosystems to climate change.

In addition the guidelines point out that the world will need to produce 60% more food by 2050 (compared to a 2006 baseline) to meet expected on-going food demand. Developing countries play a critical role in this, for example fish is one of the most traded food commodities in the world and more than half of fish exports by value originate from developing countries.

The world also faces a nutrition crisis which will be made worse by climate change. Currently around 1-in-3 people are malnourished (over- and under-consumption), but by 2030, the FAO says, this will rise to 1-in-2 people who are expected to be under-nourished or over-nourished.

The FAO guidelines emphasise that agricultural adaptation planning involves cross-cutting issues so should be harmonised with overall national planning to help build synergies with other objectives, such as for health and water resource management.

The Paris climate agreement, which came into force in 2016, recognises: “the fundamental priority of safeguarding food security and ending hunger, and the particular vulnerabilities of food production systems to the adverse impacts of climate change.”

Source: FAO. (2017). Addressing Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in National Adaption Plans [supplementary guidelines]. Rome: FAO.